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Society

AB953 Let Justice Flow-2018

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Amos and Social Justice

 

Amos was the earliest prophet whose words are preserved in the form of a book. He prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel somewhere between the years 760-750 B.C. Amos’ preaching took place during the mid-eighth century B. C., a few years before the prophet Hosea began his ministry.

The eighth century was a period during which a privileged few in Israel were enjoying unprecedented prosperity while most Israelites were facing dire poverty. Although Amos lived in Tekoa, a small village bordering the wilderness of Judah, his preaching to Israel provided a powerful prophetic witness for all ages because of his condemnation of the spiritual blindness of the Judean upper-class and their unjust exploitation of the poor.

Amos forged an explicit and unbreakable link between justice toward the neighbor and righteousness before God, a link that went back to the covenant at Sinai and to the ancient prophetic traditions of Israel. Amos’ ministry provides an eternal witness of God’s opposition to economic, political, and social injustice.

The words of Amos were adapted by Martin Luther King, Jr., whose famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. in August 1963 brought a new meaning to the words of Amos: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).

Amos spoke to an oppressed society and his concern for the poor and the oppressed made him a prophet for all times. Amos is also a prophet for the twenty-first century, a time when the gap between rich and poor has never been greater.

The sources of oppression and injustice may look different today, but people’s concern for material prosperity reflects the days in which Amos lived. Amos’ message of God’s opposition to injustice, his criticism of the people’s worship of material things, and his witness of God’s special concern for the poor and oppressed, affirm that the worship of God in any age is worthless if social oppression and injustice are ignored.

Since justice and righteousness are the focus of Amos’ message, it is important to look at how the words justice and righteousness are used by the prophet. The words justice and righteousness are used together three times in two chapters of the book of Amos (Amos 5:7; 5:24; 6:12). The word justice is used once by itself (Amos 5:15).

“O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth” (Amos 5:7 RSV).

“Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” (Amos 5:15 RSV).

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24 RSV).

“Do horses run upon rocks? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (Amos 6:12 RSV).

Wormwood was an extremely bitter plant. The word was used several times in Jeremiah and in Lamentations to describe the bitterness of the calamities that befell Judah at the time of their exile to Babylon (Jeremiah 9: 15; 23:15; Lamentation 3: 15, 19). The justice that Israel’s courts dispensed to the poor was nothing but bitterness.

The oppression and injustice Amos found in the Northern Kingdom was evidence that righteousness had been thrown to the ground as something worthless by those who were in power. Righteousness no longer had any meaning for the powerful people of Israel as a requirement of the worship of God.

To Amos, “hating evil and loving good” was a simple yet powerful statement of how to establish justice “in the gate.” In a very simple language, the prophet placed principles of true justice before a group of people who could argue about legal technicalities while tolerating bribery, corruption, and greed.

The gate of the city was fortified in order to protect the city from enemies and to serve as the place where the elders of the city would gather as a legal assembly to decide cases needing adjudication. The gate was the place where the local judiciary met to determine right and wrong in legal disputes, and therefore, to decide who was innocent or guilty.

Deuteronomy 25: 1 describes this process: “Suppose two persons have a dispute and enter into litigation, and the judges decide between them, declaring one to be in the right and the other to be in the wrong.” If the judges successfully declared where the right was, then justice had been
served.

The decision of the court had a redemptive aspect for the parties involved in the litigation. The decision of the court was intended to vindicate the just party in a legal dispute. The decision was also intended to protect the social order by determining right and wrong and correcting the wrong. Thus, the decision of the court was particularly important in cases where the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien, people without power and influence, could not find redress in the community apart from the decision of the court.

When the words “justice” and “righteousness” are used in Amos, justice is the primary word since it appears first in the parallelism of the two words. Justice is the result of seeking or loving good, as in Amos 5:15. Justice is also the fruit or the result of righteousness as in Amos 6:12. Thus, according to Amos, righteousness is essential to the well-being of the community. Righteousness is essentially a relational rather than an absolute ethical idea. Righteousness has to do with the relationship between a person and God, and a relationship between members of the community. Righteousness is a relational concept; its meaning is determined by the particular social context in which it is used. Righteousness is a quality of life which is displayed by people who live up to the demands of the covenant. The righteous person does what is right to other persons involved in the relationship.

Amos proclaimed that Israel had violated the ancient traditions of Israel. The poor and oppressed were individuals who deserved the protection of the court and fair treatment by those in a position of dispensing legal decisions. The only way for this to become a reality in Israelite society was for justice to roll down like waters, and for righteousness to run like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).

Since its inception, the United States of America has struggled with developing a just criteria for immigrants seeking citizenship, particularly as it relates to people of color. The roots of this struggle lie in America’s arduous history as it relates to slavery. In 1776 as the American colonies were preparing to separate from Great Britain, Thomas Jefferson wrote what has become almost a sacred document for not only Americans but for oppressed people across the globe who seek freedom, justice and an opportunity to have a better life.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence he penned the prophetic words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the fathers of America signed it, they had no idea that they would be motivating marginalized people across the world, generation after generation to seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because even though the Declaration of Independence professed that all men were created equal in reality only white men were considered to be full citizens when America was born.

When America was born slaves had no rights and free people of color and women had few if any rights. Even after slavery ended people of African descent continued to experience discrimination and were denied full citizenship rights as a result of Jim Crow laws that were pervasive across the land. My former Gunnery Sergeant, Mike Phillips use to put it this way, because of the laws of the land and the hearts of the people, “If you were yellow you were mellow, if you were brown you might be able to stick around but if you were black you had to get back!”

Nevertheless, God is a God who loves the oppressed and He is the King of Justice. So the Holy Spirit empowered people like Rosa Parks, Medgar Evans, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. who initiated, formed and led the civil rights movement, which dismantled legalized segregation in the 1960’s. Finally, descendants of African slaves had full citizenship rights in America. Police Accountability, AB953 law “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).

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~Hidden by God~

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They have taken crafty counsel against your people and consulted against your hidden ones…


This name is especially applicable to Israel because of the geographical position of their country. (Cf. Numbers 23:9, “The people shall dwell alone.”) They were away, off the beaten track of the nations, shut in, and, as it were, hidden, by the deserts on the east and south, the sea on the west, and the mountains on the north, from the rest of the world. But the expression in the text is applicable to all God’s people everywhere and always. They are his hidden ones. And we note concerning them –

I. THE FACT – THEY ARE HIDDEN.

1. Their physical life God often hides from those who would destroy it. Not always does he do this, but often, as Peter from Herod (Acts 12.; and cf. Obadiah’s hiding of the prophets, 1 Kings 18:4). And how often God has hidden his servants in wildernesses, glens, mountain heights, catacombs, etc.! The adversary would fain have destroyed them all, as the wolf the sheep; but they have not all been destroyed, the sheep yet outnumber the wolves.

2. Their spiritual life is ever a hidden one. For it resides not in themselves, but in another, as the life of the branches is in the vine (John 15.; Colossians 3:3). The principles that govern it are not known or understood or appreciated by the world. Its law of self-sacrifice, meekness, etc. Except by uncertain conjecture, the world knows nothing of its springs of action and its controlling motives. The practice of this life is also so different from the world’s life. It is meek, retiring, not loving notoriety; it pursues a lowly and unnoticed way; it has no eye for worldly pomp, no ear for worldly applause. It is not necessarily identified with any places, or seasons, or forms of worship, or order of men; but whilst generally using more or less of them, is independent of them all.

3. And this condition of God’s hidden ones is of their own choice. (Ruth 2:12Psalm 91:1Psalm 143:9.) They love to have it so. The hidden life is, in their esteem, the blessed, the secure, the eternal life.

4. It is God who hides them. (Cf. Psalm 31:20John 10:28.) He does this by his providential care and by keeping them in his own love. And the majority of them he has hidden from men below in his own blessed presence in heaven. The Church on earth is a little flock indeed, not absolutely, but in comparison with the vast flock in the heavenly pastures, and there they are forever hidden from all the malice and might of men or of the devil.

II. WHAT THIS FACT IMPLIES.

1. Their preciousness in the sight of God. Things common and cheap we do not hide, or those for which we do not care. Jewels are hidden oftentimes, and God calls his hidden ones his jewels (Malachi 3:17). And how could they be other than precious, when we remember their cost! – “redeemed with the precious blood of Christ;” each one was bought with that price. And God deems them precious, also, for their own sakes. They can and will respond, ever more and more perfectly, to that love in the heart of God which, like all love, yearns for a response such as they only can give.

2. Their peril. God would not have hidden them as he has were they in no danger (see text). And how perpetually did our Lord bids us “watch and pray”! The world, the flesh, the devil, are ever bent on doing us harm. We are safe only as “our life is hidden with Christ in God”

3. Obscurity. The world knows us not, even as it knew him not. See how all but unbroken is the absolute silence of secular history as to the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and as to the history of his Church, until its marvelous growth and supernatural power compelled its attention. And still, the fame, layout, and honor of the world are things which none of God’s hidden ones may seek (John 5:41, 44).

4. Safety. (Psalm 91., the whole psalm.)

5. The love of him whose hidden ones we are.

III. TO WHAT IT SHOULD LEAD.

1. To the deep love of God. Whatever God has given you, he has given and he can give nothing like this – numbering you among his hidden ones.

2. To stay where you are. Dwell in the secret place of the Most High.

3. To have done with forebodings, murmurings, and helpless grief. Should such as you be chargeable with such things?

4. To confession of God’s love to you before your fellow men.

5. To all holy endeavors to bring others where you are

~Whose Church is The Church~

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Galatians 3:26-27The Message (MSG)

25-27 But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ, you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.

A common misconception about the church of Christ is that “The Church of Christ” is its name. It is not. The “church of Christ” is its description. The church of Christ is the church that belongs to Christ, that was established by Christ, that was built by Christ, and that was bought by Christ. It is not our church; it is His church, the Lord’s church. We are not voted into the church by men, and we do not join a church the way some might join a country club. Instead, God adds us to His church when we obey His gospel.
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Ever addressed the topic: Gospel vs. doctrine?

Could not find this specific topic addressed. It is a current issue being debated locally. The progressive spirit insists that unity is only our faith in Christ, or that we all believe in Christ,(might as well say faith only), because in the next breath they say doctrine is another area, apart from our faith in Christ, some then add, after all, we cannot agree on doctrine”. Two folks added, “We have fellowship with those who believe in Jesus”. It was opened up to even those in denominations. I am afraid we have union, but not unity, as the importance of doctrine is diminished. Thanks.

The Answer:

Creating a distinction between “gospel” and “doctrine” is not new – it has been around for years. It is a theory espoused by those who, as you suggest, seek union in diversity. They do this by arguing for a false dichotomy, establishing their own rules and rejecting God’s teaching.

Does the scripture distinguish between “gospel” and “doctrine”? If it does, then we should adopt it. If it does not, then we should oppose it and withdraw from those who teach it. 2 Thess. 3:6. The theory that doctrine is one thing and gospel is another are found in early twentieth century Europe. J.A. Jungmann, a German Catholic theologian published his views in a text titled, The Good News and Our Proclamation of the Faith, (1936). Jungmann proposed what he called the “kerygmatic approach to preaching.” He made a hard distinction between gospel (Kerygma) and doctrine (Didache). Later that year British theologian, C.H. Dodd, published a book called, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, in which he urged that a firm distinction is made between gospel and doctrine.

The Bible does not support such a theory. In the Koine (Hellenistic Greek) language, in which the New Testament was written, the word gospel (Kerygma) means “good news” and is used to refer to the salvational aspects of Jesus. The word doctrine (Didache) means “teaching” or “discourse,” and has reference to the same salvational message as the gospel. Therefore, it is not unusual for the New Testament to speak of the gospel as that which must be obeyed (2 Thess. 1:8). If the gospel is only a set of facts — death, burial, and resurrection — it cannot be obeyed. One cannot obey facts!

Now some in the Lord’s church borrowed the “gospel versus doctrine” theory from Jungmann and Dodd to build a base on which to launch their speculation about open fellowship between the church and denominations. They call their opinion unity-in-diversity – a contradiction in terms. In this view, the gospel is separated from teaching, or doctrine, and supersedes it in importance. The adherents of unity-in-diversity stress that only the gospel is important since doctrine is a relative and elusive standard. Therefore, all believers (regardless of their denominational-church) are to achieve unity of faith by ignoring doctrine, but gospel must not be discarded.

The very definition of the word gospel, in the unity-in-diversity theory, was modified to exclude everything but the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In more recent literature this notion has been styled the Core Gospel. As a result of this historic shift in faith, some brethren (?) stress that the gospel can be preached only to the lost (i.e., the world), but doctrine may be preached only to the saved (i.e., the church).

In the Bible, the two words (gospel and doctrine) are intertwined. For instance, when Paul preached the resurrection (a part of the so-called core-gospel-triad) the Athenians called it doctrine (Acts 17:18-19). How ludicrous it would have been for Paul to respond to the sincere question of the Greek philosophers by saying he could not teach them doctrine because they were not yet Christians.

Servants of sin obeyed doctrine to be free from sin and become servants of righteousness (Rom. 6:17). If there is a difference in doctrine and gospel, and if only the gospel frees from sin, how could these unbelievers obey doctrine? There is nothing in the context of 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 antagonistic to doctrine. It is ridiculous to say Paul preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus without giving conditions of salvation. How could one understand how to respond to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ separate from specific teaching or doctrine? (See Romans 6:3-4 with v. 7.) On Pentecost Peter preached the resurrection of Christ, but also told people what commands to obey to be saved (Acts 2:31-38).

Why does Paul write to the Roman Christians telling them that he is ready to preach the gospel to them if the gospel is not for the saved? Rom. 1:15. The Christian’s life is to be a life that is “becoming to the gospel.” Phil 1:27. If doctrine is for the church why did Paul not seek a life that becomes doctrine? Gospel and doctrine are not separate. Some have accepted a false distinction between gospel and doctrine to erect an unauthorized bridge of fellowship with the denominational world.

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What is the church of Christ?

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised to build a church. In Acts 2:47, Luke tells us that people were being added to that church. Thus, we can conclude that Jesus built His church sometime between His promise in Matthew 16 and Luke’s statement in Acts 2. Indeed, a closer study of the events in Acts 2 reveals that the Lord’s church was established on that first day of Pentecost following the Lord’s resurrection when Peter preached the first gospel sermon. That church is the church of Christ.

Are those in the church of Christ the only people who are going to be saved? Of course they are! God adds people to His church when they are saved. If you are not in the Lord’s church, then you are not saved. If you are saved, then you are in the Lord’s church. To be saved outside of the church of Christ is to be saved outside of the body of Christ – and that can never happen. Jesus is not just a way to the Father; he is the way to the Father. As Jesus said in John 14:6, “ I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Thus, the real question is not what is the church of Christ, but is rather how do you become a part of the church of Christ? That question was asked in the first century as it is asked today, and the answer remains the same. We are saved and added to the Lord’s church when we obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the Apostle Paul, we are saved when our sins are washed away at our baptism.

There is one church of Christ. If you are a member of something else or something more or something less, then you are not serving God according to His plan or according to His will. He wants you to be a Christian and only a Christian, wearing only the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the head and the savior of the church, His body.

 

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What Must I Do?

What must I do? That same question was asked in Acts 2:37 at the end of the very first gospel sermon ever preached. Before we look at Peter’s answer in verse 38, let’s look at some answers Peter did NOT give.

