“What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir
What is the biggest barrier facing the formerly incarcerated as they try to reintegrate into society?
To us, the biggest barrier is the lack of critical legal information that people need in order to overcome barriers in reentry. We see the major issues as:
—Enormous legal and practical barriers to stability and success, including an inability to get an ID or open a bank account, enormous court debt, denials of employment, housing, and public benefits
—A complete lack of legal advocates, knowledge and navigational resources about these barriers
—An infrastructure of people and agencies who already support and work with those in reentry—including family and loved ones, social services agencies, housing facilities, legal advocacy groups, education programs, religious institutions, substance abuse facilities, corrections departments and government agencies—that lack the legal guidance necessary to navigate critical and often crippling issues
The lack of an integrated, knowledgeable and supported reentry infrastructure undermines the spirit and intent of reform efforts to reduce incarceration levels. The “Roadmap to Reentry” guide illuminates pathways to stability and success post-incarceration by educating people on how to navigate enormous legal and practical barriers.
In terms of the legal barriers, there are many—which is why the guide covers nine areas! Reentry is so unique to each individual, so we see that people experience very different issues, much of it dependent on their life circumstances and goals. The biggest issues that we see are court-ordered debt and fees that have amounted over time, which leads to an inability to get an ID; housing and employment discrimination; trouble reunifying with children and loved ones upon release; and unlawful parole conditions that can overly restrict where people can live and work.
What is the most important thing families can do to ease the transition?
Plan, prepare and do research! Family has access to phone and Internet, so they can help the loved one make plans and goals and then research opportunities in the area they are returning to—including housing, employment, education and support services. If you know your loved one’s goals and have a timeline for completion, you can help to set them up for success before they get out. If the county to which they are returning doesn’t have the right resources, they can help their loved one understand the process to transfer counties, either before or after release. Also, I would say that families can help their loved one in reentry by helping them do research on the law—reading manuals like ours to help their loved one understand whether they are actually banned from public housing or public benefits, and what kinds of jobs they can get—because many myths persist. So family can help a huge amount by educating themselves, getting a ton of resources and then empowering their loved one with that information.
The other thing that I think is critical for family members is to take care of themselves. If you find your loved one a support group, find one for yourself too. Families are often the support structure for a person in reentry, but of course they do not have the education of a case manager, therapist or social worker, yet they are playing that role. So having support for families who are helping someone through the ups and downs of reentry is critical.
The United States criminal justice system is the largest in the world. At year end 2011, approximately 7 million individuals were under some form of correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.1) The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, dwarfing the rate of nearly every other nation.2)
Such broad statistics mask the racial disparity that pervades the U.S. criminal justice system. Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.3) If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males—compared to one of every seventeen white males.4) Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.5)
The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. The former is the system the United States describes in its report: a vigorous adversary system replete with constitutional protections for defendants. Yet the experiences of poor and minority defendants within the criminal justice system often differ substantially from that model due to a number of factors, each of which contributes to the overrepresentation of such individuals in the system. As Georgetown Law Professor David Cole states in his book No Equal Justice,
These double standards are not, of course, explicit; on the face of it, the criminal law is color-blind and class-blind. But in a sense, this only makes the problem worse. The rhetoric of the criminal justice system sends the message that our society carefully protects everyone’s constitutional rights, but in practice the rules assure that law enforcement prerogatives will generally prevail over the rights of minorities and the poor. By affording criminal suspects substantial constitutional rights in theory, the Supreme Court validates the results of the criminal justice system as fair. That formal fairness obscures the systemic concerns that ought to be raised by the fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black.6)
“You cannot arrive at your life’s purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.”
― Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?
The Bible tells us that we need to be led by the Holy Spirit (see for example Romans 8:12-14 and Galatians 5:16-25). Therefore, it must be possible for every one of us to discern the promptings and guidance of the Holy Spirit within us!
You can hear the voice of God, and this article will teach you how.
It is not the purpose of this article to go into all of the different ways in which God speaks to us, such as dreams, visions, tongues and interpretation, prophecies, and so on, but this article will give you practical guidance in how to discern God’s usual “voice” which He often uses to speak to us. Jesus Did It!
The Four Voices We Hear
There are actually four types of “voices” which we hear speaking to us, and it is important that we learn to distinguish each one so that we are able to discern the true voice of God:
The voice that is perhaps the most obvious is our own voice. In addition to our speaking voice, we also talk to ourselves inside our heads, we see images and pictures inside our heads, we have emotions and feelings and desires, and so on. Our minds tell us what we think, our wills tell us what we want, and our emotions tell us how we feel. The Bible refers to our minds, wills, and emotions as our “flesh nature,” and this article will give you a better understanding of the “voice” of the flesh.
Another type of voice which clamors for our attention is the “voice” of other people. Sometimes people say things which are true, noble, and good, and sometimes people say things which are just the opposite. This article will provide some guidance to help you discern what you are hearing from the “voice” of other people.
The third type of voice is the “voice” of the devil. The devil has crafty ways of speaking to us which he has perfected over the millennia. He does not appear before us in a red, cloven-hoofed suit and speak out loud to us, he is much more subtle than that. What he does is to throw thoughts into our minds like flaming arrows, and he speaks to us through the worldly ideas and viewpoints that he has injected into other people. By the time you finish this article you will have a better understanding of how to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
The fourth and final type of voice is the most important, but it is also the most subtle. It is the voice of God. God does not speak to us in our minds, He speaks to us in our spirits because that is where the Holy Spirit lives. Unfortunately, we tend to spend most of our thought life in our heads, in other words in “the mind of the flesh” (Romans 8:7, AMP), focused on the sensory world around us where our physical senses and our thoughts, feelings, desires, and emotions are constantly being bombarded and stimulated in worldly, carnal, fleshly ways. We tend to live on the shallow surface, so to speak, rarely venturing deeper where the Spirit of God lives within us. The result is that many of us do not know where our spirits are nor how to hear and be led by our spirits. Because of this we leave ourselves wide open to fall for the many deceptions of the devil. This article will help you to begin recognizing the leadings and promptings that are coming from your spirit, and how to be more Spirit-led. Jesus Did It!
These are the four types of voices that we hear, and in the next several sections we will examine each of these more closely. Hearing from God is not a science, so I have tried to offer plenty of examples from my own experience to help describe some of the ways that God speaks to us. Please don’t let this mislead you, however. In order to “teach by example,” it is obviously important to offer examples of the times when I believe that I have heard from God. However, the danger in doing so is that it might give the impression that I am some kind of “spiritual giant” who always hears from God clearly and accurately and never makes any mistakes. Believe me, that’s definitely not the case! How I wish I could hear God speaking out loud every day, telling me exactly how I can be obedient to Him and serve Him and honor Him! But that’s not how He does things, and I’ll elaborate more on this throughout the article. Like everything else in the Christian walk, hearing from God is a journey, and we are all at different places along the way. The journey never ends and no-one ever “arrives,” and just like everyone else I still have a long way to go in this area of hearing God’s voice. All I have to offer are some things I have learned so far on my journey, which may help you on your journey. I hope that my experiences and examples are helpful in describing some of the ways that God speaks to us, and I am trusting God that soon you will have plenty of your own examples to help someone else who feels frustrated in his or her journey of trying to hear and obey God’s voice.
“The Mind of the Flesh”
Our greatest enemy
Here’s an interesting question for you: Who is our greatest enemy? If you said it’s the devil, you’re wrong! Our greatest enemy is our minds, our wills, and our emotions, which the Bible sometimes refers to as our “sin nature” or our “flesh.” Consider that if we did not have a sinful flesh nature then the devil would have no hold on us. For example, Jesus had a body made of flesh and blood but He did not have a sinful flesh nature as we do, and therefore the devil had no hold on Him (John 14:30).
1 Thessalonians 5:23 says that we are made up of “spirit, soul and body.” Your body is aware of the physical world around you, your spirit is aware of God within you, and everything else is your soul, which is aware of “self.” Your soul is made up of your mind (what you think), your will (what you want), and your emotions (what you feel). Our spirits were “regenerated” (made alive) the moment we were saved (see for example John 3:3-8), and our bodies will be made immortal when Jesus returns for us (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), but we must wage a daily battle against our “flesh nature.” For example, how often do we say or hear things like, “I know I shouldn’t say this, BUT” or “I know I shouldn’t do this, BUT” or “I know I probably shouldn’t eat this, but I’m going to eat it anyway”? Our “flesh nature” pushes us to do what it wants to do, and we often obey our “flesh” even when we know better! Jesus Did It!
Our flesh is unGodly
You see, the problem is that our “flesh” is unGodly, it is our sin nature, and that’s why the Bible tells us to “crucify” our flesh (as we’ll see in the next section).
For example, try telling Jesus every day, “Jesus, You are my Lord and I am desperately in love with You. I will do anything and everything You say, without questions or hesitations or reservations. I will say what You want me to say, I will go where You want me to go, I will do what You want me to do. I am all Yours, Lord, live Your life through me and receive great glory and honor by my devoted, loving, and unswerving obedience.” Isn’t this the attitude that He wants us to have? Then why do we find it so difficult to say this and to live this way? It’s because we are afraid of what He might call us to do! For instance, you might have a great job and make lots of money and have an affluent lifestyle, but God might call you to leave all of that and to go spend the rest of your life ministering in remote African villages. He has done this before! You might be a shy, self-conscious stutterer, but God might call you to hold large healing and/or evangelism crusades all around the world where you will be speaking in front of thousands and thousands of people. He has done this before! You might be a comfortable, middle-class person successfully climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the “status” of being a member of the “right” clubs or social circles, but God might call you to turn your back on all of that and to begin spending your evenings or weekends in the “slum” areas of town ministering to the homeless or ministering among youth gangs. He has done this before! You might be a small-town housewife with a high school education, but God might call you to go on the road most of the year preaching several times a week in churches, universities, conferences, and so on. He has done this before! God has done every one of these things in certain people’s lives, and there is always the possibility that He might do it in our lives as well. Now, be honest, some of these things just scare the daylights out of us, don’t they? We are afraid to completely give ourselves over to God’s plan for our lives because we are afraid that we might be called on to do things which might embarrass us or stretch us out of our comfort zones. Our flesh doesn’t like the idea of having to go through these sorts of things, even though God will only call us to do things which are best for us. God always has our best interests at heart, but our flesh wants to cast its vote and make its wishes and desires known, and we tend to follow what our flesh wants rather than what God wants. Isn’t it fairly clear that our “flesh nature” tends not to want to obey God?
What does the Bible say about our “flesh”?
Now let’s take a close look at what the Bible has to say about our minds, our wills, and our emotions:
“And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also].” (Luke 9:23, AMP)
The Amplified Bible is often a useful study tool because it provides various shades of meaning to help us more fully understand what the original Greek words mean. According to these shades of meaning in the original Greek, Jesus was saying that we must follow His example by denying ourselves and our own agendas, by disowning ourselves, by forgetting ourselves and our own agendas, by losing sight of ourselves and our own agendas, by refusing ourselves and our own agendas, and by giving up ourselves and our own agendas! This is what it means to “take up [our] cross daily.” This is because our natural interests are contrary to the will of God, our natural feelings are contrary to the will of God, and our natural reasonings are contrary to the will of God. The cross is a place of death, which means that we should daily lose sight of ourselves (as in the verse above) in order to hear and obey God. Jesus Did It!
“the mind of the flesh [with its carnal thoughts and purposes] is hostile to God, for it cannot submit itself to God’s Law; indeed it cannot. So then those who are living the life of the flesh [catering to the appetites and impulses of their carnal nature] cannot please or satisfy God, or be acceptable to Him.” (Romans 8:7-8, AMP)
The apostle Paul said that the mind of the flesh has carnal (worldly, sinful) thoughts and purposes, and that it is hostile to God and cannot submit to God! Paul went on to say that if we are living according to our “flesh nature” then we cannot please God.
“The Lord knows the thoughtsandreasonings of the [humanly] wise and recognizes how futile they are.” (1 Corinthians 3:20, AMP)
God says that our human thoughts and reasonings are futile!
“walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh [of human nature without God]. For the desires of the flesh are opposed to the [Holy] Spirit, and the [desires of the] Spirit are opposed to the flesh (godless human nature); for these are antagonistic to each other [continually withstanding and in conflict with each other]” (Galatians 5:16-17, AMP)
The apostle Paul tells us that our “flesh” is our Godless human nature, and that our natural desires are opposed to the things of the Spirit and are continually in conflict with the Spirit. The solution, Paul says, is to walk and live habitually in the Spirit, always being responsive to and controlled by and guided by the Spirit within us. When we are busy analyzing things in our minds and trying to figure out the solutions to our problems and so on, it hinders us from hearing the Lord clearly. Jesus Did It!
Now, obviously we need to use our minds and reasoning abilities throughout the day in order to do many of the things that we need to do, but the problem is that we tend to use our reasoning abilities almost exclusively and never bother to consult God on any of the decisions that we make.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Paul said that his “flesh nature” had been crucified and that he no longer lived for himself. Instead, he allowed Christ to live His life through Paul, and this is the attitude that all of us should have.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus, the Messiah, have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, AMP)
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, NIV)
Once again Paul said that our “flesh” (which is made up of our minds, wills, and emotions) is our Godless human nature and our sin nature, which must be crucified with Christ. Jesus Did It!
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. … But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)
Here Paul said that it is up to us to put to death whatever belongs to our “flesh” (our earthly nature).
As we can see, God has some pretty strong things to say about our “flesh nature,” and none of it is good! In the passages above we are told to deny ourselves and to lose sight of our own agendas. We are told that our minds and thoughts and purposes and impulses and desires are naturally hostile to God! We are told that our reasonings are futile and that our natural desires are antagonistic to and opposed to and constantly at war with the desires of the Spirit. We are told that our “flesh” is our Godless human nature and our sin nature and that it should be crucified and be put to death on a daily basis.
Those are some pretty strong words from the Lord, but the way to begin hearing God better is to quit listening to our flesh so much. That’s not an easy thing to do, but in order to hear God it is important to turn off our reasoning and to put our emotions into neutral when we are listening for an answer from God. Our flesh is always going to cast its vote on what it thinks we should do, but we need to ignore all of that voting and listen to our spirits instead. For example, if we are determined to do something no matter what anyone says, then we might not hear God when He is telling us not to do it. If we have weighed the pros and the cons and we have made the choice which seems to be the most rational to our minds, then we might not feel the need to ask God about it (even though He might guide us to an even better decision). If we really, really want to do something, then our emotions can drown out God when He is trying to prevent us from making a mistake. This illustrates how our wills, our minds, and our emotions can hinder us from hearing the voice of God. Jesus Did It!
Jesus was “dead to self”
Jesus heard from God better than anyone who ever lived, and one of the main reasons is because He chose to deny His own opinions, interests, goals, thoughts, and so on, and He only did what the Father told Him to:
“Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”” (John 5:19)
“By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)
“So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”” (John 8:28)
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)
What it boils down to is that “the mind of the flesh” tends to be unGodly and tends to be directly opposed to the things of God. The reason I have been emphasizing this so strongly is because we are living in a war zone, and to a large degree the battle against the devil takes place in our minds. If we are led by our own reasonings and our own feelings when we make important decisions then it can leave us wide open to be deceived by the devil, and our lives might end up being useless for the kingdom of God.Jesus Did It!
The Voice of the World
As I said, we are living in a war zone on planet earth. As Christians, we don’t belong to the world, we are aliens and strangers here (John 15:19, 17:15-17, James 4:4, 1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11). We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) serving as ambassadors here (2 Corinthians 5:20). The whole world is under the control of the evil one (1John 5:19), and we should be very careful not to become ensnared in the world’s ways of thinking and the world’s ways of doing things.
In the world we are bombarded by loose morality, by various forms of spiritualism and the occult and New Age philosophies, and by other worldly, unGodly messages. This is why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts and minds from being contaminated by the world (see Acts 20:30-31, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Philippians 4:7, 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14, 4:14-15, 2 Peter 3:16-17). We live in the world but we are not of the world (1 Corinthians 2:12, 7:31, James 4:4, 1 John 4:4-5), and we should be very careful about what we are hearing in our daily lives. This is why it is important to be well-grounded in the Word of God.
Sometimes it is easy for the devil to deceive us simply because we do half the job for him by not reading our Bibles in a prayerful, honest, thorough, unbiased way, and we help the devil by being complacent in our Christian life. It is my prayer that by the time you finish this article you will be better equipped to listen with discernment to the Spirit of God within you as you study His Word. Even your pastor is not immune to these biases and “filters,” which is why it is important for you to develop your own spiritual sensitivity and to study the Bible for yourself, allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate to your spirit whatever He chooses to reveal. We should be careful not to let our feelings or our logical reasonings or other people’s opinions be our source of “truth,” but instead we should read the Word of God and listen to His Spirit within us. That is why God gave us both of these things!
It is so natural for us to become caught up in what makes sense to us that we forget that often the things of God are far above our understanding. This makes it easy for the enemy to speak to us even through the voice of well-meaning Christian friends, family, pastors, and so on. For example, when God called me to this Internet teaching ministry, I wasn’t sure at first what the call was. I began applying to missionary organizations to see if that was the direction God was leading me, but when I mentioned this to Christians that I knew they sometimes tried to talk me out of it by saying things like, “Why would you want to be a missionary and maybe end up in some remote part of the world?” People mean well, but remember that they are not sensing the same call that you are sensing, so you should be careful sometimes about telling other people, even strong Christian friends, about what God is speaking to your heart.
Here’s an example from the apostle Paul’s life. In Acts 20:22-24, Paul said that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. However, in Acts 21:10-15 a prophet told Paul that he would suffer in Jerusalem, and Paul’s traveling companions pleaded with him not to go there. Paul knew that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, yet all of the Christians around him kept trying to talk him out of it. If Paul had allowed himself to follow his own reasonings and opinions and to be swayed by what other Christians thought, then he would have disobeyed God.
Another example in the Bible concerns the apostle Peter. In Galatians 2:11-14 the apostle Paul said that Peter was swayed by the opinions of others into separating from Gentile Christians, and in turn Peter swayed other Jewish Christians to do the same. In this case, an apostle was led astray by the “voice” of other Christians, and an apostle led other Christians astray! It is easy for us to be deceived, which is why we need to know how to discern whether or not our spirits are bearing witness with what we are hearing from the “voice” of other people (more on this in a later section). All of us have preconceived biases which act as “filters” when we read the Bible, and therefore even your pastor or my pastor can be deceived and teach us things that are incorrect. If an apostle can be deceived then certainly a pastor can! This is why it is important for each one of us to study the Bible for ourselves every day and to ask God for discernment so that we can recognize the Truth when we see it.
Here’s another example. When Jesus told the apostles that He would suffer and die, Peter took Him aside and tried to talk Him out of letting this happen. Do you remember Jesus’ reply? He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23). The devil was speaking through an apostle! Peter was not possessed by the devil, of course, but he was still choosing to follow his own thoughts and reasonings and opinions and emotions, and these are the very things that the devil uses to deceive us. In the very next verse, Jesus then told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Only by choosing not to be slaves to our own reasonings and emotions can we win the battle for our minds and begin hearing the voice of God within us. Jesus Did It!
God can speak to us through other people
In examining the “voice” of the world, we should recognize that God speaks to us through other people as well, but the only way to know that it is God is if we are listening for discernment deep inside ourselves. For example, after the Lord taught me about healing and I had begun writing the articles in my Healing Training Course, I was at a friend’s house and as I was leaving I saw that their 10-year-old daughter had a cold. I debated within myself whether I should offer to lay hands on her or not because I didn’t know how well the idea would be received, and I missed my opportunity to possibly relieve her of her cold and to give Jesus glory. When I got home, my three-year-old son (Michael) wanted to show me something in his room, but he walked right past the light switch without turning the light on. Normally he is proud that he is now big enough to turn on the light, but that day he began whining that he couldn’t do it, even though he had come back and was standing right next to it and could easily have turned it on. There was a flash of discernment within me which caused me to see that as Michael was whining, “I can’t do it, I just can’t do it, I don’t know how to do it,” it was God’s way of showing me that this was how I was behaving when I debated with myself about laying hands on the 10-year-old girl. I could easily have done it and she might have been healed, but I allowed my mind to talk me out of it. In this case, it seemed that God was speaking to me through my child. On another occasion I was trying to teach Michael something, and I realized that he wasn’t quite old enough and mature enough to grasp what I was trying to teach him. Once again I got that flash of discernment within me, as if God was telling me that as I become more mature in the Lord then I will be laying hands on people when the opportunities arise. These are just a couple of examples of the way that God might speak to you through other people (even if they don’t realize that God is speaking through them), but it requires being sensitive to your spirit within you in order to recognize that God is speaking to you.
“This is the responsibility we all owe to ourselves– that the purpose of our existence be to positively affect others with our gift and this does not begin when we feel we have become “something”. It begins when we decide to pick our gift and align it with it’s purpose.”
― Chinonye J. Chidolue
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.
Have you ever walked out of a church service in a daze? You know the message was good, but you don’t know what it was about. You tried to understand what the preacher was getting at, but you’re not quite sure. You look at your Bible, look at the preacher, look back at your Bible and are a little confused. He didn’t help you understand what God was saying.
Could any of this uncertainty be because you knew the preacher before he excepted his calling? Maybe it has everything to do with how you and the preacher willfully participated in sin together before the pastor or preacher was regenerated into a vessel of honor. Maybe it’s because of the taste morsels of gossip coming from those trusted friends that have an ought against him. I went to preach a “YOUTH” day service at such a church on Sunday and the rejection of the adults prompted me to search scripture to try and gain some leverage on this matter. I always want to improve my level of maturity in Christ.
To reject someone is to refuse to accept them. For example, if a man applied for a job with a company and they decide to not accept his application then they have rejected him.
The word rejection means that someone is either in the process of being rejected (not accepted) or has already been rejected.
Most people want to be liked so it is difficult when we are not accepted. This rejection may be because of the way we look, our personality or our behavior. To be rejected is an unpleasant thing to be cast on to you. It can be extremely hurtful.
Rejection by those close to you
Rejection from those close to you can be extremely painful because we trust these people more than others.
Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”
Mark Ch.6:4 NIV
Jesus says in this verse that a worker for God (prophet) is never honored in his hometown. But this didn’t slow down his work for God, as this work was far more important than being respected or honored by others. If family, neighbors or friends don’t respect your work for God then don’t let this rejection stop you from serving God.
Overcoming rejection through teamwork
When the disciples travelled through the countryside, they did it in pairs. As individuals they probably could have reached more areas of the country but Christ didn’t want this. He decided that as a pair they could encourage and strengthen each other, especially when they were facing rejection. When we are facing rejection we can get strength from God but he also encourages us to meet our needs by teamwork with others.
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians Ch.3: 9 NIV
Serving Christ requires us to work with others – as a team.
Overcoming rejection by drawing close to God
Christ gave an example of complete trust in God.
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly. 1 Peter Ch.2:23
The example of Christ was one of absolute non-resistance to evil and complete trust in God. He could have avoided all his trials (Matthew 26:53), but he knew that the path of salvation lay through suffering and death, and like a good shepherd , he led the way. He overcame the rejection by others by putting complete trust in God.
Rejection of others
We are told by Paul to not reject others but rather accept each other.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans Ch.15:7
Accept other believers and don’t reject them on the basis of some trivial matter.
Rejection by God?
God promises never to leave or forsake us.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews Ch.13:5 NIV
God confirmed to Israel that we had not left them:
For the LORD will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. Psalm 94:14 NIV
Paul made a similar point to the first century believers:
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel:
Romans Ch.11:1-2 NIV
Even though Israel had rejected their Messiah and had refused to listen to Paul’s preaching, God’s promises were still relevant. If it is true for the Israelites then how much more so for the believer! God will never leave us or forsake us, providing we do not leave him.
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Hebrews Ch.12:5-6
Silence – Rejection by God?
Job suffered a lot in his life. He was especially upset because God was silent and gave no reasons for his suffering. Job misinterpreted this silence as meaning that God was rejecting him. This apparent rejection by God bothered Job even more than any suffering he was going through.
“Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from you: withdraw your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with your terrors. Job Ch.13: 20 – 21 NIV
Job didn’t want God to “withdraw your hand far from me”, in other words, reject him. God’s silence does not mean he has rejected us. Sometimes we will intervene in our lives in unseen ways.
