Father, Adonai, Jesus, we are open now to hear a refreshing word of hope from You, your voice will be heard and we will move in courage and faith to face any suffering, any persecution, any work that you have for us to perform together. We hear your people crying and we know You are inclining your ear to this prayer, the world is dying, the condition & behavior that is ever before you is breaking our hearts as it is yours, but we are your people and we will go to the nations and generations to proclaim victory because our savior is seated on your right hand and has given us strength thru His finished work to change the world, father it won’t happen if we don’t participate with your powerful spirit. Fill us up and send us out Lord to reap the harvest of restoration of laws and unify us to stabilize the injustice in our world and communities.
I want to live a life poured out although I suffer to live
2 Corinthians 4:4-18 The Message (MSG)
3-4 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.
5-6 Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
7-12 If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!
13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!
16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
INTRODUCTION: One day the great artist Michelangelo was hammering and chiseling away at a great block of stone. It was a perfect and a huge block of marble and to the untrained eye, it appeared that Michelangelo was ruining it. Large pieces were falling to the ground as he chiseled at the stone. It is said that a horrified observer said, “Michelangelo, what are you doing? You are ruining a perfect piece of marble!” And Michelangelo replied, “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”
When God is developing us sometimes it feels like we are losing everything. It feels like our whole world is coming to pieces. That’s God chiseling. That’s God the Holy Spirit cutting away everything in our life that does not look like God. It is often a painful process. Sometimes it hurts. Jesus said the branches that do not bear fruit will be cast into the fire, but the branches that do bear fruit will be pruned that they might bear more fruit. Sometimes it hurts.
Have you ever started a ministry–maybe it was prayer, maybe it was teaching, maybe it was evangelism–and you began with such excitement and anticipation of God’s blessings and presence and power. Maybe you saw some initial success. Maybe your Sunday school class was growing. Maybe your prayer group was growing. Maybe your evangelism is successful. But then suddenly something happens that almost knocks the blocks out from under you. Suddenly there are some painful experiences in your life. Maybe you were team teaching and the other teacher bails out. Maybe someone in the prayer group stops coming and starts talking about you. Maybe the finances in your family start to shrink and things get tight. Maybe it seems like just as you start to do something for God, you start to invest yourself in the Lord’s work and things around you seem to be falling apart. And you start asking yourself, “What in the world is going on?” You start questioning whether or not you are in God’s will.
I’d like someone to show me where in the Bible it says that when you are in God’s will, everything will go smooth–no bumps in the road, no opposition from people or devils. Is that in the Bible? Because if it is, I haven’t been able to find it.
In fact, when you look at our text, you might come to the very opposite conclusion. In verse 5 Paul said, “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus. . . .” So they were doing the right thing, they were preaching, and they were saying the right thing, they were preaching Jesus, and they were seeing souls saved. But at the same time, Paul said, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. . .” He said, “the outward man perish. . .”
What did Paul know that we need to know? How is it that Paul and his ministry companions could keep on keeping on, when the more they did for God, the more they were persecuted by the enemy? When they tried to preach the message of hope he was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, hungry, and ultimately beheaded. Why didn’t Paul get mad at God? Why didn’t Paul throw in the towel and quit?
Paul didn’t quit because Paul knew that in the suffering of ministry something of an eternal nature was going on. The outward man perishes, but he did not quit, because the inward man, the spirit man was being renewed day by day. Every storm, every pain, every thorn in the flesh, every beating, every cold night in the dungeon with the executioner standing outside the cell, was merely a blow of the hammer and a pounding of the chisel as large pieces of Paul fell away and the image of Christ was being perfected in him. That’s why Paul could say, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings being made comfortable unto His death” (Phil. 3:10).
We want a quick fix. We want God to make it go away now! And we see some preachers who seem to be able to do it all without setbacks. But that may not be God’s plan for you. You may be asking for deliverance, while God’s plan for you is development. He may be purifying your faith in the fiery trials of life. He may be cutting away the outward man so that the inward man, the spiritual part of your being may breathe and grow to full maturity in the image and likeness of Christ.
I have, to be honest. When God starts cutting away big pieces of Aaron Pratt in order to let the image of Christ grow in me, I often cried out. I often look to heaven and said, “God what are you doing? Why are you allowing me to go through this? I’m doing the best that I can!” Two kids, serving lengthy sentences in prison, a divorce that wiped out everything tangible I had left to survive, two corporations were taken, and two kids dead one to sickle cell anemia, and the other to uterine cancer. I could go on and on, but this homily isn’t about me. it’s about the saving grace of my Lord and savior.
The Christian life is a paradox and sometimes it is difficult to grasp. The outward man has to perish so that the inward man can be renewed. The desires of the flesh have to be crucified in order to let the Spirit have control. Think about it. . .
You gotta die, in order to live.
You gotta lose, in order to gain.
You gotta give to get.
You gotta forgive, to be forgiven.
You gotta be empty before you can be full.
You gotta surrender, in order to win.
Before you can be exalted, you gotta be humbled.
You gotta be last before you can be first.
You gotta become the least so you can be the greatest.
You gotta be like a child, to have God’s power in you.
You gotta be happy about being a servant.
Rejoice when you’re persecuted.
You gotta appreciate problems.
Glory in tribulation.
Bless people that hate you.
Love somebody you’ve never seen.
Follow somebody that you’ve never heard.
Christianity’s a paradox, but it’s the only kind of life worth living.
God uses the issues and struggles and storms of life to perfect our faith. He sent the disciples into a storm. He sent them ahead alone while He stayed back to pray. Why did He do it? I believe He did it on purpose so that they could see in vivid and unforgettable fashion that when their strength was gone when they could do nothing in the flesh, they could look up and see that what was over their heads was under His feet. He came to them walking on the water so that in the midst of despair their faith could be developed.
He wanted them to know, and He wants us to know, that there will be times when we follow God out of Egypt only to run into the Red Sea with the enemy hot on our heals, but if we trust Him, He will deliver and our faith will grow.
We may stand for the truth and refuse to bow to the idols of the world, only to find ourselves being thrown into a fiery furnace, but if we are faithful He won’t let us go through the fire alone, the forth man will step into the fire with us and if we won’t bow to the pressures of life, neither will we burn.
We may be preaching the gospel one moment and find ourselves beaten and thrown into the prison the next, but there has never been a prison built that God could not open. He can open doors that no man can close.
I’m not saying that God will not deliver. He does and He will, but He moves on His time table. He has a plan for your spiritual development and that development may take you through some deserts. It may take you through some valleys. It may take you through some storms. What are you going to do? Are you going to quit? Are you going get mad and bitter at God? Or will you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
CONCLUSION: We are told to glory in infirmities, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, rejoice in suffering, rejoice when fiery trials come, be of good cheer in tribulation. Why, because we know that these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. We know that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” We are looking not on things as they are, not on things temporal, but we are looking ahead to things as they shall be, we are looking for things eternal.
We are God’s workmanship, we are His masterpiece and He is chipping away the stone, releasing the image of Christ in us. It was marred and masked by sin in the Garden of Eden, but God determined to fix the broken vessels and restore the image of God in us.
Exodus 1-10New International Version (NIV)
The Israelites Oppressed
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah;3 Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin; 4 Dan and Naphtali; Gad and Asher.5 The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy[a] in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.
6 Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, 7 but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.
8 Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. 9 “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. 10 Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
11 So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites 13 and worked them ruthlessly. 14 They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Is suffering for Christ always going to be a part of being a follower of Christ?
The Bible talks a lot about suffering for the sake of Christ. In the era in which the New Testament was written, followers of Jesus were often ostracized by their own families and communities. Some of the worst persecution came from the religious leaders (Acts 4:1–3). Jesus told His followers, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). He reminded His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
Second Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As in biblical times, many Christians today have found that making a public declaration of faith in Christ can result in imprisonment, beatings, torture, or death (Hebrews 11:32–38; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 3:8; Acts 5:40). Often those of us in free nations shudder at the thought, but we feel relatively safe. We understand that there are thousands who suffer daily for the sake of Christ and are thankful we don’t have to. But is there only one kind of persecution?
Jesus stated clearly what it means to follow Him: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23–25). Our modern understanding of the phrase “take up their cross and follow me” is often inadequate. In Jesus’ day the cross always symbolized death. When a man carried a cross, he had already been condemned to die on it. Jesus said that, in order to follow Him, one must be willing to die. We will not all die martyrs’ deaths. We will not all be imprisoned, beaten, or tortured for our faith. So what kind of death did Jesus mean?
Paul explains in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” To follow Christ means we die to our own way of doing things. We consider our will, our rights, our passions, and our goals to be crucified on the cross with Him. Our right to direct our own lives is dead to us (Philippians 3:7–8). Death involves suffering. The flesh does not want to die. Dying to self is painful and goes against our natural inclination to seek our own pleasure. But we cannot follow both Christ and the flesh (Luke 16:13;Matthew 6:24; Romans 8:8). Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Paul suffered more than most for Jesus’ sake. He said this to the Christians at Phillipi: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:2). The wordgranted here means “shown favor, given freely as a gift.” Paul does not present suffering as a curse, but as a benefit.
Suffering can take many forms. By choosing to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, we are setting ourselves at odds with the world. Galatians 1:10 says, “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” (NASB). By closely adhering to the teachings of the Bible, we set ourselves up for rejection, mockery, loneliness, or betrayal. Often, the cruelest persecution comes from those who consider themselves spiritual but have defined God according to their own ideas. If we choose to take a stand for righteousness and biblical truth, we ensure that we will be misunderstood, mocked, or worse. We need to keep in mind that no threat of suffering deterred the apostles from preaching Christ. In fact, Paul said that losing everything was worth it “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, NASB). Acts 5:40–41 describes the reaction of the apostles after they received another beating for preaching about Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Suffering in some form is always going to be a part of being a true follower of Christ. Jesus said the path that leads to life is difficult (Matthew 7:14). Our hardship is also a way of identifying with His suffering in a small way.
Jesus said if we deny him before men, He will deny us before His Father in heaven (Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9). There are many subtle ways to deny Christ. If our actions, words, lifestyle, or entertainment choices do not reflect His will, we are denying Christ. If we claim to know Him but live as though we didn’t, we are denying Christ (1 John 3:6–10). Many people choose those forms of denying Christ because they do not want to suffer for Him.
Often our greatest suffering comes from within as we battle for control over a heart that must die to its own will and surrender to Christ’s lordship (Romans 7:15–25). In whatever form suffering comes, we should embrace it as a badge of honor and a privilege that we, like the apostles, have “been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Discontentment is trying to penetrate my armor this morning. Trying to steal my worship and thankfulness to God and His wonderful son for delivering me from the spirit of greed and selfishness. When I acquired fame and fortune in this world I never imagined how destructive I became in my inner man. Seventeen cars, 9 houses and 3 companies grossing well over what I could have ever imagined. Time shares and plenty cognac and women. Cocaine and money and of course clothes and 600 pairs of shoes in different homes. Prison and God’s providence showed up to place me in a crucible of restoration and now I am learning what contentment is…
If you belong to Christ, like the apostle Paul you can and should learn the secret of a contented life. When Paul wrote “godliness with contentment is great gain” he wasn’t just speaking philosophically (1 Tim. 6:6). He had learned the secret to contentment in every circumstance of life (Phil 4:11-2). While that secret eludes most people, it need not elude any true believer. For those who are willing to learn, here are six steps to a contented life from the life and teaching of Paul.
First, learn to give thanks in all things. Paul had learned to give thanks in every circumstance and he exhorted all believers to do the same. Thankfulness is first of all a matter of obedience (1 Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:18), but it is also a characteristic of a Spirit-filled believer (Eph. 5:18-20).
Second, learn to rest in God’s providence. If we truly know God, we know that He is unfolding His agenda and purpose in our lives. He has sovereignly determined each part of His plan for us so that we’ll be benefited and He’ll be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:28). We should not be surprised or ungrateful when we experience trials because we know that God sees perfectly the end result (cf.1 Pet. 4:12-13).
Third, learn to be satisfied with little. Paul had learned to make the choice to be satisfied with little, and he knew it was important for others to learn to make that same choice. In 1 Timothy 6:6Paul exhorted a young pastor with these words: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” Paul understood that covetousness and contentment are mutually exclusive.
Fourth, learn to live above life’s circumstances. That’s how Paul lived. In 2 Cor. 12:9-10 he wrote, “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.”
Paul didn’t take pleasure in the pain itself, but in the power of Christ manifested through him in times of infirmity, reproach, persecution, and distress. We also should learn to take pleasure in the power of Christ in times of distress.
Fifth, learn to rely on God’s power and provision. The apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”; and Jesus said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Like Paul, we can learn to rely on Christ’s promise. He faithfully infuses every believer with His own strength and sustains them in their time of need until they receive provision from His hand (Eph. 3:16).
Finally, become preoccupied with the well-being of others. Paul summarized this mindset inPhilippians 2:3-4, where he wrote: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
A self-centered man is a discontented man. But the soul of the generous man, the man who lives for the interests and benefit of others, will find blessing upon blessing in his life (see Prov. 11:24-5;19:17; Luke 6:38; 2 Cor. 9:6).
Black has never been more beautiful, witnessed by this collection featuring accomplished dark skinned-women from all walks of life. In ‘Dark Girls, ‘ celebrities such as Lupita Nyong’o, Pauletta Washington, Cicely Tyson, Judge Mablean, Brandi and Karli Harvey, and 20 other outstanding women share intimate insights into what their dark skin means to them.
Colorism is a persistent problem for people of color in the USA. Colorism, or skin color stratification, is a process that privileges light-skinned people of color over dark in areas such as income, education, housing, and the marriage market. This post describes the experiences of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans with regard to skin color. Research demonstrates that light-skinned people have clear advantages in these areas, even when controlling for other background variables. However, dark-skinned people of color are typically regarded as more ethnically authentic or legitimate than light-skinned people. Colorism is directly related to the larger system of racism in the USA and around the world. The color complex is also exported around the globe, in part through US media images, and helps to sustain the multibillion-dollar skin bleaching and cosmetic surgery industries
Racial discrimination is a pervasive problem in the USA. African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and other people of color are routinely denied access to resources and fair competition for jobs and schooling. Despite this pattern of exclusion, people of color have made great progress in combating persistent discrimination in housing, the labor market, and education. However, hidden within the process of racial discrimination is the often overlooked issue of colorism. Colorism is the process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of color over their dark-skinned counterparts (Hunter 2005). Colorism is concerned with actual skin tone, as opposed to racial or ethnic identity. This is an important distinction because race is a social concept, not significantly tied to biology (Hirschman 2004). Lighter-skinned people of color enjoy substantial privileges that are still unattainable to their darker-skinned brothers and sisters. In fact, light-skinned people earn more money, complete more years of schooling, live in better neighborhoods, and marry higher-status people than darker-skinned people of the same race or ethnicity.
How does colorism operate? Systems of racial discrimination operate on at least two levels: race and color. The first system of discrimination is the level of racial category, (i.e. black, Asian, Latino, etc.). Regardless of physical appearance, African Americans of all skin tones are subject to certain kinds of discrimination, denigration, and second-class citizenship, simply because they are African American. Racism in this form is systemic and has both ideological and material consequences. The second system of discrimination, what I am calling colorism, is at the level of skin tone: darker skin or lighter skin. Although all blacks experience discrimination as blacks, the intensity of that discrimination, the frequency, and the outcomes of that discrimination will differ dramatically by skin tone. Darker-skinned African Americans may earn less money that lighter-skinned African Americans, although both earn less than whites. These two systems of discrimination (race and color) work in concert. The two systems are distinct, but inextricably connected. For example, a light-skinned Mexican American may still experience racism, despite her light skin, and a dark-skinned Mexican American may experience racism and colorism simultaneously. Racism is a larger, systemic, social process and colorism is one manifestation of it. Although many people believe that colorism is strictly a ‘black or Latino problem’, colorism is actually practiced by whites and people of color alike. Given the opportunity, many people will hire a light-skinned person before a dark-skinned person of the same race, or choose to marry a lighter-skinned woman rather than a darker-skinned woman. Many people are unaware of their preferences for lighter skin because that dominant aesthetic is so deeply ingrained in our culture. In the USA, for example, we are bombarded with images of white and light skin and Anglo facial features. White beauty is the standard and the idea.
Historical origins of colorism Colorism has roots in the European colonial project (Jordan 1968), plantation life for enslaved African Americans (Stevenson 1996), and the early class hierarchies of Asia. Despite its disparate roots, today, colorism in the USA is broadly maintained by a system of white racism. The maintenance of white supremacy (aesthetic, ideological, and material) is predicated on the notion that dark skin represents savagery, irrationality, ugliness, and inferiority. White skin, and, thus, whiteness itself, is defined by the opposite: civility, rationality, beauty, and superiority. These contrasting definitions are the foundation for colorism. Colorism for Latinos and African Americans has its roots in European colonialism and slavery in the Americas. Both systems operated as forms of white domination that rewarded those who emulated whiteness culturally, ideologically, economically, and even aesthetically. Light-skinned people received privileges and resources that were otherwise unattainable to their darker-skinned counterparts. White elites ruling the colonies maintained white superiority and domination by enlisting the assistance of the ‘colonial elite’, often a small light-skinned class of colonized people (Fanon 1967). Although Mexico experienced a high degree of racial miscegenation, the color-caste system was firmly in place. Light-skinned Spaniards culled the most power and resources, while darker-skinned Indians were routinely oppressed, dispossessed of their land, and rendered powerless in the early colony. Vestiges of this history are still visible today in Mexico’s color-class system.
There is more in comparison to the various race of people, but for the sake of starting this conversation I will post again in a two to three part series.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.
The text begins with a command—it’s the only command in the text and therefore probably the main point. Verse 15a: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Everything else in the text is an argument, or incentive, for why we should not love the world.
Love for the World Pushes Out Love for the Father
The first incentive John gives is that “if any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (verse 15b). In other words the reason you shouldn’t love the world is that you can’t love the world and God at the same time. Love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world.