What must I do? John Calvin answers, “Nothing!” According to Calvin, there is nothing we must do and nothing we can do. Each of us has already been personally predestined to Heaven or Hell without regard to anything we do on Earth, and so, logically, according to Calvin, the only answer to the question in Acts 2:37 is “Nothing.” But that is NOT how Peter answered that question.

1 Peter 3:21

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What must I do? Many preachers today answer, “You must make Jesus the Lord of your life.” But that answer makes absolutely no sense then or now! Peter had just said in Acts 2:36 that “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Jesus was already Lord of their lives! Jesus is Lord of lords and King of kings, which means he is your Lord and your King whether or not you obey him or believe him. We obey Jesus because he is Lord and King – not to make him Lord and King.

What must I do? Many preachers today answer, “You must pray the sinner’s prayer and invite the Lord Jesus into your heart.” But no one in the Bible was ever told to do that. In fact, Paul prayed after he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), and yet Paul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always (Acts 10:2), and yet there remained something he still had to do after calling for Peter (Acts 10:6). If praying the sinner’s prayer was all that Paul and Cornelius needed to do, then why were Ananias and Peter needed?

What must I do? Listen as Peter answers that question: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38) That answer has not changed one bit in the intervening 2000 years. If your preacher is telling you something different, then you need a new preacher! “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16

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PASSIONATE LIVING VS. FEAR

STORY…

Sarah Ban Breathnach tells of a business trip her husband took to the beach, where she and her daughter enjoyed the mornings while he attended workshops. One afternoon it was announced that there would be elephant rides for the children in the hotel parking lot. Her daughter, Katie, was delirious with excitement. Sarah told her, “Life is always full of wonderful surprises if we’re open to them. Some mornings you get up not knowing what will happen, and you get to ride an elephant that day!” When they got home, there was an invitation for Sarah to join a group of journalists on a trip to Ireland. She was tired of traveling, and not really a spontaneous person, so she told them she would probably not go. Her husband, overhearing her, said, “So, you’re not going to ride the elephant?” She decided to go.

VERSE…

“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fear (Psalm 34:4).

POINT…

Living passionately involves a lot of pressure and risk. I mean, what if you fall off the elephant? A writer named Ambrose Redmoon wrote: Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. You might be afraid of all kinds of things, but if one of your kids were in danger, you’d be fearless. Also, don’t you want to live believing that God is bigger than whatever you’re afraid of? You have to make a decision to stop letting fear win: stop holding on to your blanket of insecurity and anxiety. Show up with everything God has given you, and join the battle against whatever opposes the redeeming work of God in this world. Take yourself less seriously and God more seriously!

“I wish you’d take the brakes off and let me preach,”

Christ is king. But what kind of king is he? Is Christ the kind of king who will send children to die in wars? Is Christ the kind of king who will take advantage of us?
I certainly hope not! If we take the example of human rulers are just scale up, we find ourselves with a Christ who is abusive, selfish, cruel, and all-powerful. That’s not the kind of Savior I want.

So what kind of king is Jesus? What kind of king are we celebrating today?
Our king, Christ the King, is—in a word—unexpected. Christ the King is unexpected in his birth, unexpected in his life, unexpected in his death, and unexpected in his return.
Let me explain what I mean. Think of a human king. You’d expect him to be born in a palace, surrounded by nobles and guards and wealth, raised in the lap of luxury.
Our king was born into poverty, wrapped in rags, put to rest in a manger meant for hay.
Think again of a human king. You’d expect him to travel around with courtiers and attendants, or live in his castle, with advisors to help him manage his kingdom.
Our king traveled around with fishermen, foreigners, and women. Our king visited with the sick, the outcast, the desperate.
A human king would die in his bed; he’d be mourned publicly, buried in a place of honor. Or at least he would die heroically in a battle, struck down by an enemy.
Our king was brutally executed by the state, nailed to a cross. His body was laid in a spare tomb nearby, without ceremony.

What kind of king is Christ? The unexpected kind. The kind who defies every expectation, every assumption about what a king should be.
Which brings me back to this famous parable from Matthew 25. Did you notice what the sheep and the goats, the people on the king’s right and left, have in common? Both groups are surprised to learn that they encountered the king. The sheep say, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? When was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
The goats’ response is the same, except that they failed to act: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

Both groups are surprised. They had no idea they had encountered their king in the guise of someone hungry, or poor, or sick. They had no idea that they had seen their king in the face of a foreigner, an immigrant, a prisoner.
This king, our king, is unexpected. He was born, he lived, he died, in the most unexpected ways. His resurrection and ascension were certainly unexpected. And this parable teaches us that his return will also be unexpected. We might be waiting for the Son of Man to come in glory, surrounded by angels, sitting on a throne. But what we will discover—what the sheep and the goats in the parable discover—is that our king has already returned. We have already seen him. He’s the panhandler on the street corner. He’s the farmworker picking our crops. He’s alone in a hospital room with no one to visit him. He’s locked up in San Quentin. He’s a teenaged girl going into Planned Parenthood, an undocumented mother bringing her children across the border, a widow alone in her home.
What kind of king is Christ? Just look around. You’ll see him. Amen.

Baptism in the Bible

Matthew 28:19

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Mark 16:16

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Acts 2:38

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 8:36

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

Acts 22:16

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

Romans 6:3

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:4

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

1 Corinthians 12:13

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

Galatians 3:27

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Ephesians 4:5

One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Colossians 2:12

Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

1 Peter 3:21

The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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~Educate to stop Recidivism~

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“We care (about prison education), very simply, because (prisoners) get out. Almost everyone who is locked up now is going to be set free one day. If we treat prisoners like animals the whole time they are locked up, that’s what we’ll get when they’re back on the streets: wild, dangerous animals.” ― Christopher Zoukis, College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons

Parole in the United States originated in the Elmira Reformatory in New York State in 1867 as an option for the early release of individuals for good behavior and a means to reduce institutional overcrowding. In the early twentieth century, it came to be viewed as a tool for intermediate sentencing in furtherance of the goal of rehabilitation. However, during the 1970s concerns regarding the integrity of indeterminate sentencing arose due to increasing crime rates, a lack of empirical knowledge regarding effective correctional interventions, insufficient allocation of resources for rehabilitative interventions, and the so-called war on drugs.

In addition, concerns were raised about inconsistent decision-making by paroling authorities that resulted in apparent unfairness and inequity in release decisions deemed arbitrary, capricious, racially biased, and resulted in unjustifiably disparate sentences. Also, studies in the 1970s (conducted by Martinson and Brody) found a paucity of convincing evidence that rehabilitation reduces recidivism.

During the 1980s incarceration came to be conceptualized as punishment (i.e., just deserts), and by the late 1980s and 1990s as a means of incapacitation and deterrence with far less concern for equity and proportionality in sentencing. Mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes, truth-in-sentencing, and mandatory sex offender registration laws were enacted.
Rehabilitation was discarded, often coupled with the reduction or elimination of discretionary parole release. This gets tough on crime stance resulted in an explosive growth in prison populations, rates of incarceration, and costs of construction and operation of prisons.Ironically, as sentencing models focused more and more on punishment and incapacitation, research was providing evidence of effective interventions for reducing recidivism along with the ineffectiveness of incarceration.

Along with the shift from rehabilitation to punishment, the mission of parole to support reintegration shifted to reflect the get tough on crime stance resulting in fewer releases prior to the expiration of sentences, holding individuals who were released for greater portions of their maximum sentences, and increasing rates of parole revocation and re-incarceration.

By the 1990s the United States incarcerated more persons per capita than any other country with over two million adults behind bars, amounting to an incarceration rate of about one in one hundred. At the onset of the twenty-first century, the criminal justice system faced a rising prison population serving longer terms along with significantly diminished resources for prison-based programming, increased parole and probation caseloads, and scarce resources for returning citizens. Corrections costs (nearly ninety percent of which are allocated to prisons) soared creating serious budgetary pressures and accounting for significant amounts of states’ general fund discretionary dollars. Growing numbers of returning citizens and serious fiscal crises facing many states gave rise to a burgeoning interest in reentry.

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During the 1980s and 1990s, parole release and supervision focused primarily on enforcement and surveillance, using monitoring to stress compliance with conditions of release. Increasing rates of incarceration and release have resulted in increasing numbers of persons under community supervision posing significant challenges to parole/probation agencies as resources have not kept pace with these increases. By the turn of the century, parole revocation practices came under increasing scrutiny and efforts designed to reduce the rate of parole revocations, especially for technical violations, and promote the more effective reintegration of returning citizens have become a major focus. Studies show that individuals released on parole at the discretion of a releasing authority are more likely to successfully complete their parole term without re-incarceration than individuals released through a mandatory system.

The majority of returning citizens have not experienced successful community reentry.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), two-thirds (67.5%) of individuals released from prison are rearrested within three years more than half of whom are reincarcerated. Studies have shown that returning citizens are at highest risk for recidivism during the first six months after release when almost one-third (29.9%) are rearrested. Despite public perception that people on parole are more likely to commit crimes, the vast majority do not return to prison for a new offense. Seventy percent are re-incarcerated4 due to technical parole violations (e.g., missing appointments and not maintaining employment) rather than for the commission of new crimes.

Returning citizens are faced with significant challenges to successful reentry including reuniting with family and significant others, finding jobs and housing, and remaining substance-free while avoiding high-risk situations that can trigger relapse and recidivism. More individuals are released from longer terms of incarceration and are more are likely to have health or substance abuse problems which exacerbate these challenges. In addition, limited availability of jobs, housing, and social services in a community can adversely impact successful reintegration.

Fifty-five percent of adults involved in the criminal justice system have minor children and parents who are incarcerated can owe an average of more than $20,000.00 in child support debt at the time of release. There is now a substantive and growing research base of effective correctional practices that
promote successful reentry. Strategies that can significantly reduce recidivism have been identified, including prison and community-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), substance abuse treatment, relationship enhancement skills (e.g., motivational interviewing), vocational and educational programming, and community supervision that includes a case management focus along with rewards and sanctions and linkages with appropriate treatment and service
and support providers.

In sum, the large numbers of returning citizens, a significant proportion of whom are reincarcerated, concerns regarding community safety, state fiscal crises, and increasing correctional costs, as well as research on evidence-based correctional interventions, are now driving contemporary correctional practice. These have led to a shift in focus in correctional institutions from custody and control to preparing individuals for their release starting from admission and continuing throughout community supervision and beyond. Parole’s traditional emphasis on surveillance and enforcement of conditions (i.e., identifying violations and quickly revoking parole for noncompliance) is being replaced by a focus on transition and successful reintegration.

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~I Am Made Alive In Christ~

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Rembert-TheLynching

“Some of us aren’t meant to belong. Some of us have to turn the world upside down and shake the hell out of it until we make our own place in it.” ― Elizabeth Lowell, Remember Summer

God destroys the barriers that divide us. In Him, there are no insiders or outsiders.

Image result for Images of cartoon afro american insiders & outsiders

The text of the message from Eph 2:1-10  passages hinge on two words in v. 4 – “But, God…” With those words darkness is turned light, hopelessness is thrown aside for favor, a desperate situation is changed to one of amazing destiny! We were dead, ‘objects of wrath,’ but because our merciful loving God intervened, we are now SPIRITUALLY alive and destined for HEAVEN.

Seven Way King

My King was born King. The Bible says He’s a Seven Way King. He’s the King of the Jews – that’s a racial King. He’s the King of Israel – that’s a National King. He’s the King of righteousness. He’s the King of the ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of glory. He’s the King of kings and He is the Lord of lords. Now that’s my King. Well, I wonder if you know Him. Do you know Him? Don’t try to mislead me. Do you know my King?

TEXT -Ephesians 2-11-21

Almost every one of us has the unpleasant experience of being an “outsider” at some point in our life.

Ever been ‘shut out?’

Discrimination, that is, choosing to accept or reject people based on color, sex, or religion is a “skill” which we learn fairly early in life.

Little boys form their clubs and put the sign over the door of the clubhouse, “no girls allowed!”

As early as first or second grade, kids have already decided who is cool and who isn’t, who is an insider and who is an outsider.

The little kid who was born with bigger ears than other people, who has clothes that are last year’s style, is marked an outsider and shunned fiercely!

Big people play the same games, just not as openly.

When the black man shows up to apply for the job, a company isn’t hiring, but when the foreman’s son needs a summer job, one is suddenly available.

When a woman of skill and training wants to move into management there is a freeze on promotions, but somehow when that classy young guy makes it known that he might move on if he doesn’t move up, the company finds a place.

Our text is about being invited ‘in.’ Paul expands on the grace message in the first 10 verses. He lays a foundation of theological unity for us, reminding us that ‘in Christ,’ the barriers come down.

Principle- There are no ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’ in the family of God.

Before we read the text – another great one – that stirred me to heights of worship as I studied it again this week, we have to know some of Bible history. The Lord called Abram, out of Ur, invited him to faith, and seeing his obedience, made a covenant, an agreement, with him.

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.” (Genesis 12:1-4, NIV)

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” …”I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Gen 17;1,7-11, NIV)

 

God promised Abraham that his descendants would be His very own people! What a calling, what a privilege! They would represent the Lord before the world. Curiously, the mark of their uniqueness was circumcision. Every Jewish boy, on the 8th day following his birth, would be circumcised, physical mark on his body for life, signifying that he was part of the privileged people of God.

But, He did not set out to create an exclusive club. What did He say? That the descendants of Abraham were to be a blessing to the whole world, showing the world the one true God and his ways.

Human nature being what it is, the ancient children of Abraham closed their society and regarded the rest of the world contemptuously as the “uncircumcised.” They (not all, but most) assumed Gentiles were excluded from the promises of God.

TEXT- “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

(Ephesians 2:11-16, NIV)

The Jewish/Gentile controversy was the HOT BUTTON issue of the Church when Paul was writing. Many of the Jews who accepted Jesus Christ as Messiah, still thought of themselves as insiders because of their religious heritage. Many teachers insisted that Gentile Christians HAD to observe Jewish law – including circumcision, Sabbath observance, and kosher diet. Some of the early churches met together but did not take communion together, dividing between Jewish converts and Gentile converts, even for the holy meal.

Paul calls on them to see what Christ has done.

TEXT- “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.” Eph 2:22

It is possible you’re listening to me go on about this and wondering, “What does this have to do with me? That controversy is a non-issue here.” Ah, you’re right and you’re wrong. Discrimination, even in the church, is alive and well in 2017.

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There are people who are ‘churched’ or who have absorbed a cultural worldview that they believe is Biblical, who are not at all shy to say that they are insiders with God. Because they are “good” they believe that God looks with favor on them and they perhaps jealously guard their church club.

Divorced? Not welcome.

Identifying yourself as a homosexual? Not welcome.

Struggling with pornography? Not welcome.

Have a promiscuous past? Not welcome.

Trying to reconcile your education that marginalized God with the authority of the Scripture? Not welcome.

Don’t understand the rituals or words used in church? Not welcome.

Other barriers are raised – too rich? Too poor? Too young, too old? Too many tattoos, hair too long, don’t like the right kind of music? Don’t have the ‘right’ theology?

Ill.- This week I met with some local pastors who minister in churches that are not evangelical.

Somehow our conversation drifted into a discussion of their interaction with some pastors from churches who are more conservative. It was both sad and funny to hear the stories of ignorance and bigotry that were visited on these pastors by those who did not consider them to be ‘real Christians.’