Rejection of God
Sometimes, through our actions and thoughts we can make the mistake of rejecting God. This can be done in a number of ways:
Sometimes selfishness can lead us to rejecting God. The Israelites did this:
You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ “
So here is a case showing the people’s arrogant attitude toward God. They basically rejected God saying “It is foolish to worship God and obey him. What good does it do to obey his laws, and to sorrow and mourn for our sins ? From now on, as far as we are concerned, Blessed are the arrogant, for those who do evil shall prosper, and those who dare God to punish them shall get off scot-free”.
So, we can see from these verses that selfishness is a rejection of God and all that he represents. Is that the same with us sometimes? Do we sometimes ask “what good does serving God do for me?”. If we do then our focus is selfish. Our real question should be “What good does serving God do for God?”
Trusting our own judgement more than God’s judgement
There are many people in this world who ignore the evidence of God’s existence. The Bible tells us that these people are foolish.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.Psalm 14:1
There are others who are wicked because they refuse to live by God’s commandments. We become like these people when we rely more on ourself than on God.
Trusting other humans more than God
Some people put church leaders or other people before God.
This has happened in the past as well. For example in the time Of Samuel. The true king of Israel was God. However, the nation of Israel wanted another king.
Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the LORD at Mizpah and said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, ‘No, set a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.” 1 Samuel Ch.10: 17-19 NIV
Israel rejected God by asking for a human being instead of God as their guide and leader. If we look at history we can see that men and women have continually rejected God. This practice continues even today. We need to look at our lives and decide what is our highest priority. If we push God aside and treat someone or something else as being more important then we are rejecting God. There are many examples in the Bible for us to learn from and they all teach one thing – God should be foremost in our life.
Not taking up God’s offer of salvation
God loved us so much they he gave us his only begotten son. Jesus perfect life, his truthful words and his sacrifice of love are designed so that we sit up and take notice and follow the example of Jesus. If we do this we are taking up God’s offer of salvation.
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone [cornerstone]; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Matthew Ch.21:42 NIV
However, if we ignore God’s gracious gift of his son, then we rejecting God himself.
As we might expect, the people whom God condemns are those who do not recognise their need and who are unwilling to submit to God and His word. Such were the Pharisees:
They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Matthew Ch.23:4
Such men are self-righteous and have lost their sense of dependence upon God. They may be divided into three classes:
Those who ignore God’s word completely, who are willingly ignorant:
Like the people who lived in the days of Noah, they refuse to heed the warnings given by those who preach the way of righteousness. They deliberately choose to remain in darkness. Noah had certainly preached to his contemporaries, but when the flood came “they knew not”. They knew all right; they had heard the message, after a fashion. But inasmuch as they did not want to know, their ears had been shut to Noah’s saving message. The disciples were told to “shake the dust off their feet” when leaving the houses of such people.
Those who deliberately distort it or reject God’s word:
The Lord refers to blasphemers against the Holy Spirit, for whom there is no forgiveness. These are “false prophets” who present a distorted gospel and invite men to believe in a hope founded upon the quicksand of human reasoning.
Those whose lives do not sincerely attempt to reflect God’s word:
They are hypocrites, who act out a part when it serves their purposes; their piety is based upon self-interest. The Lord has a stern warning for those who hear the word of God but either ignore its directions, or manipulate its teaching to suit themselves:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew Ch.7:21
It is evident that although God’s love for man was such that He willingly provided His Son to give his life for our sakes, the very lengths to which He went are a vivid reminder that God does not tolerate disobedience. It is not in man’s interests that He should do so: God wants us to be obedient to His commands, because He knows that this is to our eternal advantage.
In our quest for the marks of mature spirituality and leadership ability, we must not bypass that quality which so completely characterized the life of Jesus Christ, the quality of unselfish servanthood. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) The apostle Paul added to this focus when he wrote, “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well” (Phil. 1:4). But then pointing to the Savior as our great example, he quickly added, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.” Paul then followed this exhortation with a strong reminder of the humiliation of Christ (Phil. 2:6ff) who, though being God of very God, emptied himself by taking the form of a slave. There is no question that if we as Christians are going to grow and mature into Christ-like character, we must experience progress in giving of ourselves in ministry to and for others. While we can and should find comfort and encouragement in Christ (Phil. 2:1), when properly grasped, that comfort should propel us into servants of the Savior and one another. Servant living stands opposed to the primary concerns we see today where the focus of our culture and society is more on our own personal happiness and comfort.
The preoccupation with self today is readily seen in slogans like, “be all you can be” or “experience your potential” and in the titles and subtitles of books like The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life; The Total Woman; Joy in Sex, More Joy in Sex, and the list goes on and on. While many of these books may contain biblical truth or genuine help in dealing with certain problems people face as human beings, the message, whether explicit or implicit, suggests the prime goal we should be pursuing is our own comfort and the experience of some form of self-expression rather than growth in the character and quality of the life of the Savior. Simply put, our modern day society, and this includes a great number of Christians, is focused on making satisfaction its goal, indeed, its religion. There is much more concern for self-fulfillment than for pleasing God and truly serving Him and others as seen in the life of Jesus. Typical of today is the enormous number of how-to-books not just for the secular world, but for the Christian community. These are aimed at directing us to more successful relationships, becoming more of a person, realizing one’s potential, experiencing more thrills each day, whipping ourselves into shape, improving our diet, managing our money, and on it goes. Again, while many of these things are important and have their place, it does take the focus off what is truly the heart of Christianity—knowing and loving God, and out of that resource and relationship, living as servants in the power of the Spirit according to the example of Christ.
But what exactly is servanthood? Servanthood is the state, condition, or quality of one who lives as a servant. Further, a servant is first of all one who is under submission to another. For Christians, this means submission to God first, and then submission to one another. Then, as one in submission, a servant is one who seeks to meet the real needs of others or of the person he is serving. To put it another way, servanthood is the condition or state of being a servant to others, of ministry to others rather than the service of self. It means willingly giving of oneself to minister for and to others and to do whatever it takes to accomplish what is best for another.
However, when serving others and their needs, if the underlying motive and goal is some form of self love, like the praise of others for the service rendered, then one’s service is in reality hypocritical. This type of service is really aimed at serving selfish ends—usually in the futile pursuit of personal significance through something like praise, power, or status.
Christ’s plan and that which produces maximum blessing to the world and the church is servanthood. A servant is one who, even when in positions of leadership seeks to lead and influence others through lives given in ministry for the blessing of others and their needs. As the following passages will demonstrate, the Lord Jesus came as a servant with a commitment to serve. Just think, if He had come to be served, our redemption could and would never have taken place. Likewise, our failure to live as servants throws up a huge barrier to effective ministry as representatives of the Lord Jesus.
Components of Servanthood from New Testament Passages
Since servant living was epitomized so completely by the Lord Jesus, we would naturally expect a number of passages to explicitly deal with this issue. While space will not allow an indepth exegesis, it is hoped that the following highlights drawn from several New Testament passages will draw our attention to a few vital principles that describe the spiritually mature quality of living as servants.
20:20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked something from him.20:21 He said to her, “What do you want?” She said, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”20:22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 20:23 He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 20:24 When the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers. 20:25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high position use their authority over them. 20:26 It must not be this way among you! But whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant. 20:27And whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
A consideration of Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10:35-45 shows us that there are basically two options open for people. Either we will seek to serve ourselves, a choice that nullifies our capacity to live as disciples, or we will learn to live as servants out of a faith relationship with God through Christ. In Matthew 6, the Lord stated it this way, “No one is able to serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. No one is able to serve God and possessions” (Matt. 6:24). When we serve money, we are really serving ourselves and our own desires for what we think money will purchase like significance, power, pleasure, security, or status. Money is not evil and having it is not evil, but if it becomes our master, it controls our values, priorities, and pursuits rather than God, and that is evil (see 1 Tim. 6:8-10).
Christ shows that His organization or organism, the body of Christ, is to function on the basis of service or servant-like ministry to others. Spiritually mature people who experience His life are those who have first of all developed a servant’s heart like that of the Savior. Thus, a true concept of mature Christian leadership means serving one’s followers and teaching them by example to be servants of others.
A mother approached the Lord, probably at the request of her sons, and sought a position of status for them. Why? Foolishly thinking that such status would give them happiness and significance, they wanted positions of authority, praise, and power. Our Lord’s answer showed that first of all they had been wrongly influenced by the attitudes of the world (vs. 25). Rather than thinking with the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5; 1 Cor. 2:16b) as His disciples should think, they were thinking like an unregenerate world. Thus, if they were to serve as His disciples, their thinking and orientation needed drastic transformation (see Rom. 12:1-8).
Naturally, the model for mature spirituality and leadership and all Christian living is the Lord Jesus. It is instructive to note that in this context of serving, He spoke of Himself as the Son of Man. This was a favorite designation of Himself (one used some 90 times) and a Messianic title based on Daniel 7:13-14. As such, it linked Him to the earth and to His mission, but it also stressed His pre-eminence, dignity, and authority (see Luke 6:5; John 6:62). The contrast between who He was, the Son of Man, and what He did, humble Himself, is stressed by the word “even” as given in Mark 10:45, “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…” This Messianic title draws our attention to His awesome humility as one who, though God of very God and Messiah Himself, came in order to serve and to give his life a ransom. In other words, He came to serve in order to set men free to be the people God had created them to be.
Since in this passage the Lord was correcting the thinking of His disciples, this clearly illustrates how we need to spend time with Him in His Word that we might allow His life and the teaching of Scripture to transform our thinking and thus our sources of trust, aspirations, and actions.
When the other disciples got wind of the request of the two, they became indignant and a certain degree of division occurred among the disciples. This shows how longing and striving for position, power, and praise quickly ruins relationships in the body of Christ and creates disunity and division. Servant living does the opposite.
Principle: the purpose of serving others is to set them free to love and serve God, not to make them our servants or to serve our wants or needs. We are all responsible to serve one another, but never in order to be served or to satisfy our immature cravings.
23:11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 23:12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Greatness in God’s kingdom is never to be found in position or power or in the praise and opinions of men, but in servant-like service to others.
We see again that one of the greatest hindrances to service or servant living is the desire for some form of exaltation—position, praise, prestige, and power. Those who take the secular route so typical of the world and who exalt themselves will eventually be humbled. They will not only eventually lose the very status they seek, but if they are believers, they will also lose rewards in the kingdom.
Following the statement of verses 11-12, the Lord began to pronounce woes on the Pharisees who typically longed for status and praise. These woes illustrate some of the consequences when men fail to live as servants.
22:24 A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 22:25 So Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 22:26 But it must not be like that with you! Instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. 22:27 For who is greater, the one who is seated at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
22:28 “You are the ones who have remained with me in my trials. 22:29 Thus I grant to you a kingdom, just as my Father granted to me, 22:30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
The setting here is that of the Passover and the institution of the Lord’s Supper, both of which spoke of Christ in His person and work as the suffering servant who would die for our sin. This scene presents a graphic picture of how preoccupation with self-centered interests (position, praise, and acceptance by others) ruins our capacity to even properly worship and relate to the person and work of the Savior. Because they were seeking their happiness and significance by trying to manage their own affairs they were blinded to what He was seeking to teach them and to what His life meant to them.
Servant living will be rewarded in the future. One of the hindrances to servant living is man’s impatience and his desire to be served now! Therefore, one of the keys to effective service is faith and constant orientation with the weight of eternity (2 Cor. 4:15-18). When we seek our reward now through the praise of men as did the Pharisees, we lose the power of God on our lives and ministries and we lose rewards in the future (cf. Matt. 6:1-4). But why do we do that? In unbelief, we turn from resting in God’s wisdom to our own foolishness through which we seek to handle life by our own plans or machinations.
13:1 Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. He had loved his own who were in the world, and now he loved them to the very end. 13:2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. 13:3 Jesus, because he knew that the Father had handed things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 13:4 got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 13:5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. . .
13:12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13:13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 13:14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 13:15 For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you. 13:16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 13:17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Perhaps no passage illustrates the source and nature of the heart of a servant more than John 13. Here, in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion the Lord Jesus dramatically drove home the issue and nature of what it means to be a servant. Imagine the scene. All had been prepared for this last meal with the disciples with the exception of one thing. According to the custom of the day a servant, with a basin of water and towel in hand, would wash the feet of the guests who had walked down the dirty, dusty roads of Palestine. But who would take the position of this servant and perform the task? I can just see the disciples looking around expecting someone else to do this, but never for a moment considering it himself. Then out of the blue, as a perfect picture and lesson of servanthood, the Lord Jesus rose to the task, laid aside His outer garment, put a towel around his waist, took water in a basin and began washing the feet of the disciples, all of which was a fitting analogy of yielding His privileges and assuming the role of a slave.