As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). So don’t love the world, because that would put you in the class with the God-haters whether you think you are or not. “If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.” That’s the first reason John gives not to love the world.
Then in verse 16 comes the support and explanation of that first argument. The reason love for the world pushes out love for God is that “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” Leave out those three phrases in the middle of verse 16 and it would read like this: The reason love for the world excludes love for God is that all that is in the world is not of God. In other words it’s just empty talk to say that you love God if you love what is not of God.
John could have rested his case at the end of verse 16. Don’t love the world because love for the world can’t coexist with love for God. But he doesn’t rest his case here. He adds two more arguments—two more incentives not to love the world.
The World Is Passing Away and Its Lusts
First, in verse 17a he says, “And the world passes away, and the lust of it.” Nobody buys stock in a company that is sure to go bankrupt. Nobody sets up house in a sinking ship. No reasonable person would lay up treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, would they? The world is passing away! To set your heart on it is only asking for heartache and misery in the end.
That’s not all: not only is the world passing away, but also the lusts of it. If you share the desires of the world, you will pass away. You will not only lose your treasure. You will lose your life. If you love the world, it will pass away and take you with it. “The world passes away and the lust of it.”
If You Do the Will of the Father, You Will Live Forever
Second, in verse 17b John says, “But he who does the will of God abides for ever.” The opposite of loving the world is not only loving the Father (verse 15), but also doing the will of the Father (verse 17). And that connection is not hard to understand. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John said in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” So loving the Father in verse 15 and doing the will of God in verse 17 are not really separate things.
If you love God, you will love what he wills. It is empty talk to say I love God but I don’t love what God loves. So John is saying in verse 17, “If you love the world, you will perish with the world, but if you don’t love the world but love God, you will do his will and live with him for ever.”
One Commandment and Three Arguments
In summary, then, the text contains one commandment and three arguments, or incentives. The commandment is, “Don’t love the world or the things in the world.” The first incentive is that if you love the world, you don’t love God. The second incentive is that if you love the world, you will perish with the world. And the third incentive is that if you love God instead of the world, you will live with God forever.
Let’s meditate for a few moments on these final two incentives and especially how they relate to saving faith.
Saving Faith and Love for God
We have been well taught that we are saved by FAITH! “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31). But we have not been as well taught what saving faith is. For example, how often do we discuss the relationship between trusting Christ and loving Christ. Can you trust him savingly and not love him? Evidently John doesn’t think so, because the issue in this text is whether you love God or love the world, and the result is whether you die with the world or have eternal life with God. But John knows that eternal life comes through faith.
John says in 5:13, “I write this to you who BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” So eternal life does depend on believing in the Christ. But what is this “believing”? If we are courteous, and let John speak for himself, his letter fills out what he means. When he says that not loving the world but loving God so much that we do his will is what leads to eternal life, we learn that saving faith and love for God are inseparable. Both are the path to eternal life because they are the same path.
In John 5:42–44 Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders who do not believe on him with these words, “I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me . . . How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” In other words the reason they do not receive or believe on Jesus is that they do not love God. They love the world—the glory of men—not the glory of God. So Jesus taught his apostles that where there is no love for God, there can be no saving faith. (See John 3:18–19.)
One Way of Salvation
That’s why John, when he comes to write his letter, can take “love for God” and “trust in Christ”, and treat them as one way of salvation. Look how he does this in 5:3–4. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” In other words it is our love for God that overcomes the obstacles of disobedience and makes the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden. “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20). Love for God makes his service a joy and overcomes the forces of disobedience.
But then look at verse 4. Here he says the same thing but speaks of faith instead of love. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” It is FAITH that overcomes the world—it is faith that conquers disobedience and renders the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden.
What shall we say, then, concerning love for God and faith in Christ? The path of victory that overcomes the world and leads to eternal life is the one path of faith toward Christ and love for God. Saving faith is part of love for God and love for God is part of saving faith. There are not two ways to heaven. There is one narrow way—the way of faith which loves God and the way of love which trusts God.
Paul and James in Agreement
This is why not only John but also Paul and James hold out the promises of life only to those who love God:
Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”
1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived . . . God has prepared for those who love him.”
James 2:5, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?” (See 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12.)
So you can see what John is trying to do for us in verse 17 of our text. He is trying to show us that loving the Father and freeing ourselves from the love of the world is not optional. It is not icing on the cake of saving faith. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. It is number one on life’s agenda. Nothing in all the world is more important than experiencing love for God in your heart. This is the first and great commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Matthew 22:36–40).
Two Possibilities If You Don’t Feel Much Love for God
Perhaps even as I say this, some of you are saying, “I don’t feel very much love for God right now.” There are two possible reasons for that.
1. You Are Not Born Again
One is the possibility that you are not born again. It is possible that you are a cultural Christian or a hereditary Christian. You may have developed patterns of religious talk and behavior because it is socially advantageous or because your parents or peers talked and acted this way. But you may never have experienced a deep change in your nature by the power of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to a stream of new love for God.
Henry Martyn, the brilliant missionary and translator of the last century, looked at his conversion four years afterward and said, “The work is real. I can no more doubt it than I can my own existence. The whole current of my desires is altered, I am walking quite another way, though I am incessantly stumbling in that way.”
So it could be that this has never happened to you and that your religion is all outward form and not inner experience of love for God. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, “In the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” In other words we may expect that there will be numerous religious church-goers who know nothing of the new birth and genuine heartfelt love for God.
If you are among that number you should direct your heart to Christ and seek him earnestly in his Word. Peter said that we are born again through the living and abiding Word of God. So if you want to be born again, you should pour over the Word of God. You should cry to Christ that he open your eyes to know the Father (Matthew 11:27). You should plead with God to take out your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh that you might love God with all your heart and all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:6). You should forsake all known sins and give yourself to all the means of grace until the light dawns in your heart and Christ shines so bright in his power and love that he is irresistibly attractive and you fall in worship and love before him. And do not quit the pursuit until you have been born into new life. “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.”
2. Your Love Has Grown Cool and Weak
The other possibility is that you have indeed been born again, but that your love for God has simply grown cool and weak. You’ve tasted what it means to have a heart for God. You can recall how once you felt that to know him was better than anything the world could offer. But this morning the wick is smoldering and the reed is bruised.
The prescription for your ailment is not much different than the prescription for seeking new birth in the first place. The same Spirit that begets life, also nourishes life. The same Word that ignites the fire of love, also rekindles love. The same Christ who once brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light, can take away the long dark night of your soul. So yield yourself to the Holy Spirit. Immerse yourself in the Word of God. Cry out to Christ for a new vision of the glory of his grace. Don’t be content with lukewarmness. Pursue a new passion for Christ.
And whichever of these groups you are in—or if you are here full of love to God this morning—let the remaining admonitions of this text stir you up to count everything as rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.
Love for God and Love for the World Cannot Coexist
According to verse 15 in our text, if your love for God is cool this morning it’s because love for the world has begun to take over your heart and choke your love for God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot coexist. And every heart loves something. The very essence of our nature is desire. There is nobody in this room who doesn’t want something. At the center of our heart is a spring of longing. But that’s an awkward image isn’t it? A longing is a craving, a desire, a want, a need. But these aren’t very well described as a spring. A spring of needs is a contradiction in terms. Springs bubble up; needs suck in. A longing is more like a drain—or a vacuum. At the center of our heart is a sucking drain—like at the bottom of a swimming pool. We are endlessly thirsty. But we can’t suck water and air at the same time.
If you try to satisfy your longing by sucking in the air of the world, you will not be able to drink the water of heaven. And eventually your motor will burn up because you were made to pump the water of God not the air of the world.
The “World” We Are Not to Love
But now what is this “world” that we are not to love? Verse 16 says it is characterized by three things: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The word for “life” does not refer to the state of being alive but rather to the things in the world that make life possible. For example, in 3:17 it is translated “goods”—”Any one who has this world’s GOODS and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Jesus uses the word in Mark 12:44 when he says that the poor widow in the temple “put in everything that she had, her whole LIVING.”
So the phrase “pride of life” means pride in what you possess—the things you have. Now we can see how the three descriptions of the world relate to each other. The first two—lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes—refer to desires for what we don’t have. And the third—the pride of life—refers to the pride in what we do have. The world is driven by these two things: passion for pleasure and pride in possessions.
And the passion for pleasure is described in two ways because there are two large classes of pleasure—physical and aesthetic. There is the lust of the flesh—bodily pleasures; and the lust of the eyes—aesthetic and intellectual pleasures. John is not naïve. He knows that the world is not limited to Hennepin Avenue.
There is the lust of the gutter and the lust of the gourmet. There is the lust for hard rock and the lust for high Rachmaninoff. There is the lust of Penthouse and the lust of Picasso. There is the lust of the Orpheum and the lust of the Ordway. This book ends with the ringing command: “Little children, KEEP YOURSELVES FROM IDOLS!”—whether they are crude or whether they are cultured.
Anything in this world that is not God can rob your heart of the love of God. Anything that is not God can draw your heart away from God. If you don’t have it, it can fill you with passion to get it. If you get it, it can fill you with pride that you’ve got it.
But against the pride of life the apostle says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though it were not a gift . . . Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1:31). So let there be no boasting in possessions. They are all gods.
And against the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes the psalmist says, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.” Therefore let us desire nothing but God. Possess nothing but God; pursue nothing but God.
What Shall We Do with Our Desires?
But someone will ask, “Should I not desire dinner? Should I not desire a job? Should I not desire a spouse? Should I not desire the child in my womb? Should I not desire a healthy body or a good night’s rest or the morning sun or a great book or an evening with friends?”
And the answer is no—unless it is a desire for GOD! Do you desire dinner because you desire God? Do you want a job because in it you will discover God and love God? Do you long for a spouse because you are hungry for God and hope to see him and love him in your partner? Do you desire the child and the healthy body and the good night’s rest and the morning sun and the great book and the evening with friends for God’s sake? Do you have an eye for God in everything you desire? (See Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31.)
St. Augustine captured the heart of our text when he prayed to the Father and said, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.”
Therefore, brothers and sisters, do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. But if the love of the Father is in you, if you love God with all your heart, then every room you enter will be a temple of love to God, all your work will be a sacrifice of love to God, every meal will be a banquet of love with God, every song will be an overture of love to God.
And if there is any desire of the flesh or any desire of the eyes that is not also a desire for God, then we will put it out of our lives, so that we can say with John and with the psalmist,
Whom have I in heaven but thee,
and on earth there is nothing
that I desire besides thee.
Facing tragedy, or life storms of any kind, can be extremely difficult. But in the midst of heartache and pain, you can find the hope and courage to go on. With God’s help, the help of caring family members and friends, and the encouragement found in the Bible and other resources, you will receive the necessary strength to overcome.
You may be thinking, I don’t know how I could ever get through this. Or you may be battling powerful feelings of despair, suffering, confusion, fear, worry, and even anger. These are all normal responses to tragedy.
But as difficult as this life storm may be, you are not alone. God is with you always. He loves you, and cares about what is going on in your life. He hears your cries and sees your pain. Moreover, He understands.
The Bible says, “And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God … For since He himself has now been through suffering … He knows what it is like when we suffer … and He is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB). Whatever we endure, His care is certain, His love is unfailing, and His promises are secure.
You Are Not Alone
For he himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5c)
On the morning of October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States faced their worst nightmare … “Superstorm Sandy.” This post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds and its unusual merge with a frontal system affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, leaving death, injuries, and utter destruction in its wake. Families everywhere, especially in hard hit New Jersey and New York, were jolted out of normalcy and the comfort and security of the homes and communities they once knew. They were thrust suddenly and unwillingly into the darkness and despair of loss.
If you and your family have ever been affected by a natural disaster like this, you may feel as if you’ve been abandoned by God. However, if trouble has hit your life in some other disaster or form of tragedy—the death of a loved one, a dreaded medical diagnosis, the loss of home and property, or the loss of your job, you are experiencing your own superstorm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and wonder how you can possibly survive the loss. In times like these, you can feel very much alone.
But you are not alone. In the midst of unspeakable sorrow, God is with you. Even if you do not feel Him near, God is there. He promises to never leave you alone. Therefore, wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after the storm, never losing sight of you, or your suffering. Even as you ponder how you will begin picking up the pieces of your life, God is there … loving you beyond understanding, holding you up, and making a way where it seems there is no way. Reach out for Him today. He is a very present help in times of trouble (see Psalm 46:1).
Taking back your life …
Psalm 139:7-10 says, “I can never be lost to Your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, Your strength will support me” (TLB). What assurance can you find in these verses of Scripture when you are feeling as if God has forgotten you?
In Psalm 23, David pictures the Lord as the Great Shepherd who provides for and protects His sheep (His children). In verse 4, he says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” A shepherd uses his rod to protect his sheep (by using it to beat off wild beasts), and he uses his staff to guide them. What comfort can you find in knowing that God will protect and guide you during this difficult time?
In addition to needing God’s presence in our lives, we also need each other. Talk with your family or friends about the way you are feeling, so that you can share one another’s burdens, and not feel so alone in your suffering.
Conformity involves developing attitudes, opinions, and behaviors to match the attitudes of a specific group. Most people conform to the standard values,also called norms, of many groups without stress and often without even knowing that they are doing so. By itself conformity is neither good nor bad.
Some degree of conformity is necessary for societies to function. For example, when you stop at a red light, you are conforming to the law and to the general agreement that for the good and safety of society, a red light means stop. You stop, even though most of the time there is not a police officer on the scene to enforce the law.
Different societies and different organizations put higher or lower values on conformity. The United States is often said to have been settled by non-conformists. Many of the early colonists were people who did not fit in, for religious, philosophical, economic, or social reasons, with the expectations of society in their native countries. They sought a place to live where the levelof conformity and norms of society were more comfortable for them. In the United States often some degree of non-conformity is still admired today. The ideal of the “rugged individualist” who does things his or her own way is partof American culture.
Other societies put a higher value on fitting in or conforming. There is a Japanese proverb that roughly translates into the saying, “The nail that sticksup gets hammered down,” meaning that it is better not to stand out in a group but to conform. Military organizations are an example of a group that expects a high level of conformity in the behavior of their members and punishes those who do not conform.
All people balance the need to conform and fit in with the need to express their individuality throughout their lives. Some research into birth order suggests that the oldest child in a family is more likely to conform, while laterchildren are more likely to become non-conformists. However, these studies are open to different interpretations and, although interesting, should not beconsidered conclusively true.
Young children tend to be the least aware of the group and society values andare the least influenced by the need to conform. However, with more social interactions and more awareness of others, the need to conform grows. Pre-teens and teenagers face many issues related to conformity. They are pulled between the desire to be seen as individuals of unique value and the desire to belong to a group where they feel secure and accepted. The result is that oftenteens reject conforming to family or general society values, while conformingrigidly to the norms or values of their peer group. An example of this phenomenon is seen when young people join gangs. In joining the gang they are rejecting the community’s way of dressing and behaving. Yet to belong to the gang, they must conform to the gang’s own style of dress, behavior, and speech.
Conformity is tied closely to the issue of peer pressure. Although people feel peer pressure their entire lives, young people who are seeking to define themselves are generally most influenced by the values and attitudes of their peers. Adolescents often encourage friends to do or try things that they themselves are doing in order to fit into to a group. The encouragement can be positive (studying hard to get good grades) or negative (drinking beer after thefootball game).
Deciding how much and which group’s values to conform to are one of the majorstresses of adolescence. Trying to conform to the behaviors of a group thatgo against one’s own beliefs in order to be accepted creates a great deal ofinternal conflict and sometimes external conflict with family members and friends from an earlier time. Defining oneself as an individual and developing aconstant value system forces young people to confront issues of conformity and non-conformity. This is a major challenge of adolescence.
Many studies of young people show that if a person’s friends engage in a behavior – everything from cigarette smoking to drinking alcohol to shoplifting to sexual activity – an adolescent is highly likely to conform to his or her friends’ behaviors and try these activities. The alternative is for the youngperson to seek different friends with values more in line with his own. Often, however, the desire to be part of a group and the fear of social isolationmakes it more appealing to change behaviors than to seek other friends.
Attitudes toward conformity are of particular interest in community health, where conformity may influence the willingness of people to engage in activities such as illicit drug use or high-risk sexual activities, or prompt them toavoid drug rehabilitation programs.
The tendency to conform to a group’s values is of interest to outreach workers because social networks may provide a link to reaching and influencing thebehavior of a wide range of people involved in drug abuse and high-risk sexual activity. If key members of a group accept messages about how to change behavior to reduce risky activities such as needle sharing, drinking and driving, and unsafe sexual behavior, other group members often follow their lead andchange their behavior also.
Although society tends to focus on teenagers’ needs to conform and follow fads, and many parents worry about how the desire to conform will influence thedecisions their children must make, issues surrounding conformity continue into adult life. They may be as trivial as choosing the proper clothes to wearto the office so as not to stand out or as serious as choosing whether to have one’s children vaccinated against diseases. Finding a rational balance between belonging and being an individual is a challenge for everyone. Many people who feel as if this area of their lives is out of balance benefit from seeking professional counseling to help them find a level of conformity that is more comfortable for them.
I never knew how much you meant to me until we started to encounter hard times in life. We have been through everything together from hunger to sickness, incarceration and drug addiction to riotous living for self gratification. We have been homeless and on top of the world. We have been in sheer darkness together as well as in the marvelous light. I thank God for a wonderful blessing and that is what you are to me.