I am sad to say that I get this text from the position of the “circumcision” as an insider.

I grew up with the rituals, absorbed the values, learned the words, lived a life that was morally respectable. For the first 3 decades of my life, I was horribly certain about who was in the family of God and who was not. It’s a habit that dies hard. From time to time, I still find myself spiritually prideful, though much less these days than I once did. I repent, for I realize that my credentials gain me no favor with God. Only Christ does!

Perhaps you’re on the other side of the issue feeling very much the outsider. You may be convinced that because of something you’ve done, or something done to you, that because of who you are … God would never accept you.

TEXT “Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals and so made us equals. Through Him, we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:17-18, The Message)

So, what does any of this mean for our lives?

Three illustrations are used to show what is true who are ‘in Christ’ through faith.

TEXT “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him, the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him, you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

(Ephesians 2:19-22, NIV)

1. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – citizens of the kingdom of heaven!

Americans, for the most part, spend their entire life within the borders of one nation. American culture is dominant in the world so understanding of blessings may elude us.

I was privileged, many years ago, to spend a few weeks in India. I was among people whose languages I did not know, whose customs I did not understand, whose food was very different. It was a curious thing to be surrounded by people who communicated without me having the least clue of what they were saying. For all I knew, they could have been discussing ME. Physically, I stood 6″ taller than most of the people and my skin was darker by several shades.

When I arrived back in the US, I was glad to be able to communicate. When the customs agent spoke to me, I understood him. When he saw my passport, he waved me through. I was a citizen, with rights and privileges, not an alien who was here as a guest.

Sin made us aliens to God as our text has made plain. The divide could not be bridged by anything we did. God showed mercy! And, more wonderful, secured our citizenship at His expense, by giving His Son as the sacrifice.

When we accept Him, by faith, He grants us entry into the kingdom of God.

2. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – members of God’s family.

I love visitors in our home. But, common courtesy says that if you visit, you don’t go into the refrigerator and start to prepare something to eat without an invitation. If your stay is extended, you don’t just assume that a bedroom is ready for you.

But, when my kids come home, they can walk through the door without knocking, they can sit up to the dinner table without an invitation. They have household privileges!

In Christ, God is your Father and you have run of the house. In fact, you have rights of inheritance!

Eternal life is yours. Heaven is yours. The Father’s wealth is yours!

3. Those who are ‘in Christ’ (by faith) are invited to become – an integral part of God’s holy temple.

Paul says we are ‘temple,’ each of us a building block, all of us resting on the Cornerstone, Jesus.

When we come to Christ, we are invited to become part of His Church. We are no longer alone. We are given the privilege of working alongside others to accomplish things we could not even dream about on our own! We are, to change the metaphor, brought onto God’s team, equipped with spiritual gifts, given a place to belong, to serve, to find purpose.

True teamwork is something awesome to see. The recent World Series was dominated, not by a couple of superstar players, but by the Houston Astros, who were a stellar team! Unlike Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers pitcher, Houston Astros pitcher, Brad Peacock, was good, but not a star yet. We saw a team effort and a team win.

And, what is the purpose of this temple? To be a place for ‘insiders’ to form a holy club, to be a fortress to shut out the wider world? To be a place of privilege for a few?

TEXT – “Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22, NLT)

God brings us together in His Church so that we will make Him, invisible, a visible Presence here on Earth!

Outsider? Insider?

Do you feel like God is far away because of your past or your messed-up present?

Too something – dysfunctional, broken, sin-scarred to be useful?

Or are you feeling self-satisfied because you think of yourself as one the good guys?

The fact – “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” the Words says.

We are all separate from God unless we humble ourselves to enter through the common door of access, through Jesus Christ. And when we are ‘in Christ’ we are invited to

Closing, He Lives: Who is He Preacher, Jesus, My King

STORY…

Paul Tournier was a brilliant thinker and writer, and an influential Christian therapist during his time. Doctors from around the world traveled to his home in Switzerland to learn from him. He wrote, “It is a little embarrassing for students to come over and study my ‘techniques.’ They always go away disappointed, because all I do is accept people.”

VERSE…

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10)

A gospel song refers to a hill called Mount Calvary, but the Gospels never say, “Mount Calvary.” Some Bible versions translate the place where Jesus was crucified to be the Aramaic word Golgotha, meaning the Place of the Skull. Others translate it as the Latin word Calvary. Luke 23:33 says, “And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left” (NKJV).

Jesus was crucified on Mount Calvary. According to John 19:20, it was near Jerusalem. Hebrews 13:11-13 (based on Leviticus 16:27) explained that, while the animal’s blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, most of the animal was burned outside the camp. Jesus likewise was crucified outside the city in a maelstrom of activities over a six-hour period, with everything focused on Him.

O How I love Jesus, Why? Because:

David says
The Heavens declare the glory of God
And the firmament showeth His handiwork
No means of measure can define His limitless love
No far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply
No barriers can hinder Him from pouring out His blessing

He’s enduringly strong
He’s entirely sincere
He’s eternally steadfast
He’s immortally graceful
He’s imperially powerful
He’s impartially merciful

Jesus was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of twenty-five events occurred between 9 AM and 3 PM. Among them were the public execution itself; the soldiers offering him vinegar laced with gall; two thieves being crucified either side of Jesus; darkness falling over the land for three hours; the temple veil being torn in two from top to bottom; an earthquake shaking the earth; soldiers piercing Christ’s side when they found him already dead; Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus burying the corpse with seventy-five pounds of spices; women standing at a distance watching Him die, and in close proximity in the garden as the rich men buried Him.

What do you say he is Preacher:

He’s God’s Son
He’s the sinners’ Saviour
He’s the centerpiece of civilization
He stands alone in Himself
He’s August
He’s unique
He’s unparalleled
He’s unprecedented
He’s supreme
He’s pre-eminent
He’s the loftiest idea in literature
He’s the highest personality in philosophy
He’s the supreme problem in higher criticism
He’s the fundamental doctrine in true theology
He’s the cardinal necessity of spiritual religion

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of ten decisions were made. Among them: Jesus refused the vinegar-wine; the soldiers divided His clothes; Pilate asked for the centurion’s guarantee that Christ had died; the women left the cross for home, where they prepared spices and observed the Sabbath.

Who is He Preacher:

He’s the miracle of the age
He’s the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him
He’s the only one able to supply all of our needs simultaneously
He supplies strength for the weak
He’s available for the tempted and the tried
He sympathizes and He saves
He guards and He guides
He heals the sick
He cleansed the lepers
He forgives sinners

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where a minimum of sixteen statements were made. Among them: Christ’s seven words; Pilate’s sign called him King of the Jews; the leaders and others mocked him for destroying the temple, but not saving himself; the thieves and soldiers abused him for what they perceived failures; the man who lifted a wine-soaked hyssop plant to Christ’s parched lips wanted to see if Elijah would come and remove him; the centurion called Jesus a son of the gods.

What does he do Preacher;

He discharges debtors
He delivers the captives
He defends the feeble
He blesses the young
He serves the unfortunate
He regards the aged
He rewards the diligent
And He beautifies the meek

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where many conversations were held. The two recorded were the stirring dialogue between Jesus and the penitent thief and the rancorous dialogue between the priests and Pilate over the wording in Pilate’s sign nailed above Christ’s head.

Do you Know Him preacher?

My King is the key of knowledge
He’s the wellspring of wisdom
He’s the doorway of deliverance
He’s the pathway of peace
He’s the roadway of righteousness
He’s the highway of holiness
He’s the gateway of glory
He’s the master of the mighty
He’s the captain of the conquerors
He’s the head of the heroes
He’s the leader of the legislators
He’s the overseer of the overcomers
He’s the governor of governors
He’s the prince of princes
He’s the King of Kings
And He’s the Lord of Lords

That’s my King

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary, where at least five requests were made. Among them: the leaders asked Jesus to prove Himself by coming off the cross; Jesus asked John to provide sanctuary for Mary; the priests asked Pilate to remove the bodies before sunset.

My King
His office is manifold
His promise is sure
His life is matchless
His goodness is limitless
His mercy is everlasting
His love never changes
His word is enough
His grace is sufficient
His reign is righteous
His yoke is easy
and His burden is light

Christ was crucified on Mount Calvary wherein a sacrifice only He could make, He secured a victory only He could win.

I wish I could describe Him to you
He’s indescribable
He’s indescribable
He’s incomprehensible
He’s invincible
He’s irresistible
I’m trying to tell you
The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him
Let alone a man explain Him
You can’t get Him out of your mind
You can’t get Him off of your hands
You can’t outlive Him
And you can’t live without Him
The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him
but they found out they couldn’t stop Him
Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him
The witnesses couldn’t get their testimonies to agree
And Herod couldn’t kill Him
Death couldn’t handle Him
And the grave couldn’t hold Him

That’s my King!

Become a child of the heavenly father.

Become a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

Be joined to the great church of God.

He always has been
And He always will be
I’m talking about
He had no predecessor
and He’ll have no successor
There was nobody before Him
and there’ll be nobody after Him
You can’t impeach Him
and He’s not going to resign

That’s my King!

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~The Finished Work Changed My Life~

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Old Testament Book Main Revelation Key Prophecies* / Types of Jesus
Genesis The Seed of the Woman Messiah would be born of the seed of a woman (Gen 3:15Luke 1:34-35)
Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob (Gen 12:317:1928:14Luke 3:23-34)
Messiah would be a king in the line of Judah (Gen 49:10John 1:49)
Typified in the person of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18)
The life of Isaac – the sacrificed son (Gen 22)
The life of Joseph – the rejected brother (Gen 37)
Exodus The Passover Lamb Typified in the life of Moses – the deliverer
The Passover Lamb (Ex 12, John 1:29,36)
The Manna from Heaven (Ex 16, John 6)
The Rock struck at Horeb (Ex 17, 1 Cor 10:4)
The Tabernacle (Brazen Altar, Lampstand, Table of Showbread, Ark of the covenant etc) (Gen 25-30)
Leviticus The High Priest Typified in the sacrifices and offerings (Lev 1-7)
In the Jewish festivals (Passover, Atonement, Lev 16, 23)
In the scapegoat (Lev 16:7-9)
In the person and duties of the High Priest (Lev 16)
Numbers The Cloud and The Fire Messiah would be a King (Num 24:17)
Typified in the bronze serpent (Num 21:8-9)
The Water from the Rock (Num 20)
Deuteronomy The Prophet Like Moses Messiah will be a prophet (Deut 18:15-19John 6:14)
Messiah would be worshipped by angels (Deut 32:43Luke 2:13-14)
Typified in the cities of refuge (Deut 4:41)
Joshua The Captain of Our Salvation Typified in the person of Joshua (our leader into the promised land)
In the Promised Land
In the Commander of the Army (Josh 5:13-15)
Judges The Judge And Lawgiver Typified in the Judges (for He is true Judge of the living and the dead)
Ruth The Kinsman Redeemer Messiah would be a descendant of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:12-17)
Typified in the life of Boaz – The Kinsman Redeemer (Ruth 2:1)

Calvary was the place of Three Crosses – of Rebellion, of Repentance and of Redemption – and the choice is ours.

 

“Love, not anger, brought Jesus to the cross. Golgotha came as a result of God’s great desire to forgive, not his reluctance. Jesus knew that by his vicarious suffering he could actually absorb all the evil of humanity and so heal it, forgive it, redeem it.”
― Richard J. FosterCelebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth

Image result for Afro American Images of The finished work of Christ

Love, God’s Amazing

The young woman was married and had two beautiful children, but one day as she was standing over the sink, washing dishes, she thought, ’There must be more to life than this.’

When her husband came home, he found a note she’d written and he began to weep. She would call him about once every week to check on the children, and he would always tell her of his great love for her and beg her to come home. She would always say no and hang up.

Finally, he hired a private investigator to find her. He went to the apartment where she was staying, nervously holding a spray of flowers in his hand as he stood at the door. He had rehearsed over and over what he would say and he finally got up the nerve to knock on the door.

She opened the door and he started to speak, but she suddenly began to weep and fell into his arms. She managed to say through her tears, “Let’s go home.”

Months after, when things were starting to heal, he finally asked her something that had been bothering him. “All those times I talked to you on the phone; I asked you to come back and you refused. Why did you come back now?”

“Before,” she started, tears in her eyes, “you were just telling me that you loved me. When you came, you showed me.”

The Bible tells us of God’s love, but Jesus came and showed God’s love.

Jesus proved God’s love by dying for us. Let’s examine the five specifics of God’s love.

First, we find that Jesus died in…

A Specific Place (There)

Jesus crucifixion didn’t happen just anywhere, it happened THERE. God’s plan was for His Son to die on a cross.

We do know what country this happened in. This event occurred in Israel. The name Israel can be interpreted as “God strives, God rules, God heals or Striving against God.” It is a picture of both Jacob, renamed Israel after his wrestling with God, and the nation Israel. They both struggled in their relationship with God.

But God made a specific promise that the entire world would be blessed through Israel. And God always keeps His promises.

It not only took place in Israel, but it also came about in Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Literally, Jerusalem means “The Place of Peace.” In over 2,000 years, it has known absolutely no peace. Wars have raged in, for and concerning Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Today, we still find a host of people fighting and struggling over a small place like Jerusalem. It won’t end until Christ returns to set things right!

Finally, we see that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem at a place called “Calvary.” Luke 23:33 uses the Latin word “Calvary” which means “The Skull.” Matthew 27:33,

Matthew 27:33-34The Message (MSG)

32-34 Along the way they came on a man from Cyrene named Simon and made him carry Jesus’ cross. Arriving at Golgotha, the place they call “Skull Hill,” they offered him a mild painkiller (a mixture of wine and myrrh), but when he tasted it he wouldn’t drink it.

Mark 15:22 and John 19:17, all use the Aramaic name “Golgotha” which means “The Skull.” Interestingly, the Greek word for skull is Kranion and is Cranium in English. By using Aramaic, Latin, and Greek on the placard pronouncing Jesus’ crime of being the King of the Jews, the entire world knows where the Son of God was crucified. We are certainly without excuse!

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We know that Jesus not only died in a specific place but He died for and by the hands of…

A Specific People (They)

First, we find the Romans GUILTY of crucifying our savior. Pilate found no fault and yet had Him crucified. The Romans perfected the art of crucifixion. It was designed to be used for slaves, thieves, and common criminals.

We also know that the Jews crucified Jesus. The religious feared for their prestige, power, and positions. They hatched their scheme and delivered Jesus into the hands of the Romans. They are GUILTY of crucifying our Savior.

But the third party who is guilty is you and me! We are GUILTY because it was for our sin for which Jesus died. He who knew no sin became sin for us!

Not only are we responsible for His death, we are also beneficiaries from His death. He became sin and unrighteous in our place on the cross that we might have imputed upon us His righteousness and holiness. We receive mercy and grace when we deserved none!

We know He died in a specific place by a specific people but it caused…

A Specific Pain (Crucified)

The gospel writers never explained or described the crucifixion. The people in their day understood precisely what the cross was; it was an instrument of death! Jesus suffered more than death on the cross.

First, we notice He suffered the Rejection of His people. What made this so painful was that “He came to His own and His own received Him not.” Rejection is a devastating thing to experience. It is a betrayal to the soul.

We also find that Jesus suffered Humiliation. He died between common criminals. He should have been accepted as royalty. Here was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. This was God Almighty in the flesh and He was humiliated among His creation. Glory! What a Savior!