First, we should note that the source of Jesus’ actions lay in His knowledge and security of who He was and where He was going (vss. 1-3). Jesus was completely aware of His sovereign authority, His origin, and coming destiny as He submitted and depended by faith in what the Father was doing (cf. vv. 1, 18). Thus, in that confidence, He voluntarily took the place of a slave and washed the feet of His disciples. His thinking and action contrasts sharply with the self-seeking insecurity of the disciples, none of whom were willing to pick up the towel and take the place of a servant (cf. Matt. 20:20-24; Mark 9:33-34; Luke 22:24-30).
Christ’s security, His love, and His confidence in the Father and future allowed the Lord Jesus to assume the position of a servant, an amazing example of condescension (vss. 4-6). This attitude, faith, and action portrayed His entire ministry on earth (cf. Phil. 2:5-8) and provides us with the perfect example of what He wants to do in our lives. But this also demonstrates how servant living is accomplished in us—through faith and understanding of who we are in Christ and by confidence in the eternal glories of the future. After Jesus finished washing the feet of the disciples, He returned to His place and made this very pointed application:
John 13:12-15So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example: you should do just as I have done for you.
Having pointed to His actions as an example for them, Christ then drove home an inescapable lesson, here defined as a “solemn truth.” If He, their master and the One they worshipped, assumed the role of a servant to minister to others, then certainly they must likewise take the towel of servanthood as a minister to others rather than seek to elevate themselves. Ironically, and contrary to the thinking of the world, true blessing comes in serving others.
16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
2:1 If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2:2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well. 2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 2:6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped, 2:7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 2:8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!
This classic passage on the humiliation of Christ (verses 5-8) is here set forth as the supreme example for unselfish servant living for Christians. The apostle presents the Lord Jesus as One who, in his supreme superiority, manifests what is the model for all Christians; it points us to the humility needed to live as servants of others. Though existing in the form of God with all the rights and prerogatives of deity, Christ Jesus emptied Himself by taking on the form of a slave, by becoming true humanity. Christ veiled His deity and voluntarily laid aside the right to use and manifest His divine prerogatives in submission to the Father. In doing this, He humbled Himself that He might die even the death of the cross.
But the focus we dare not miss is Paul’s statement in verse 1 and the implications drawn from this. The main verb of the passage is “complete my joy.” Seeing men and women come to Christ in faith gives joy, but as one devoted to seeing believers mature into Christ-like living (see Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:13), nothing could give Paul greater joy (vs. 2) than to see believers live unselfishly serving one another with the mature mind of Christ (vss. 2-5). But before the apostle says “complete my joy,” he begins by getting the Philippians to think through what was theirs in Christ by the work of God. Literally, the text begins with four “if” clauses. He wrote, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort by love, if any fellowship in the Spirit, if any affection and mercy…” In Greek, these are first class conditional clauses, which, for the sake of argument or for a response from the reader, assumes the statement to be true. It is what can be called the response condition. Paul was not questioning the reality of these blessings in Christ. Rather, he used the first class condition as a kind of rhetorical device to get the reader to think through the issue and respond properly. The point is there is encouragement, comfort by love, and fellowship in the ministry and power of the Spirit, and the result—compassion and mercy that all believers should have for others.45But we must never turn such blessings into merely personal comfort. The goal and result must be servant living, living as expressed especially in verses 3-5:
2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but the interests of others as well. 2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had.
The fundamental issue in living as servants, as those committed to meeting the needs of others, is a deep down humility that is willing to pick up the servant’s towel regardless of one’s status or station in life. No matter what one’s station or condition in life, whether king or peasant, slave or free, rich or poor, strong or weak, brilliant or slow of mind, nobleman or common, etc., in Christ God calls all Christians to live as servants serving others with the Lord Jesus as the perfect example of One who, though God of very God, took upon Himself “the form of a servant.”
… When Jesus Christ came into the world, it was not to come into a wealthy man’s home where all material things might be His. The home was characterized by poverty. He did not come into a royal home so that He might be respected as heir apparent even though He has the right to rule this earth. He was not born in Caesar’s home so that in due course He might follow His father to the throne. His station in life was that of a servant. A servant is characterized not so much as a person to be despised, but as someone without rights; a servant submits himself to the will of his master. What Paul emphasizes is that, when Jesus Christ came into the world, He came as One who had no rights of His own. The One who had all the rights that belonged to the eternal Son of God gave up the exercise of these rights; He came into the world as a servant who has no rights but is subject to the authority of another.46
The real test of whether we are truly maturing and learning to become a Christ-like servant is how we act when people treat us like one. I see so much suffering in the church and amongest leadership. Let’s read the word and become more intimate with His character as it relates to how He endured to complete the “Finished work” of our Father.
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.
“Christians know what they believe, but they don’t know why they believe.”
It’s become such a truism, Paul Little titled his books after it — almost fifty years ago. But “How do I know this is true?” is one of the best and most important questions students can ask about their faith.
For those students who have been steeped in Christian culture, it is far too easy to know what you’ve “caught” rather than what’s been “taught.” But both the caught and taught should be subject to serious examination by those wanting to take their faith seriously.
All of these are significant questions that have reasonable, scholarly, and detailed answers.
As adults, we can help our children and their friends wrestle through these important questions by wrestling through them ourselves.
Our experience with thousands of young people each year reveals that they are either eager for answers or they’ve made up their mind. Often, they’ve made up their mind — not because of reason or logic — because they want to live a lifestyle that is counter to what Christianity teaches is best for them. Discerning why a student is struggling with the truth of Christ establishes an important baseline.
There’s no magic bullet for a young person who is struggling with whether Christianity is true. However, for a teen seeking truth, there are many fantastic resources available. Whether they have already made up their minds or are honestly searching for answers, we’re certain that all the evidence leads to Christianity!
Let this be an encouragement to you and a challenge as a parent: Create a culture in your home of asking questions about the authenticity of Christianity. Don’t be afraid of saying “I don’t know,” but don’t leave it there! Follow that statement with “…but let’s seek out the answer, together.”
Remember, you aren’t walking alone, and you won’t find yourself without resources in this journey. We can’t answer all the questions your kids are asking in this short post, but we can give you a few easy-to-use resources if you desire to plunge into this topic. Start the conversation with us by contacting us on any of our social media sites.
My desire to jump into a new line of work seemed perfectly obvious and natural to me because I wasn’t changing my strongest, underlying interest: Why do we humans do such unexpected and often irrational things?
“You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” ~C. S. Lewis
Change means reinvention. Each time a major shift happens in our lives—leaving a job or a relationship, moving, losing a loved one—we have to take control of who we will become or risk never reaching our full potential.
I’ve reinvented myself several times in my life. Most adults have.
But what I always forget is that we have to choose reinvention. Each time I’ve done it, I’ve forged my new path deliberately and with foresight.
When I’ve waited for my future to find me, I’ve waited in vain, lost in confusion and sadness, or I’ve gotten tangled up in a situation I didn’t want.
One morning, after struggling for months with grief and loss, I woke up and realized that I was having so much trouble moving forward partly because I had no idea what it was that I wanted to move toward. I was thinking about my past, but not what I wanted for my future.
That morning, I woke with a vision: a crowd of people from the life I needed to leave behind with the sun rising opposite them and me standing between the two, the sun beating down on my face.
In the vision, I decided, finally, to turn from the group and walk toward the sun, my new life.
That vision told me what I needed to hear—that I had to take control of my future instead of letting my pain choose for me.
1.Create a vision for your future.
Sit quietly, close your eyes, and imagine the people, places, or situations that you need to leave behind. Now, imagine the future that you want, whether it’s simply a feeling, a group of people, or a situation such as a wonderful new job.
Imagine how it will feel to be in that new place. Allow the picture to shape your future, the warm emotions began to appear on your face.
Stand for a moment and silently voice your appreciation for everything that came before. Once you’ve thanked the past, turn your focus toward God, and with compassion and gratitude, imagine yourself walking away from the past and into the future.
2. Write about your reinvention.
Imagine a scene from it or write about how you’d like it to play out. Where are you living? What do you do in the mornings, afternoon, and evenings? Who are your friends? What do you spend your days doing?
Continue writing for as long as this exercise feels invigorating and exciting. Write scenes, dialogues, lists, and plans. Make the future come alive. Write about how it will feel to be there. Keep your writing somewhere where you will look at it occasionally. Feel free to add to it.
3.Surround yourself with visual reminders of the life you’d like to create.
If it’s a new job in a particular field, put objects or images from that field someplace where you’ll see them every day. If it’s a home, find a picture of a house that you love and put it near your front door. It can be anything that reminds you of what you’re moving toward.
4. Now that you have a vision of your future, break it up into workable tasks.
What do you need to do, every day, to create that vision? Look for work? Meet new people? Search for a place to live in your chosen town? Make it specific. Make a list of everything you need to do and a schedule for when you’ll do it. Then do it and commit to keep doing it, one day at a time.
5.Every day, go back to that vision of you walking toward your future.
Every morning or evening, close your eyes and see yourself walking into the rising sun, toward your dreams, and reconnect with why you’re moving toward this new possibility.
Reinvention is neither easy nor always smooth. Often, we encounter resistance. We don’t want to let go, even of things that cause us pain or that are obviously already out of our grasp. We often struggle with limiting beliefs or stories about ourselves that hold us back from trying new things.
But there is one way to keep your compass pointed to this new life, even in the midst of any resistance or struggles you may encounter on your path.
Each time you find yourself slipping into old habits—isolating yourself, making excuses not to look for work, procrastinating on a task that might help you advance in your career—don’t bother wondering why you’re doing it or beating yourself up.
Just ask yourself this: “What can I do in this moment to keep moving forward?”
Then, no matter what you feel in the moment—lonely, self-critical, tired, lazy, or disappointed—do something to maintain momentum, even if it’s one small thing. There’s an old adage that says that true courage isn’t about not feeling fear; it’s about feeling fear and acting anyway.
Choose courage instead of letting your fear choose your future for you.
I’m currently reading Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; it’s provocative in terms of making me think about the way I think – and is making me think about ways that I might “reinvent” myself (which, like Madonna with varying degrees of success, I try to do regularly. Ha!). I’d suggest picking that up, if you’re interested in the way our brains work, and how we might rethink how we process information and make decisions – and so, identify how to reboot, reinvent and re-examine our biases and assumptions about the world. How we make decisions and choices is critical to how you decide to reinvent yourself.
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.
In March of 2014, I began my visitation to three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:
It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.
Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”
Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”
Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).
You’ve seen the statistics. If you’re in ministry, you’ve probably witnessed the problem firsthand. The Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are leaving the church in droves, and staying away. Approximately 70 percent of those raised in the church disengage from it in their 20s. One-third of Americans under 30 now claim “no religion.”
There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S.—and approximately the same number of suggestions for how to bring them back to church. But most of the proposals I’ve heard fall into two camps.
The first goes something like this: The church needs to be more hip and relevant. Drop stodgy traditions. Play louder music. Hire pastors with tattoos and fauxhawks. Few come right out and advocate for this approach. But from pastoral search committees to denominational gatherings to popular conferences, a quest for relevance drives the agenda.
Others demand more fundamental change. They insist the church soften its positions on key doctrines and social issues. Our culture is secularizing. Let’s get with the times in order to attract the younger generation, they say. We must abandon supernatural beliefs and restrictive moral teachings. Christianity must “change or die.”
I think both approaches are flawed.
Chasing coolness won’t work. In my experience, churches that try to be cool end up with a pathetic facsimile of what was cool about 10 years ago. And if you’ve got a congregation of businessmen and soccer moms, donning a hip veneer will only make you laughable to the younger generation.
The second tack is worse. Not only will we end up compromising core beliefs, we will shrink our churches as well. The advocates of this approach seem to have missed what happened to mainline liberal churches over the last few decades. Adopting liberal theologies and culturally acceptable beliefs has drastically reduced their numbers while more theologically conservative churches grew.