I got up early this morning and put the coffee on
It was a beautiful morning, a Sunday morning dawn
I made the coffee, two cups, one for me and one for you
I brought them back to our bed but to awake you I could not do
I placed the two cups on the table next to our bed
You did not know that laid back down at the foot of the bed
I watched as you laid there asleep and so peaceful
I watched you thinking to my self and God that you are so beautiful
I watched as you dreamed, the movement of your eyes and often a little smile
You looked amazing there so beautiful , you never knew I was there all the while
I watched the sun light flicker on your beautiful face
I watched you lay there, for me a beautiful place
I then Got up and placed hot water on towels in the tub
I had planed you a Sunday morning massage, a good rub
I finally awoke you about an hour after I had awaken
You never knew the time that I had taken
Time to admire your beauty, your peace as you did sleep
Truly loving each minute and building a memory to keep
I gave you your coffee in bed
“Oh, that’s Cold”, was what you said
You had no idea what I had been doing up all that time
I could not wake you and admired as you slept, so peaceful and fine
I brought more coffee and this time it was hot
I was sorry it was cold, I should have thought
I took off your night shirt, you yet knew my plans
I placed a hot towel on your back, rubbed it in with my hands
Next was a hot oil massage rubbed in with love
Something that I must do for my angel sent from above
You often say, “You don’t have to do this”
Trust me when I say if I did not it is something I would miss
It gives me the ability to express my love in a gentle and caring way
Something that I want to do for you each day
It gives me a chance to touch your body so soft and so beautiful
Something that I want to do, it is called being thoughtful
I know that you are at times in great pain, I am here for you
I hope you know that I would take the pain from you, I love you true
If my touch through a massage brings you relief and pleasure
Please let me do that for you, it means more to me than you can measure
You know that I pray, God is listening from up above
I pray that you know that I do these things out of love
I am your husband true and devoted to love and to care for you
You are my everything, my love, my life, my world, please know this is true
As your husband I am to honor and respect you and ensure that no harm comes to you
A husband should be willing to give his life for his wife, I will give my life for you in all that I do
What is on my mind at this very moment is the notification that once again I have made the Honor Roll in school at Argosy University. I by the grace of God have worked so hard for three and a half years and in August 2015 will be graduating with my Bachelor’s in Psychology on my way to occupying a position as a Substance Abuse Counselor/ Clinical Psychologist. Who would have ever thought that the dirty streets and dark places of Perris, Ca. would see me here where I am today…Never Ever Doubt the power of God. Argosy University GPA 3.37
Seven more months and my wife will graduate with honor with her degree in psychology as her major and minor in substance abuse. Congratulations wife, who would have ever thought we would be moving with God in this way after such a rocky start in life. I love you and your determination to move with purpose and submission to the will of God for your life. He is truly building a temple of honor and love in you. Let Him complete His work because His glory upon you is refining His image in my life and countless others we have no knowledge of. I also thank God for the community of individuals He blessed us with to get to this monumental moment in time.
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.
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.
One of the goals of our outreach this year is to introduce us to the four key traits of keeping young adults in church for in a group of people that are pursuing Jesus (healthy) and pursing Jesus’ priorities (missional). December 31 st May and I were given an awesome opportunity to perform ministry with six different churches and I must say they were all tailored to the youth and young adults of those various communities. Having that experience has shifted our focus to a more vast attempt to provide a culture for the young adults and youths of our communities. We are adding a Internet Cafe and Evangelistic preparation environment to our business scope and ministry aspirations. We have prayerfully entreated our God for a name and it will be called “Club Jesus”. We will plan around Second Chance Alliance to incorporate this part of our vision within the re-entry program/ministry.
We believe that when these four elements, combined with the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, mark our corporate life here at Second chance Alliance, renewal and revival will break out.
Individual renewal is indissolubly connected to the renewal of the whole church. We cannot attain the fullness of the Spirit without being turned inside out so that our focus is no longer our growth, but the glory of God and the growth of Christ’s kingdom.
Faith is the main root of spiritual growth. Spiritual disciplines strengthen faith by leading us to prayer and by regularly exposing us to truth, as a solar battery is charged through exposure to light … [individual renewal] … needs to be balanced by the awareness we are spiritually renewed as we are refreshed by the gifts of other believers in community and as the Holy Spirit is poured out in answer to corporate prayer. Spiritual growth is not produced by the transfer of information but by responses of faith.
People leave the church. The dropout issue is well known and discussed widely. Perhaps less known is the high rate of young adult dropouts. Our research reveals that over two-thirds of 18-22 year-olds leave the church. In the short, four-year transitional window of teen to adult, the church loses the majority of its students.
Most of the dropouts do not leave their families during this time. Most of the dropouts do not leave their social networks during this time. Most of the dropouts do not leave the educational system during this time. But most of them leave the church.
The excuse that the secular society has more to offer than the church simply does not pass muster. Let’s look at four keys that our research shows are critical to keeping young adults.
1. Keep them with biblical depth
Young adults are more likely to stay in church if they are taught the truths of God’s Word. Biblical depth has a sticky quality. Christians who hear sound sermons each week, who are involved in small group Bible study, and who study the Bible on their own rarely drop out. Biblical depth also has an attractional quality. Spiritual seekers are most drawn to churches that maintain this culture of solid preaching and encouragement to study the Word of God. Go deep. Get excited about diving into the Word. And watch God work in not only the younger generation, but with all ages.
2. Keep them with high expectations
Too much of recent American church history has been one of low-expectations. Because the local church is comprised mostly of volunteers, leadership has been reticent to create an environment and attitude of high expectations. As a consequence, membership expectations have been communicated with extreme caution, if at all, lest the members become offended and leave.
This low-expectation environment has been normative for many of the churches in which young adults have attended. Most of them have heard very little, if any, of what is expected of them as a church member. As a consequence they have seen church as a low priority or even optional.
Creating a culture of high expectations is, in many ways, an intangible process. There are many ways to do it. But churches that have this environment of high expectations attract people who are on board with the purpose and mission of the church. Additionally, these churches are more likely to retain those who know upfront that much is expected.
3. Keep them with multiplication
Regardless of perspectives, two realities are clear. First, evangelism is not an option for Christians or for churches. The Great Commission is a mandate. Second, every church we have studied that is effectively reaching and retaining young adults is highly intentional about evangelism. They have a passion for multiplication. They get the action right. No exceptions. Period.
Churches with an outward focus are successful at retaining and reclaiming church dropouts for two main reasons. First, church dropouts are more likely to return to churches that are reaching out to them. Additionally, active churchgoing young adults have an understanding of what God requires of His people. Both groups have a desire to go to a church that is doing what God commands.
4. Keep them with simplicity
Our research has shown that many young people leave the church because they were never truly discipled. They may have been involved in a plethora of activities, but they weren’t growing spiritually to be more like Christ. A church cannot be essential to people unless there is a clear structure guiding them along the discipleship process.
Biblical depth is more important than the discipleship structure of the church. But churches that do not have a structure in place cannot move people toward an understanding of this depth. A culture of high expectations is more important than the structure of a church. Without this structure, however, a church has difficulty communicating these expectations. A multiplying church is more important than the structure. But without structure, people do not know how to multiply. The right structure is not the most important facet of a church, but most churches cannot carry out their most important purposes because they do not have the right structure.
Churches that keep young adults get the content right-biblical depth. They get the attitude right-high expectations. They get the action right-multiplication. And these churches get the structure right-simplicity.
I ON YOUR PATH, O God
You, O God, on my way. Celtic walking prayer
IT IS NOT ONLY PRAYER that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God glory if being in his grace you do it …
FOR THE GLORY of God is the human person fully alive, and life consists in beholding God. For if the vision of God which is made by means of the creation, gives life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God. Irenaeus, Against Heresies
MAY I KNOW me! May I know thee! Augustine, Soliloquies
ABIDE IN THE VINE. Let the life from him flow through all your spiritual veins. Hannah Whitall Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life
GOD CANNOT be understood by logical reasoning but only by submission. Leo Tolstoy, Wise Thoughts for Every Day
AS WE UNITE with God, we are invited into bonding rather than bondage.
Flora Slosson Wuellner, in Weavings
I BRING my void here for filling;it is my poverty God needs. With my want the Lord builds palaces. Kilian McDonnell, from “A Place to Hide: Light On,” in Weavings
GOD CAN’T CLEAN the house of you when you’re still in it. Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually)
RECEIVING FORGIVENESS requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing. Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son
IF A MAN HUMBLES himself, God cannot withhold his own goodness but must come down and flow into the humble man, and to him who is least of all he gives himself the most of all, and he gives himself to him completely. What God gives is his being, and his being is his goodness, and his goodness is his love. Meister Eckhart
I HAVE DISCOVERED that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber. Blaise Pascal, Pensées
IT IS NO EASY TASK to walk this earth and find peace. Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching. We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest. Desire is always stronger than satisfaction. Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing
ONE OF the uncomfortable facts about ourselves is that we all must live in a way that meets our own approval. Paul Holmer, Making Christian Sense
DOES DISCOVERING who you are awaken a kind of inner unrest? … If you started accusing yourself of all that is in you, would your nights and days be long enough? Brother Roger of Taizé, Essential Writings
A MAN’S AT ODDS to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with. He can know his heart, but he don’t want to. Best not to look in there. Cormac Mccarthy, Blood Meridian
ONE OF the strangest things that people say is, “I’m a good person.” I am always amazed when people claim to know that about themselves. … History demonstrates, repeatedly, that if enough people begin to define themselves as “good” in contrast to others who are “bad,” those others come to be seen as less than human. Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace
THE POWER of temptation is not in its appeal to our baser instincts; if that were the case, it would be natural to be repulsed by it. The power of temptation is in its appeal to our idealism. Helmut Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father
THE EVIL WROUGHT by those who intend evil is negligible. The greater evil is wrought by those who intend good, and …
I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.
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.
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.
Forming partners is key to performing ministry of any sought.We were blessed in getting some leverage with this organization to help us to be a blessing in a backpack to 3202 inmates getting out of prison or county jails in December and January. I was really blessed to get a close-up of how this blessing helps families and kids and communities.
We Provide Weekend Nourishment to School Children on the Federal Free and Reduced Meal Program
The Blessings in a Backpack program is simple. A passionate parent, teacher, nurse, counselor, community advocate or corporate supporter elects to start the Blessings in a Backpack program in a local school Once a school is adopted, Blessings in a Backpack will provide the program framework for implementation.
The next step is to fundraise to support the number of children your program will feed. You will also need to gather volunteers to manage the weekly logistics of getting the food from the grocer to the school or facility where the backpacks will be loaded with food for distribution. Blessings in a Backpack donates all program backpacks raised through national partnerships and funding. We also connect adopters across the country so they can share ideas and successes and so that you can learn how to run your new program. 100% of all monies raised for a new or existing school program go directly to food purchased for the backpacks.
Typical Backpack Food Items
The backpacks include ready-to-eat food items such as granola bars, peanut butter, tuna, crackers, mac & cheese, cereal, juice boxes, etc. Blessings in a Backpack reviews its standard menu with a nutritionist annually to make sure the food is kid-friendly, nutritious, non-perishable and easy-to-prepare. Please be aware, most of these kids live in a world where some food is better than no food.
The Results: Nourished Kids Ready to Learn
Students who participate in the Blessings in a Backpack program show marked improvement in school attendance, test scores, behavior, and health. Food is an essential building block, and in this case truly is a blessing, especially to a hungry child! Visit the Get Involved section of our site to find out the various ways in which you can help Blessings in a Backpack feed more children.
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.
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.
In truth, I am just as susceptible to the difficulties and hardships and grief that accompany human existence as the next person. I’m no better, no more worthy of a free pass based on virtue or intelligence or character—or my identity as a follower of Christ. But this also meant that my hardships were in no way an indicator that God did not love me or had abandoned me for all time. I realized that people who are deeply loved by God can suffer deeply as well—and that included my family and me.
The question “Why me?” betrayed the fact that I had bought into a worldview that is based more on karma than the gospel.
The second question that I asked myself was even more transformative than the first:
This might seem like the same question that I first posed, so allow me to explain what I mean: When I experience hardship, I am often quick to raise an anguished voice to the heavens and cry out, “God, why me?! Why, out of all people, have I been chosen to suffer in this way?” And when I fail to receive a satisfactory answer – or any response at all – that can only mean that God does not love me, or he doesn’t exist. In fact, many of us probably know people who have lost their faith in this exact manner.
Yet when something good happens to me, when I experience blessedness and providence and protection, I rarely do the same thing, or at least not to the same degree. I don’t raise a shout to the heavens, “God, why me?! Why, out of all people, have I been chosen to receive this blessing and this goodness in my life? Why God, whyyyy?” Instead, I give quiet praise to God as I wear a smile of smug self-satisfaction, certain that my own intelligence and righteousness had something to do with the outcome.
I find that rather revealing, that when I am doing badly, I am quick to complain to God, to pin my misfortunes on him and his incomprehensible ways. But when I am doing well, I am more quiet and reserved. What an unfair contradiction, that God should be so commonly blamed for my hardship, and so anemically praised for my blessings! By all rights, if I am shaking my fists at the heavens, I should also be prepared to raise my hands to them as well. This is only logical and fair.
While serving my country in a hostile land I saw God answer my prayers. Held against my will after being in pursuit of the ”mad dog of the Middle East” in 1987, Muammar el-Qaddafi and his family I prayed for a blessing to make it home. I saw God work while serving several prison terms on level four yards and being the focus of antagonism due to the color of my skin, I’ve seen God work in my life when death was not just a scene, but a smell, I’ve seen God heal and work when I lost my kids and I wanted to give up on Him.
As I have reflected over the events of the past few days and months and years of my life I was drawn to the first chapter of James. In the first 13 verses we are given some understanding of the purpose of trials that come our way.
No one has suffered more than our Father in heaven. No one has paid more dearly for the allowance of sin into the world. No one has so continuously grieved over the pain of a race gone bad. No one has suffered like the One who paid for our sin in the crucified body of His own Son. No one has suffered more than the One who, when He stretched out His arms and died, showed us how much He loved us. It is this God who, in drawing us to Himself, asks us to trust Him when we are suffering and when our own loved ones cry out in our presence ( 1 Peter 2:21; 3:18; 4:1 ).
The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away an unidentified source of suffering. But the Lord declined saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “Therefore,” said Paul, “most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul learned that he would rather be with Christ in suffering than without Christ in good health and pleasant circumstances.
Natural disasters. Terrorist acts. Injustice. Incurable disease. All these experiences point to suffering, and can cause people to question the love and goodness of a God who would let such things occur. In this publication, we seek to consider who God is, and why we can trust Him even when life hurts—and we don’t know why.
Loving parents long to protect their children from unnecessary pain. But wise parents know the danger of over-protection. They know that the freedom to choose is at the heart of what it means to be human, and that a world without choice would be worse than a world without pain. Worse yet would be a world populated by people who could make wrong choices without feeling any pain. No one is more dangerous than the liar, thief, or killer who doesn’t feel the harm he is doing to himself and to others (Genesis 2:15-17).
We hate pain, especially in those we love. Yet without discomfort, the sick wouldn’t go to a doctor. Worn-out bodies would get no rest. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Children would laugh at correction. Without pangs of conscience, the daily dissatisfaction of boredom, or the empty longing for significance, people who are made to find satisfaction in an eternal Father would settle for far less. The example of Solomon, lured by pleasure and taught by his pain, shows us that even the wisest among us tend to drift from good and from God until arrested by the resulting pain of their own shortsighted choices (Ecclesiastes 1-12; Psalms 78:34-35; Romans 3:10-18).
Suffering often occurs at the hand of others. But it has a way of revealing what is in our own hearts. Capacities for love, mercy, anger, envy, and pride can lie dormant until awakened by circumstances. Strength and weakness of heart is found not when everything is going our way but when flames of suffering and temptation test the mettle of our character. As gold and silver are refined by fire, and as coal needs time and pressure to become a diamond, the human heart is revealed and developed by enduring the pressure and heat of time and circumstance. Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering (Job 42:1-17; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8).
If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn’t fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, then the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief, and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-12; Romans 8:18-19).
Let me ask all of you—have you ever been disappointed when things did not go well? Have you been discouraged to the point of losing hope? Have you ever felt that you should simply quit trying?
A person eager to serve the Lord will often find himself hindered from going into full time service. How should he respond to these situations?
This kind of frustration is not uncommon in the scriptures or real life! I know some people who are scared about being called into the ministry. They are not waiting! They are trying to avoid full time service. Perhaps they have seen what it costs.
Another group of people are eager to get into ministry. They can’t wait for the opportunity. They have worked through the other issues. Now they are ready, but they can’t go. It seems God isn’t now ready! Fortunately, we have scriptures and His spirit to rely upon.
Several years ago, I watched some people who never quit trying, who never gave up when they faced disappointment—a group that was down but not out. My wife May and I were in Chicago, and we attended the Northwestern-Michigan State football game. Although we had no allegiance to either team, we were excited about enjoying a cool, crisp fall day at the stadium. For the first half of the game Northwestern dominated, and the second half began the same way. There were 9 minutes and 54 seconds left in the third quarter when they went up on Michigan State by a score of 38-3.
May and I were a bit bored with the game so one-sided. May was getting cold since the wind had picked up and the clouds had rolled in. I wondered if we could leave early without hurting our friend’s feelings. But at that point the game changed. Down by 35 points, Michigan State began to look like a different team, seemingly able to score at will. Their players were convinced that although they were down in the score, they were not out of the game. Their fans, who had been quiet for most of the game, cheered more and more loudly with each scoring drive. With 13 seconds left on the clock, Michigan State kicked a field goal to win by a final score of 41-38.
It was the greatest comeback in NCAA Division One history!
Although they were down, and it looked hopeless for them from where I sat, they never saw it that way. They refused to let the discouragement of being 35 points down take them out of the game. They were down but never out.
As you move into ministry, expect to be down, but don’t let it take you out. Don’t let disappointment and discouragement lead you to defeat. This is my personal battle tonight to abstain from letting frustration and disappointment take me off my God calling.
The apostle Paul’s ministry brought difficulties, disappointments, and even discouragement, but he never quit; he never let it take him out of the work that God had called him to do. At the end of his life he was able to write these words in 2 Tim. 4:6-7: “For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!”
Knowing that he would soon be executed by Nero, Paul wrote this final epistle to prepare his protégée Timothy to fulfill and complete his own ministry after the passing of his mentor. Through this letter to his young friend, Paul helps prepare us to meet the difficulties, disappointments, and discouragements of ministry as well.
In this letter Paul advised Timothy to expect disappointing and even discouraging situations in the future.