Then we observe that Jesus suffered as our substitute! He took mine and your place on the cross. He took Barabbas’ place on the cross. He is our Substitutionary atonement! Wow, what a savior!

So, He suffered in a specific place by a specific people through a specific pain as…

A Specific Person (Him)

John the Baptist cried out regarding “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus was our sacrificial or paschal lamb. He was perfect without any blemish.

We also know that Jesus was “The Son of God.” Today he sits at the right hand of the Father and will return upon the cloud of glory! There is no greater Person than the Son of God who walked upon this earth. But He came to die for all sinners so “Whosoever will, let him come.”

But most of all we observe that Jesus is “The Promised Messiah.” Since Genesis 3:15, we find that God promised One who would come and deliver us from our sin.

But most of all, Jesus died for…

A Specific Purpose

Jesus didn’t come just to walk on this earth. He came with a purpose. He came to Sacrifice self! Since He is the blameless and sinless Son of God, only He can forgive us our sins. And because he is the blameless and sinless Son of Man, only He can pay the price for our sins.

But most of all He came to Save others! Jesus stated specifically in Luke 19:10, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus wants a relationship with you today and forever!

New Testament Book Main Revelation Titles / Names Revealed of Jesus
Matthew The Messiah The Son of David (Matt 1:1)
The King of the Jews
 
(Matt 2:2)
The Son of God (Matt 2:15)
The Bridegroom (Matt 9:15)
Mark The Miracle Worker The Holy One of God (Mark 1:24)
The Servant (Mark 10:45)
The King of Israel (Mark 15:32)
Luke The Son of Man The Horn of Salvation (Luke 1:69)
The Consolation of Israel
:
 (Luke 2:25).
John The Son of God The Only Begotten Son: (John 1:14,18)
The Lamb of God (John 1:29,36)
The Bread of life (John 6:35)
The Light of the World (John 8:1)
The I AM! (John 8:58)
The Door of the Sheep: (John 10:7,9)
The Good Shepherd (John 10:11)
The Resurrection and life (John 11:25)
The Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6)
The True Vine (John 15:1)
Acts The Ascended Lord The Prince of Life (Acts 3:15)
The Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42
The Just One (Acts 7:52).
The Hope of Israel (Acts 28:20)
Romans The Justifier The Rock of Offense (Romans 9:33)
The Deliverer (Romans 11:26)
The Lord of the dead and the living (Romans 14:9)
The Root of Jesse (Romans 15:12)
1 & 2 Corinthians The Last Adam The First-fruits (1 Corinthians 15:23)
The Last Adam
 (1 Corinthians 15:45)
Galatians The One Who Sets Us Free The Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 1:3)

Illustration – Love When We Need It The Most

A man visited a home where there were five children. He was supposed to be a kind of “Godfather” to them and was trying to get involved with them on their level. He asked one of the little girls about her doll collection: “Which one is your favorite?” “Promise you won’t laugh if I tell you?” she answered. “No I won’t laugh,” he said. She went into the next room and brought back a doll that was the most tattered, dilapidated, worn-out doll he had ever seen — a real refugee from the trash heap. All the hair was missing, and the nose was broken off and an arm was cracked. He didn’t laugh, but he couldn’t cover his surprise. He said to her, “Why do you love this one the most?” The little girl replied, “Because she needs it most. If I didn’t love her, nobody would.”

Jesus said that God is like that. He loves us most when we need it most. He came to love us sacrificially because we are broken, tattered and worn-out! He loved us when nobody else would…or could. Glory! What a Savior!

 

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~We Can Turn Mass Incarceration Around~

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You Just Got Out of
Prison. Now What?

A Cycle of Poverty and Incarceration

Poverty is the largest driving force behind what the Children’s Defense Fund calls the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline.” Most of the individuals entering the criminal justice system are at a financial disadvantage; about 60 percent of intakes into the state and federal prison systems report annual incomes under $12,000. These low incomes reflect higher rates of unemployment and the unavailability of decent jobs for people who lack a college education. During the past four decades, most of the growth in lifetime risk of imprisonment was concentrated among men who had not been to college. For many of these men, prison has become a normal part of life. According to the National Research Council, among African American men born in the late 1970s and who dropped out of high school, 70 percent have served time in state or federal prison. For white and Latino men in the same cohort, the rates of imprisonment are 28 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Incarceration sharply curtails the economic prospects of individuals and the communities to which they return. In 2011, nearly 700,000 people were released from either a state or federal prison, and most faced a multitude of challenges on returning to “free” society. Parents with minor children may have accumulated years’ worth of child-support arrears or had their parental rights rescinded. With few assets besides the “gate money” provided at release (usually between $50 and $200), those who have been disconnected from friends and family face uncertain housing and homelessness.

Upon release from prison, returning citizens have few opportunities for work that will be satisfying and provide a living wage. The National Research Council reports that up to one-half of former prisoners remain jobless for up to a year after their release. Barriers to employment associated with having a criminal record include restrictions on licenses in certain professions and the loss of personal and professional contacts while incarcerated. People of color with a criminal record have a particularly difficult time finding a job, especially one that enables them to invest in their futures, in part because of the stigma that attaches to a record. Blacks without criminal histories experience job callback rates closely matching those of whites with a felony conviction.The National Research Council report suggests that “pervasive contact with the criminal justice system has consequences for racial stratification that extend well beyond individuals behind bars.”

Mass incarceration also has a significant impact on U.S. poverty rates. Had it not been for the dramatic rise in incarceration rates between 1980 and 2004, researchers estimate that the poverty rate would have fallen by about 2.8 percentage points, instead of dropping by only 0.3 percentage points. This translates into several million fewer people living in poverty.

Systems of Disinvestment Have Led to Increased Incarceration

Many people affected by the criminal justice system grew up in communities with schools and other public institutions that failed them. As states were dramatically increasing funding for corrections, they were simultaneously cutting or not raising funding for social and government services targeting poverty, such as public assistance, transportation, and education. State spending per prisoner is three times that per public school student, and prison costs exceed spending on higher education in some states. These patterns exemplify the pattern of disinvestment contributing to mass incarceration. Communities of color have borne the brunt of this emphasis on incarceration at the expense of education. Researchers have documented vastly disproportionate incarceration and criminalization of people of color, particularly black men. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for more than 60 percent of those imprisoned. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one-third of male African-American children born in 2001 can expect to serve time in prison at some point in their lives, compared to 17.2 percent of Hispanics and 5.9 percent of whites; 5.6 percent of black women born in 2001 are likely to go to prison at some point in their lives, but only 0.9 percent of white women and 2.2 percent of Hispanic women.

At the same time, disinvestment in education, particularly in low-income communities of color, has reduced social mobility and limited access to the social capital needed to revitalize those communities. Incarceration’s reach has now grown too big to ignore, with stratification researchers characterizing incarceration as a powerful engine of social inequality.

Mass incarceration has, in the words of Todd Clear in Imprisoning Communities, “made disadvantaged communities worse.” Patrick Sharkey, in Stuck in Place, for example, links the high rates of incarceration with concentrated poverty and marginalization, racial stigmatization, and lack of investment and resources that are fundamental both for the positive development of children and the mobility of adults. The Justice Mapping Center has mapped the concentration of incarceration rates in disadvantaged communities all around the country: millions of dollars per neighborhood are spent to imprison residents of these communities.

We Can Turn This Around: The Transformative Potential of Investing in Individuals, Families, and Communities

The struggles people face when returning home, including returning to the same context that led to prison, increase the chance that they will give up on the struggle to achieve long-term financial stability through lawful means. But a movement to reverse this tide has emerged. Driven largely by directly affected communities and supported by the contributions of the academic community, this movement links the need for fundamental reform of the criminal justice system with the need for change in the public policies that have underinvested in low-income communities of color and over invested in the criminal justice system. These advocacy organizations and networks include the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, JustLeadershipUSA, and the New York Reentry Education Network. They are joined by a surprising convergence of public figures across the political spectrum, including Tony-winning composers, political conservatives, and President Obama.

Through this work, we have seen the transformative power of investing in people and communities. By investment, we mean both building financial stability and increasing capacity through education, social capital, and meaningful employment so people can provide adequately for themselves and their families. These forms of investment kindle hope among the formerly incarcerated (many of whom did not believe they even had a future) and enable positive contributions to families and communities. Providing resources, support, and capacity enables people affected by incarceration to invest in their futures and to become actively engaged in the effort to rebuild their communities.

Education is a key component of this investment strategy. Just as lack of educational opportunity increases the likelihood of poverty and incarceration, access to high-quality education plays a critical role in facilitating mobility. One study showed that almost all soon-to-be-released prisoners reported needing more education (94 percent) and job training (82 percent), while the need for a driver’s license (83 percent) ranked higher than the need for employment (80 percent). The link between lack of education and recidivism is strong. A bachelor’s degree reduces the likelihood of returning to prison to 5.6 percent, in contrast to 66 percent for those without a BA. For those with a master’s degree, the recidivism rate drops to less than 1 percent.

Programs such as College and Community Fellowship (CCF) have proved successful in supporting the formerly incarcerated as they move along the path to higher education. CCF supports women affected by the criminal justice system in pursuing a college degree by enveloping them and their families in support services while they complete their degree. CCF was the first reentry-based organization to use postsecondary education as its core strategy for moving women out of marginalized subsistence and into mainstream society. In addition to achieving an extremely low recidivism rate, these programs give people a sense of hope, a belief in the future, and a willingness to invest in themselves, their families, and their communities.

Early in its history, CCF noticed that students needed to build their financial capability to succeed in college and beyond. They found that their students held many misconceptions about financial management and lacked confidence to control their financial lives. These insights triggered a series of efforts to help students address their financial needs.

CCF first introduced a student debt and financial aid counseling program and later added credit counseling services. In 2013, CCF joined The Financial Clinic’s New Ground Initiative, a capacity-building initiative that helps New York City reentry programs embed financial development in their services. The New Ground Initiative focuses on improving the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals through a combination of financial development strategies that help build financial security and improve financial mobility. The New Ground Initiative trained all counselors working with students at CCF to integrate “financial development” strategies into their conversations and build financial awareness and training into all services. The Financial Clinic’s approach invites all staff to begin with their own personal financial security as a way to build this capacity.

Financial training provides CCF’s students with the tools they need to make sound financial choices and build assets. In one year of the New Ground Initiative, CCF pulled credit reports for 100 percent of participants and organized debt for more than 150 participants, including student loan debt. CCF staff worked with program participants to address defaulted student loans, pay down credit card debt, and increase credit scores. CCF also sets goals with 100 percent of participants and works with them to open bank accounts and develop spending and savings plans. By embedding financial development into their existing services, CCF is better able to provide their students with the tools they need to succeed and ensure the sustainability of financial development practices as a central part of CCF’s service delivery model.

CCF’s work with students also uncovered an important advocacy issue. For-profit colleges were using predatory practices to target individuals with records. Deterring these practices is now part of The Financial Clinic’s policy agenda.

As we move into a more progressive bipartisan era of criminal justice policy, we must not relegate those who have been affected by criminal punishment to the economic margins. We must find ways to increase their chances of success by providing reintegration services that offer more than transitional housing, transitional employment, and stopgap medical services. We have the opportunity to embrace a public policy agenda that builds on the successes of programs like CCF.

The climate of public policy reform in the criminal justice sphere has taken on new energy in the past few years. An investment-oriented strategy would build postsecondary education and financial capability services into the design of reforms aimed at reducing incarceration and facilitating successful reintegration. Too often, reentry programs and policies aimed at providing a “second chance” have neglected education, particularly post secondary education, as a core component of funding, program design, and accountability measures.

Building financial capability should also be a mainstay of criminal justice and educational initiatives. Promising policy directions include President Obama’s announcement in July 2015 of an Experimental Sites Initiative, restoring Pell grants for groups of incarcerated students around the country. This initiative was spurred, in part, by the leadership of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, a national nonpartisan group advocating for access to higher education inside prisons. This kind of investment enables the United States to reduce incarceration and equip individuals, families, and communities with the tool to rebuild their lives and realize their potential.

So many people come out with so many good intentions. And every door is slammed on them… When you’re told no at the employment line, when you’re told no trying to get back to your family, or you’re told no because this community is unaccepting of you — you try to figure out where you belong. And for many, sometimes it becomes rough and you resort to that old stuff.
— College and Community Fellowship student

I can’t tell you how many formerly incarcerated people or poor people or people of color wouldn’t… invest a dollar to get $150 because you have to believe you’re going to be here at 65 to want to put away even a dollar for your future.
— Formerly incarcerated leader

On Quest for Democracy Day at the capitol in Sacramento, April 27, 2015, 250 people split up into 30 teams to visit legislators’ offices to advocate for legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and their communities.

Our Formerly Incarcerated Quest for Democracy (Q4D) Day continues to grow and evolve. This year we had over 250 committed people, many of whom were returning from previous years’ Q4D. We had around 30 teams of people advocating on legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and our communities.

Grassroots co-sponsors got a chance to educate community members about their bills. And Sen. Holly Mitchell as well as Assemblymembers Reginald Jones-Sawyer and Autumn Burke addressed participants. See the box below showing all the bills we were there to endorse.

It’s important to recognize the larger context of our quest: It is the drive for greater recognition of a class of people for whom democracy looks a lot different. We don’t have a guaranteed right to vote – if we move to another state we could easily lose it. We’re still struggling for the fundamental rights of citizenship, such as the right to sit on juries.

~Thou are only a Man~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

I. God’s standard is perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. God’s solution is a pardon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III. God’s salvation is through personal faith

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

~Ebb and Flow of Grace while in The Storms of Life~

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Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.

Ernest Gaines
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There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together.

Harriet Ann Jacobs
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Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way as we seek to understand the lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments.
The disciples experienced several “mountaintop moments” in their time with Jesus. But when a storm arose while they were out on the Sea of Galilee, fear took over. Amidst the roaring waves and with the boat rocking, Jesus’ chosen ones failed to recall the lessons they had learned about the power and purposes of their leader. Even the appearance of Christ walking on water didn’t bring immediate relief (Matt. 14:26).

When trouble strikes, we sometimes forget our knowledge of God, too. We struggle to recall past answers to prayer, specific guidance provided by the Holy Spirit, and lessons learned in previous crises. Only the present seems real. Our minds spin with future implications, and our troubled emotions inhibit clear thinking.

In our own strength, we lack sufficient resources and abilities to meet life’s challenges. So God provides what we need. Our suffering is never a surprise to the Lord. He knows everything we are going through. More than that, He’s orchestrating our circumstances for His glory and our benefit, according to His good will.

 

Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way. Let’s take a moment to fix our attention on the Lord and seek to understand four lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments:

 

1. One purpose for hardship is cleansing. Because of our own “flesh” nature and the self-absorbed world we live in, it’s easy to develop selfish attitudes, mixed-up priorities, and ungodly habits. The pressures that bear down on us from stormy situations are meant to bring these impurities to our attention and direct us to a place of repentance. Our trials are intended to purify and guide us back to godliness, not ruin our lives.

2. A second reason we face difficulty is so we’ll be compassionate and bring comfort to others. God’s work in our lives is not intended solely for us. It’s designed to reach a world that does not recognize or acknowledge Him. The Lord uses our challenges to equip us for serving others. As we experience suffering, we will learn about God’s sufficiency, His comforting presence, and His strength to help us endure. Our testimony during times of difficulty will be authentic. Those to whom we minister will recognize we know and understand their pain. What credibility would we have with people in crisis if we never experienced a deep need?