There is no one silver bullet for bringing Millennials back to church. But here are a few actions to help us reach the next generation more effectively.
Adopt a Different Tone
As the culture has grown more secular, many Christians have struggled to adjust. The church once had pride of place in North American society. Now it seems we’re increasingly getting pushed to the margins. Christian morality is no longer assumed and our beliefs are suddenly considered strange.
This loss of cultural capital has caused many to shout louder in hopes of regaining influence. But adopting a shrill, combative tone only exacerbates the problem. It’s the surest way to alienate outsiders, especially Millennials. Author and historian John Dickson urges Christians to move from a posture of “admonition to mission.” Dickson lives in Australia, a decidedly post-Christian country. In our increasingly secular culture, it’s a lesson we need to take to heart. Let’s stop being shocked when our unbelieving neighbors fail to act like Christians and take a more winsome tone when we communicate the gospel.
Foster Intergenerational Relationships
I’ve read virtually all of the books on Millennials and the church, and I’ve adopted my own thoughts about Generation Ex (Read Generation Ex -Christians by Drew Dyck). If there’s one lesson to take away from this corpus of literature, it’s this: inter-generational relationships are crucial. The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
We’re surprised when even our most ardent young people walk away, but we shouldn’t be. If they didn’t have relationships with older Christians in the congregation, in all likelihood, they’re gone. When they age out of youth group, they age out of the church. Churches must find ways to pair older Christians with teens and to engage Millennials outside the church (many of whom are starving for mentors). This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve seen my own kids abandon their faith and cultural teaching to the point of going to prison for life and living contrary life styles. My going to prison and losing their respect I feel contributed to their posture now, but I am going to worship and believe God for their return.
The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
Present a Bigger God
Many evangelical churches present a one-sided vision of God. We love talking about God’s love, but not his holiness. We stress his immanence, but not his transcendence. How does this affect Millennials? I like the way Millennial blogger Stephen Altrogge puts it in Untamable God.
Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?
Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well.
I’ll be talking more on this topic at http://www.yelp.com/biz/world-conquerors-church-oakland on Febuary 20th-22. Pray for our travel and a deeper dive into how churches can convey a compelling vision of God for Millennials, as well as the whole congregation.
I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words— love God, love your neighbor. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth, and it is—God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness; secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Chris
So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:2. Let’s look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much—though not all—of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory—it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, forever.
Here are three perspectives—past, present, and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatological purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical, and the eschatological, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: “he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.” In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13: “He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, ‘If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example”—notice the word— “that you should do as I have done to you.”
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday—and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is, just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2—“walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behavior should be characterized by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing, and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example—there is that word again—so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world”—that is us. And in His commissioning in John 17 He says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.” These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are “sent into the world.” As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: “We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.”
This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in His mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance, and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled, A Today Sort of Evangelism, wrote this:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians—that is, Christlike—there would be no more Islam today.”
That brings me to my third point—Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness, but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
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.
In our quest to find the broken hearted and ostracized of life we called upon other ministries that function primarily outside the walls of the church to present the gospel hope of Jesus Christ. We found astonishing evidence that a loving presences of evangelistic workers makes a difference in getting the gospel outside to a dyeing world. I had an interesting event happen in my life in a “Crack House In Perris Ca., I went to deliver some packages and was overcome with remorse and a strong unction to pray for those in that trailer and it reshaped my life and introduced me to the Help Mate I now have in my life.
An out-of-the-way topless bar and club off the highway was a regular Thursday evening destination for Anne Polencheck and her outreach partner. Every two weeks the women faithfully toted gift bags of handmade cards, homemade cookies, earrings, and lotion to the bar and club. With a word of kindness, a prayer, or a hug, they hoped to share Christ’s compassion with women who worked there.
Polencheck, a former software engineer, leads New Name, a ministry to strip clubs, bars, massage parlors, and so-called spas in the western suburbs of Chicago. Volunteers pray together and regularly visit venues. It’s a slow-going ministry that emulates Jesus leaving the safety of the fold to seek the one lost sheep. Often the workers are busy with customers or simply aren’t interested in chatting.
One week, Polencheck met Debbie, a 20-something who recognized the “church ladies” from their previous visits. “I’m seven months pregnant. I need a new job,” she said. After their visit, Debbie stepped outside and prayed: “God, if you’re real, can you help me?”
When Polencheck and her ministry partner returned one week later, they handed Debbie a flier for Refuge for Women, a Kentucky residential program for those choosing to leave sexual exploitation. It usually had a wait list, but it had one opening.
Debbie’s plea came after years of despair. Her childhood was marked by sexual abuse that started when she was 5. At age 9, Debbie was placed in foster care after she showed up at school black and blue from violent beatings. Twenty times, she was shuffled in and out of foster homes in part due to her anger-driven rebellion.
The wounded girl grew to become a broken woman who numbed her pain with alcohol and drugs. Her husband, an abusive drug addict, introduced her to strip clubs. She began exotic dancing and using more drugs. Debbie’s horrific background is not unusual for women working in strip clubs. About 90 percent of women who have received care at Refuge were sexually abused as children.
“Jesus would want us to look at these women as our sisters,” says Ked Frank, director and cofounder of Refuge. “They’re living out of pain and trauma, and our hearts should be broken for them.” At the residential facility, Debbie found family in seven other women with similar experiences as well as a church community and mentors who listened, prayed, and encouraged her.
Before graduating the yearlong program, Debbie gave birth to a healthy baby girl, accepted Christ, and was baptized. She now leads worship at her church and mentors teenagers in the youth group. Debbie holds a job as she raises her 2-year-old daughter and volunteers at Refuge, hoping to help other women who bear the invisible chains of abuse and exploitation.
“God is at work, and his presence is found in the clubs,” Frank says.
So, would Jesus hang out with people in a strip club? I believe he’s been doing just that.
Jesus unconditionally loves us all, including club owners, dancers, and customers. He is still calling us to leave the safety of our church walls and extend a hand of hope to a broken man or woman.
No, He Wouldn’t
In 1896, Charles Sheldon, a Congregational minister in Kansas, wrote In His Steps, a novel that became an all-time bestseller and spawned the ubiquitous phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?”
Back then it was an open question—as Sheldon makes clear—whether Jesus would condone hanging out at a boxing match. Today, we’re wondering if we can give reasons why Jesus wouldn’t hang out at a strip club. Times have changed.
Initially, I assumed this must be a trick question. Are there Christians who ponder, “What Would Jesus Do?” and think, “Jesus would probably be hanging out at a bar where people go to watch women undress”?
It’s hard for me to believe there are Christians who think Jesus would hang out in a strip club. Are we talking about the Jesus who had a high opinion of women and a low view of lust? Hanging out at a strip club doesn’t sound like something he would do.
But since the question is being asked, I assume there are people who think he would. I have to assume they think that since Jesus ate with sinners, he’d have no problem eating at a buffet next to a stripper pole.
Jesus did sit and eat with sinners (Mark 2:16–17). In Luke 15, we again find the oft-quoted claim made by the Pharisees: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” What is often left out is the lengthy reply Jesus gave. After hearing their charges, Jesus tells three parables—about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a prodigal son. Each of these stories has the same theme: rejoicing over the repentance of sinners. It’s possible, even likely, that some who ate with Jesus—such as during the feeding of the 5,000, or at Simon the Pharisee’s house—left unrepentant. But there is no evidence that Jesus ever ate with sinners or even spent significant time “hanging out” with them without calling them to turn from their sin.
There is no place in Scripture where Jesus was uncritically present when sin was occurring or when an action that mocked God was taking place. In fact, in the most famous example of Jesus witnessing an act where sin was taking place and God was being mocked—a scene recorded in all four Gospels—he made a whip of cords and drove sinners from the temple. Do we think this Jesus would unreservedly hang out in a place where men and women were mocking the dignity of the human body?
I wonder if what many people want to know is not whether Jesus would hang out at a strip club, but whether he’d have an issue if they hung out there. For those people, I’d recommend meditating on the words of Matthew 5:28–29.
Yes, to Shine in the Dark
Strip club? Crack house? Porn convention? Casino? Fill in the blank, and every response of mine is an absolute yes—Jesus would hang out in these places. Here’s why: There is no context, environment, or event that Jesus would choose not to be in.
Our limitations on where he might go are based on not fully understanding the desperate need for Christ in these godforsaken places. There are an estimated 400,000 strippers working in nearly 4,000 clubs in the United States. As followers of Christ, we should hang out in these places too.
In January 2002, Craig Gross and Mike Foster launched a ministry at a Las Vegas porn convention. The organization, XXXchurch.com, is devoted to being the presence of Christ at these events. There, volunteers have handed out thousands of Bibles with the words “Jesus loves porn stars” on the cover. I was taught about the deep and lavish grace of God not by a seminary professor but by the sex industry. In our moments of pride, we say that “those sinful people” have nothing to offer us, that we are there to save them. But a great desire of God is to ruin our spiritual pride. (If you don’t believe this, go to an AA meeting.)
Fear is the core reason why many of us would say “no” to Jesus hanging out in a strip club. Fill in the blank of what you might be afraid of happening: it might look bad; it wouldn’t be very productive to do ministry in that environment; people would be dragged down into a life of sin; someone would have to explain our actions to religious people.
I am sympathetic to these fears and their power. But such comments expose the smallness of our religion. A Christian leader once said to me, “Don’t blame the dark for being dark. Blame the light for not shining in the dark.”
God is the God of “yes” and the God of “go.” We have made our faith too heavy and our walk burdensome and scary. We are so great at making the gospel complex that we forget about the simplicity of Jesus. He is not held down by manmade restraints, restrictions, or rules. He easily strolls into the space of need and the lives that are desperate for healing.
Here is my purely marketing move: If I were acting as brand consultant for Jesus, I would tell him to go to the strip club. No place is off-limits to the gospel. In Luke 5:32 Jesus proclaims, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Everyone is looking for attention and trying to get their message out. Do you want to stand out? Then do what other teachers, religious leaders, and followers refuse to do. In my opinion, light shines the brightest in the darkest places—places like the neighborhood strip club.
A New York City grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the case of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old unarmed black man who died July 17 in a police choke-hold.
The grand jury found “no reasonable cause” to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was attempting to arrest Garner for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.
Amid crowds gathering tonight to protest in Manhattan and growing discord on social media about the decision, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department is opening a federal civil rights inquiry.
Holder, while urging calm in the aftermath of yet another controversial grand jury action, promised that the federal inquiry would be “independent, thorough and fair.”
President Obama said the grand jury decision will spark strong reaction from the public, especially in the wake of a similar decision in Missouri last week not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed Michael Brown.
The biggest crime in the U.S. criminal justice system is that it is a race-based institution where African-Americans are directly targeted and punished in a much more aggressive way than white people.
Saying the US criminal system is racist may be politically controversial in some circles. But the facts are overwhelming. No real debate about that. Below I set out numerous examples of these facts.
The question is – are these facts the mistakes of an otherwise good system, or are they evidence that the racist criminal justice system is working exactly as intended? Is the US criminal justice system operated to marginalize and control millions of African Americans?
Information on race is available for each step of the criminal justice system – from the use of drugs, police stops, arrests, getting out on bail, legal representation, jury selection, trial, sentencing, prison, parole and freedom. Look what these facts show.
One. The US has seen a surge in arrests and putting people in jail over the last four decades. Most of the reason is the war on drugs. Yet whites and blacks engage in drug offenses, possession and sales, at roughly comparable rates – according to a report on race and drug enforcement published by Human Rights Watch in May 2008. While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses – according to 2009 Congressional testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project.
Two. The police stop blacks and Latinos at rates that are much higher than whites. In New York City, where people of color make up about half of the population, 80% of the NYPD stops were of blacks and Latinos. When whites were stopped, only 8% were frisked. When blacks and Latinos are stopped 85% were frisked according to information provided by the NYPD. The same is true most other places as well. In a California study, the ACLU found blacks are three times more likely to be stopped than whites.
Three. Since 1970, drug arrests have skyrocketed rising from 320,000 to close to 1.6 million according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice.
African Americans are arrested for drug offenses at rates 2 to 11 times higher than the rate for whites – according to a May 2009 report on disparity in drug arrests by Human Rights Watch.