So how is that encouraging? Why would Paul refer to the difficulties of ministry when Timothy needed encouragement? I suggest that unrealistic expectations are often the cause of later discouragement and even defeat. In order to be truly prepared for ministry in the real world—whether on a church staff, as a layperson, or perhaps as a missionary—we must expect ministry to be often difficult and sometimes discouraging.
Rob Bell describes the problem: “To be this kind of person—the kind who selflessly serves—takes everything a person has. It is difficult. It is demanding. And we often find ourselves going against the flow of those around us.”Perhaps that is why Warren Wiersbe observed: “Depression and discouragement are occupational hazards of the ministry.”
When our expectations are unrealistic, we risk losing hope and giving up! So I ask you: Is wanting to perform a ministry for the population called Ex-offenders unrealistic? I have never seen so many ministries afraid to gain leverage in this populous of individuals until I put hand to plow to perform this task. Maybe I should lay out before God for a longer period of time to get a clear and concise direction as to whom and how I should align myself to obtain victory in this calling. My signals must be twisted or I am just getting a lot of opposition from our enemy.
We expect to plant a church that reaches the twenty-some-things and to be loved by those we serve. Or we read the latest book on the “whatever church” and expect the same results. Then, when these things never happen, or at least not as quickly as we would like, our disappointment becomes discouragement, and we determine that we have failed and should quit. Or we just quit trying.
Craig Brian Larson says: “Unrealistic expectations curtail the joy and often the longevity of ministry. They can cause me to give up either in deed or in heart. I don’t have to resign to quit. I can simply decide this job is impossible and it is foolish to try.”iiIf the Michigan State football team had decided that winning were impossible, it would have taken them out of the game although they would have continued playing.
Instead of telling Timothy to be encouraged because his ministry would be a great success, Paul did just the opposite. In 2 Timothy 1:8 he called Timothy to embrace the same kinds of experiences that he was having: “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lordor of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel.”
What kinds of suffering was Paul calling Timothy to accept and share?
If we had time to study the entire book, we would see that Paul was not only dealing with the difficulty of persecution, but he also faced disappointment with believers who let him down. 1:15 says that everybody in Asia turned away from him. 4:10 mentions that Demas deserted him because he loved the present age, and 4:16 says that all deserted him when he went to court. How discouraging it must have been to look around and see that his co-laborers were no longer there, that his friends were missing in action when the situation became risky!
There were other difficulties as well. Paul warned Timothy about people such as Alexander, Hymaneus, and Philetus who opposed him or strayed from the truth. Ministry was hard; there were people who disappointed him and others who obstructed the work. At the beginning of both chapters 3 and 4 Paul alerted Timothy that things would get even worse in the future.
Hardships confronted Timothy from every side —persecution from outside the church, disappointment with believers—even co-workers, and opposition from within the church. Paul called him to expect them and to be ready to face them.
What about today? What happens in ministry to discourage those of us ministering to others in any capacity? What should you expect in your future ministry?
I asked some co-workers and other friends in ministry this question so that I could help prepare you. In my very unscientific poll, I asked for the 3 most discouraging things in ministry. The #1 answer was disappointment with other Christians. Their lack of commitment, misplaced priorities, self-centered attitudes, and refusal to serve within the church community were very discouraging to those who answered my questions. The conflict and criticism that comes from other believers appears widespread, if those in my survey are representative.
Ranking behind the disappointment with other Christians was the lack of visible fruit in ministry. The people in my friends’ congregations, Bible studies, or small groups act like the rest of the world. It can be hard to believe that God is doing anything when all we can see of the person’s life looks no different year after year.
The truths gleaned from Romans 6-8 are critical for establishing a strong Christian life. Why is this? What truths are powerfully presented here in Romans?
Paul applies the pattern of Christ’s life to our Christian lives. Paul enables us to get a grasp of this through the picture of baptism – the down and up. Baptism doesn’t mean to sprinkle but to immerse. A Christian does not merely acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, he also follows Christ. He acknowledges both the value of what Christ has done on the cross and the importance on how Jesus redeemed us.
We often focus on what Christ has accomplished through His death. Paul speaks clearly of this in chapters 3 and 4 of Romans. Chapter 5, however, develops the basis of our union with Christ. We are united with Christ by our faith. Starting in chapter 6, we see how this identification with Christ affects our life.
The picture of baptism includes three aspects: the going down, being under and the rising. We might think of rinsing a cloth. We take it from the air, submerge it under water and then bring it out to be used. Humility speaks of the first two steps. Many would like to avoid the implications of these first two important steps. They want to claim to have eternal life with no sense of repentance – no dying. They have not died to themselves. There has been no funeral. This concept is key to living a fulfilled Christian life.
Paul seems to have discovered a group of people that claim Christ’s death but deny any real identification with Christ in the death process. Christ merely paid for their sins as some historical fact (which it was of course). They want to forget about their close identification with Christ in this process.
If we consider Christ’s death to be all so important (and it is), then we need to realize its effect on our lives. When Jesus died, He not only bore our sins, but He also was, in a final way, saying “no” to sin. After death, sin had no part of His life. He had no earthly flesh that begged to be given special preference.(1) So we, as His disciples, must identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. We must say “no” to our former allegiance to sin through our faith and “yes” to our allegiance to Christ. We now have a new focus on life. Because of this new allegiance, we are not to sin but to live for God.
For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, (Romans 6:10-12).
Pride: Hate it!
We will never be able to die to ourselves unless we are convinced that serving the flesh (our old nature) is totally unprofitable. We have to see that it has absolutely no worth. We need to come to detest its very presence. On the other hand, we must come to love the Spirit’s ways. We are to see the glorious work of the Spirit in contrast to the flesh. By seeing their contrasting ways, we hate one and love the other. We refuse to serve our own self’s preferences and become wholly loyal to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
We cannot rid ourselves of the flesh on this earth. This is what Jesus referred to in 6:10 when he says, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin.” It is still there. If we are not careful, we will serve it. But we don’t have to. By voiding our allegiance to our flesh, we can, by Christ’s grace, be set free to serve Christ. How do we void our former allegiance to our flesh? Paul says death is the only means and explains it carefully in Romans 7:1-6.
The point is that unless we are absolutely convinced the flesh is a destroyer, we will continue to listen and follow it. We will, in essence, continue to serve it. As Christians we are technically free from its ruling over us, but we still could serve the old self. The follow up question is whether we really hate the flesh. Are we really convinced? Paul convincingly set forth this case in the last part of chapter 7 and the early part of 8. Whenever he would go by the old nature, he would serve his own self and bear evil results. But he wanted to serve Christ (Romans 7) which bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5). The flesh always brings about death because it is hostile to God (Romans 8). We ought not live for our bodies. We do not need to live for ourselves.
We need to humble ourselves by stating that serving ourselves is not good. In a sense this is what ‘dying to self’ essentially means. We recognize serving self is no good and so we choose to serve the Spirit. These chapters provide a lot of help in convincing us of the horrible nature of the flesh and the glory of the Spirit.
Commitment to saying “no” to the old nature comes only as much as:
1) we are sure of the old nature’s total rebellion against God and
2) we desire to serve the Spirit.
Our growth comes as we recognize the complete rebellious nature of the flesh and power of the new life through the life of Christ.
Dying to self means simply a mental check on our determination not to live for oneself and to live for Christ. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:31 say, “I die daily.” This is a regular battle. A daily battle. Paul, as a veteran apostle, witnessing many miracles, seeing a revelation of Christ, still had to personally die to himself. We do too. We cannot afford not to.
Here is a possible prayer for your early morning meditation.
“Dear Lord, my allegiance to You will be tested today. Right now, I am stating my faithfulness to you. You are the One I love forever. At the same time, I will clearly state that I want nothing to do with serving my self. I have had enough to do with that selfish ego of mine that tries to get all the attention it can. Your principles of love and giving are what I want. Radiate in my life through acts and words of kindness. Forgive me of my sin and cleanse me. I make myself totally empty of self so that You can fill me with your precious Holy Spirit. Lead me forth. I will follow in your humble paths of love.”
The Christian needs to acknowledge the flesh, declare its lousy nature, reject its promptings, acknowledge the Lord’s presence, the beautiful nature of the Spirit and affirm one’s total heart and will to the Spirit’s leading.
Christian life is based on humble living. When we are willing to humble ourselves by looking at the facts of what self-service does, then we are willing to walk in that path.
“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.” – Gail Devers
An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.
“Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.
“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.
“But … What do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”
The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”
He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, señor, how long will all this take?”
To which the American replied, “15–20 years. 25 tops.”
“But what then, señor?”
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”
“Millions, señor? Then what?”
“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos …”
The only thing worse than drifting without a plan is having your plans hijacked by someone else.
You can avoid this unfortunate end and make sure you are fulfilling your unique, God-given calling by answering these three questions:
Am I living my own dream or someone else’s? If we are not careful, we can unconsciously be following someone else’s agenda for our lives. This usually happens because we are unwilling to take responsibility for our own lives.
What is my dream? This can get lost in the complexity of life. As a result, we need to pause and remember our own agenda. What is it that we believe God is calling us to be and to do? What is our passion? What would we do if we were brave?
What can I do now to move in the direction of my dream? The only way to reclaim our dream is to reject all substitutes and begin moving in the direction of our dreams. We don’t have to do anything heroic. We can start small and take baby steps. The issue is to make sure we are making progress toward our goals.
Don’t spend your life fulfilling someone else’s agenda. Accept responsibility for your own life. Pursue your goals and live your dream. Live an intentional life.
Gearing up for outreach and evangelism.
“Don’t be pushed by your problems; be led by your dreams.”
Many people drift through life without a plan. For some, things work out fine. For most, they end up far from their intended destination. Others, end up living someone else’s dream, the victim of another agenda. May & I are moving with one purpose to Kingdom build and contribute to our communities. This is a huge endeavor for us. We have nothing but a seed of hope and faith infused within from our Father in heaven. Wednesday meeting with the coalition of 6 pastors and some of Riverside County public officials was intense. We ran into a wall because everyone is dubious about our vision, but we aren’t. We will diligently work As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.(John 9:4). We are going to perform this outreach with or without the partners we are seeking. Look out for our attempt to market these items to raise money towards God’s evangelistic outreach for http://www.2ndchancealliance.com/about-us/, coming to a park our city near you soon.
BESIDES choosing lawmakers, on November 4th voters in three American states and the District of Columbia considered measures to liberalise the cannabis trade. Alaska and Oregon, where it is legal to provide “medical marijuana” to registered patients, voted to go further and let the drug be sold and taken for recreational purposes, as Colorado and Washington state already allow. In DC, a measure to legalise the possession of small amounts for personal use was passed. A majority of voters in Florida opted to join the lengthening list of places where people can seek a doctor’s note that lets them take the drug. However, the measure fell just short of the 60% needed to change the state constitution. Even so, that such a big state in the conservative South came so close to liberalising shows how America’s attitude to criminalising pot has changed.
All that imprisoning millions of people for nonviolent drug offenses has done is bankrupt us financially and morally, turning people with debilitating addictions into people with debilitating convictions.
The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, largely due to misguided drug laws and mandatory sentencing requirements. Since the 1970s, drug war practices have led to the conviction and marginalization of millions of Americans – disproportionately poor people and people of color – while failing utterly to reduce problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission or overdose deaths. The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to identifying and promoting health-centered alternatives to harmful, punitive drug laws. We are working to stem the tide of low-level drug arrests, to reverse draconian sentencing practices that cultivate discrimination, and to eliminate life-long barriers faced by people with even a minor drug conviction.
If we want to solve our nation’s drug problems, we need to focus less on obtaining convictions and more on preventing addictions. We should be treating people with addictions, not handcuffing them.
The United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners, in part because of the overly harsh consequences of a drug conviction. Many of the 2.3 million people behind bars (and 5 million under criminal justice supervision) in this country are being punished for a drug offense. If every American who has ever possessed illicit drugs were punished for it, nearly half of the U.S. population would have drug violations on their records.
Over 1.6 million people are arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated, placed under criminal justice supervision and/or deported each year for a drug law violation. Yet instead of reducing problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission or overdose deaths, the drug war has actually done more harm than problematic drug use itself, by breaking up families, putting millions of people behind bars, burdening even more people with a life-long criminal record, worsening the health prospects for people who use drugs and significantly compromising public health.
The consequences of any drug conviction are life-long and severe, and are not experienced equally. Despite comparable drug use and selling rates across racial groups, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately punished for drug law violations. Drug violations are an easy solution for police officers pressed for high arrest quotas, resulting in thousands of wrongful arrests that overwhelmingly victimize communities of color.
The Drug Policy Alliance is focused on reducing the number of people swept into the criminal justice system (or deported) for drug law violations, while promoting policies that improve individual and public health. We are guided by the principle that no one should be punished for what they put in their own body, absent harm to others.
Exposing and combating the racism of the drug war is an important part of DPA’s agenda. We work with civil rights and social justice organizations, formerly incarcerated people and other allies to end discriminatory policies and practices that unjustly target and penalize people of color and to advance an equitable health-centered approach to drugs.
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system. We believe that the mass criminalization of people of color, particularly young African American men, is as profound a system of racial control as the Jim Crow laws were in this country until the mid-1960s.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to exposing disproportionate arrest rates and the systems that perpetuate them. We work to eliminate policies that result in disproportionate incarceration rates by rolling back harsh mandatory minimum sentences that unfairly affect urban populations and by repealing sentencing disparities. Crack cocaine sentencing presents a particularly egregious case. Since the 1980s, federal penalties for crack were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine, with African Americans disproportionately sentenced to much lengthier terms. But, in 2010, DPA played a key role in reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and we are committed to passing legislation that would eliminate the disparity entirely.
The life-long penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities. The drug war’s racist enforcement means that all of these exclusions fall more heavily on people and communities of color. DPA is committed to ending these highly discriminatory policies and to combating the stigma attached to drug use and drug convictions.
Two-thirds of women doing time in federal prison are behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses, and the vast majority of them have children they can’t even see. That’s not family values.
The perceived targets of drug law enforcement are men, but many of its victims are women. Women, and particularly women of color, are disproportionately affected by social stigma, by laws that punish those unable or unwilling to inform on others, by regulations that bar people with a drug conviction from obtaining (or that require a drug test to receive) public assistance, and by a drug treatment system designed for men.
Largely as a result of draconian drug laws, women are now a fast growing segment of the U.S. prison population. More than three quarters of women behind bars are mothers, many of them sole caregivers.
Conspiracy offenses represent one of the most egregious examples of the drug war’s inequitable treatment of women. Although conspiracy laws were designed to target members of illicit drug organizations, they have swept up many women for being guilty of nothing more than living with a husband or boyfriend involved in some level of drug sales. Harsh mandatory minimum sentencing may keep them behind bars for 20 years, 30 years, or even life.
The drug war punishes women, particularly mothers, not just for drug law violations but also, it appears, for failing to be “good” women. This translates into a system whereby women who are responsible for childrearing are too readily separated from their children, temporarily or permanently. Even women who do not use drugs may be punished, for example, by welfare regulations that require recipients to submit to invasive and embarrassing monitored drug testing in order to obtain public assistance.
Removing a parent (perhaps the only parent) from the household is immediately destabilizing, and over the long-term it’s devastating. Parents, once released from prison, may be barred from public assistance and housing and face significantly diminished employment opportunities. Children with a parent in prison are several times more likely than other children to end up in foster care, to drop out of school and to become involved in the criminal justice system.
Pregnant women are uniquely vulnerable to criminal justice involvement. Prosecutors across the country have targeted pregnant women accused of drug use, supposedly in the interest of protecting their fetuses. The criminalization of pregnant women is not only an affront to women’s rights; it puts both mother and fetus at greater risk by erecting barriers to drug treatment and prenatal care.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to safeguarding a woman’s right to sovereignty over her own body, and we have been involved in several legal challenges in cases in which women were charged with child abuse, assault, homicide or other offenses because they allegedly used drugs while pregnant. We are also working to increase opportunities for families to remain together while parents (or children) address problematic drug use and to reform draconian conspiracy laws that result in harsh prison sentences for women.
As a POW, “I said I want to go home, as an inmate “I said I want to go home, As a free man addicted to fame and fortune and cocaine and the game of life, “I said I want to go home, as a believer in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, “I am saying I want to go home. After trauma and bad choice in life one can only feel empathy for Charlie in this video. I feel so much empathy for those who are coming home having to adjust to society that isn’t prepared to show forgiveness and any empathy for their plight of life. I saw this tonight as I was watching my Metv channel and I was crushed because my wife and I have spoken to sixteen people who are facing these fears of adjustment that are coming their way as they are getting released with no life skills nor family to assist them. We cry real tears of passion as we entreat God for finances and a building to help instill hope for those ex-offenders who really want to live the rest of their life independent and restored.
What does it take to break the cycle of criminal life and incarceration? Based on the accounts of those who have lived this experience, it requires an intense will to change attitudes and behavior to improve one’s life, a willingness to learn new skills, and an ability to overcome rejection time after time. The obstacles that are in store for the ex-offender who is released into society are enormous.
Transitioning from a prisoner number to an adult person expected to take on adult responsibilities can be overwhelming for many ex-inmates, particularly those who were incarcerated for long periods of time. The prison industry is flourishing because America is locking up more people than any country in the entire world – 2 million-plus and counting – most convicted of non-violent offenses.
The subsequent psychological, sensory and physical impact that many of these returnees experience often goes unaddressed and isn’t discussed very often by politicians or mainstream media, even though each day many of us will share space with someone who has spent a significant portion of his life in a cage.
Every one of us should be concerned because these men and women are of us and will be returning to us, our communities, many to our own families. This is dedicated to better understanding the impact of this system’s “corrections” from those who lived it.
Family and supporters
Former prisoners should ideally receive counseling before release and as part of their release plan to help move through the potentially challenging moments they may experience upon re-entry. Likewise the family should – also ideally – be offered counseling before the inmate is released, particularly the children of soon-to-be ex-prisoners. Caretakers of the children during the incarceration need to know the pitfalls that could occur and learn the tools to protect everyone emotionally while remaining as supportive as possible during the readjustment period.