3. Third, God promises usHe’ll provide a path through any trialwe face. The disciples probably wondered how long the storm would last and whether they would make it safely to shore. Most likely, they wished it never happened. But, had they somehow avoided this storm, they would have missed the demonstration of Jesus’ power over the sea and wind. The frightening situation was transformed into a revelation of the Savior’s divine nature. God wants to make His power known through our trials, as well.

4. The most important thing He gives us isanawareness of His presence. At first, the disciples believed they were alone in a terrifying storm. When they initially spotted Jesus, their fear increased. They thought He was a ghost. But as they recognized Him, their fear changed to relief and hope. Similarly, we may not sense God’s presence during a crisis. But He has promised to always be with us (Heb. 13:5-6). The assurance that the Lord will never leave provides immediate comfort, an infusion of courage, and a sense of confidence to endure.

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No one enjoys suffering. But in the hands of almighty God, trials become tools. He uses hardship to shape believers into the people He intends them to be. Jesus allowed the disciples to experience the fear and anxiety of being in a boat on a raging sea. He permitted them to suffer because He had something far more important to teach them. He wanted the disciples to recognize their own helplessness, His sufficiency, and their dependence on Him.

Ask God to reveal His abiding presence in the midst of your trouble. And remember—He always provides for your spiritual needs to help you both endure and grow stronger in your Christian faith.

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A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

Martin Luther King, Jr
Click to see our Works & Passions

~Color Forward In Spite Of Challenges~

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What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

What is the biggest barrier facing the formerly incarcerated as they try to reintegrate into society?
To us, the biggest barrier is the lack of critical legal information that people need in order to overcome barriers in reentry. We see the major issues as:

—Enormous legal and practical barriers to stability and success, including an inability to get an ID or open a bank account, enormous court debt, denials of employment, housing, and public benefits

—A complete lack of legal advocates, knowledge and navigational resources about these barriers

—An infrastructure of people and agencies who already support and work with those in reentry—including family and loved ones, social services agencies, housing facilities, legal advocacy groups, education programs, religious institutions, substance abuse facilities, corrections departments and government agencies—that lack the legal guidance necessary to navigate critical and often crippling issues

The lack of an integrated, knowledgeable and supported reentry infrastructure undermines the spirit and intent of reform efforts to reduce incarceration levels. The “Roadmap to Reentry” guide illuminates pathways to stability and success post-incarceration by educating people on how to navigate enormous legal and practical barriers.

In terms of the legal barriers, there are many—which is why the guide covers nine areas! Reentry is so unique to each individual, so we see that people experience very different issues, much of it dependent on their life circumstances and goals. The biggest issues that we see are court-ordered debt and fees that have amounted over time, which leads to an inability to get an ID; housing and employment discrimination; trouble reunifying with children and loved ones upon release; and unlawful parole conditions that can overly restrict where people can live and work.

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What is the most important thing families can do to ease the transition?

Plan, prepare and do research! Family has access to phone and Internet, so they can help the loved one make plans and goals and then research opportunities in the area they are returning to—including housing, employment, education and support services. If you know your loved one’s goals and have a timeline for completion, you can help to set them up for success before they get out. If the county to which they are returning doesn’t have the right resources, they can help their loved one understand the process to transfer counties, either before or after release. Also, I would say that families can help their loved one in reentry by helping them do research on the law—reading manuals like ours to help their loved one understand whether they are actually banned from public housing or public benefits, and what kinds of jobs they can get—because many myths persist. So family can help a huge amount by educating themselves, getting a ton of resources and then empowering their loved one with that information.

The other thing that I think is critical for family members is to take care of themselves. If you find your loved one a support group, find one for yourself too. Families are often the support structure for a person in reentry, but of course they do not have the education of a case manager, therapist or social worker, yet they are playing that role. So having support for families who are helping someone through the ups and downs of reentry is critical.

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The United States criminal justice system is the largest in the world. At year end 2011, approximately 7 million individuals were under some form of correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.1) The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, dwarfing the rate of nearly every other nation.2)

Such broad statistics mask the racial disparity that pervades the U.S. criminal justice system. Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.3) If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males—compared to one of every seventeen white males.4) Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.5)

The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. The former is the system the United States describes in its report: a vigorous adversary system replete with constitutional protections for defendants. Yet the experiences of poor and minority defendants within the criminal justice system often differ substantially from that model due to a number of factors, each of which contributes to the overrepresentation of such individuals in the system. As Georgetown Law Professor David Cole states in his book No Equal Justice,

These double standards are not, of course, explicit; on the face of it, the criminal law is color-blind and class-blind. But in a sense, this only makes the problem worse. The rhetoric of the criminal justice system sends the message that our society carefully protects everyone’s constitutional rights, but in practice the rules assure that law enforcement prerogatives will generally prevail over the rights of minorities and the poor. By affording criminal suspects substantial constitutional rights in theory, the Supreme Court validates the results of the criminal justice system as fair. That formal fairness obscures the systemic concerns that ought to be raised by the fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black.6)

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“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems

~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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~I see better having “Faith”-I am not alone~

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Facing tragedy, or life storms of any kind, can be extremely difficult. But in the midst of heartache and pain, you can find the hope and courage to go on. With God’s help, the help of caring family members and friends, and the encouragement found in the Bible and other resources, you will receive the necessary strength to overcome.

You may be thinking, I don’t know how I could ever get through this. Or you may be battling powerful feelings of despair, suffering, confusion, fear, worry, and even anger. These are all normal responses to tragedy.

But as difficult as this life storm may be, you are not alone. God is with you always. He loves you, and cares about what is going on in your life. He hears your cries and sees your pain. Moreover, He understands.

The Bible says, “And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God … For since He himself has now been through suffering … He knows what it is like when we suffer … and He is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB). Whatever we endure, His care is certain, His love is unfailing, and His promises are secure.

You Are Not Alone

For he himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5c)

On the morning of October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States faced their worst nightmare … “Superstorm Sandy.” This post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds and its unusual merge with a frontal system affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, leaving death, injuries, and utter destruction in its wake. Families everywhere, especially in hard hit New Jersey and New York, were jolted out of normalcy and the comfort and security of the homes and communities they once knew. They were thrust suddenly and unwillingly into the darkness and despair of loss.

If you and your family have ever been affected by a natural disaster like this, you may feel as if you’ve been abandoned by God. However, if trouble has hit your life in some other disaster or form of tragedy—the death of a loved one, a dreaded medical diagnosis, the loss of home and property, or the loss of your job, you are experiencing your own superstorm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and wonder how you can possibly survive the loss. In times like these, you can feel very much alone.

But you are not alone. In the midst of unspeakable sorrow, God is with you. Even if you do not feel Him near, God is there. He promises to never leave you alone. Therefore, wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after the storm, never losing sight of you, or your suffering. Even as you ponder how you will begin picking up the pieces of your life, God is there … loving you beyond understanding, holding you up, and making a way where it seems there is no way. Reach out for Him today. He is a very present help in times of trouble (see Psalm 46:1).

Taking back your life …

  1. Psalm 139:7-10 says, “I can never be lost to Your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, Your strength will support me” (TLB). What assurance can you find in these verses of Scripture when you are feeling as if God has forgotten you?
  2. In Psalm 23, David pictures the Lord as the Great Shepherd who provides for and protects His sheep (His children). In verse 4, he says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” A shepherd uses his rod to protect his sheep (by using it to beat off wild beasts), and he uses his staff to guide them. What comfort can you find in knowing that God will protect and guide you during this difficult time?
  3. In addition to needing God’s presence in our lives, we also need each other. Talk with your family or friends about the way you are feeling, so that you can share one another’s burdens, and not feel so alone in your suffering.

~Is Conformity a Issue for You?~

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Conformity involves developing attitudes, opinions, and behaviors to match the attitudes of a specific group. Most people conform to the standard values,also called norms, of many groups without stress and often without even knowing that they are doing so. By itself conformity is neither good nor bad.

Some degree of conformity is necessary for societies to function. For example, when you stop at a red light, you are conforming to the law and to the general agreement that for the good and safety of society, a red light means stop. You stop, even though most of the time there is not a police officer on the scene to enforce the law.

Different societies and different organizations put higher or lower values on conformity. The United States is often said to have been settled by non-conformists. Many of the early colonists were people who did not fit in, for religious, philosophical, economic, or social reasons, with the expectations of society in their native countries. They sought a place to live where the levelof conformity and norms of society were more comfortable for them. In the United States often some degree of non-conformity is still admired today. The ideal of the “rugged individualist” who does things his or her own way is partof American culture.

Other societies put a higher value on fitting in or conforming. There is a Japanese proverb that roughly translates into the saying, “The nail that sticksup gets hammered down,” meaning that it is better not to stand out in a group but to conform. Military organizations are an example of a group that expects a high level of conformity in the behavior of their members and punishes those who do not conform.

All people balance the need to conform and fit in with the need to express their individuality throughout their lives. Some research into birth order suggests that the oldest child in a family is more likely to conform, while laterchildren are more likely to become non-conformists. However, these studies are open to different interpretations and, although interesting, should not beconsidered conclusively true.

Young children tend to be the least aware of the group and society values andare the least influenced by the need to conform. However, with more social interactions and more awareness of others, the need to conform grows. Pre-teens and teenagers face many issues related to conformity. They are pulled between the desire to be seen as individuals of unique value and the desire to belong to a group where they feel secure and accepted. The result is that oftenteens reject conforming to family or general society values, while conformingrigidly to the norms or values of their peer group. An example of this phenomenon is seen when young people join gangs. In joining the gang they are rejecting the community’s way of dressing and behaving. Yet to belong to the gang, they must conform to the gang’s own style of dress, behavior, and speech.

Conformity is tied closely to the issue of peer pressure. Although people feel peer pressure their entire lives, young people who are seeking to define themselves are generally most influenced by the values and attitudes of their peers. Adolescents often encourage friends to do or try things that they themselves are doing in order to fit into to a group. The encouragement can be positive (studying hard to get good grades) or negative (drinking beer after thefootball game).

Deciding how much and which group’s values to conform to are one of the majorstresses of adolescence. Trying to conform to the behaviors of a group thatgo against one’s own beliefs in order to be accepted creates a great deal ofinternal conflict and sometimes external conflict with family members and friends from an earlier time. Defining oneself as an individual and developing aconstant value system forces young people to confront issues of conformity and non-conformity. This is a major challenge of adolescence.

Many studies of young people show that if a person’s friends engage in a behavior – everything from cigarette smoking to drinking alcohol to shoplifting to sexual activity – an adolescent is highly likely to conform to his or her friends’ behaviors and try these activities. The alternative is for the youngperson to seek different friends with values more in line with his own. Often, however, the desire to be part of a group and the fear of social isolationmakes it more appealing to change behaviors than to seek other friends.

Attitudes toward conformity are of particular interest in community health, where conformity may influence the willingness of people to engage in activities such as illicit drug use or high-risk sexual activities, or prompt them toavoid drug rehabilitation programs.

The tendency to conform to a group’s values is of interest to outreach workers because social networks may provide a link to reaching and influencing thebehavior of a wide range of people involved in drug abuse and high-risk sexual activity. If key members of a group accept messages about how to change behavior to reduce risky activities such as needle sharing, drinking and driving, and unsafe sexual behavior, other group members often follow their lead andchange their behavior also.

Although society tends to focus on teenagers’ needs to conform and follow fads, and many parents worry about how the desire to conform will influence thedecisions their children must make, issues surrounding conformity continue into adult life. They may be as trivial as choosing the proper clothes to wearto the office so as not to stand out or as serious as choosing whether to have one’s children vaccinated against diseases. Finding a rational balance between belonging and being an individual is a challenge for everyone. Many people who feel as if this area of their lives is out of balance benefit from seeking professional counseling to help them find a level of conformity that is more comfortable for them.

 

 

~Our Duty Is Service~

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Someone shared with me her observation about two bosses. One is loved but not feared by his subordinates. Because they love their boss but don’t respect his authority, they don’t follow his guidelines. The other boss is both feared and loved by those who serve under him, and their good behavior shows it.

The Lord desires that His people both fear and love Him too. Today’s Bible passage, Deuteronomy 10, says that keeping God’s guidelines involves both. In verse 12, we are told “to fear the Lord your God” and “to love Him.”

To “fear” the Lord God is to give Him the highest respect. For the believer, it is not a matter of feeling intimidated by Him or His character. But out of respect for His person and authority, we walk in all His ways and keep His commandments. Out of “love,” we serve Him with all our heart and with all our soul—rather than merely out of duty (v.12).

Love flows out of our deep gratitude for His love for us, rather than out of our likes and dislikes. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our fear and love for God enable us to walk willingly in obedience to God’s law.

Lord, You are holy and Your thoughts are much higher than mine. I bow before You. Thank You for salvation in Jesus. I love You and want to obey You with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Amen.
If we fear and love God, we will obey Him.
And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, Deuteronomy 10:12-17

We are here most plainly directed in our duty to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves.

1. We are here taught our duty to God, both in the dispositions and affections of our souls and in the actions of our lives, our principles and our practices. (1.) We must fear the Lord our God, v. 12, and again v. 20. We must adore his majesty, acknowledge his authority, stand in awe of his power, and dread his wrath. This is gospel duty, Rev. 14:6, 7. (2.) We must love him, be well pleased that he is, desire that he may be ours, and delight in the contemplation of him and in communion with him. Fear him as a great God, and our Lord, love him as a good God, and our Father and benefactor. (3.) We must walk in his ways, that is, the ways which he has appointed us to walk in. The whole course of our conversation must be conformable to his holy will. (4.) We must serve him (v. 20), serve him with all our heart and soul (v. 12), devote ourselves to his honour, put ourselves under his government, and lay out ourselves to advance all the interests of his kingdom among men. And we must be hearty and zealous in his service, engage and employ our inward man in his work, and what we do for him we must do cheerfully and with a good will. (5.) We must keep his commandments and his statutes, v. 13. Having given up ourselves to his service, we must make his revealed will our rule in every thing, perform all he prescribes, forbear all the forbids, firmly believing that all the statutes he commands us are for our good. Besides the reward of obedience, which will be our unspeakable gain, there are true honour and pleasure in obedience. It is really for our present good to be meek and humble, chaste and sober, just and charitable, patient and contented; these make us easy, and safe, and pleasant, and truly great. (6.) We must give honour to God, in swearing by his name (v. 20); so give him the honour of his omniscience, his sovereignty, his justice, as well as of his necessary existence. Swear by his name, and not by the name of any creature, or false god, whenever an oath for confirmation is called for. (7.) To him we must cleave, v. 20. Having chosen him for our God, we must faithfully and constantly abide with him and never forsake him. Cleave to him as one we love and delight in, trust and confide in, and from whom we have great expectations.