Four. Once arrested, blacks are more likely to remain in prison awaiting trial than whites. For example, the New York state division of criminal justice did a 1995 review of disparities in processing felony arrests and found that in some parts of New York blacks are 33% more likely to be detained awaiting felony trials than whites facing felony trials.
Five. Once arrested, 80% of the people in the criminal justice system get a public defender for their lawyer. Race plays a big role here as well. Stop in any urban courtroom and look a the color of the people who are waiting for public defenders. Despite often heroic efforts by public defenders the system gives them much more work and much less money than the prosecution. The American Bar Association, not a radical bunch, reviewed the US public defender system in 2004 and concluded “All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring…The fundamental right to a lawyer that America assumes applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the US.”
Six. African Americans are frequently illegally excluded from criminal jury service according to a June 2010 study released by the Equal Justice Initiative. For example in Houston County, Alabama, 8 out of 10 African Americans qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors from serving on death penalty cases.
Seven. Trials are rare. Only 3 to 5 percent of criminal cases go to trial – the rest are plea bargained. Most African Americans defendants never get a trial. Most plea bargains consist of promise of a longer sentence if a person exercises their constitutional right to trial. As a result, people caught up in the system, as the American Bar Association points out, plead guilty even when innocent. Why? As one young man told me recently, “Who wouldn’t rather do three years for a crime they didn’t commit than risk twenty-five years for a crime they didn’t do?”
Eight. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes. Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project reports African Americans are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than white defendants and 20% more like to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants.
Nine. The longer the sentence, the more likely it is that non-white people will be the ones getting it. A July 2009 report by the Sentencing Project found that two-thirds of the people in the US with life sentences are non-white. In New York, it is 83%.
Ten. As a result, African Americans, who are 13% of the population and 14% of drug users, are not only 37% of the people arrested for drugs but 56% of the people in state prisons for drug offenses. Marc Mauer May 2009 Congressional Testimony for The Sentencing Project.
Eleven. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics concludes that the chance of a black male born in 2001 of going to jail is 32% or 1 in three. Latino males have a 17% chance and white males have a 6% chance. Thus black boys are five times and Latino boys nearly three times as likely as white boys to go to jail.
Twelve. So, while African American juvenile youth is but 16% of the population, they are 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of the youth in juvenile jails and 58% of the youth sent to adult prisons. 2009 Criminal Justice Primer, The Sentencing Project.
Thirteen. Remember that the US leads the world in putting our own people into jail and prison. The New York Times reported in 2008 that the US has five percent of the world’s population but a quarter of the world’s prisoners, over 2.3 million people behind bars, dwarfing other nations. The US rate of incarceration is five to eight times higher than other highly developed countries and black males are the largest percentage of inmates according to ABC News.
Fourteen. Even when released from prison, race continues to dominate. A study by Professor Devah Pager of the University of Wisconsin found that 17% of white job applicants with criminal records received call backs from employers while only 5% of black job applicants with criminal records received call backs. Race is so prominent in that study that whites with criminal records actually received better treatment than blacks without criminal records!
So, what conclusions do these facts lead to? The criminal justice system, from start to finish, is seriously racist.
Professor Michelle Alexander concludes that it is no coincidence that the criminal justice system ramped up its processing of African Americans just as the Jim Crow laws enforced since the age of slavery ended. Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness sees these facts as evidence of the new way the US has decided to control African Americans – a racialized system of social control. The stigma of criminality functions in much the same way as Jim Crow – creating legal boundaries between them and us, allowing legal discrimination against them, removing the right to vote from millions, and essentially warehousing a disposable population of unwanted people. She calls it a new caste system.
Poor whites and people of other ethnicity are also subjected to this system of social control. Because if poor whites or others get out of line, they will be given the worst possible treatment, they will be treated just like poor blacks.
Other critics like Professor Dylan Rodriguez see the criminal justice system as a key part of what he calls the domestic war on the marginalized. Because of globalization, he argues in his book Forced Passages, there is an excess of people in the US and elsewhere. “These people”, whether they are in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib or US jails and prisons, are not productive, are not needed, are not wanted and are not really entitled to the same human rights as the productive ones. They must be controlled and dominated for the safety of the productive. They must be intimidated into accepting their inferiority or they must be removed from the society of the productive.
This domestic war relies on the same technology that the US uses internationally. More and more we see the militarization of this country’s police. Likewise, the goals of the US justice system are the same as the US war on terror – domination and control by capture, immobilization, punishment and liquidation.
What to do?
Martin Luther King Jr., said we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.
A radical approach to the US criminal justice system means we must go to the root of the problem. Not reform. Not better beds in better prisons. We are not called to only trim the leaves or prune the branches, but rip up this unjust system by its roots.
We are all entitled to safety. That is a human right everyone has a right to expect. But do we really think that continuing with a deeply racist system leading the world in incarcerating our children is making us safer?
It is time for every person interested in justice and safety to join in and dismantle this racist system. Should the US decriminalize drugs like marijuana? Should prisons be abolished? Should we expand the use of restorative justice? Can we create fair educational, medical and employment systems? All these questions and many more have to be seriously explored. Join a group like INCITE, Critical Resistance, the Center for Community Alternatives, Thousand Kites, or the California Prison Moratorium and work on it. As Professor Alexander says “Nothing short of a major social movement can dismantle this new caste system.”
May and I are really concerned for our family and our community. I know my faith will see us through this American experience and we will have answers from on high on how to empower our grand children and God’s gifts of human beings in our life. We strive to know His will for our life to help others. Pray without ceasing for us and our world.
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.
Fostering an individual’s successful transition from prison life to mainstream society can be a real challenge, and requires the development of mutually beneficial relationships with local government, community organizations, employers, and more. When building the capacity to operate a reentry program, the five organizational components that require particular attention are model, structure, services, staffing, and leadership.
Being out and about today rather than in church was truly a shot of faith and obedience for May & I. We look forward to getting our vision complete and housing and educating the many people out here who are suffering from sin and self will run riot behavior.
Breaking Good News, Sunday November 23rd,2014, Live syndication AM and streaming live radio and TV broadcasting5 pm to 7 pm worldwide. Listen from 6 pm to 7pm, X Navy Seal Officer Aaron Pratt. In the Inland Empire listen on car or house radio 1570AM KPRO, listen worldwide streaming on cellphones. PC, tablets http://ionliveradio940fm.net/stationand watch streaming TV, http://ionlivekingdomnetwork.com, on tablets or PC
Moment of clarity; Sometimes your struggle is for someone else’s encouragement. We have been assigned and appointed to love one another.
We are all agents for one cause under one prime directive to service and make true the phrase. “Romans 8:28 And we know that ALL things work together for GOOD to them that love God, to them who are the “CALLED” according to his PURPOSE.”
My struggle/your struggle is the assignment that other agents are called to assist. This is the mystery of how God works not in the invisible untangle work of the Holy Spirit rather the inward dwelling and outward showing of the anointing under the Holy Spirit in the actions of agents that equate to Love!
“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.
Three years ago the Legislature passed a law resulting in a dramatic change on how California would hold people accountable for violating our laws. AB 109, or Realignment, was passed to address the overcrowding conditions in our state prisons. Touted as freeing nonserious, nonviolent offenders, Realignment ostensibly released low-level criminals from prison. During this time period, over 30,000 inmates have been transferred to local custody or supervision.
It costs about $50,000 a year to lock someone up in a California prison or a county jail — more than 10 times the state’s per-pupil expenditure for public education.
Despite investing hundreds of billions of dollars in new prisons and jails over the past 30 years, California’s correctional facilities are crowded beyond capacity. The state is under a federal court order to reduce its prison population. And after assuming more responsibility for corrections, many counties are releasing inmates early, either under court orders or self-imposed caps on jail crowding.
Building prisons isn’t the answer. But putting fewer people behind bars might alleviate the problem.
Some experts have argued for years that a small investment in education, mental health and crime prevention programs would produce big savings on incarceration. But that’s a long-term strategy in a state with upwards of 190,000 inmates in its prisons and jails.
So the state corrections budget climbed to $9 billion a year. Meanwhile, cheered on by police, prosecutors and the union representing the state’s prison guards, voters and legislators enacted increasingly harsh sentences — and not just for violent crimes. That fueled the need for new prisons and a costly culture of recidivism.
There’s an opportunity to try prevention on a wide scale.
The initiative reduces the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor. Specifically, the initiative:
Mandates misdemeanors instead of felonies for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes,” unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes. A list of crimes that will be affected by the penalty reduction are listed below.
Permits re-sentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for any of the offenses that the initiative reduces to misdemeanors. About 10,000 inmates will be eligible for resentencing, according to Lenore Anderson of Californians for Safety and Justice.
Requires a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
Creates a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund. The fund will receive appropriations based on savings accrued by the state during the fiscal year, as compared to the previous fiscal year, due to the initiative’s implementation. Estimates range from $150 million to $250 million per year.
Distributes funds from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund as follows: 25 percent to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction.
The measure requires misdemeanor sentencing instead of felony for the following crimes:
Shoplifting, where the value of property stolen does not exceed $950
Grand theft, where the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950
Receiving stolen property, where the value of the property does not exceed $950
Forgery, where the value of forged check, bond or bill does not exceed $950
Fraud, where the value of the fraudulent check, draft or order does not exceed $950
Writing a bad check, where the value of the check does not exceed $950
Personal use of most illegal drugs
The initiative was pushed by George Gascón, San Francisco District Attorney, and William Lansdowne, former San Diego Police Chief.
For a long time, the conventional political wisdom was that no one ever lost an election for being too tough on crime. That wisdom has been turned on its head in recent years, as both politicians and the public are realizing how much damage the lock-’em-up mind-set has caused.
In recent polls asking about the most important problems facing the country, crime ranks way at the bottom. That’s because crime is at its lowest levels in decades, even while overstuffed prisons cripple state budgets.
A familiar retort is that crime is down precisely because the prisons are full, but that’s simply not true. Multiple studiesshow that crime has gone down faster in states that have reduced their prison populations.
An encouraging example comes from California, the site of some the worst excesses of the mass incarceration era, but also some of the more innovative responses to it.
For five years, the state has been under federal court order to reduce extreme overcrowding in its prisons. In response, voters in 2012 overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to scale back the state’s notorious “three-strikes” law, leading to the release, so far, of more than 1,900 prisoners who had been serving life in prison — in some cases, for petty theft.
Dire warnings that crime would go up as a result were unfounded. Over two years, the recidivism rate of former three-strikes inmates is 3.4 percent, or less than one-tenth of the state’s average. That’s, in large part, because of a strong network of re-entry services.
The 2012 measure has provided the model for an even bigger proposed release of prisoners that California voters will consider on the ballot next week. Under Proposition 47, many low-level drug and property offenses — like shoplifting, writing bad checks or simple drug possession — would be converted from felonies to misdemeanors.
That would cut an average of about a year off the sentences of up to 10,000 inmates, potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. To keep people from returning to prison, or from going in the first place, the savings would be invested in anti-truancy efforts and other programs like mental health and drug-abuse treatment. Some would go to victims’ services, a perennially underfinanced part of the justice system.
Law-enforcement officials, not surprisingly, oppose the measure, warning that crime will go up. But they’ve already been proved wrong on three-strikes reform.
Californians — who support the proposition by a healthy margin, according to polls — have now seen for themselves that they don’t have to choose between reducing prison populations and protecting public safety.
It is very rare for lawmakers anywhere to approve legislation to shorten sentences for people already in prison; it is virtually unheard-of to do it by ballot measure. California’s continuing experiment on sentencing can be a valuable lesson to states around the country looking for smart and safe ways to unravel America’s four-decade incarceration binge.
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.
Have you experienced pain and suffering? Then you have shared Job’s anguish and perhaps his wonderment. Like Job, you also may find God much closer than you thought.
My desire to have oneness in the spirit is constantly clamoring in my inner man. I have visions of doing great things with my new life in Christ like putting together a great outreach to show people my wife and I gifts. What gifts? Being transformed into a vessel that wants to work for Christ with only one thing in mind, and that’s kingdom building. We want to educate our community with what God has infused us with while serving two terms of house arrest, He began to mold us while we were homeless and destitute of all the comforts we were once use to having, He fashioned our character by putting us in situations like that as to allow His spirit to speak into our life the work He desires of us to perform. God showed us that platforms of man isn’t necessary over having a life of worship and trust in His ability to use our gifts and talents and treasures that only He would give through others and developing skills within us to help this vision to become a live. God’s resources have and will continue to bless our life to be a blessing to our communities that suffer from “Teen Prostitution” and Economic Disparities due to mass incarceration of parents and siblings.