The family members are changed people as a result of the inmate’s incarceration, just as the inmate is, and so things will likely not ever get back to the way they once were. Supporters should always offer encouragement and guidance geared toward smoothing out potentially bumpy transitions and not make the returnee feel as though they owe them something for having supported them while incarcerated nor exacerbate negativity that only serves to further divide and cause pain within the family.
Ex-prisoners may not readily accept the advice of others because they are finally free to not follow anyone else’s orders and so may make errors in judgment when dealing with seemingly simple situations. Opportunists may take advantage of some of these vulnerable returnees, as some can be easily manipulated and led into situations that are detrimental to them. Former friends and dangerous influences may arise and ex-prisoners may even fall into some old patterns.
Ex-prisoners may not readily accept the advice of others because they are finally free to not follow anyone else’s orders and so may make errors in judgment when dealing with seemingly simple situations.
Even when mistakes are made, the last thing returnees need to deal with is ridicule or condemnation, breeding resentment and deterring badly needed support. Many have been terrorized mentally and physically at the hands of guards and other inmates and have deep scarring that no one can see from the outside looking in. Comparing one ex-prisoner’s successes to another’s lack thereof is meaningless because each individual’s journey through their prison years varies greatly and so shall their journey upon release.
“I had a family. I had a house. I had a car. I had a job. … I was making good money. Everything was going well, and now I don’t have the patience for anything. … I have problems with my physical self. I have aches in my body and my legs. … [My] life is a lot harder. No matter how many visits, phone calls and letters you have shared with people, you still don’t know how much they have changed over a lengthy period of time until you’re actually around them regularly, and they feel the same way about you.”
“My son wasn’t a baby anymore and he hadn’t seen me in 10 years. Now he was 12. He wouldn’t let me hug him. He wouldn’t even shake my hand. I’m trying to understand this. I cry every night.”
“I want to prove to myself and those who stuck by me that I can make it right. I’m so scared of letting anyone down after the burden I’ve been.”
“Everything has been taken from me while inside. My mom had been taken from me, my dad has been taken from me, I have no family at all out here and I am completely on my own with $75 and nowhere to go. I was engaged when i got locked up at 18 – now I’m 45, the rest of my teens, all of my 20s, 30s and most of my 40s gone! My only child was born while I was inside and is now himself an inmate and so we’ll never be together.”
“I live with my mother in my old neighborhood. I need a pardon in order to get paid for wrongful imprisonment. After all they’ve taken from me, you’d think they’d at least provide me with my basic needs. I’m embarrassed to depend on my family as a 45-year-old man to have to eat.”
“Every night I pray and pray for the prisoners I left behind. I feel so badly for them living under such horrible conditions and promised many of them I would help them when I got out. My one friend is getting out of prison this week; she has been locked up for eight years. … She was 18 when she got locked up. I want to see her, but part of me wants to leave that part of me behind! I want to help, but how can I help? I barely have my feet on the ground as it is. But I promised I would and she is counting on me for support.”
“I went into a serious depression and was put on a medication that drove me into a prison within myself. It took the program staff several months to realize I wasn’t talking to anyone or eating, that I had lost about 30 pounds. I was ‘gone’ even though I was performing my required duties. After all those years of taking care of myself, to be so strong and resourceful and get myself paroled – by God’s grace – and then not know how to do anything for myself was really difficult.”
The real world
A study of the attitudes of released prisoners in the United States revealed that most expected to be labeled “ex-cons” and treated as failures and pariahs. Getting paperwork together to apply for services such as a birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license etc. is very difficult and yet very urgent in order to become recognized as a person in this system. Learning bus and subway systems or even walking routes may be difficult because of the changes that have taken place in the landscape.
A steady diet of encouragement is necessary in order to try and help them find a new “normal” in their life and set and achieve goals. The feelings of alienation may still be present, no matter how many people may feel that they are close to the inmate.
A steady diet of encouragement is necessary in order to try and help them find a new “normal” in their life and set and achieve goals.
“The dysfunctional consequences of institutionalization are not always immediately obvious once the institutional structure and procedural imperatives have been removed. This is especially true in cases where persons retain a minimum of structure wherever they re-enter free society. Moreover, the most negative consequences of institutionalization may first occur in the form of internal chaos, disorganization, stress and fear. Yet institutionalization has taught most people to cover their internal states, and not to openly or easily reveal intimate feelings or reactions. So, the outward appearance of normality and adjustment may mask a range of serious problems in adapting to the freeworld,” .
“(W)hen severely institutionalized persons confront complicated problems or conflicts, especially in the form of unexpected events that cannot be planned for in advance, the myriad of challenges that the non-institutionalized confront in their everyday lives outside the institution may become overwhelming. The facade of normality begins to deteriorate, and persons may behave in dysfunctional or even destructive ways because all of the external structure and supports upon which they relied to keep themselves controlled, directed, and balanced have been removed. …
“Parents who return from periods of incarceration still dependent on institutional structures and routines cannot be expected to effectively organize the lives of their children or exercise the initiative and autonomous decisionmaking that parenting requires. …
“Those who remain emotionally over-controlled and alienated from others will experience problems being psychologically available and nurturant,” .
“It felt like I was walking into another world again. I couldn’t believe it. Because I’ve been fighting so long, when (my release) eventually came, I didn’t know whether to take it or run back inside.”
“I was very frightened to walk across a street. I couldn’t judge the time, distance and speed of on-coming traffic. I had a problem with my sensory depth perception from bars being right in front of my face. I realized it was a problem after wildly running in an almost panic across the street, only to see the on-rushing traffic to remain still considerable distances down the street. I told myself, ‘You’ve got a problem, so get over it – fast.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I worked and worked on it.”
If you won’t consider donating to our cause, Then can we solicit your prayers and faith that this vision will not depart from our hearts nor will we faint until it materializes. I want to thank you in advance for whatever you decide to do especially for your time in reading this post.
Often some of our deepest personal problems are rooted in something we can’t control—dysfunctional family behavioral patterns that came before us. But we can control our choices, and each of us can choose life and good things!
In 1974 American singer and songwriter Harry Chapin recorded a song titled “Cat’s in the Cradle.” The song is about a father who is too busy to spend time with his son, instead offering vague promises to spend time with him in the future.
In time, the boy grows up to become a man very much like his father, focused on career and other personal pursuits at the expense of family relations. As the father grows old and finally has time to look back on his life, he deeply desires to get to know his adult son and have a meaningful relationship with him.
Sadly, the father comes to realize that his son is absorbed with the same materialistic priorities he had, and so a close relationship will never happen. The last verse concludes with this sad line: “ And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me—my boy was just like me.”
Family influence passed down
This song reminds us of the universal influence one generation has on another. Family traits are often passed down from parents to children, and this cycle has been repeated for thousands of years.
Some of these traits may be positive and beneficial—like nurturing skills, valuing hard work or education. However, negative and destructive behavior is also passed down within families.
When God calls us and opens our minds to follow His way of life, we may not be fully aware of how our new relationship with Him will not only change us individually, but can also have a wonderful influence on our descendants, impacting future generations.
Many people selfishly live only for today. They don’t understand or appreciate how one member of a family can impact other members. The Scriptures often remind us that it’s important to think generationally.
Consider God’s instruction in the Ten Commandments that “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus:20:5-6).
It’s easy to believe from this scripture that God simply punishes those who disrespect Him and blesses those who love Him. But God is not a vengeful and angry Father who intentionally punishes great-grandchildren for the sins committed generations earlier by others.
A better way to understand this scripture is to realize that family dysfunctions and their consequences are passed down from parents to children and from generation to generation. Curses are the result of breaking God’s law, and many sins are perpetuated in the next generation by the poor example of the previous generation.
Repeating patterns of mistakes
Each human family has its own culture, including unique strengths and weaknesses. Some of these may be the result of genetic inheritance. For example, some families have a history of significant musical or athletic accomplishments passed down from parents to children, to grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.
Even though it takes great skill development to be an excellent musician or athlete, a certain natural endowment is inherited from birth. Modern science has also discovered that our genetics may even predispose us to certain diseases.
Other strengths and weaknesses within an individual family culture are the result of itsenvironment or choices. This includes values, priorities and decision-making skills. When negative choices and a bad home environment become deeply entrenched within a family culture, individual members can become self-destructive and unknowingly pass on these traits.
Some of us come from family backgrounds of defeatism, divorce, pessimism, selfishness, greed, anger, addictions and laziness. Unless we break this curse, these traits may be passed on to our children. One’s dysfunctional personal behavior becomes a model or example to the next generation, and the cycle can be repeated over and over again.
Often this continues until someone realizes that he or she can be the one to break the cycle and make a difference. By developing a meaningful relationship with God we will not only become more enriched and fulfilled, but we will also benefit many others, including our own descendants.
Abraham’s amazing example
A number of biblical passages show us why we should all think generationally. Perhaps the most striking is the example of Abraham.
Abraham was an obedient “friend of God” (James:2:23). He rejected the pagan sinful culture of his family line and chose to live a new and positive way of life. At God’s request Abraham left that environment and even his own family to follow the course God set for him. In doing so he would become known as “the father of the faithful.”
Because of Abraham’s willingness to abandon the sinful habits and practices of generations, God made specific promises to him about the future of his descendants. God told him, “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered” (Genesis:13:16).
Some of Abraham’s descendants formed the core of what are now known as the major English-speaking nations and many other nations. (To learn more about this fascinating topic, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy .)
God further told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis:12:3).
Almost 2,000 years later Jesus Christ, a direct descendant of Abraham, would be born to atone for all sin and offer eternal life to all mankind. The entire world came to be blessed through Abraham because of his willingness to break with the patterns of past generations and embark on a new way of life revealed by God.
David, a man after God’s own heart
Another example of how powerful and important a personal relationship with God is can be seen in God’s expression of love for King David. Paul is recorded as quoting God in a powerful sermon by proclaiming, “‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus” (Acts:13:22-23).
Jesus Christ was a descendant of King David, and both of them were physical descendants of Abraham. But did David’s personal relationship have a positive effect on any of his other direct descendants? Did this personal relationship between God and David have benefits for David’s great-grandchildren and beyond?
Let’s move forward in history to about 50 years after David’s death to a significant time in Judah’s survival as a nation.
Abijah (also spelled Abijam) was the great-grandson of King David, but wasn’t faithful to God’s law. Scripture records that he “did all the same sins his father before him had done. Abijah was not faithful to the Lord his God as David, his great-grandfather, had been” (1 Kings:15:3, New Century Version).
At first glance we might expect Abijah to be severely punished for his sins, and perhaps others along with him. Yet the very next verse tells us something quite different: “Because the Lord loved David, the Lord gave him a kingdom in Jerusalem and allowed him to have a son to be king after him. The Lord also kept Jerusalem safe” (verse 4, NCV).
More than 50 years after David died, God showed one of his descendants mercy because of the faithfulness of his great-grandfather! God said in effect, “I am not doing this for you, Abijah, but because of the relationship I had with your great-grandfather David, I will show mercy to you.”
Did David’s relationship with God benefit any of his other descendants?
Many generations later King Hezekiah lay dying while the nation was being threatened by powerful Assyrian armies. The king fervently prayed to God for deliverance and the prophet Isaiah was sent to him with this message:
“Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father [ancestor]: ‘I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David'” (2 Kings:20:5-6).
More than 250 years after David died, God here showed mercy to his descendant because of David’s personal relationship with God. Notice that God even identifies Himself as the “God of David” and proclaims that He will both heal Hezekiah and protect the nation for “the sake of My servant David.”
Again, God says in effect, “Hezekiah, I am not doing this just for your sake! I am doing it because of My relationship with your ancestor David.” Do you see what a powerful influence just one individual can have, impacting his or her descendants for generations? Do you realize that you can be the Abraham or David in your family, setting a pattern that may bless your descendants generations from now?
A shocking example from history
How powerful can the generational influence of parents be on their own family and descendants? In 1874 a member of the New York State Prison Board noticed that six members of the same family were incarcerated at the same time. The board did some research, looking back a few generations to try to find the original couple who initiated this tragic family legacy.
They traced the family line back to an ancestor born in 1720, a man considered lazy and godless with a reputation as the town troublemaker. He was also an alcoholic and viewed as having low moral character. To make matters worse, he married a woman who was much like himself, and together they had six daughters and two sons.
Here is what the report revealed about the approximately 1,200 descendants of this couple who were alive by 1874:
• 310 were homeless.
• 160 were prostitutes.
• 180 suffered from drug or alcohol abuse.
• 150 were criminals who spent time in prison, including seven for murder.
The report also found that the State of New York had spent $1.5 million—a shockingly high number at the time—to care for this line of descendants, and not one had made a significant contribution to society.
Sadly, we can see by this example how the harmful dysfunctions of parents can be passed down from generation to generation.
A refreshing contrast
In contrast, another family heritage was studied involving a couple who lived about the same time. This second family study began with the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards, who was born in 1703. A deeply religious man, he lived a life of strong moral values and became a minister and a dedicated family man.
He married a deeply religious woman named Sarah who shared his values, and together they had 11 children. Eventually, Jonathan Edwards became the president of Princeton University. Here is what researchers discovered about the approximately 1,400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards by 1874:
• 13 were college presidents.
• 65 were college professors.
• 100 were attorneys.
• 32 were state judges.
• 85 were authors of classic books.
• 66 were physicians.
• 80 held political offices, including three state governors.
• 3 were state senators.
• 1 became vice president of the United States.
What a difference it makes in the kind of example and values that are passed down to the next generation! Strong moral values can indeed bring blessings and opportunities for generations yet to be born!
Rooting out weakness and sin
Many scriptures confirm that family cultures can be destructive. You and I are also a product of our own family’s heritage going back for many, many years! Some of the weaknesses we have are a result of them being passed down directly to us by our parents’ or grandparents’ personal examples. In some cases a family sin may go so far back that no one now knows where it began!
A responsibility we all have is to root out these weaknesses and set a better example for our own children and grandchildren. This commitment to overcome our weaknesses and change our lives can also richly benefit our siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and other extended family members.
Studies show that families tend to reproduce their own culture and dysfunctions for generations. For example, selfish parents produce selfish children. An alcoholic parent is likely to produce alcoholic children. Spousal abusers often produce children who grow up and abuse their spouses or are abused by their spouses.
Parents with negative lifestyles and attitudes tend to produce offspring who are unproductive and discouraged. Research has demonstrated that approximately 90 percent of people incarcerated in the United States have had either a parent or close family member in jail before.
Habitual problems may go back for generations in your family, but you can be the Abraham or David in your lineage! You can be the one to make better choices and break the curse of generational dysfunctions in your family!
We need to recognize what is happening and make a conscious decision to, with God’s help, create a new, positive family heritage.
God told the people of ancient Israel that He loved them and wanted them to be a betterpeople by obeying His commandments. He wanted both them and their descendants to be happy and blessed. Through Moses He pleaded with them to make the right choices and proclaimed, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy:30:19).
You can put a stop to it
If you have a family legacy of negativity, addictions, poverty, divorce, greed or selfishness, you can be the one to put a stop to it. All of us are dealing with issues from our family histories. Sometimes we must confront problems that go back many generations.
The good news is that we don’t have to do this alone. God offers us the help of His Spirit so we can put a stop to these destructive habits and make life even more productive for our descendants. God’s Spirit within us can literally change our lives as we move away from sinful habits toward a new, spirit-led nature (Galatians:5:19-25).
Some personal problems are so entrenched that we need to be humble enough to ask for help. Don’t be hesitant to contact a minister or health-care professional if you continue to struggle with a problem and realize you need additional support. There is no shame in asking for help and encouragement from others!
When we are faithful and have a deep relationship centered on obedience to God, He will not deal with our descendants like someone who doesn’t have a godly heritage. You may look at your family tree and not like what you see. However, beginning with you a new family tree can be planted that blesses everyone around it with the fruit of God’s Spirit, including joy, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians:5:22-23).
Think generationally in your life. How you live today and the kind of relationship you have with God can affect your descendants for generations to come and make their lives better! Why not become the Abraham in your family?
Your choices aren’t yours alone
The choices and decisions we make don’t just affect ourselves, but also our children, grandchildren and future generations yet unborn.
Have you considered that you never really make a choice alone? It’s been said that you are always taking your parents and your children with you throughout your life. In other words, most decisions you make are affected by the deep personal influence of your parents. On the other hand, your lifestyle choices and major decisions will also affect future generations of your family.
Even if you lack the personal desire to overcome serious problems for your own sake, do it for your family. Think generationally about how your behavior will benefit or harm your descendants.
God’s Word has shown us that He may have mercy on others because of the life we live. If you’re struggling with a serious problem, why not decide to stand in the gap and be the Abraham in your family! Make the choices now that will let others years from now see the changes you made personally and say, “Here is where it all turned around!”
We read earlier in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 30 that we literally have the ability to choose blessings or curses. Dysfunctions and sins that are allowed to continue may be passed down for generations. Yet we have also seen that God will bless the descendants of those who love Him.
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.
I owe a significant debt to four men and three churches who, over the years, became my spiritual fathers and families. These wonderful people walked alongside me through troubling and joyful times. They prayed with me, mentored me, and laughed with me. They celebrated my victories and wept with me when my riches of the world left and I started to serve more time behind bars than performing my ministry. They counseled me when I began to explore pastoral ministry and spoke the Word to me when I became discouraged. They reminded me not to take myself too seriously, and they lovingly pointed out sin in my life. God only knows where I’d be and who I’d be without his grace working through them.
Today I am a pastor and long for my church to grow in this kind of intentional disciple-making. Discipleship at its core is the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. That sounds simple. But what does it actually look like? And how do pastors lead their churches in discipleship? A good place to begin is Jesus’ last words to his disciples: “go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . and teaching them” (Matt 28:19
-20). Three contours of discipleship culture emerge from this passage.