2. We are here taught our duty to our neighbour (v. 19): Love the stranger; and, if the stranger, much more our brethren, as ourselves. If the Israelites that were such a peculiar people, so particularly distinguished from all people, must be kind to strangers, much more must we, that are not enclosed in such a pale; we must have a tender concern for all that share with us in the human nature, and as we have opportunity; (that is, according to their necessities and our abilities) we must do good to all men. Two arguments are here urged to enforce this duty:—(1.) God’s common providence, which extends itself to all nations of men, they being all made of one blood. God loveth the stranger (v. 18), that is, he gives to all life, and breath, and all things, even to those that are Gentiles, and strangers to the commonwealth of Israel and to Israel’s God. He knows those perfectly whom we know nothing of. He gives food and raiment even to those to whom he has not shown his word and statutes. God’s common gifts to mankind oblige us to honour all men. Or the expression denotes the particular care which Providence takes of strangers in distress, which we ought to praise him for (Ps. 146:9, The Lord preserveth the strangers), and to imitate him, to serve him, and concur with him therein, being forward to make ourselves instruments in his hand of kindness to strangers. (2.) The afflicted condition which the Israelites themselves had been in, when they were strangers in Egypt. Those that have themselves been in distress, and have found mercy with God, should sympathize most feelingly with those that are in the like distress and be ready to show kindness to them. The people of the Jews, notwithstanding these repeated commands given them to be kind to strangers, conceived a rooted antipathy to the Gentiles, whom they looked upon with the utmost disdain, which made them envy the grace of God and the gospel of Christ, and this brought a final ruin upon themselves.

3. We are here taught our duty to ourselves (v. 16): Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts. that is, “Cast away from you all corrupt affections and inclinations, which hinder you from fearing and loving God. Mortify the flesh with the lusts of it. Away with all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, which obstruct the free course of the word of God to your hearts. Rest not in the circumcision of the body, which was only the sign, but be circumcised in heart, which is the thing signified.” See Rom. 2:29. The command of Christ goes further than this, and obliges us not only to cut off the foreskin of the heart, which may easily be spared, but to cut off the right hand and to pluck out the right eye that is an offence to us; the more spiritual the dispensation is the more spiritual we are obliged to be, and to go the closer in mortifying sin. And be no more stiff-necked, as they had been hitherto, ch. 9:24. “Be not any longer obstinate against divine commands and corrections, but ready to comply with the will of God in both.” The circumcision of the heart makes it ready to yield to God, and draw in his yoke.

II. We are here most pathetically persuaded to our duty. Let but reason rule us, and religion will.

1. Consider the greatness and glory of God, and therefore fear him, and from that principle serve and obey him. What is it that is thought to make a man great, but great honour, power, and possessions? Think then how great the Lord our God is, and greatly to be feared. (1.) He has great honour, a name above every name. He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, v. 17. Angels are called gods, so are magistrates, and the Gentiles had gods many, and lords many, the creatures of their own fancy; but God is infinitely above all these nominal deities. What an absurdity would it be for them to worship other gods when the God to whom they had sworn allegiance was the God of gods! (2.) He has great power. He is a mighty God and terrible (v. 17), who regardeth not persons. He has the power of a conqueror, and so he is terrible to those that resist him and rebel against him. He has the power of a judge, and so he is just to all those that appeal to him or appear before him. And it is as much the greatness and honour of a judge to be impartial in his justice, without respect to persons or bribes, as it is to a general to be terrible to the enemy. Our God is both. (3.) He has great possessions. Heaven and earth are his (v. 14), and all the hosts and stars of both. Therefore he is able to bear us out in his service, and to make up the losses we sustain in discharging our duty to him. And yet therefore he has no need of us, nor any thing we have or can do; we are undone without him, but he is happy without us, which makes the condescensions of his grace, in accepting us and our services, truly admirable. Heaven and earth are his possession, and yet the Lord’s portion is his people.

2. Consider the goodness and grace of God, and therefore love him, and from that principle serve and obey him. His goodness is his glory as much as his greatness. (1.) He is good to all. Whomsoever he finds miserable, to them he will be found merciful: He executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow, v. 18. It is his honour to help the helpless, and to succour those that most need relief and that men are apt to do injury to, or at least to put a light upon. See Ps. 68:4, 5; 146:7, 9. (2.) But truly God is good to Israel in a special obligations to him: “He is they praise, and he is thy God, v. 21. Therefore love him and serve him, because of the relation wherein he stands to thee. He is thy God, a God in covenant with thee, and as such he is thy praise,” that is [1.] “He puts honour upon thee; he is the God in whom, all the day long, thou mayest boast that thou knowest him, and art known of him. If he is thy God, he is thy glory.” [2.] “He expects honour from thee. He is thy praise,” that is “he is the God whom thou art bound to praise; if he has not praise from thee, whence may he expect it?” He inhabits the praises of Israel. Consider, First, The gracious choice he made of Israel, v. 15. “He had a delight in thy fathers, and therefore chose their seed.” Not that there was any thing in them to merit his favour, or to recommend them to it, but so it seemed good in his eyes. He would be kind to them, though he had no need of them. Secondly, The great things he had done for Israel, v. 21, 22. He reminds them not only of what they had heard with their ears, and which their fathers had told them of, but of what they had seen with their eyes, and which they must tell their children of, particularly that within a few generations seventy souls (for they were no more when Jacob went down into Egypt) increased to a great nation, as the stars of heaven for multitude. And the more they were in number the more praise and service God expected from them; yet it proved, as in the old world, that when they began to multiply they corrupted themselves.

 

~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.

~How Do We Prepare Our Millennial’s For Ministry?~

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In March of 2014, I began my visitation to three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:

These kids know almost nothing about their faith.

It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.

Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”

Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”

Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).

You’ve seen the statistics. If you’re in ministry, you’ve probably witnessed the problem firsthand. The Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are leaving the church in droves, and staying away. Approximately 70 percent of those raised in the church disengage from it in their 20s. One-third of Americans under 30 now claim “no religion.”

There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S.—and approximately the same number of suggestions for how to bring them back to church. But most of the proposals I’ve heard fall into two camps.

The first goes something like this:  The church needs to be more hip and relevant. Drop stodgy traditions. Play louder music. Hire pastors with tattoos and fauxhawks. Few come right out and advocate for this approach. But from pastoral search committees to denominational gatherings to popular conferences, a quest for relevance drives the agenda.

Others demand more fundamental change. They insist the church soften its positions on key doctrines and social issues. Our culture is secularizing. Let’s get with the times in order to attract the younger generation, they say. We must abandon supernatural beliefs and restrictive moral teachings. Christianity must “change or die.”

I think both approaches are flawed.

Chasing coolness won’t work. In my experience, churches that try to be cool end up with a pathetic facsimile of what was cool about 10 years ago. And if you’ve got a congregation of businessmen and soccer moms, donning a hip veneer will only make you laughable to the younger generation.

The second tack is worse. Not only will we end up compromising core beliefs, we will shrink our churches as well. The advocates of this approach seem to have missed what happened to mainline liberal churches over the last few decades. Adopting liberal theologies and culturally acceptable beliefs has drastically reduced their numbers while more theologically conservative churches grew.

There is no one silver bullet for bringing Millennials back to church. But here are a few actions to help us reach the next generation more effectively.

Adopt a Different Tone

As the culture has grown more secular, many Christians have struggled to adjust. The church once had pride of place in North American society. Now it seems we’re increasingly getting pushed to the margins. Christian morality is no longer assumed and our beliefs are suddenly considered strange.

This loss of cultural capital has caused many to shout louder in hopes of regaining influence. But adopting a shrill, combative tone only exacerbates the problem. It’s the surest way to alienate outsiders, especially Millennials. Author and historian John Dickson urges Christians to move from a posture of “admonition to mission.” Dickson lives in Australia, a decidedly post-Christian country. In our increasingly secular culture, it’s a lesson we need to take to heart. Let’s stop being shocked when our unbelieving neighbors fail to act like Christians and take a more winsome tone when we communicate the gospel.

Foster Intergenerational Relationships

I’ve read virtually all of the books on Millennials and the church, and I’ve adopted my own thoughts about Generation Ex (Read Generation Ex -Christians by Drew Dyck). If there’s one lesson to take away from this corpus of literature, it’s this: inter-generational relationships are crucial. The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.

We’re surprised when even our most ardent young people walk away, but we shouldn’t be. If they didn’t have relationships with older Christians in the congregation, in all likelihood, they’re gone. When they age out of youth group, they age out of the church. Churches must find ways to pair older Christians with teens and to engage Millennials outside the church (many of whom are starving for mentors). This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve seen my own kids abandon their faith and cultural teaching to the point of going to prison for life and living contrary life styles. My going to prison and losing their respect I feel contributed to their posture now, but I am going to worship and believe God for their return.

The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.

Present a Bigger God

Many evangelical churches present a one-sided vision of God. We love talking about God’s love, but not his holiness. We stress his immanence, but not his transcendence. How does this affect Millennials? I like the way Millennial blogger Stephen Altrogge puts it in Untamable God.

Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?

Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well.

I’ll be talking more on this topic at http://www.yelp.com/biz/world-conquerors-church-oakland on Febuary 20th-22. Pray for our travel and a deeper dive into how churches can convey a compelling vision of God for Millennials, as well as the whole congregation.

 

~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.

~God has a Remedy For Our Suffering Within His Word~

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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.

Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. You feel numb. Perhaps the worst part is that you remember when you actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.

So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you do not have one to give.

Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 

 

Come to God with your suffering

You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn’t.

If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!

Here we see that love and suffering can co-exist. And when you start reading the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, you get a sense that suffering is actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. You aren’t alone. If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

God speaks to you in the Bible

Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life.

    • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
    • Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
    • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
    • Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
    • Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20,  2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
    • Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Try one step at a time

Granted, it seems impossible. How can someone live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible.

Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.

People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As you walk, you will find that it is necessary to remember to use every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

You will need to do this with your relationships, too. When you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.

Consider what accompanies your depression

As you put one foot in front of the other, don’t forget that depression doesn’t exempt you from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. Look carefully to see if your depression is associated with things like these:

Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Are you holding something against another person?

Do you want to stay in bed all day? Are there parts of your life you want to avoid?

Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What is at the root of your fear?

Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness? Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.

Do you struggle with shame? Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you. Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.

Do you experience low self-worth? Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.

Will it ever be over?

Will you always struggle with depression? That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, depressed people can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.

 

FREQUENTLY-ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it okay to get medication?

The severe pain of depression makes you welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:

    • How long will it take before it is effective?
    • What are some of the common side effects?
    • Will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective (if your physician is prescribing two medications)?

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, What is best and wise?

Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits. It can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures.

If you choose to take medication, please consider letting wise and trusted people from your church come alongside of you. They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and that joy is possible even during depression.

What do I do with thoughts about suicide?

Before you were depressed, you could not imagine thinking of suicide. But when depression descends, you may notice a passing thought about death, then another, and another, until death acts like a stalker.

Know this about depression: It doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says that you are all alone, that no one loves you, that God doesn’t care, that you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, Everyone will be better off without me. But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.

Because you aren’t working with all the facts, keep it simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as He gives you life, He has purposes for you.

One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor.

Depression says that you are alone and that you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you, and He calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.

 

 

 

~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.

~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).

~Forming Partnerships To Enhance Our Platform~

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Having a dream that is bigger than ones self only comes from God. The video testimony of this gospel rapper is very similar to mines. I have been delivered from the hustle and lifestyle of a liar. God has infused me with a desire to serve Him and not mammon. As bad as I desire to shut my naysayers up and begin building a building that will accommodate our God given vision of “Second Chance Alliance” I refuse to compromise. I have had several opportunities to pursue financing my dream by means other than having faith. I have learned in the past three years of going through destitution and captivity how to abide and wait while working my faith by being sensitive to the sweet spirit of Jesus Christ. I am watching the enemy with new vision without activity to his sinful impulses that will nullify my testimony and His purpose for so many ex-offenders.

As pressures on Second Chance Alliance and Faith-Based community organizations  increase and the issues we face become more complex, the idea of partnerships can hold much promise. Through partnerships we can contribute our small part and reap the benefits of everyone’s effort; we can accelerate learning and distribute skills and knowledge; and we can add depth and breadth to our community impact. To make real the promise of partnerships, however, we must be prepared to build, sustain, and evaluate them in a thoughtful way.

This outline will help start-ups and organizations answer several key questions:
ƒ Why are effective partnerships important?
ƒ What are the different forms that partnerships can take?
ƒ What are key steps to establishing effective partnerships?
ƒ What are key steps to managing effective partnerships in order to achieve mutually agreed-upon outcomes?

Why Form Partnerships?

While there are many nationally recognized benefits and advantages to partnership development, the answer to why one seeks to establish partnerships is relatively simple. There is added value in working with other organizations. The benefits of effective partnerships do not appear overnight. Establishing effective and inclusive partnerships takes time, and it is important for you to create the right framework from the start and review the structure and process of the partnership on an ongoing basis to measure its success or failure. What Is a Partnership?
A working definition of a partnership is “a collaborative relationship between entities to work toward shared objectives through a mutually agreed division of labor.”

While this working definition is not very precise, it does help distinguish partnerships from other forms of aid relationships. Partnerships are inherently complex vehicles for the delivery of practical solutions on the ground and at the strategic level. Several studies of how partnerships operate indicate that practitioners manage the complexity by adopting a long-term, flexible, and organic approach. Why organic? During the
course of these partnerships, organizations often evolve as they learn more about effective management, build capacity, and gain valuable experiences. In that sense, partnerships act as learning mechanisms that teach you to be better at what you do and enable you to achieve your goals.If you are considering a potential partnership, you should become familiar with several key components of the most common approaches to partnerships: Leadership Partnerships imply a shared leadership among respected individuals who are recognized and empowered by their own organizations and trusted by partners to build consensus and resolve conflicts.

BARRIERS TO SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIPS:

  • Limited vision/failure to inspire one partner manipulates or dominates, or partners compete for the lead
  • Lack of clear purpose and inconsistent level of understanding purpose
  • ƒLack of understanding roles/responsibilities
  • ƒLack of support from partner organizations with ultimate decision-making power
  • ƒDifferences of philosophies and manners of working
  • Lack of commitment; unwilling participants
  • Unequal and/or unacceptable balance of power and control
  • ƒKey interests and/or people missing from the partnership
  • ƒHidden agendas
  • ƒFailure to communicate
  • Lack of evaluation or monitoring systems
  • Failure to learnƒFinancial and time commitments outweigh potential benefitsƒ
  • Too little time for effective consultation

We making major strides at implementation of our philosophy as a entity and we are networking daily with perspective partners from Safety Alignment of Riverside County to Living Spaces furniture as well as Sams and Costco. Forging partnerships and establishing boundaries for our partnerships are essential as we move towards our goal to be successful and prepared to break ground or move into a building/house that we believe God to be moving us towards.

Common Understanding
A common understanding of the framework, culture, values, and approach of partner organizations needs to exist. Also important is a clear understanding of individual members’ roles and responsibilities regarding the division of labor.
Purpose
A shared common vision and purpose that builds trust and openness and recognizes the value and contribution of all members also needs to exist. Additionally, shared and transparent decision-making processes—extending the scope of influence over and involvement with other services and activities—will prove essential to your partnership. Shared goals and aims, understood and accepted as being important by
each partner, lead to improved coordination of policies, programs, and service delivery, and, ultimately, better outcomes.
Culture and Values
Shared can-do values, understanding, and an acceptance of differences (e.g., values, ways of working) are all key components of a successful partnership. Having respect for the contributions of all partners, combined with an absence of status barriers, will lead to the active involvement of members who are identified as being effective, representative, and capable of playing a valued role in the partnership.
Learning and Development
A healthy partnership promotes an atmosphere of learning. This may involve monitoring and evaluation aimed at improving members’ performance. Investing in partner skills, knowledge, and competence needs to be highly valued within the partnership. This open mindset and spirit of facilitation creates opportunities to shape each other’s work and learn together. In this environment, members can more effectively reflect on both developmental successes and failures.
Communication
If a partnership is going to succeed in the area of communication, strong feedback loops are required.
Effective communication at all levels within the partnership and within partner organizations,
sharing and accessing all knowledge and information, needs to exist.
Performance Management
Management practices and resources are required to achieve the partnership goals and complement the intended purpose of the partnership. Specifically, members must demonstrate accountability for the actions they take and ownership of delivery of the objectives and targets for which they are responsible.You must remain equally aware of key barriers to a working relationship with a potential partner. Furthermore, as relationships evolve, partners must work to resolve any barriers. Below is a list of potential barriers to successful partnerships for you
to consider.