He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray, and as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering… they saw his glory (Luke 9:29, 32).
If I have found grace in thy sight, show me thy glory (Exod. 33:13).
When Jesus took these three disciples up into that high mountain apart, He brought them into close communion with Himself. They saw no man but Jesus only; and it was good to be there. Heaven is not far from those who tarry on the mount with their Lord.
Who has not in moments of meditation and prayer caught a glimpse of opening gates? Who has not in the secret place of holy communion felt the rush of some white surging wave of emotion–a foretaste of the joy of the blessed?
The Master had times and places for quiet converse with His disciples, once on the peak of Hermon, but oftener on the sacred slopes of Olivet. Every Christian should have his Olivet. Most of us, especially in the cities and towns, live at high pressure. From early morning until bedtime we are exposed to the whirl. Amid all this maelstrom how little chance for quiet thought, for God’s Word, for prayer and heart fellowship!
Daniel needed to have an Olivet in his chamber amid Babylon’s roar and idolatries. Peter found his on a housetop in Joppa; and Martin Luther found his in the “upper room” at Wittenberg, which is still held sacred.
Dr. Joseph Parker once said: “If we do not get back to visions, peeps into heaven, consciousness of the higher glory and the larger life, we shall lose our religion; our altar will become a bare stone, unblessed by visitant from Heaven.” Here is the world’s need today–men who have seen their Lord.
Come close to Him! He may take you today up into the mountain top, for where He took Peter with his blundering, and James and John, those sons of thunder who again and again so utterly misunderstood their Master and His mission, there is no reason why He should not take you. So don’t shut yourself out of it and say, “Ah, these wonderful visions and revelations of the Lord are for choice spirits!” They may be for you!
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live the life of your dreams? To wake up every morning feeling excited, inspired and passionate about your life? If you want to be more engaged in your own life you need to find the courage to pursue your secret hopes and ambitions. Perhaps you want to run a marathon, write a book, give a speech or start your own business. What’s stopping you? What’s getting in your way? Chances are your number one obstacle is you…your shoulds, beliefs and fears. Want to blast away these roadblocks to your happiness? Then it’s time to get out the dynamite and that power is only available in God (Promises)!…..
This is a part of my dream also coming to a store near you soon…
God is always on the move. He created us to have goals and dreams, to be reaching for more in our life in Christ. When God gives you a dream, it’s like becoming pregnant: you conceive (think or imagine) a vision of the “new thing” He’s planned for you. Now you have to make it through the pregnancy and get to full-term to birth the fulfillment of it (Isaiah 43:18-19).
Ecclesiastes 5:3 says, For a dream comes with much business and painful effort.… This is why many people abort their dreams before they reach full-term. God plants a seed (dream) in them and they become pregnant. But when they find out it will take effort, be costly and uncomfortable to complete their preparation for the birth, they decide it wasn’t really God’s will after all and go and do something else.
I want to encourage you to go through the hard part because if you give up, you will never be completely satisfied. There will be a part of you that doesn’t feel settled or fulfilled.
So how do we successfully make it through preparation and give birth to our God-given dreams? Here are three keys May & I used to stay motivated.
1. The Power of Putting Your Expectation in God
When a woman is pregnant, we say she’s “expecting.” This is part of what we must do to reach full-term and not give up or abort the dream God put in us. We must keep expecting, be aggressive and talk to God about it, preferably every day because the devil is a thief and he wants to kill, steal and destroy the plans God has for us (see John 10:10).
It’s easy to fall into a passive attitude that says, “Well, we’ll just see what happens…” But we must resist becoming a “wait and see” kind of person. Instead, we need to be focused on God and determined to expect from Him, like David. In Psalm 27:13, he said, [What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living!
Waiting on God is not a static, passive place where you’re doing nothing. It’s a time in your life when you aren’t taking matters into your own hands, trying to do what only God can do. You are waiting physically, but you are active spiritually, seeking His face and putting your trust in Him.
2. The Benefit of a Good Attitude
You can’t please anyone if you have a bad attitude. In fact, if you murmur and complain, people are probably tired of hearing it. And if we’re honest about it, we’re like this because we want others to feel sorry for us, which doesn’t do any good.
I know this from personal experience. I used to be very negative and feel sorry for myself a lot. I would complain to my wife, May, but she would say, “Aaron, you just want me to feel sorry for you, and I’m not going to do it because it won’t do you any good.” At the time, it made me so mad, but I’m glad she responded to me this way because he was right.
Eventually I learned the truth that no matter what is going on in my life, I can choose to have a good attitude. And if you have a good attitude, God will give you favor with people and in circumstances of life. While we can’t always choose our circumstances, we can choose how we react to them.
3. How to Live the Dream
So often our dreams are about us—what we want for our life or what’s good for us. But Jesus, our example of how to live, gave His life not for His benefit but for ours. Shortly before He was crucified, He was in a garden praying and He said, Not My will but Yours be done (see Luke 22). He came from the glory of heaven to earth to give us life. Everything He did was for us.
To really live the dream God has for us, we need to let go of selfishness, or “die to self.” What are some things we must die to? Things like our plan, our timing, our way, our reputation, getting credit for what we do, the need to be in control and the need to be right.
If you will give your life to God like Christ laid down His life for you, God will do amazing things in you and through you. It’s not easy but the reward on the other side is so worth it—the fulfillment of your God-given dream!
Briefly review setting and main theme. We come now to Jesus’ teaching on the relationship between God’s kingdom and material wealth (6:19-34). And the key verse is 6:24 (read)–who will you serve, God or Mammon? “Mammon” refers to material wealth.
The idea that you can serve each in their own context is an illusion. One will be your true master, setting the tone and shaping the course of your life.
Furthermore, unless you consciously choose to serve God you will by default serve Mammon (especially in this culture).
But why should we choose to serve God instead of Mammon? Is it just some abstract theological/ethical argument? Or are there good personal reasons for doing this? In 6:19-23, Jesus provides us with two such reasons by contrasting two treasures and two eyes . . .
Read 6:19,20. Notice that Jesus is not against laying up treasures for yourself per se. The key issue is what kind of treasures you are laying up. Be sure you lay up the right kind, because the stakes are high.
Serving Mammon is “laying up for yourself treasures on earth.” Before we learn why Jesus warns us not to do this, we need to be clear on what it is and isn’t.
From 1 Tim. 6:17, we learn that it is not making more than subsistence income or enjoying material possessions. Nor is it exercising prudent financial preparation for future needs (Prov. 6:6). (Not that many of us are in danger of rejecting any of these!)
It is seeking increasing material wealth by hoarding large amounts of money and/or by amassing lots of material possessions. It is continuing to amass money and/or possessions way beyond what you really need (pleonexia, the Greek word translated “greed,” means “the desire for more”). According to Jesus, this is serving Mammon, this is idolatry.
In other words, it is the American Dream, as advanced by Walter Williams (professor of economics at George Mason University): “What’s the noblest of human motivations? Some might be tempted to answer: charity, love of one’s neighbor, or, in modern, politically correct language, giving something back or feeling another’s pain. In my book, these are indeed noble motivations, but they pale in comparison to a much more potent motivation for human action. For me the noblest of human motivations is greed. I don’t mean theft, fraud, tricks, or misrepresentation. By greed I mean being only or mostly concerned about getting the most one can for oneself and not necessarily concerned about the welfare of others. Social consternation might cause one to cringe at the suggestion that greed might possibly be seen as a noble motivation. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ might be a preferable term. But I prefer greed since it far more descriptive and less likely to be confused with other human motives.”
Why does Jesus tell us not to do this? Because material wealth is ultimately impermanent.
You may lose it in this life in a variety of ways. Jesus cites corrosion and theft. To this we can add inflation, stock market crashes, bank scandals, war, ill health, government changes, etc. We can mitigate these risks to a certain extent by wise investment, insurance, etc.–but the truth remains that any one of us can be wiped out at any time. It happens all the time.
Even if you avoid the above, you will lose every bit of it when you leave this life. Read Lk. 12:13-21. Let this warning sink into your soul! You cannot take it with you. You came into this world without a penny, and you will go out without a penny. There are no trailer-hitches on hearses. “How much did he leave?” “Why, all of it, of course!”
Would you invest all of your money in stock in a company that you knew was shaky and going to fold? Why would you invest your life in the pursuit of material wealth, which is never secure and will definitely be taken away from you?
What’s the alternative? To “lay up for yourself treasure in heaven” (re-read 6:20). This is what Jesus in Lk. 12:21 called becoming “rich toward God.”
How can we do this? To answer this question, we must turn to other passages.
First and foremost, by establishing a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16). The moment you do this, you are guaranteed eternal life with God. Have you done this?
By developing intimacy with God and godly character (1 Tim. 4:7b,8) through consistent investment in the means of growth.
By serving other people as representatives of God’s kingdom (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Being “rich in good works” involves evangelism, discipleship, etc. And it involves being generous and ready to share your financial resources to alleviate human need and advance God’s kingdom in the world.
This is a totally secure investment.
No one and nothing can take this from you in this life.
It will be waiting for you (with interest) in the next life.
And you can accumulate as much as you want regardless of your financial resources!
Read 6:22-23. In this little parable, Jesus gives us another reason why we should serve God and not Mammon.
The eye, even though it is a small organ, is key to the operation of the rest of your outward body (TRY FIXING A MEAL WITH YOUR EYES CLOSED). Just as the condition of your eye powerfully affects the well-being of the rest of your body, the treasure you seek will powerfully affect the well-being of the rest of your life.
The point, then, is this: The treasure you pursue will determine not only your ultimate wealth in the next life, it will also determine the quality of your life in this life.
If you have a “bad eye” (seek material wealth), it will give you the illusion of being enlightened (6:23b), but it will lead you into greater and greater darkness (misery and damage). Paul says the same thing in 1 Tim. 6:9,10 (read).
You don’t even have to believe in the Bible to realize that materialism delivers just the opposite result!
Recommend PBS “Affluenza,” an excellent analysis of the extent of Mammonism in America:
THE RESULT: “We’re filling our lives with things–and telling others that we’re empty inside.”
THE CONSEQUENCES: swollen expectations; shopping fever; chronic stress; fractured families; skyrocketing bankruptcies; social scars; global infection
Or consider these conclusions by David Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (Yale University, 1999), who studies the correlation between material wealth and happiness.
From 1960-1993, real income in America doubled–but during that same time the divorce rate doubled, teen suicide tripled, juvenile violence quadrupled, and unwed births quintupled. Although the average American has more money today, there is “less happiness, more depression, more fragile relationships, less communal commitment, less vocational security, more crime and more demoralized children.”
Some of you could add your own eloquent (and anguished) testimony . . .
On the other hand, you can develop a “good eye” by serving God and pursuing spiritual wealth. If you do this, you will not avoid suffering–but your life will become progressively more integrated and healed and satisfying in the areas that really matter: SATISFACTION OF KNOWING YOU ARE ACCOMPLISHING GOD’S WILL; CLEAR CONSCIENCE; FULFILLING RELATIONSHIPS; CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S CARE; HOPE FOR THE FUTURE.
Repeat 6:24 thesis. At the end of the day, the choice you make about this is huge!
On one level, it’s neither simple nor all-at-once to serve God instead of Mammon. But God will show you how to do it at each step if you ask him to do this.
Which treasure are you seeking? Which master are you serving? Which God do you love? Here are some additional questions that may help you answer this question.
What comprises your dreams & aspirations? Are they dominated by material things, or by spiritual growth & service?
Whom do you admire and want to be like?
Who are your closest friends?
What excites you most?
How regularly & how generously do you give of your money to God’s service? Which direction are you moving in this area?
Are you able to be content with what you have materially, or do you always itch to have more because you are bored without more things? One indicator here is how much DEBT you are in from non-necessary acquisitions.
What do you do with your spare time? Do you invest in FAMILY, MINISTRY, SPIRITUAL GROWTH–or is it mostly all spent on MORE WORK, TV WATCHING, SHOPPING, HOBBIES, etc.?
How do you view retirement? As a time to focus on material enjoyment which you have deserved, or as a time of greater freedom to serve God?