Clarifying the Contours of Discipleship
1. Disciple-making is an intentional process of evangelizing non-believers, establishing believers in the faith, and equipping leaders.
“Make disciples” implies intentionality and process. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen because a church exists and people show up. It is a deliberate process. Considering the modifying participles of “going . . . baptizing . . . teaching” help us recognize this process. It must include evangelizing (going to new people and new places), establishing (baptizing new believers and teaching obedience), and equipping (teaching believers to also make disciples). How does your church evangelize, establish, and equip?
2. Disciple-making happens in the context of a local church.
It’s a community project, not just a personal pursuit. And that community must be the local church, because Jesus has given her unique authority to preach the gospel, baptize believers into faith and church membership, and teach obedience to Jesus. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen in coffee shops and living rooms. It also happens in the sanctuary where the Word is sung, prayed, read, preached, and displayed through communion and baptism. Jesus didn’t have in mind maverick disciple-makers; he had in mind a community of believers who, together and under the authority of the local church, seek to transfer the faith to the next generation. Does your church view disciple-making within the context of the church, or only as a solo endeavor?
3. Disciple-making is Word-centered, people-to-people ministry.
When Jesus said “make disciples” we cannot help but remember how he made disciples: three years of teaching twelve men on the dusty road. Disciple-making, then, is the Word of God shaping men and women within life-on-life relationships. It’s demonstrated in Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonian church: “being so affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8). This is gospel-driven, Word-saturated, intentional one-anothering. It is men and women regularly teaching one another to obey what Jesus commanded. And it goes well beyond watching football and having inside jokes with Christian friends. How would you evaluate your church’s Word-centered people-to-people ministry?
Creating a Culture of Discipleship
If these three contours are essential ingredients for a discipleship culture, how do pastors lead their churches in growing that culture? Here are seven ways:
1. Preach disciple-making sermons.
Pastors are not called to preach convert-making sermons or scholar-making sermons. They are called to preach disciple-making sermons. This means that they must craft sermons that will evangelize, establish, and equip. This means that they are teachers, pleaders, and coaches from behind the pulpit. Sermons also disciple through modeling careful exegesis, keen application, and prayerful responses to the passage. After we preach, congregants should understand and feel the text at such a level that they long to be more obedient disciples.
2. Shape disciple-making worship services.
Every church has a liturgy, whether you call it that or not, and every liturgy leads the people somewhere or disciples the people toward something. The question is where. The non-sermon elements of a worship service—songs, prayers, scripture reading, testimonies, and tone—contribute to the formative discipling of your congregation. Does your worship service lead people in thanksgiving for God’s gifts and goodness? Does it disciple people in confession and repentance? Is there an element in your worship service that offers assurance of salvation? Does your service lead people in celebrating our future hope? Thinking through these components with your worship director will strengthen your disciple-making services.
3. Invest in a few disciple-makers.
We’ve heard it before, but let me say it again: Jesus and Paul ask their disciples to invest in a few who will in turn invest in others (Matt. 28:18-19; 2 Tim 2:2). Pastors, choose a few men you can pour your life into and intentionally disciple for a period of time. Create a simple but effective format to accomplish this task. For example, meet with a few men twice a month to discuss sections of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, confess sin, and pray for one another. Keep it relational. At the end of your time together, ask each man to choose a few men with whom he can do the same. The benefits are manifold. You are obeying Jesus’ disciple-making command, you are cultivating a disciple-making culture through strategic multiplication, and you are investing in those who may become your future elders.
4. Make small group Bible studies central to your disciple-making strategy.
Many churches offer small groups like a side item at the buffet, but few offer it as a main course. While Sunday school or Sabbath school and other teaching venues certainly disciple people, small group Bible studies are unique in that they achieve multiple discipleship goals. After your corporate worship gathering, consider making small groups ministry your next priority. This means identifying and training mature leaders to shepherd and disciple their members. It also means providing a clear vision for your small groups ministry. For example, our Second Chance Alliance model Ministry asks our groups to commit to three disciple-making values: Bible, community, and mission.
5. Raise the bar of church membership.
Unfortunately many Christians don’t realize that joining a church is a vital step of discipleship. When you join a church, you are not joining a social club; you are publicly declaring your faith in Jesus and joining yourself to a group of Christians in life and mission. In view of this, pastors should view membership as discipleship and accordingly bolster their membership process and expectations. Instead of making it easy to join your church, make the process more involved. Get your elders teaching multiple sessions on the gospel, central doctrines, the importance of church membership, and your church’s operating convictions (baptism, for example). Broach tough subjects such as divorce and past church history during membership interviews. Finally, ensure membership actually means something for members. What unique privileges, roles, and responsibilities do members have in your church? Are your members actually joined together in Word-centered people-to-people ministry, as they promised when they became members?
6. Confront sin and practice church discipline.
Like church membership, discipline is neglected by some churches. Much like encouragement and affirmation are key components of disciple-making, so too are exhortation, confrontation, and if necessary more elevated measures of corrective discipline. God uses all of the above to make disciples and protect disciples within local churches.
7. Read disciple-making books with your leadership.
Let me recommend four books for your disciple-making arsenal. The Trellis and the Vineby Tony Payne and Colin Marshall outlines a practical vision for disciple-making. One-to-One Bible Readingby David Helm will equip you with the motivation and tools to read the Bible regularly with others. Church Membershipby Jonathan Leeman is the best lay-level book on the subject I’ve read and will help you understand how membership rightly practiced is discipleship. And The Shepherd Leaderby Timothy Witmer calls elders to lead the way in disciple-making.
Growing a disciple-making culture at your church might sound daunting. It’s hard enough to make disciples within a small group Bible study, but a church with all its complexities, systems, and baggage? Yikes. Here’s a piece of advice: start small, keep it simple, and focus on areas where a little investment will go a long way. For example, you may want to invest in a few who will do the same with others. Start with your elders. Or perhaps you want to focus on ramping up your small groups ministry. Start by training your current and new leaders around key biblical values that encapsulate discipleship.
Whatever you decide to do, may you find tremendous energy and courage to make disciples from the bookends of the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That’s “WHY’ I press toward the mark Jesus has seeded me with and that’s to build this model “Second Chance Alliance”. I will only submit to the spirit’s leading when it comes to a church to align myself and family with and I suggest “You” do the same. Find out how to seek God’s leading for your ministry/life, find a work and let God be the driver……..
Fellowship, small groups, is building the strength of our ranks… Go!!!Go!!!
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Ex-Offenders: Resources to Assist with the
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Alternatives to Incarceration
A criminal conviction doesn’t have to be the end of your career road – not by a long shot. If you’ve recently been released from jail or prison – or are likely to be released soon – transitional work programs can help you find work immediately, and apply for jobs with employers who won’t discriminate against you based on your criminal record. And if you haven’t been sentenced yet, Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs can help you negotiate for alternatives to jail time, so you can keep pursuing your career and educational goals. Read on to find out how resources like this can help your case.One legal fact you should know about is the 2012 update to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to these new guidelines, employers who discriminate against all employees with arrest or conviction records may actually be violating these workers’ civil rights. This is because, as of 2012, incarceration rates for African American and Hispanic people (32.2 percent and 17.2 percent, respectively) are much higher than rates for Caucasians (5.9 percent) – making discrimination on the sole basis of arrest and conviction records a potentially racial issue. Though this Guidance doesn’t constitute an actual law, it’s still an official declaration from the federal government, and can thus carry weight in anti-discrimination lawsuits.
Another fact is that a growing number of employers not only hire former convicts, but actually seek out former criminals who are ready to choose a different path in life. For example, the owner of this recycling plant says his mission is to teach marginalized people that they too can become great, if they’re willing to work for it. The plant owner recalls one time a few years ago when a tattooed ex-convict came in for an interview. “He’d been in prison for dealing drugs,” says the owner, “but he seemed very intelligent, so I hired him. He did a great job working his way up on the line crew… Now, he’s our top commodities salesperson.”
California snack-food company Homeboy Industries has built its entire brand around the fact that it employs ex-convicts – while other well-known companies, such as Target and Walmart, have removed conviction-related questions from their initial applications – asking them later in the interview process – in order to avoid discrimination. In fact, here’s a long list of companies that have openly declared their willingness to hire former felons. Your conviction may limit your career options, but it won’t prevent you from finding steady, honest work. A little research, though, can prevent you from wasting your time with a discriminatory employer.
Resources for workforce re-entry abound on the Internet – and many of them are backed up by real-world organizations that can answer your questions and help you further. Some of these organizations’ websites provide articles with job-search tips and re-entry guidance – sites like ExOffenderReentry and the National Reentry Resource Center fall into this category. Sites like these are handy for getting a general idea of how to approach the job-search and application process, and make sure you don’t fall into common traps, such as applying with a company that’s likely to reject your application on the sole basis of your criminal record.
Some websites provide actual lists of job openings and employers that are friendly to ex-convicts.
Other websites provide actual lists of job openings and employers that are friendly to ex-convicts. The National Transitional Jobs Network, for instance, provides a database of transitional jobs and programs, which you can browse by city and state. Sites like the New York Center for Employment Opportunities and Washington DC’s Prison Outreach Ministry, on the other hand, focus their energies on finding transitional work programs in specific geographical areas. Try a Google search for terms like “[name of your area] + prison transitional work” and “[name of your area] + parole employment opportunities” to find similar programs in your own region. And if you don’t find anything promising on the website of an organization like this, don’t be shy about giving them a call and explaining your situation.
The National Institute of Corrections also provides a few resources to help you find work. Their Employment Information Handbook – which you can download for free in PDF format – offers guidance and contact information for parole work programs, driver’s license applications, loans and grants, and other services that’ll help you transition into the working world. And their Simulated Online/Kiosk Job Application provides tips and other info on online job applications, including a simulation program that’ll train you to fill one out.
Alternatives to Incarceration
If you’ve already been convicted but haven’t received your sentence yet – or are aiming to negotiate a shorter sentence – a number of programs offer alternatives that may apply to your case. Depending on the nature of your conviction, some judges may be willing to consider the option of community service in place of all or part of your jail time. An electronic monitoring program (ankle bracelet) may also be an option for you. For drug and alcohol-related convictions, a residential rehab program may satisfy some or all of your state’s sentencing requirements. And for some felony convictions, community control (house arrest) may be a possibility. It’s definitely worth your while to discuss all these options with your defense attorney, especially if you can demonstrate that you’re pursuing work training or school, and will continue to do so if given the opportunity.
Many cities and states also provide Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs…
Many cities and states also provide Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs designed to guide offenders away from incarceration. In New York, for example, Community Connections for Youth, as well as the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), offer guidance and legal assistance to people who’ve been convicted. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) provides similar help for mentally ill people. You can track down resources in your own area by searching Google for terms like “[name of your area] + alternative to incarceration program.” Programs like this are worth examining even if you already have a lawyer, because many of them provide expert legal counselling of their own.
Synthetic “designer” drugs are gaining popularity across the country, particularly with parolees, military personnel, and others looking to get a legal high without worry of failing a drug test. Through sophisticated chemistry, amateur drug makers have found ways to minorly alter the chemical structure of drugs like marijuana and MDMA to make them “street legal” and undetectable in standard drug tests.
“The world of drugs, for controlled substances and toxicology, five or eight years ago used to be about maybe 250 compounds, all of which we understood well,” says Peter Stout, a research forensics scientist at RTI International, when asked about the prevalence of the designer drug trend. “Now, we’re getting 10, 20, 100 new compounds that show up every year.”
In our quest to gain knowledge about the trending issues and drugs that are exposed to our “Youth” and communities May & I positioned ourselves with police and research professionals to learn more about these dangerous and elusive drugs. Here’s what you should know about some of the most popular products:
Spice is often promoted as being “natural” psychoactive plant material. In truth, the only natural component is dried plant matter that is treated with the psychoactive chemicals, synthetic cannabinoid compounds that simulate the effects of natural marijuana.
All cannabinoids, including the synthetic compounds used in spice, are federally classified with marijuana as a schedule 1 narcotic. Makers of spice have continued to keep their products “street legal” by staying one step ahead of law enforcement, changing the chemical structure slightly in order to create a new compound that has not yet been classified as an illegal cannabinoid.
The ever-changing chemical makeup of spice’s active ingredients means that there is little data on the effects of spice on the human body. However, spice abusers at Poison Control Centers across the country have reported rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations. Spice has also been shown to raise blood pressure and, in a few cases, has been associated with heart attacks.
While still legal in Canada and the UK, aMT was permanently classified as a schedule 1 narcotic by the DEA in 2004. However the drug can still be easily purchased online under the guise of “health supplements.”
Drugs sold as bath salts are in no way related to epsom salts or other bath products. In fact, these synthetic drugs, also marketed as keyboard cleaner, plant food, and jewelry cleaner, are most similar to amphetamines in their effects and chemical composition.
According to Dr. Zane Horowitz, the medical director of the Oregon Poison Center, professionals believe that the main component of most bath salts is MDPV, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, though “newer… derivatives are being made by illegal street chemists.” Popular types of street bath salts include “Ivory Wave,” “Purple Wave,” Vanilla Sky,” and “Bliss.”
The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 outlawed many of the ingredients used to make bath salts, classifying them as schedule 1 narcotics. However, like spice, the chemical makeup of bath salts is constantly being altered by amatuer chemists to avoid detection, making the drug incredibly difficult for law enforcement to track and monitor. THE DANGERS
Other than highly-reported (and mostly false) cases of zombie-like behavior, effects of bath salts can include agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, increased pulse, high blood pressure, and suicidal thinking/behavior.
Depression or suicidal behavior can last “even after the stimulatory effects of the drugs have worn off,” Horowitz says. “At least for MDPV, there have been a few highly publicized suicides a few days after their use.”
Meow Meow is the drug that’s in the news because of a bizarre incident that occurred in the UK over the holidays. A college student who was home for the festive season is reported to have stabbed his mother and then cut off his own penis while high on the drug. According to media reports, doctors successfully reattached the man’s penis. A neighbor described as a “lovely lad” who had begun “dabbling in drugs.”
Here’s what you need to know about the crazy drug:
1. French Cops Call It ’21st Century Ecstasy’
The drug was bouncing around Europe through most of the early 2000s. The first recorded cases of the manufacture of the drug occurred in Israel in 2004. This led to the Israelis being the first to outlaw the drug in 2008. A year before, in 2007, the drug was reported in France. Upon investigation by French authorities, a paper was published that determined Meow Meow was the ecstasy of the 21st century.
Python is a dangerous animal, in Acts 16:16 it is said that a woman had the Spirit of Python, and based on that this new study we will speak how our enemy crawls around in our spiritual lives and suddenly kills it. Sometimes we don’t feel like worshiping or praying. That’s a sign of our breath being taken away.
So how do we prevent the dangers of spiritual death? What can we do to be aware of when the enemy will attack? Join us to learn how to break the attack and breath life again.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also(James 2:26, NKJV).
He was a successful doctor and an elder in a high-profile church of several hundred members. He was a major giver to the church’s big projects, and his generosity encouraged others to be more sacrificial. The doctor was also a great preacher. When the pastor was gone he spoke, and everyone looked forward to his messages, which were theologically deep, heartfelt, and spiritual.
Then one day the truth came out. The doctor’s absence at church the previous Sabbath had not been because he was on vacation, as many had thought. No, he was found dead in his beachfront condo from an overdose of recreational narcotics.
Worse was the shocking revelation that in his bedroom were dozens of pornographic videos and magazines. The church was devastated, especially the young people, who had looked up to him as a role model. Though we must leave all judgment in God’s hands, the doctor’s actions certainly call into question the reality of his faith.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?(James 2:14, NKJV). How do we understand this verse in the context of salvation by faith alone? Read James 2:15-17; compare Rom. 3:27-28;Eph. 2:8-9.
The point? Though we are saved by faith, we cannot separate faith and works in the life of a Christian, a crucial but often misunderstood truth expounded upon in the book of James.
Faith without works. James gives a vivid illustration of this kind of phony faith (James 2:15-16). As we have already seen, obedience in the book of James is relational. So, how do we relate to a brother or sister in the church who is in need? Words are not enough. We cannot simply say, Go in peace. God will provide, when God has provided us the means to help that brother or sister.
Of course, needs can be endless, and we cannot meet them all. But there is a principle called the power of one. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, and we can help others one person at a time. In fact, that is how Jesus usually worked. In Mark 5:22-34 a man whose daughter was dying appealed to Him for help. On the way, a woman approached from behind and touched Jesus’ garment. After the healing, Jesus could have gone on and the woman would have left rejoicing. But Jesus knew that she needed more than physical healing. So, He stopped and took the time so that she could learn to be a witness for Jesus, to share as well as to receive. Then He said the same words we have in James 2:16, NIV: Go in peace(Mark 5:34, NIV). But, unlike the words in James, in this case they actually meant something!
When we recognize a need but do nothing about it, we have missed an opportunity of exercising faith. By doing so, our faith gets a little weaker and a little deader. This is because faith without works dies. James describes it even more starkly: faith is dead already. If it were alive the works would be there. If they are not, what good is it? At the end of verse 14, James asks a question about this kind of workless and worthless faith. It comes across far more strongly in Greek than it does in most translations: That faith cannot save him, can it? The answer James expects us to give is clearly No.
How can we learn to better express our faith through our works while protecting ourselves from the deception that our works save us?
If righteousness and justice are the heart of the Old Testament Law, they are also at the heart of the dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees.33 At the very outset of His earthly ministry, Jesus set out to contrast His interpretation of the Old Testament teaching on righteousness with that of the scribes and Pharisees. In reality, Jesus did not offer a “new” interpretation of righteousness or of the Law; rather He sought to reestablish the proper understanding of righteousness as taught in the Law and the Prophets. Thus, Jesus repeatedly used the formula, “You have heard it said. . .” (“This is what the scribes and Pharisees teach.…”), “But I say to you.…” (“But the Old Testament was meant to be understood this way.…”).