~ Sold Out Should Be Our Posture~

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Acts 5:27-32

Suppose someone threatened to kill you if you didn’t stop talking about God?

You might be tempted to keep quiet.

But after being threatened by powerful leaders, arrested, jailed, and miraculously released, the apostles went back to preaching.

This was nothing less than God’s power working through them!

The high priest and his associates gave Peter and the other apostles strict orders not to “teach” in Christ’s name…
…but “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!’”

In a lot of situations we are able to obey human rules and God at the same time; at least there is no conflict in our loyalty.
When we pay our bills, for example, we are obeying human laws, and at the same time we are obeying the moral laws of God.

The trouble comes when humans tell us to do one thing and God tells us to do the opposite.

Then what?
That’s what happened to Peter and the other apostles’.
The authorities said: “Be quiet.”
God said: “Speak out.”

They couldn’t do both; they had to choose one or the other.
And they chose to do what God said, regardless of the consequences.

This kind of conflict in loyalties is one of the most testing and straining experiences that can come to an individual.

It goes right to the heart of what is the most important thing in a person’s life.

Is it more important to go along with the crowd…to just fit in…or stand out for the sake of Christ and what is right?

Do we stand up for what we believe in or do we sit down?

Is it more important to us to be seen by the world as successful or seen by God as faithful?

Do we care enough about the souls of men and women to tell them about the saving grace offered them by the Resurrected Christ—even if it means that we might be ridiculed by them or others for the sake of the Gospel?
As Christians, we live in this world community.
We take our part and place, we pay our bills, we reap our harvest of rewards, but we never altogether and completely belong here.

Because we have a loyalty that is above and beyond every other loyalty.

We are in this world, but we are not of this world.

The apostles knew their priorities.

While we should try to live at peace with everyone, conflict with the world and its authorities is sometimes inevitable for a Christian.

There will be situations where we cannot obey both God and people.
And when these situations come, we must obey God and trust His Word.

Let Jesus’ Words in Luke chapter 6 encourage us: “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”

 

~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.

~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?

 

~Creating Opportunity For Ex-Offenders and Vets~

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First Things First: The Mindset

finding a job with a felony bar
Finding a job with a felony is going to be difficult, so you’re going to have to prepare yourself for a struggle. For me, prison was easy compared to my re-entry process when I got out. Companies that are “felon friendly” are starting to dwindle, and it’s becoming increasingly harder for felons to find jobs. But you don’t have to tell an ex-offender that, he or she is already dealing with the discrimination on a daily basis.

You have to prepare yourself for a fight. Go into it with a positive outlook, but understand that you’re going to encounter a lot of negativity. A lot of HR departments and hiring mangers will throw your application out if they see you’ve checked the “Have you ever been convicted” box. They might not publicly say that they do this, but you and I both know better. There is some more information on how to handle that question box, as well as other resources for finding a job with a felony, on Exoffenders.net.

Understand that it’s going to be a struggle. Personally, when I was released from prison, I applied to over 80 different companies in my area. I received call-backs from 4 or 5, and none of them were what I would consider a “career.” But I did land a job which worked for the time being. I figured it is better to work at a bad job making crap money than not working at all.  Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it, muscle through until to you get to the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes a crappy job is just a springboard when you’re trying to find a job with a felony.

Avoid the defeatist attitude! This is an extremely common pitfall for ex-offenders, and I see it all the time in the comments on Exoffenders.net. You’re going to get denied employment. It is absolutely going to happen, barring some incredible stroke of luck. You cannot, under any circumstances, talk yourself into quitting this job hunt. It’s happened to me, I’ll admit, and it really held me back for my first year or so after I was released. It’s so easy to revert back to what we know, which usually in an ex-offenders case, is illegal activities that landed them in trouble in the first place. I believe it’s the main reason why the rate of recidivism in this country is so high. Always try to stay as positive as you possibly can, even when you feel incredibly overwhelmed and hopeless.

Get into the groove of having a job before you actually have one. I found that waking up at 7 AM and starting my job search was actually really helpful for my overall mood. It, at the very least, made me feel productive and gave me a sense of accomplishment. I felt that I was moving forward. That was key to dealing with my re-entry.

Maintain a clean appearance and good hygiene. Not only will you feel better about yourself, but you never know when an opportunity might come up. The last thing you want when you’re finding a job with a felony is being called into an interview and you look like you crawled out form under a rock. I’ve detailed this a little bit more in a later section as well.

Don’t beat yourself up about your past, because it is your past. Fact of the matter is, when you’re finding a job with a felony, people will do this for you. You’re more than likely going to have people holding it against you when you reintegrate yourself into society. So you really don’t need to be doing it as well. It’s your past, leave it there. It’s time to move forward into your future.


The Job Hunt

finding a job with a felony bar

To be perfectly blunt, the job hunt is going to make or break you. Finding a job is difficult nowadays anyway. But when you’re finding a job with a felony, it’s much harder. This could be one of the most depressing times in your life. You’re going to have to deal with a lot of negativity and rejection. Just remember to keep a positive mindset as best you can.

One thing I did when I was finding a job with a felony was to just apply everywhere and anywhere. When I was released, I did research on the internet of companies that were in my area. Also, if I was ever out of the house, I’d always keep a notepad and pen with me to write down any business that was in my general area. I’d be sure to make a note of (roughly) how far of a walk it would be for me to get there. When I first got out, I didn’t have a car, so the time it would take to walk to a job was a factor. I then applied to every company that had an online application on their website. I usually tried to do this at night. During the day I tried to be out and about as much as I could, applying at companies that didn’t have online applications. Finding a job with a felony was actually really good exercise. Now, this was back in 2008. There were still a decent amount of companies that you could fill out a paper application and turn it in at a store. Now, in 2014, it seems more and more companies are using online applications. In my experience with online applications, it’s a bad thing when you’re finding a job with a felony.

From experience, as well as a interviewing people in a wide variety of industries, it seems like an online application usually works like this:

  • You submit the application
  • Corporate HR evaluates it. Sometimes it is given a score.
  • In some cases, a background check is done on the individual. (Usually only for larger companies.)
  • If it meets or exceeds a certain score, it is forwarded to a store.
  • At the discretion of the hiring manager of the store, you are called in for an interview.

 

So why is this bad for ex-offenders? Well, a one of the things you can do when finding a job with a felony to increase your chances of getting hired is selling yourself in an interview. With application screening like this, your application might never make it to the actual store and you will never get a face-to-face interview. Please note that not all companies use a procedure like this. It is just information I’ve found to be recurrent through research and interviews with hiring managers.

If I was currently trying to find a job, I would apply everywhere I could. Just to see what happens. The worst thing someone can do is tell you no or not call you back, right? It’s worth a shot in my opinion to just apply to everywhere you can think of. If you’re not having any luck with larger companies when you’re finding a job with a felony, switch it up. Try to find some smaller businesses. They are usually more lax with doing background checks and hiring ex-offenders. A lot of the work I found, after my initial job at Wendy’s when I got out of prison, was with small businesses. If you can wow them at the interview they might be willing to look past your record and give you a shot. There are also online opportunities where you can make money from your home. When I was finding a job with a felony, money I made online helped me make ends meet. I’d really suggest doing some research on this type of work for legitimate work from home jobs before you venture into this. The amount of misinformation, scams, schemes, etc. for work at home opportunities is astounding. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could quickly get sucked into one.

Be persistent, and don’t be lazy about this. Your chances of finding a job with a felony if you’re only filling out an application or two a day, passively looking for work, and not giving it your all is astronomically lower than someone who is giving it a true effort.


Your First Interview

finding a job with a felony bar
Bring your “A” game and come correct. That was the advice given to me when I started job training at a re-entry program I was in in New Jersey. What I interpreted it to mean was come prepared, be ready for anything, and look the part. You want to walk out of that interview feeling like you aced it. You need to sell yourself, your skills, and how you could be perfect for the job opportunity.

Appearance is incredibly important when interviewing for a job. Before you even say a word, the potential employer will already have an opinion about you based on your appearance. It’s just human nature, we initially judge based on looks and appearance.

  • For men – be freshly shaved; facial hair should be kept to a minimal length, tight, and professional looking. The exception to this is if the facial hair is for religious purposes, in which case there is no need to worry about your facial hair.
  • Have a recent haircut – you don’t want to your first impression of you to be that you are disheveled or scraggly looking.
  • Do not neglect your hygiene – Shower the morning before the interview, brush your teeth, flossing is never a bad idea, slap on some cologne/perfume, use deodorant.

 

Once you’re a picture perfect image of a stellar candidate, let’s work on your clothes. Ideally, you’d like to look like a million bucks with a tailored suit, but let’s face it, a lot of us don’t have the money for that. We have to work with what we have, or can afford. The following is what I do in regards to an outfit when I go into an interview. This mainly applies to men, as I am one, but can be helpful to women as well.

Proper Fit – While I wear loose fitting, baggy jeans and shirts in my daily life, this isn’t the appearance I want to present to an employer. Make sure your outfit fits properly, not too big but definitely not too small. You don’t want to walk into an interview with pants that are too short and it looks like you’re getting ready for a flood. The exception to this is, of course, religious reasons. If you should not wear pants below the ankles for religious purposes, disregard that.

Accessorize – For me, I prefer simple yet noticeable things to compliment my outfit. I’ll usually wear a titanium or stainless steel watch, as that usually matches better with the outfit colors I wear. I know watches aren’t very widespread anymore since most people just use their phone to tell time, but I feel it really compliments an appearance. In addition, I may sometimes put a handkerchief in my suit pocket that matches. I feel it’s a nice, professional added touch that stands out without being too gaudy. Avoid over accessorizing, meaning don’t wear earrings that are gaudy or very large, stay away from cheap, flashy bracelets, and things of that nature.

Ironing and Cleaning – Make sure that you’re wrinkle-free before walking out your residence. Iron your clothes either night before or that morning, inspect for small spots and stains, minor tears, and other things that may draw the attention of an employer. If there is no other option and you must wear something like this, try to cover it up as best you can. Your shoes should be as clean as you get them. One of the first things I notice about a person is their shoes and anything on their hand and wrist (rings, watches, bracelets.)

This is a crucial moment for you, as you have to sell yourself to the employer. Everyone has to do this, not just ex-offenders. Be ready for any questions they may have regarding your experience, willingness to learn, career & life goals, and yes, even your criminal record. Always try to maintain eye contact when during your interview. If you are asked a question, and your eyes wander off to somewhere else in the room while answering, this can be interpreted as being dishonest. The last thing you want is any inclination that you are a dishonest person when you’re looking for a job with a felony.

One of the more frequent questions I get is how to explain a felony if asked about it at an interview. While there is no one answer to this question, I’ll try to explain how I personally have handled this question in hopes that you can relate it to yourself. First, I always admit that what I did was wrong. In a circumstance where you were wrongly convicted, there may be other ways you want to answer this. I actually have a charge that I honestly didn’t commit, a friend of mine did. But I knew I was going to prison so I “took the weight.” I don’t bring this up. I just admit that I messed up in my past and have moved forward from it.

You’ll want to vocalize your skills, talk about what you can bring to the company. Discuss what you do well and how that relates to the position you are applying for. If you don’t have that many skills, and the felony question comes up, try to talk about what you learned while incarcerated. For example, say you were a cook in prison, say that you can work extremely well under pressure, work quickly, and deliver results. Try to talk about where you want to go in your life, if you feel you can fit that in without sounding too long-winded. Below I’ll give an example of how I have handled the question during an interview.

“I made mistakes when I was younger and had a substance abuse problem, and my history is a direct result of that. I’ve since gone through a long-term rehabilitation program and have been clean for over 8 years. I and am looking to build a better life for myself. Since I have been clean, I have worked as a freelance web developer, and feel that my skills I’ve honed through that would be beneficial to this company.”

Something of that nature personalized for you should work. Keep in mind, employers want to hear different answers to that question, so there is no completely right answer on what to say. Try to get an idea of what type of person the employer is, and try to figure out how they would like to hear that question answered. Do not lie to the employer just to tell them what you think they want to hear, this could end terribly in a multitude of different ways.


Don’t Give Up!

finding a job with a felony bar
You’re going to be rejected. You’re going to have a lot of places that won’t call you back. You can’t give up even if your situation looks hopeless. Persistence will pay off in the end. If you do have an interview, send them an email thanking them for interviewing you. It shows that you really do care about a job. You will find employment, it might just take some time. Be patient, be persistent, and always look forward.

I wish you the best of luck in your journey, and hope that this article helped you. If it did, please like it and share it with people you feel may benefit from it. Thank you for reading.

~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.

~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.

 

~The Apostles’ Creed, “I Believe In The Holy Spirit”~

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Summary of Biblical Monotheism and the Trinity

Christian monotheistic belief is summarized by the following seven points:

1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
7. There is only one God.

When Christians say: (1) The Father is God; (2) The Son is God; and (3) The Holy Spirit is God we are identifying Who God is.

When we say: (4) The Father is not the Son; (5) The Son is not the Holy Spirit; and (6) The Holy Spirit is not the Father we are distinguishing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The seventh and the final statement is the most challenging, “There is only one God”. The Greeks would say, “Zeus is god, “Apollos is god, and Dionysius is god” and there are three gods. Christianity says, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God and there is only one God.

To help clarify the above seven points, please consider the following diagram:

 

 

The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, and Belief in One God Involves Mystery

Now, the question boils down to this: Is this what the Bible teaches? Since the Bible teaches this but we can’t fully comprehend it – that is OK.  We must leave room for mystery in our theology.

In church history Saint Augustine (354-430) probably thought more about the doctrine of the Trinity than any other uninspired writer, with the possible exception of John Calvin. There is a story about Augustine walking upon the ocean’s shore, greatly perplexed about the doctrine of the Trinity. As he meditated, he observed a little boy with a sea shell, running to the water, filling his shell, and then pouring it into a hole which he had made in the sand.

“What are you doing, my little man?” asked Augustine.  

“Oh,” replied the boy, “I am trying to put the ocean in this hole.”

Augustine had learned his lesson, and as he passed on, exclaimed, “That is what I am trying to do; I see it now. Standing on the shores of time I am trying to get into this little finite mind things which are infinite.”

It should come as no surprise that the Christian belief in the Triune God involves mysteries that transcend the human mind.

 

Read: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. —1 Corinthians 2:11

When we quote The Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Author J. B. Phillips said, “Every time we say [this] we mean that we believe that [the Spirit] is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.”

Sometimes we forget that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force. The Bible describes Him as God. He possesses the attributes of God: He is present everywhere (Ps. 139:7-8), He knows all things (1 Cor. 2:10-11), and He has infinite power (Luke 1:35). He also does things that only God can do: create (Gen. 1:2) and give life (Rom. 8:2). He is equal in every way with the other Persons of the Trinity—the Father and the Son.