The scribes and Pharisees thought of themselves as setting the standard for righteousness. They felt that they, of all men, were righteous. Jesus shocked all when He said,
20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
It was clear that if the scribes and Pharisees could not produce enough righteousness on their own, no one could. The standard of righteousness the Law held forth was even higher than that of the scribes and Pharisees. No one was righteous enough to get into heaven. What a shock to the self-righteous who thought they had box office seats in the kingdom.
If Jesus shocked His audience when He said those who appeared to be the most righteous would not make it into the kingdom on their kind of righteousness, He also shocked them as to who would be “blessed” by entrance into the kingdom: those the scribes and Pharisees thought unworthy of the kingdom. Those blessed were not the scribes and Pharisees, but the “poor in spirit,” those who “mourn,” the “gentle,” those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” the “merciful,” the “pure in heart,” the “peacemakers,” and those who are “persecuted” on account of their relationship with Jesus (Matthew 5:3-12).
Jesus taught that true righteousness is not that which men regard as righteous based upon external appearances, but that so judged by God based upon His assessment of the heart:
15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
The Scribes and Pharisees, who thought themselves so righteous because of their rigorous attention to external matters, proved to be just the opposite when judged by our Lord:
28 “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? 34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:28-35).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against externalism and ceremonialism.
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
According to Jesus, true righteousness is vastly different from the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. False righteousness is measured by men on the basis of externalism. True righteousness is judged such by God, in accordance with His Word. Because of this, men need to beware of attempting to judge the righteousness of others (see Matthew 7:1). Those whose deeds seemed to indicate they were righteous were those whom God denied ever having known as His children (Matthew 7: 15-23). Those who appeared to be righteous were not, and those who appeared unrighteous by the Judaism of that day may well have been righteous.
It is no wonder then that Jesus was not regarded as righteous by many of the Jews but was considered a sinner:
16 Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.… 24 So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He therefore answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:16, 24-25).
The great division which arose among the Jews was over the issue of whether Jesus was a righteous man or a sinner (see John 10:19-21).
The Old and New Testament leave no doubt in our minds whether the Lord Jesus was righteous. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as the “Righteous One” who would “justify the many” (Isaiah 53:11). Jeremiah spoke of Him as the “righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5). When Jesus was baptized, it was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Both Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19) and the soldier at the foot of the cross (Luke 23:47) acknowledged His righteousness at the very moment when men were condemning Him.
The apostles likewise bear witness to the righteousness of Christ:
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).
29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him (1 John 2:29).
The righteousness of God is particularly important in relation to salvation. In Romans 3, Paul points out God not only justifies sinners (that is, He declares them righteous), but He is also shown to be just (righteous) in the process:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:21-28).
Men have failed to live up to the standard of righteousness laid down by the Law (Romans 3:9-20). God is just in condemning all men to death, for all men without exception have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All men are worthy of death because the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God is just in condemning the unrighteous.
But God is also just in saving sinners. As Paul puts it, He is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). How can this be? God is just because His righteous anger has been satisfied. Justice was done on the cross of Calvary. God did not reduce the charges against men; He did not change the standard of righteousness. God poured out the full measure of His righteous wrath upon His Son on the cross of Calvary. In Him, justice was meted out. All of those who trust in Him by faith are justified. Their sins are forgiven because Jesus paid the full price; He suffered the full measure of God’s wrath in their place. And for those who reject the goodness and mercy of God at Calvary, they must pay the penalty for their sins because they would not accept the payment Jesus made in their place.
The cross of Calvary accomplished a just salvation, for all who will receive it. But we also know that only those whom God has chosen—the “elect”—will repent and trust in the death of Christ on their behalf. This raises another question related to divine justice. After clearly teaching the doctrine of divine election, Paul asks how election squares with the justice of God, and then gives us the answer:
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:6-24).
The question assumes that divine election has been taught by Paul as a biblical fact. If it were not so—as it clearly is—the question would not have been raised by Paul. And if there is no such thing as election, Paul could have simply brushed the question aside as illogical and unreasonable. But Paul assumes the truth of election and the possibility that some might object on the grounds that election would make God unjust. Paul first rebukes the one who dares to judge God and pronounce on His righteousness. How presumptuous can a man be? Should God stand before the bar of human judgment? Of course not!
As seen in chapter 3, God is righteous in that He has condemned all, and in Christ, those who are justified have been punished and then raised to newness of life. God is also righteous for judging all those who refuse to accept His offer of salvation in Christ. God would be unjust only if He set aside justice rather than fulfilling it in Christ, whether by His sacrificial death at His first coming or by His judging the unbelieving world at His second coming.
Divine grace, the grace by which God reaches out to save men from their sins, is meted out not on the basis of men’s merits but in spite of men’s sin. Grace, as we shall later emphasize in another message, is sovereignly bestowed. God would be unjust only if He withheld blessings from men which they deserved. Since God is free to bestow unmerited blessings on any sinner He may choose, God is not unrighteous in saving some of the worst sinners, while choosing not to save other sinners. God does not owe salvation to anyone, and thus He is not unjust in saving some and choosing not to save others.
The good news of the gospel is that salvation by grace is offered to all men, and by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, men may be forgiven of their sins and made righteous:
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).
If sin is the manifestation of our unrighteousness and we can be saved only through a righteousness not our own—the righteousness of Christ—then the ultimate sin is self-righteousness. Jesus did not reject sinners who came to Him for mercy and salvation; He rejected those who were too righteous (in their own eyes) to need grace. Jesus came to save sinners and not to save those righteous in their own eyes. No one is too lost to save; there are only those too good to save. In the Gospels, those who thought themselves most righteous were the ones condemned by our Lord as wicked and unrighteous.
If we are among those who have acknowledged our sin and trusted in the righteousness of Christ for our salvation, the righteousness of God is one of the great and comforting truths we should embrace. The justice of God means that when He establishes His kingdom on earth, it will be a kingdom characterized by justice. He will judge men in righteousness, and He will reign in righteousness.
We need not fret over the wicked of our day who seem to be getting away with sin. If we love righteousness, we most certainly dare not envy the wicked, whose day of judgment awaits them (see Psalm 37; 73). Their day of judgment is rapidly coming upon them, and justice will prevail.
If we realize that true righteousness is not to be judged according to external, legalistic standards and that judgment belongs to God, we dare not occupy ourselves in judging others (Matthew 7:1). We should also realize that judgment begins at the house of God, and thus we should be quick to judge ourselves and to avoid those sins which are an offense to the righteousness of God (see 1 Peter 4:17; 1 Corinthians 11:31).
The doctrine of the righteousness of God means that we, as the children of God (if you are a Christian), should seek to imitate our heavenly Father (5:48). We should not seek to find revenge against those who sin against us, but leave vengeance to God (Romans 12:17-21). Rather than seeking to get even, let us suffer the injustice of men, even as our Lord Jesus, that God might even bring our enemies to repentance and salvation (Matthew 5:43-44; 1 Peter 2:18-25). And let us pray, as our Lord instructed us, that the day when righteousness reigns may come:
10 “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
1 My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Recently I read Psalm 131, one of my favorite psalms. In the past, I viewed it as an encouragement to understand that mystery is one of the hallmarks of God’s character. It challenged me to let my mind be at rest, since I am unable to understand all that God is doing in His universe.
But then I saw another side of David’s calm spirit: I am unable to understand all that God is doing in me, and it is impossible to try.
David draws a comparison between a weaned child that no longer frets for what it once demanded, and a soul that has learned the same lesson. It is a call to learn humility, patient endurance, and contentment in all my circumstances—whatever they are—though I do not understand God’s reasons. Divine logic is beyond the grasp of my mind.
I ask, “Why this affliction? Why this anguish?” The Father answers, “Hush, child. You wouldn’t understand if I explained it to you. Just trust Me!”
So, I turn from contemplating David’s example to ask myself: Can I, in my circumstances, “hope in the Lord”? (v.3). Can I wait in faith and patience without fretting and without questioning God’s wisdom? Can I trust Him while He works in me His good, acceptable, and perfect will?
It may not be for me to see The meaning and the mystery Of all that God has planned for me Till “afterward”! —Aaron Pratt
In a world of mystery, it’s a comfort to know the God who knows all things.
Lately, there has been a passage of scripture that has been echoing in my mind. I can’t think of any reason at all for this except to say that perhaps God is wanting me to focus on it. The passage of scripture is Phil. 1:1-6 which says, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (KJV). I am drawn to the final verse; and as I think about it, I am encouraged.
We need the confidence of knowing that the Lord is working in us, that He has not left us alone, and that He is very concerned about us. Sometimes we experience that stale and dry season where we seem to have reached a stone wall in our spiritual development. Of course, this could be true for many due to sin or rebellion of some sort. But, for those who simply seek God and desire to experience Him more and more and yet find themselves wondering and waiting, this verse is for you. It has three main parts:
First, the work that was begun in you was regeneration. When you trusted in Christ and were born again, you were changed. This is the beginning of the work of God in your hearts. God saves us as we are, but He does not leave us as we are. He changes us. Initially, when we are saved, we are justified; that is, we are declared righteous in God’s eyes. That is the easy part because it is all done by the Lord. The hard part is the changing part. It is called sanctification and is the process God puts us through to conform us more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus. It is this second part, this sanctification, that is hidden in the phrase of Phil. 1:6 where it says, ” . . . will perform it . . . ” In other words, the Lord is “performing” (KJV), “perfecting” (NASB) us. This perfecting will proceed until ” . . . the day of Jesus Christ.” This is a reference to the return of Christ. By design, the Bible leaves us with the impression that the return of Jesus can be accomplished at any time. This work will continue in all Christians in all places and in all times until the return of Jesus. Once He has been revealed, we will all be with Him (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2); and we will no longer as a whole church or as individuals need to be perfected since the full manifestation of our salvation has been realized in the resurrection and/or change of our bodies to the incorruptible state.
So, Phil. 1:6 carries with it the past, present, and future work of God in us and for us because of what Jesus has done on the cross. Remember, it is because of Jesus and only because of Jesus that the Lord will and is working in us. If you are having problems of some sort, doubting your salvation, unsure about your growth, let the Lord speak to your heart by spending time in prayer and reading His word. He uses these things to “perfect” the work that He has begun in you. Remember that the Lord will never forsake you or leave you. He cannot be unfaithful, and His love for you cannot fail. To the Lord be the glory.
The strength of our relationships is measured by how much people can count on us.
When we think of someone with integrity, we think of someone we can count on to come through on what they promise. Unfortunately, that’s not always a safe bet today.
Over the last several years I’ve noticed a change in the way we use the word integrity. The word used to mean staying true to your word—even if it’s difficult, inconvenient, or expensive. But today I hear more and more people using the word as if it means being true to themselves—even if that means leaving someone else to clean up the mess.
This might look like a win if we’re trying to save ourselves from difficulty and discomfort, but it will come back to bite us in the end. Nothing destroys our credibility faster than bailing on a commitment.
The phrase “To thine own self be true” comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but it became popular through self-help books and programs. There’s nothing wrong with these words by themselves, but they’re usually taken out of context.
If you’ve ever read or seen the play you know the full story. The phrase comes after advice about being prudent and preserving friendships. The idea is that we are true to ourselves so that others can count on what we say. That was having integrity.
But if you listen to the way people use it today, they usually mean something else. “To thine own self be true” is often used as an excuse to do whatever a person wants instead of what’s expected—or even what they’ve already committed to. This is suicide in business—and the rest of life.
Not only is integrity essential for strong friendships, it’s crucial for all of our relationships. “Honesty,” says Stephen Covey, “is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.” We won’t get far in life without it.
Just think about your work. Without the kind of integrity Covey describes, you cannot be an effective leader. Why?
Trust depends on integrity. If people can’t rely on your word, they won’t trust you. They may extend some grace, but eventually people will doubt and disbelieve.
Influence depends on trust. People will refuse the influence of leaders they distrust. Just look at how this plays out in politics or the media. We follow people we trust.
Impact depends on influence. You can’t make the impact you want unless you can influence others and shift their behavior.
Now think of other relationships: marriage, parenting, church, whatever. The strength of our relationships is measured by how much people can count on us. If we’re not true to our words, that means our relationships will be as unreliable as we are.
The concepts of the “Men of Old” contained in the bible is reference guide to building a healthy community and family.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden had an interesting rule for his teams. Whenever a player scored, he was to acknowledge the person on the team who had assisted. When he was coaching high school, one of his players asked, “Coach, won’t that take up too much time?” Wooden replied, “I’m not asking you to run over there and give him a big hug. A nod will do.”
To achieve victory on the basketball court, Wooden saw the importance of teaching his players that they were a team—not “just a bunch of independent operators.” Each person contributed to the success of everyone else.
If you have accepted Christ as a personal Savior, you are to forget yourself, and try to help others. Talk of the love of Christ, tell of His goodness. Do every duty that presents itself. Carry the burden of souls upon your heart, and by every means in your power seek to save the lost. As you receive the Spirit of Christ-the Spirit of unselfish love and labor for others-you will grow and bring forth fruit. The graces of the Spirit will ripen in your character. Your faith will increase, your convictions deepen, your love be made perfect. More and more you will reflect the likeness of Christ in all that is pure, noble, and lovely.
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. —2 Peter 1:3
A college football coach in the Bronx (New York) built his team around good character qualities. Instead of displaying their names on the back of their jerseys, the Maritime College players displayed words likefamily, respect, accountability,and character. Before each game, coach Clayton Kendrick-Holmes reminded his team to play by those principles on the field.
The apostle Peter had his own list of Christian qualities (2 Peter 1:5-7) that he encouraged believers to add to their life of faith:
Virtue. Fulfilling God’s design for a life with moral excellence.
Knowledge. Studying God’s Word to gain wisdom to combat falsehood.
Self-control. Revering God so much that we choose godly behavior.
Perseverance. Having a hopeful attitude even in difficulties because we’re confident in God’s character.
Godliness. Honoring the Lord in every relationship in life.
Brotherly kindness. Displaying a warmhearted affection for fellow believers.
Love. Sacrificing for the good of others.
Let’s develop these qualities in increasing measure and integrate them into every part of our life.
Just as the body grows in strength With exercise each day, Our spirit grows in godliness By living life God’s way. —D. De Haan
Love is a distinguishing mark of Christians and something the Lord commanded us to do (John 13:34-35). Jesus said we should love others as God loves us—selflessly, sacrificially, with understanding and forgiveness. But how can we love others if we’re unsure of His love for us personally?
When we refer to “God’s love,” we’re talking about the unselfish giving of Himself to us, which brings about blessing in our lives–no matter how unlovable we might be. That says something about the Lord’s character. His love is not just an emotion, decision, or action but who He is (1 John 4:8).
How can we know for certain that God loves us?
1. He created the world for us.
One of the reasons I enjoy traveling out west is because I can go into the wilderness where I don’t see anything but what God created. He gave us oceans and beaches, mountains and snow, sunrises and sunsets, full moons and new moons, beautiful plants and animals.
Consider what an awesome sight this world was right after God created it, untainted by man. We tend to forget how majestic His the earth really is, especially when houses, big buildings, cars, and pollution surround us at every turn. Sometimes spending a little time in nature is all we need to remind us of the Lord’s affection.
2. He chose us.
Jesus prayed: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Scripture also teaches that God lovedus before He ever created the earth (Eph. 1:4-5).
3. He died for us.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” On the cross, Jesus emptied Himself for our sake, pouring out His love so that we might be saved. He loved us then, and He loves us today—regardless of all our mistakes, sins, or struggles.
4. He cares for us.
God continually watches over us, providing our needs. He protects and guides us, and answers our prayers. The Lord may not always work in the time frame we expect, but if we’re faithful to wait on Him, He will always come through for us according to His will. The best way to learn about God’s deep concern for His children is to spend time reading Scripture and meditating on it through prayerful interaction with Him. If we devote ourselves to the Lord, we will discover that He is always caring toward us.
God promises that He will love us unconditionally—and won’t ever leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). If God loved us only sometimes but notall the time, that would mean His character, feelings, or attitude is changeable. But our Lord never changes.
Neither is His love contingent upon us. Whether or not we go to church, tithe, witness, pray enough, and never sin, God’s affection is always the same. You can’t do anything to deserve it, and you can’t do anything to keep Him from loving you.
The apostle John tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This may be a difficult truth for our human minds to grasp. But love is the Lord’s very essence, and He is the source from which all true love flows. There are no restrictions, no limitations, and no exceptions. God’s care for us is absolute and genuine, and through creation, He has unmistakably declared that love (Rom. 1:20). But in His most powerful proclamation of all, He sent His Son to die for us, so that we could enjoy His loving presence for all eternity.
In difficult times church leaders need to pay careful attention to congregational dynamics. On one level, a congregation is a complex emotional system, and changes to one part of the congregation also affect the rest of the system.
Difficult situations create stress on the congregation, and stress shows up in a variety of ways. Church leaders must learn to expect and recognize the symptoms of stress and understand that different people will react in different ways. Some may withdraw, unable to face the pain of the difficulty. Others may overreact and try to solve the problem too soon. Still others may complain about seemingly unrelated matters in an unconscious attempt to avoid the issue and divert the attention of the leaders.
Congregations in difficulty will find that their members are grieving. Grieving people tend to resist change because change always involves some loss. Therefore, they may want to hang onto familiar things even more than usual. So, for example, while introducing a new song at any other time might not be a major issue, during a difficult time it may be a volatile move. Leaders should be prepared for the resentment and even hostility that may come from frustrated parishioners. They need to remind themselves to remain as calm as possible, absorbing some of the anxiety of the system and thereby providing some immunity to the congregational body.
Often the troubling symptoms of the difficult time will become focused on worship, the major corporate activity of the church. Worship can become the congregational lightning rod, since it involves the greatest portion of the congregation all at once, and since it is so closely tied to people’s faith. Moreover, the term “worship war” has become so common that church members almost expect it to happen. It could even become the smokescreen that overshadows the real underlying problems of the congregation. So paying careful attention to worship is all the more important in difficult times.
Worshiping as the Body of Christ
That careful consideration should include a basic understanding of what the church is called to be and how it is called to worship. These matters are central to all congregations at all times, no matter what their situation, but are especially important in difficult times.
A helpful way to think of the church as it faces trying situations is to reflect on Scripture’s metaphors for the church. One that is often cited both in regard to the church and in teaching on emotional systems is that of a human body. The body is made up of cells and tissues and organs that all contribute to and sustain the body’s life. It has many different parts that are all necessary and that together make up something even greater than the whole. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul notes the importance of all parts of the body and their unique contributions. The emphasis in this passage is on the spiritual gifts of church members—some more obvious, others less so, but all necessary and important.
Another metaphor both for the gifts of the church and its web of relationships is a horticultural one. In John 15 Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” The fruit-bearing image appears also in Matthew 7 (“You will know them by their fruits”) and in Galatians 5 with the list of the “fruit of the Spirit.”
Both metaphors are fitting because the church is the body of Christ—a living organism. These images are helpful for understanding what happens to a congregation in a difficult time. When a person has a toothache her whole body hurts. If she loses her sight or her hearing, the activity of her entire body is affected. When a branch is pruned or shocked by frost the plant will react by working harder to heal the broken parts. Or it may shed them.
Similar reactions can be found in the living body that is the church. And worship may be the greenhouse or the nursery in which suffering plants can be brought back to health. The rituals of the liturgy may become “the leaves of the tree that bring healing to the nations” (Rev. 22:2). In worship we learn again to abide in the true vine—both by hearing the Word of God and reenacting its stories in worship. In worship we remember who we are as a community of baptized persons and we celebrate our redemption at our Lord’s Supper. In worship we receive the nutrients that feed our souls and give us life. And we recall God’s faithfulness as we seek to bear the Spirit’s fruit. Like plants that take in oxygen and put out carbon dioxide in the process of photosynthesis, so in worship we are in dialogue, in a reciprocal relationship between the creatures and the Creator.
Worship is so essential to the church that it rarely stops. When a church building is struck by fire, an alternative location to meet for worship is found quickly. The members of the worshiping body want to be together in times of crisis to comfort one another. Even congregations experiencing severe conflict still meet for worship, so it is the most appropriate venue for healing and reconciliation. And this is possible because in worship we recognize that we need to abide together and abide in Christ. As we pray and sing, offer lament and give thanks, hear God’s promises and dedicate ourselves to live for him, we remember who we are in Christ and are able to become one in him.
It is said that a flippant young man once remarked to a preacher in mocking fashion, “You say that unsaved people carry a great weight of sin. Frankly, I feel nothing. How heavy is sin? Ten pounds? Fifty pounds? Eighty pounds? A hundred pounds?”
The preacher thought for a moment, then replied, “If you laid a four-hundred-pound weight on a corpse, would it feel the load?”
The young man was quick to say, “Of course not; it’s dead”
Driving home his point, the preacher said, “The person who doesn’t know Christ is equally dead. And though the load is great, he feels none of it”
The Christian, unlike the average non-Christian, is not indifferent to the weight of sin. He is actually hypersensitive to it. Having come to Jesus Christ, his senses are awakened to the reality of sin. His sensitivity to sin intensifies as he matures spiritually. Such sensitivity prompted a saint as great as Chrysostom, the fourth-century church Father, to say he feared nothing but sin (Second Homily on Eutropius).
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
That passage is a poignant description of someone in conflict with himself-someone who loves God’s moral law and wants to obey it, but is pulled away from doing so by the sin that is in him. It is the personal experience of a soul in conflict.
There has always been debate whether Paul was describing a Christian or a non-Christian in this passage. Some people say there is too much bondage to sin in view for this passage to refer to a Christian. Others say there is too much desire to do good for a non-Christian. You can’t be a Christian and be bound to sin, and you can’t be a non-Christian and wholeheartedly desire to keep the law of God. Therein is the conflict of interpreting the passage.
The Non-Christian View
Those who believe Romans 7:14-25 is speaking of a non-Christian say verse 14 is the key: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. ” Then they point to verse 18, which says, ” I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. ” They conclude that has to be a non-Christian because a Christian knows how to do what’s good. There seems to be an obvious lack of the Holy Spirit’s power here.
The despair of verse 24–“Wretched man that I am!”–seems far removed from the promise ofRomans 5:1-2: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
Romans 6 has many examples of the believer’s freedom from sins power. Verse 2 says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Verses 6-7 say, “Our old self was crucified with [Christ], that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. ” Verses 11-12 say, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin…Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” Verses 17-18 say, ” But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” How can the person who said all that turn around and say, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (7:14)?
Chapter 6 emphasizes the new creation, the new nature, the new identity, the new person in Christ, and the holiness of the believer. In his new redeemed self, the believer has broken sin’s dominion. However, chapter 7 gives the other side.
Every Christian knows from experience that though he is a new creature in Christ, sin is still a problem. In fact, that conflict is pointed out even in chapter 6: ” Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness ” (vv. 12-13). Because it’s still possible for Christians to yield to sin, we are commanded not to.
Arguing that chapter 7 cannot refer to a Christian because of statements in chapter 6 is to misunderstand the intention of chapter 6.
The Christian View
Paul says, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Romans 7:22). That certainly isn’t something a non-Christian could accurately claim. Romans 8:7 says that the unregenerate person is not subject to the law of God.
In verse 25 Paul says, ” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God .” That sounds likea Christian.
The following verses describe Paul’s thwarted desire to do what is right: ” For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate … For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish … I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good ” (vv. 15, 18-19, 21).
Romans 3 tells us that the unsaved person has no such longing to do the will of God: ” There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God … There is none who does good, there is not even one …There is no fear of God before their eyes” (vv. 11-12, 18). Therefore the conflict described in Romans 7 can be true of a redeemed person only.
Another question comes up at this point that has sparked an equally furious debate: What kind of Christian is Romans 7 talking about?
Some believe he’s a carnal Christian–one with a low level of spirituality who is trying in his own strength to keep the law. However Romans 7:14-25 describes a believer who clearly sees the inability of his flesh to uphold the divine standard. The more spiritual or mature a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings will be. An immature Christian doesn’t have such an honest self perception. The legalist is under the illusion that he is very spiritual. I believe Paul is describing himself in this chapter, judging from the extensive use of the personal pronoun “I.”
Some say Romans 7:14-25 describes Paul’s struggle before he was saved or right after he became saved and was still spiritually immature. But again, it is the mature Christian who possesses an honest self-evaluation. And Paul exhibited that in passages other than Romans 7.
1 Corinthians 15:9-10–Paul said, ” For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. “
Ephesians 3:8–Paul considered himself as “the very least of all saints.” That 1 Corinthians was written before Ephesians shows he became more sensitive to sin as time went on. Although in our judgment Paul is the supreme man relative to other men, he saw himself as having fallen from the position of the least of the apostles to less than the least of all believers.
The terms Paul uses in Romans 7 are so precise that we can’t miss his struggle with sin. He states that he hates committing sin (v. 15), that he loves righteousness (vv. 19, 21), that he delights in the law of God from the bottom of his heart (v. 22), and that he thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Christ (v. 25). Those are the responses of a mature Christian.
The change in verb tenses is a clue that this passage applies to a Christian. The verbs in Romans 7:7-13 are in the past tense. They refer to Paul’s life before his conversion and the process of conviction he experienced when he stood face-to-face with the law of God. However in verses 14-25, where we see the battle with sin taking place, they are in the present tense.
I believe Romans 7:14-25 is Paul’s own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled, mature believer. He loves the holy law of God with his whole heart, but finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way his heart wants him to.
This passage is unique in that it contains a series of laments–desperate, repetitious cries of a distressed soul in great conflict. Each lament follows the same pattern. Paul first describes his condition, then gives proof of it, and then explains the source of the problem.
Paul’s First Lament
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (Romans 7:14-17).
The “for” at the beginning tells us Paul isn’t introducing a new subject. He continues to answer the hypothetical accusation in verse 7 that his preaching salvation by grace through faith apart from the law implies that the law is evil. He states to the contrary that “the Law is spiritual,” meaning that it comes from the Spirit of God and is a reflection of His holy, just, and good nature (cf. v. 12).
Although Paul delights in God’s law, he confesses there’s a barrier that prevents him from always obeying it: his carnal or fleshly nature. He doesn’t say he was in the flesh or controlled by the flesh. Romans 8:8-9 says to its Christian audience, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh.” The phrase “in the flesh” refers to an unregenerate condition.
Although Christians are not in the flesh, the flesh is still in us. We are no longer held captive to it, but we can still act fleshly or carnal. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ…for you are still fleshly.For since thereis jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (vv. 1, 3). He reproved the Corinthian Christians for acting in a fleshly or non-Christian way.
Here in Romans 7 Paul says, ” For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh … with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin ” (vv. 18, 25). He admits that the flesh is still present. Flesh is simply a term for our humanness.
Any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. Saying you’re carnal is the same as saying you’re a sinner. For example, when I am angry, insensitive, or don’t pursue God as diligently as I desire, I see my humanness getting in the way of accomplishing all I ought to do.
Paul states in verse 14 that he is “sold into bondage to sin.” Verse 23 gives us a similar statement: ” I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” But how can that be since we as Christians have been delivered from sin? The phrase “sold into bondage to sin” is literally translated “having been sold under the sin.” That refers to the sin principle, the product of the Fall of man, not to individual sins committed.
Being “sold into bondage to sin” doesn’t mean Paul actively committed himself to sinning, as is said about Ahab in 1 Kings 21:20, 25; it means he recognized that in this life we as believers will constantly have to battle sin because of our human nature.
Can Paul’s lament of being sold under sin come from a true believer? In Psalm 51:5 David says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). That sounds like a man who had never been redeemed, doesn’t it? But David was simply looking at one reality about himself. His lament is similar to that of Isaiah, who upon seeing a vision of God said, “Woe is me , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips ” (Isaiah 6:5). All the prophet could see against the glorious holiness of God was his own sin.
Paul put all our experiences with sin into words in Romans 7:14-25. We all know there sin in our lives even though it shouldn’t be there. Although sin is not the product of our new self, we’re still bound to some degree by the body we dwell in. Verse 14 could be paraphrased, “The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, experiencing a bondage to sin at times.”
A self-righteous person deceives himself into thinking he is inherently moral, but verse 15 shows that a Christian led by the Spirit will not think that way. He sees the proof of indwelling sin. Paul’s failure to do what he desired and his doing what he hated reflects a profound inner turmoil. His will was frustrated by his sinful flesh. It’s not that evil won all the time, but that he was frustrated in his attempt to perfectly obey God.
If you’re a Christian, you can identify with that frustration. For instance, no sooner are you complimented for having done something right, and you become proud–you’ve just done something wrong. The spiritual person has a broken and contrite heart, realizing he can’t be all that God wants him to be. Sad to say, many Christians have yet to reach that point. That’s because their comprehension of God’s holy law is so shallow.
Do you know what makes a Christian want to carry out God’s law? His new nature within, which, according to 1 John 3:9, does not sin. When he goes against his new nature, it isn’t the law that is responsible, but the sin that still resides in his frail human body. A Christian will naturally pursue the moral excellence of God’s law. The more mature a Christian is–the more he loves the Lord, submits to the Spirit’s direction in his life, and grows in his understanding of God’s holiness–the greater will be his longing to fulfill the law.
Verse 17 sounds like Paul refuses to take the blame for his sin. It’s as if he’s blaming an inanimate object instead of himself. However, in verse 14 Paul acknowledges that he himself is sinful. Accepting responsibility for our failure challenges the teaching that God doesn’t hold us responsible for our sin because sin is tied to our old nature.
Yet verse 17 goes beyond Paul’s admitting that he is responsible for his sin. He specifies what part of him is responsible by making a more technical distinction: the sin that dwells in his flesh.
Paul’s reasoning in verse 17 is reminiscent of Galatians 2:20: “I [the old nature] have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. ” After salvation, sin no longer resides in a person’s innermost self, which is recreated to be like Christ. Yet sin finds its residual dwelling in our flesh. That’s why Paul said nothing good dwelt in his flesh (v. 18).
There’s a big difference between surviving sin and reigning sin: sin no longer reigns in us, but it does survive in us. We are like an artistically unskilled person who has a beautiful picture in clear view, but has no ability to actually paint it. What we need to do is ask the Master Artist to put His hand on ours to help us paint the strokes we never could have painted independently of Him. We experience victory over sin only when we yield ourselves to the One who can overcome the flesh.
Galatians 5:17 says, ” For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. ” Galatians 5:16 tells us how to win: ” But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. ” The Holy Spirit gives us victory. But let me warn you that the more victory you experience as you mature in Christ, the more you will recognizesin in your life.
Paul’s Second Lament
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me (Romans7:18-20).
In verse 18 Paul gives a more technical identification of the part of him that is actually sinning than he has previously: the sin that dwells in his flesh. The flesh isn’t necessarily evil in and of itself, but it’s where sin finds its base of operation.
In verses 18-19 Paul isn’t saying he can’t figure out how to do anything right. He’s saying he can’t obey to the extent his heart longs to. If you examine your spiritual growth, you should have a greater hatred for your sin now than you did before you understood how serious sin is and how holy God is. Although spiritual growth results in a decreasing frequency of sin, growth also involves a heightened sensitivity to it.
What Paul says in verse 20 is just like what he says in verse 17. Although he had a new nature, he still fought against sin and sometimes lost. Those losses seemed overwhelming to him compared to the perfection of God’s holy law. Nevertheless his sensitivity to sin was a normal–not morbid–result of justification by faith.
At this point you might figure Paul would give up, having adequately made his point. But he starts a third lament to emphasize his frustration and sorrow over sin.
Paul’s Third Lament
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members (Romans7:21-23).
In contrast to the law of God, Paul saw another law or standard that was making demands on him: the law or principle of evil. Evil battles every good thought, word, and deed. Rather than our sin nature’s being eradicated in this life, as some theologians have concluded, Paul tells us that evil is present within us and creates conflict.
Verse 22 tells us that Paul delighted in God’s law. The phrase “in the inner man” could be translated, “from the bottom of my heart.” Paul, deep down, had a great love for the law of God. That part of us “is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16), “strengthened with power through [God’s] Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).
In verse 23 Paul identifies the source of his problems as the sin that resides in human nature. Sometimes the battle went in favor of his unredeemed flesh and brought him into captivity. That implies Paul is speaking as a redeemed person because unredeemed people can’t be brought into captivity–they’re already there. When sin wins the victory in the spiritual struggle, the believer becomes a slave to the sin that at least temporarily masters him.
The author of Psalm 119 experienced the same conflict Paul did. His psalm reflects his deep longing for the things of God.
My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word. My eyes fail with longing for Your word, while I say, “When will You comfort me?” Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes (vv. 81-83).
If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction (v. 92).
Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (v. 97).
I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law (v. 113).
I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (v. 131).
Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight (v. 143).
I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law (v. 163).
Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble (v. 165).
I have longed for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight (v. 174).
The measure of spirituality that the psalmist expresses is somewhat intimidating. That is why the last verse in Psalm 119 is so surprising: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (v. 176). You might think that a person with such an intense love for God’s law would not experience the failure of going astray spiritually. But that is the conflict all believers experience.
Why do we sin? Because God didn’t do a good enough job when He saved us? Because He gave us a new nature that isn’t complete yet? Because we’re not prepared for heaven yet and still need to earn our way in? No, it’s because sin is still present in our humanness, which includes the mind, emotions, and body.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3 Paul says, “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds) (KJV).” Although we still have physical bodies, we are engaged in spiritual warfare using spiritual resources.
Paul’s three laments reveal the conflict every believer experiences with sin. From that conflict the believer cries out for deliverance.
Oh,wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver mefrom the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.
As if three laments aren’t enough, Paul lets out a wail in verse 24 that exceeds them all in intensity. He cries out in distress and frustration with his spiritual conflict. Can this be the despair of a Christian–let alone that of the apostle Paul? But Paul wasn’t the only godly person who refused to keep silent about inner turmoil.
Psalm 6 (KJV)–David cried out, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also very vexed [terrified]; but thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh, save me for thy mercies’ sake…I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears” (vv. 1-6). David was saying, “I’m sick and tired of not being everything I ought to be!”
Psalm 130 (KJV)–The psalmist wrote, “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope (vv. 1-5).
In verse 24 Paul rhetorically asks who will rescue him from the sin that resides in his body. “The body of this death” literally refers to our physical body, which is subject to sin and death.
I remember reading that near Tarsus, where Paulwas born, lived a tribe that inflicted a most gruesome punishment upon a convicted murderer. The tribe fastened the body of the murder victim to that of the killer– tying shoulder to shoulder, back to back, arm to arm–and then drove the killer from the community. The bonds were so tight that he could not free himself, and after a few days the decay in the dead body transferred itself to the living flesh of the murderer. In expressing his desire to be free from the sin that clung to his flesh, Paul might have had that ghastly punishment in mind.
In verse 25 Paul says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” That’s a dramatic change from his laments over sin and death. Paul always kept things in proper perspective.
Romans 8–Paul was assured of ultimate triumph through Jesus Christ over the conflict with sin: ” For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. … For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body ” (vv. 18-19, 22-23). We Christians await the final phase of salvation. We’re still looking to that day when we are redeemed in body as well as soul. So Paul thanks God in Romans 7:25 that the end of the conflict will come through Christ when we enter into His presence and are glorified.
1 Corinthians 15–“For this perishable must put on imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 53, 57). That last phrase is almost the same one Paul uses in Romans 7:25 in reference to our bodily resurrection and glorification.
2 Corinthians 5–“For indeed while we are in this tent [body], we groan, being burdened [with our humanness]; because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (v. 4).
Philippians 3–“We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (vv. 20-21). Ours is a triumphant hope!
Yet the battle goes on. We cry with the poet Tennyson, who wrote, “Ah for a new man to arise in me, that the man I am cease to be!” (Maud, x. 5). The battle won’t be over until Jesus gives us immortality. Full deliverance awaits glorification. But we can experience victory here and now in the power of the Holy Spirit.