The Holy Spirit is a Person who engages in personal ways with us. He grieves when we sin (Eph. 4:30). He teaches us (1 Cor. 2:13), prays for us (Rom. 8:26), guides us (John 16:13), gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11), and assures us of salvation (Rom. 8:16).

The Holy Spirit indwells us if we have received forgiveness of sin through Jesus. He desires to transform us so that we become more and more like Jesus. Let’s cooperate with the Spirit by reading God’s Word and relying on His power to obey what we learn.

God’s guidance and help that we need day to day Is given to all who believe; The Spirit has sealed us—He’s God’s guarantee Of power that we can receive. —Branon
The Christian who neglects the Holy Spirit is like a lamp that’s not plugged in.

 

~The Keys To Kingdom Building As We Are led~

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It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.

David Allan Coe

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In my desire to help further the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dyeing world I have taken the liberty of starting this blog. There are so many challenges associated with ministry and one can be compelled to stall his or her efforts if not for the help of the holy spirit. It is our work to give to the whole world–to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people–the saving truths of the gospel of reconciliation and to herald the third angels message. But it has been a difficult problem to know how to reach the people in the great centers of population. We are not allowed entrance to the churches. In the cities the large halls are expensive, and in most cases but few will come out to the best halls. We have been spoken against by those who were not acquainted with us. The reasons of our faith are not understood by the people, and we have been regarded as fanatics who are ignorantly looking to the heavens and Jesus Christ for salvation. In this work I have been perplexed to know how to break through the barriers of worldliness and prejudice, and bring before the people the precious truth which means so much to them. The Lord has instructed us that the innovation and culturally sound presentation of His word is one of the most important instrumentalities for the accomplishment of this work.

This outline is for May and I to use to build a culturally sound church community within our vision of Second Chance Alliance. We believe that as much as possible we should infuse our community with the core beliefs of our existence as it is wholesomely apart of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some church leaders find planning a formidable exercise. In reality, the planning process is simple —conceptually. It can be described as answering seven key questions:

  1. Spiritual Needs Assessment: What are the greatest spiritual needs of our church and community?
  2. Strengths and Weaknesses: What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of our church?
  3. Opportunities and Threats or Barriers: What are the most significant ministry opportunities for and potential threats (or barriers) to our church, given the answers to the first two questions?
  4. Ministry Options: What appear to be the most viable options for strengthening the ministry of our church?
  5. Ministry Platform: What is the primary ministry platform on which our specific ministries should be built? Included in the ministry platform are our statement of faith, vision statement, mission statement, philosophy of ministry, and listing of ministries.
  6. Ministry Goals: What goals is the Holy Spirit leading us to strive for to enhance our church’s ministry over the next year? The next two to three years?
  7. Action Steps: What action steps must we accomplish to achieve these goals?

Getting your team to agree on the answers to these questions (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) may or may not be simple, depending on the circumstances and the relationships of leaders in your church. We feel strongly about fellowship with our leaders to gain leverage in togetherness and creating a 360 degree circumference around our team to solidify our ranks.  We are compelled to this undertaking by the need to fulfill the Scriptural model of Titus 1:5; to set churches in order through the appointment of godly leadership.

What not to do

In Hemet Ca, where we live, potholes are in abundance on most side roads. Some can be avoided, while others come upon you so quickly they are difficult to miss. On the avenue called planning, it’s important to know the potholes to avoid:

  1. Making Planning Too Complex: There are usually two or three key issues that will be discovered, and, if acted on, will lead to enhanced health and vitality. One church in Covina Ca. narrowed their planning to: (1) revising the organization chart, (2) enhancing community life, and (3) streamlining priorities. When these three issues were named, each ministry team could set goals for day-to-day ministry, based on them.
  2. Not Reaching Conclusions and Making an Action Plan: Tie up loose ends along the way, and outline appropriate action steps.
  3. Not Keeping the Action Plan Simple: One church I worked with had such a long document, with dozens of goals and action steps, that it felt overwhelming and didn’t win approval. The objective is to create a plan that every member can articulate without having to refer to any documentation.
  4. Not Revisiting the Plan: Your plan should be adjustable along the way, revised and renewed according to the needs and resources available to you. Keep your planning documents alive. Don’t shelve them, file them, or formalize them in pretty documents. At Second Chance Alliance, we hold our plans loosely, in a “white paper” format, with lots of room for give and take each step of the way. May and I are learning as we go how to build and implement viable concepts that will help us with the trajectory we desire to get our model off the ground and receive excitement and commitment with buy-in to our visions.

Taking Too Long: Don’t let your planning team tire and begin to complain about the value of doing this. Keep the group moving forward toward conclusion and celebration.

Trusting Your Instincts apart from Prayer: As a team, lean fully in God’s direction to hear his voice, feel his heart, understand his will, and trust his empowering presence to lead you. Strategic planning in a local church or business is a process that God through his Holy Spirit must direct. Become a people of prayer as you trust him for his design for your church!

~The Conspiracy That We All Can Change; Felony Disenfranchisement~

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State-level spending on prison education programs declined sharply during the economic downturn, with the sharpest drop occurring in states that incarcerate the most prisoners, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Large states cut spending by an average of 10 percent between the 2009 and 2012 fiscal years, while medium-sized states cut spending by 20 percent, according to the study.

“There has been a dramatic contraction of the prison education system, particularly those programs focused on academic instruction versus vocational training,” said Lois Davis, the study’s lead author and a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “There are now fewer teachers, fewer course offerings and fewer students enrolled in academic education programs.”

While the drop appears to have resulted from budget cuts prompted by the economic downturn, Davis said evidence suggests that the curtailment of prison education could increase prison system costs in the longer term.

“We need to weigh the short-term need to reduce budgets with the long-term consequence of trimming programs that help keep people from returning to prison after they have paid their debt to society,” Davis said.

The findings are from the capstone report of a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice to assess the effectiveness of correctional education programs and help chart a path forward to improve understanding of both academic and vocational education for inmates.

There long has been debate about the role prison-based education programs can play in preparing inmates to return to society and keeping them from returning to prison. Recidivism remains high nationally, with four in 10 inmates returning to prison within three years of release.

The RAND study included a comprehensive review of the scientific literature about correctional education programs for adults and a meta-analysis to synthesize findings from multiple studies about the effectiveness of correctional education programs.

Released in 2013, the meta-analysis found, on average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had a 13 percentage point reduction in their probability of returning to prison. Researchers also found that prison education programs are cost effective, with a $1 investment reducing incarceration costs by $5 during the first three years post-release.

In the latest report, researchers detail findings from a survey of state correctional education directors about how funding changed after the recession struck in 2008.

Overall spending on prison education nationally fell on average by 6 percent from 2009 to 2012, but that masked much larger drops in the states with the largest prison populations. Vocational programs fared better, but there were still significant cuts in large and medium-sized states.

State correctional education directors expressed concern that a new general education development (GED) exam that begins this year will make it harder for inmates to earn their high school equivalent diplomas.

The new exam is more rigorous and relies on computer-based testing — a profound change for states’ correctional education programs that often have limited computer resources. Of the 31 states that plan to implement the 2014 GED exam, 14 expect the more-rigorous approach will drive down participation and 16 states expect fewer inmates to complete the exam.

Researchers say that for corrections officials to make better decisions about how to spend limited funding, new information is needed to understand what dosage and models of instruction are associated with better results.

“We know prison education works, but we don’t know which instructional models provide the best results or how much instruction and training inmates need to be successful,” said Robert Bosick, a report co-author and a social scientist at RAND. “Answering these questions will help correctional leaders to direct limited resources in a way that provides the most benefits.”

Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today announced research findings showing that, on average, inmates who participated in correctional education programs had 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who did not. Each year approximately 700,000 individuals leave federal and state prisons; about half of them will be reincarcerated within three years. The research, funded by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, was released today by the RAND Corporation.

“These findings reinforce the need to become smarter on crime by expanding proven strategies for keeping our communities safe, and ensuring that those who have paid their debts to society have the chance to become productive citizens,” said Attorney General Holder. “We have an opportunity and an obligation to use smart methods – and advance innovative new programs – that can improve public safety while reducing costs. As it stands, too many individuals and communities are harmed, rather than helped, by a criminal justice system that does not serve the American people as well as it should. This important research is part of our broader effort to change that.”

The findings, from the largest-ever analysis of correctional educational studies, indicate that prison education programs are cost effective. According to the research, a one dollar investment in prison education translates into reducing incarceration costs by four to five dollars during the first three years after release, when those leaving prison are most likely to return.

“Correctional education programs provide incarcerated individuals with the skills and knowledge essential to their futures,” said Secretary of Education Duncan. “Investing in these education programs helps released prisoners get back on their feet—and stay on their feet—when they return to communities across the country.”

With funding from The Second Chance Act (P.L. 110-199) of 2007, the RAND Corporation’s analysis of correctional education research found that employment after release was 13 percent higher among prisoners who participated in either academic or vocational education programs than among those who did not. Those who participated in vocational training were 28 percent more likely to be employed after release from prison than those who did not receive such training.

The report is a collaborative effort of the Departments of Justice and Education, two of 20 federal agencies that make up the federal interagency Reentry Council. The Reentry Council’s members are working to make communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; assisting those who return from prison and jail in becoming contributing members of their communities; and saving taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. Attorney General Holder chairs the Reentry Council which he established in January 2011.

~America;He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery, I Love Loving, Not Hate~

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“I call on the young men of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late. The book may close. And don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, “You’re too arrogant! And if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I’ll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still and know that I’m God.”  “

Thirteen years ago today, the U.S. suffered a terrorist attack the likes of which it had never seen before. The incident set off a series of aftershocks with deep and far-reaching implications. Although the U.S. has struggled mightily to extricate itself from the tangles of terrorism, that prospect has become increasingly bleak with the rise of the Islamic State, a turn of events that has left the U.S. with no choice but to refocus its attention upon Iraq. In my opinion , there remain three major problems that have yet to be resolved over these past 13 years, the sum of which has exacerbated the situation even as the U.S. redoubles its efforts to fight terrorism.

Now, let me make it clear in the beginning, that I see this war as an unjust, evil, and futile war. I speak to you today on the war in the Middle East because my conscience leaves me with no other choice. The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war. In international conflicts, the truth is hard to come by because most nations are deceived about themselves. Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. “Ye shall know the truth,” says Jesus, “and the truth shall set you free.” Now, I’ve chosen to speak about the war in Middle East because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.

First, there exist certain peculiarities behind why al-Qaida attacked the U.S. These qualities point to egregious flaws in Washington’s Middle Eastern policy and remain an area that the U.S. refuses to address.

The U.S. made the decision to provide financial and material aid to jihadi organizations such as al-Qaida. At the time, the U.S. needed these fighters to disrupt the Soviets in Afghanistan, and as jihadi embraced the idea that “all [Muslims] under heaven are one family,” they were naturally loathe to permit the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at the expense of their Muslim brethren. In this way, as the U.S. propped up al-Qaida, it was simultaneously grooming its own future adversary. After the Soviet withdrawal, the choice was simple for al-Qaida to fix its sights on the U.S. as its next target due to the Western power’s rejection of the establishment of a Palestinian state in favor of Israel, an agenda that runs directly counter to the interests of Palestinian Muslims.

And so despite U.S. claims that it opposes all forms of terrorism, the measures that it adopts have often only bred further terrorist activity, as the U.S. is unwilling to thoroughly digest and understand the factors underlying the terrorist mindset, and therefore cannot properly eradicate the root causes of this disease.

Second, why were U.S. policymaking mechanisms unable to prevent the Iraq War? The U.S. touts itself as a democratic nation in possession of the most sophisticated and scientific policymaking systems on the planet. Iraq was not party to the 9/11 attacks, and when the U.S. launched its “pre-emptive” strike on Iraq in the spring of 2003, it found that the Middle Eastern state had not even developed weapons of mass destruction. Yet while obviously lacking evidence, the U.S. still decided to launch the Iraq War. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s shortcuts in its intelligence operations resulted in an inexcusable error on the weighty question of whether to go to war.

When the U.S. Senate voted upon the declaration of war, then-Senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John McCain all made grave mistakes by giving their support. The three were all eventually to fail in their separate bids for the presidency, but setting the U.S. military on the path to invasion was an act of grievous irresponsibility to other countries, as well as to the U.S. itself. Regardless of whether a product of flawed judgment or pandering to the electorate, they all proved themselves unworthy of becoming president. Instead, it would be a state senator from Illinois who would go on to assume that mantle. That person, Barack Obama, opposed the Iraq War, was later elected to the U.S. Senate, and finally ended the war in his capacity as president.

Third, why has the U.S. not offered an apology for the damage done to Iraq? Although the U.S. military has since withdrawn, the war cost Iraqis dearly in personnel and property, as well as triggering a severe societal and economic crisis within the country. Despite this, the U.S. has yet to issue an apology for the invasion, hold to account those responsible for launching the war, or make recompense. The Iraq War not only backfired upon the U.S., but plunged the Middle East into chaos and shattered the stability of the region. Now, the Islamic State has proclaimed the establishment of a state in Iraq and Syria, fomented a widespread humanitarian crisis and forced the U.S. to take military action because of its violent inertia, all of which are inextricably linked to the initial U.S. war against terrorism. But is the feigned nonchalance with which the U.S. has responded the mark of a responsible power?

Thirteen years have passed since the attacks of 9/11, but the U.S. is still unwilling to reflect upon the reasons it was targeted or apologize to and compensate the nations it has harmed, a fact that will ensure the bitter lessons of that day go entirely wasted.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing, as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we’re always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on. Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony. But we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for in all our history there has never been such a monumental dissent during a war, by the American people.

Polls reveal that almost 68% Americans explicitly oppose the war in Middle East. Additional millions cannot bring themselves around to support it. And even those millions who do support the war [are] half-hearted, confused, and doubt-ridden. This reveals that millions have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism, to the high grounds of firm dissent, based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Now, of course, one of the difficulties in speaking out today grows the fact that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It’s a dark day in our nation when high-level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent. But something is happening, and people are not going to be silenced. The truth must be told, and I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war against ISIS  is a fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.

I have seen the damage these wars can cause first hand. I am still trying to get compensated for the scars I came home with that aren’t visible to the naked eye. I have escorted hundreds of soldiers home in these coffins and some of them I heard their last words. They went something like this “Can we really trust that our death will make a difference”? or “Can we  “TRUST” in our leaders back in Washington?

Now, since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have three major reasons for bringing the Middle East and 9/11 into the field of my moral vision. There is…a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in the Middle East and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed that there was a real promise of hope for the poor, the disenfranchised both black and white, through the Poverty  Program. There were experiments, hopes, and new beginnings. Then came the build-up in the Middle East. And I watched the program broken as if it was some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like ISIS continued to draw men and skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube. And you may not know it, my friends, but it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier, while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor, and much of that fifty-three dollars goes for salaries to people that are not poor. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and speak on it it as such.

Societies in failure mode because of American wars of genocide to control oil resources and any other political nonsense they can use to mis-inform it’s citizens.  Oh, my friends, if there is any one thing that we must see today is that these are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. They are saying, unconsciously, as we say in one of our freedom songs, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around!” It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo, we shall boldly challenge unjust mores, and thereby speed up the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind. And when I speak of love I’m not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of John: “Let us love one another, for God is love. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.”

 

~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.

 

 

 

 

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