Is your excitement about God & your outrage over materialism increasing? Or is your excitement about God dulled, & your critique of materialism vague and filled with qualifications?
Finding a job with a felony is going to be difficult, so you’re going to have to prepare yourself for a struggle. For me, prison was easy compared to my re-entry process when I got out. Companies that are “felon friendly” are starting to dwindle, and it’s becoming increasingly harder for felons to find jobs. But you don’t have to tell an ex-offender that, he or she is already dealing with the discrimination on a daily basis.
You have to prepare yourself for a fight. Go into it with a positive outlook, but understand that you’re going to encounter a lot of negativity. A lot of HR departments and hiring mangers will throw your application out if they see you’ve checked the “Have you ever been convicted” box. They might not publicly say that they do this, but you and I both know better. There is some more information on how to handle that question box, as well as other resources for finding a job with a felony, on Exoffenders.net.
Understand that it’s going to be a struggle. Personally, when I was released from prison, I applied to over 80 different companies in my area. I received call-backs from 4 or 5, and none of them were what I would consider a “career.” But I did land a job which worked for the time being. I figured it is better to work at a bad job making crap money than not working at all. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear it, muscle through until to you get to the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes a crappy job is just a springboard when you’re trying to find a job with a felony.
Avoid the defeatist attitude! This is an extremely common pitfall for ex-offenders, and I see it all the time in the comments on Exoffenders.net. You’re going to get denied employment. It is absolutely going to happen, barring some incredible stroke of luck. You cannot, under any circumstances, talk yourself into quitting this job hunt. It’s happened to me, I’ll admit, and it really held me back for my first year or so after I was released. It’s so easy to revert back to what we know, which usually in an ex-offenders case, is illegal activities that landed them in trouble in the first place. I believe it’s the main reason why the rate of recidivism in this country is so high. Always try to stay as positive as you possibly can, even when you feel incredibly overwhelmed and hopeless.
Get into the groove of having a job before you actually have one. I found that waking up at 7 AM and starting my job search was actually really helpful for my overall mood. It, at the very least, made me feel productive and gave me a sense of accomplishment. I felt that I was moving forward. That was key to dealing with my re-entry.
Maintain a clean appearance and good hygiene. Not only will you feel better about yourself, but you never know when an opportunity might come up. The last thing you want when you’re finding a job with a felony is being called into an interview and you look like you crawled out form under a rock. I’ve detailed this a little bit more in a later section as well.
Don’t beat yourself up about your past, because it is your past. Fact of the matter is, when you’re finding a job with a felony, people will do this for you. You’re more than likely going to have people holding it against you when you reintegrate yourself into society. So you really don’t need to be doing it as well. It’s your past, leave it there. It’s time to move forward into your future.
The Job Hunt
To be perfectly blunt, the job hunt is going to make or break you. Finding a job is difficult nowadays anyway. But when you’re finding a job with a felony, it’s much harder. This could be one of the most depressing times in your life. You’re going to have to deal with a lot of negativity and rejection. Just remember to keep a positive mindset as best you can.
One thing I did when I was finding a job with a felony was to just apply everywhere and anywhere. When I was released, I did research on the internet of companies that were in my area. Also, if I was ever out of the house, I’d always keep a notepad and pen with me to write down any business that was in my general area. I’d be sure to make a note of (roughly) how far of a walk it would be for me to get there. When I first got out, I didn’t have a car, so the time it would take to walk to a job was a factor. I then applied to every company that had an online application on their website. I usually tried to do this at night. During the day I tried to be out and about as much as I could, applying at companies that didn’t have online applications. Finding a job with a felony was actually really good exercise. Now, this was back in 2008. There were still a decent amount of companies that you could fill out a paper application and turn it in at a store. Now, in 2014, it seems more and more companies are using online applications. In my experience with online applications, it’s a bad thing when you’re finding a job with a felony.
From experience, as well as a interviewing people in a wide variety of industries, it seems like an online application usually works like this:
You submit the application
Corporate HR evaluates it. Sometimes it is given a score.
In some cases, a background check is done on the individual. (Usually only for larger companies.)
If it meets or exceeds a certain score, it is forwarded to a store.
At the discretion of the hiring manager of the store, you are called in for an interview.
So why is this bad for ex-offenders? Well, a one of the things you can do when finding a job with a felony to increase your chances of getting hired is selling yourself in an interview. With application screening like this, your application might never make it to the actual store and you will never get a face-to-face interview. Please note that not all companies use a procedure like this. It is just information I’ve found to be recurrent through research and interviews with hiring managers.
If I was currently trying to find a job, I would apply everywhere I could. Just to see what happens. The worst thing someone can do is tell you no or not call you back, right? It’s worth a shot in my opinion to just apply to everywhere you can think of. If you’re not having any luck with larger companies when you’re finding a job with a felony, switch it up. Try to find some smaller businesses. They are usually more lax with doing background checks and hiring ex-offenders. A lot of the work I found, after my initial job at Wendy’s when I got out of prison, was with small businesses. If you can wow them at the interview they might be willing to look past your record and give you a shot. There are also online opportunities where you can make money from your home. When I was finding a job with a felony, money I made online helped me make ends meet. I’d really suggest doing some research on this type of work for legitimate work from home jobs before you venture into this. The amount of misinformation, scams, schemes, etc. for work at home opportunities is astounding. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could quickly get sucked into one.
Be persistent, and don’t be lazy about this. Your chances of finding a job with a felony if you’re only filling out an application or two a day, passively looking for work, and not giving it your all is astronomically lower than someone who is giving it a true effort.
Your First Interview
Bring your “A” game and come correct. That was the advice given to me when I started job training at a re-entry program I was in in New Jersey. What I interpreted it to mean was come prepared, be ready for anything, and look the part. You want to walk out of that interview feeling like you aced it. You need to sell yourself, your skills, and how you could be perfect for the job opportunity.
Appearance is incredibly important when interviewing for a job. Before you even say a word, the potential employer will already have an opinion about you based on your appearance. It’s just human nature, we initially judge based on looks and appearance.
For men – be freshly shaved; facial hair should be kept to a minimal length, tight, and professional looking. The exception to this is if the facial hair is for religious purposes, in which case there is no need to worry about your facial hair.
Have a recent haircut – you don’t want to your first impression of you to be that you are disheveled or scraggly looking.
Do not neglect your hygiene – Shower the morning before the interview, brush your teeth, flossing is never a bad idea, slap on some cologne/perfume, use deodorant.
Once you’re a picture perfect image of a stellar candidate, let’s work on your clothes. Ideally, you’d like to look like a million bucks with a tailored suit, but let’s face it, a lot of us don’t have the money for that. We have to work with what we have, or can afford. The following is what I do in regards to an outfit when I go into an interview. This mainly applies to men, as I am one, but can be helpful to women as well.
Proper Fit – While I wear loose fitting, baggy jeans and shirts in my daily life, this isn’t the appearance I want to present to an employer. Make sure your outfit fits properly, not too big but definitely not too small. You don’t want to walk into an interview with pants that are too short and it looks like you’re getting ready for a flood. The exception to this is, of course, religious reasons. If you should not wear pants below the ankles for religious purposes, disregard that.
Accessorize – For me, I prefer simple yet noticeable things to compliment my outfit. I’ll usually wear a titanium or stainless steel watch, as that usually matches better with the outfit colors I wear. I know watches aren’t very widespread anymore since most people just use their phone to tell time, but I feel it really compliments an appearance. In addition, I may sometimes put a handkerchief in my suit pocket that matches. I feel it’s a nice, professional added touch that stands out without being too gaudy. Avoid over accessorizing, meaning don’t wear earrings that are gaudy or very large, stay away from cheap, flashy bracelets, and things of that nature.
Ironing and Cleaning – Make sure that you’re wrinkle-free before walking out your residence. Iron your clothes either night before or that morning, inspect for small spots and stains, minor tears, and other things that may draw the attention of an employer. If there is no other option and you must wear something like this, try to cover it up as best you can. Your shoes should be as clean as you get them. One of the first things I notice about a person is their shoes and anything on their hand and wrist (rings, watches, bracelets.)
This is a crucial moment for you, as you have to sell yourself to the employer. Everyone has to do this, not just ex-offenders. Be ready for any questions they may have regarding your experience, willingness to learn, career & life goals, and yes, even your criminal record. Always try to maintain eye contact when during your interview. If you are asked a question, and your eyes wander off to somewhere else in the room while answering, this can be interpreted as being dishonest. The last thing you want is any inclination that you are a dishonest person when you’re looking for a job with a felony.
One of the more frequent questions I get is how to explain a felony if asked about it at an interview. While there is no one answer to this question, I’ll try to explain how I personally have handled this question in hopes that you can relate it to yourself. First, I always admit that what I did was wrong. In a circumstance where you were wrongly convicted, there may be other ways you want to answer this. I actually have a charge that I honestly didn’t commit, a friend of mine did. But I knew I was going to prison so I “took the weight.” I don’t bring this up. I just admit that I messed up in my past and have moved forward from it.
You’ll want to vocalize your skills, talk about what you can bring to the company. Discuss what you do well and how that relates to the position you are applying for. If you don’t have that many skills, and the felony question comes up, try to talk about what you learned while incarcerated. For example, say you were a cook in prison, say that you can work extremely well under pressure, work quickly, and deliver results. Try to talk about where you want to go in your life, if you feel you can fit that in without sounding too long-winded. Below I’ll give an example of how I have handled the question during an interview.
“I made mistakes when I was younger and had a substance abuse problem, and my history is a direct result of that. I’ve since gone through a long-term rehabilitation program and have been clean for over 8 years. I and am looking to build a better life for myself. Since I have been clean, I have worked as a freelance web developer, and feel that my skills I’ve honed through that would be beneficial to this company.”
Something of that nature personalized for you should work. Keep in mind, employers want to hear different answers to that question, so there is no completely right answer on what to say. Try to get an idea of what type of person the employer is, and try to figure out how they would like to hear that question answered. Do not lie to the employer just to tell them what you think they want to hear, this could end terribly in a multitude of different ways.
Don’t Give Up!
You’re going to be rejected. You’re going to have a lot of places that won’t call you back. You can’t give up even if your situation looks hopeless. Persistence will pay off in the end. If you do have an interview, send them an email thanking them for interviewing you. It shows that you really do care about a job. You will find employment, it might just take some time. Be patient, be persistent, and always look forward.
I wish you the best of luck in your journey, and hope that this article helped you. If it did, please like it and share it with people you feel may benefit from it. Thank you for reading.
4 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
4 Now he had to go through Samaria.5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the welland drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
The United States has spent millions of dollars looking for water on Mars. A few years ago, NASA sent twin robots, Opportunity and Spirit, to the red planet to see if water was present or had been present at one time. Why did the US do this? The scientists who are poring over data sent back from those two little Martian rovers are trying to figure out if life ever existed on Mars. And for that to have happened, there had to be water. No water, no life.
Two thousand years ago, a couple of “rovers” set out across the countryside of an Earth-outpost called Samaria looking for water. One was a woman who lived nearby. The other was a man from Galilee. They ended up meeting at a well near the village of Sychar. When they did, Jesus found the water He was looking for, and the woman found the water she didn’t know she needed (John 4:5-15).
Water is essential for both physical and spiritual life. Jesus had a surprise for the woman at the well. He offered her the Water of Life—Himself. He is the refreshing, renewing “fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Do you know anyone looking for water? Someone who is spiritually thirsty? Introduce that person to Jesus, the Living Water. It’s the greatest discovery of all time.
Gracious and Almighty Savior, Source of all that shall endure, Quench my thirst with living water, Living water, clear and pure. —Vinal
Only Jesus, the Living Water, can satisfy the thirsty soul.
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?
“My 17 year old son lies all the time,” a mother said to me recently. “He lies about his schoolwork, what he ate for lunch and whether or not he’s brushed his teeth. He also exaggerates to make his stories more dramatic or to make himself sound bigger. It’s come to the point where I don’t take anything he says at face value. He’s not a bad kid, but I just don’t understand why he lies so often, especially when telling the truth would be easier. What should I do?”
By acknowledging the lie without moralizing or lecturing, you are sending a powerful message to your child that being dishonest won’t get them what they want.
Dealing with lying is frustrating and confusing for many parents. Unfortunately, teens and pre-teens often lie or tell only part of the truth. James Lehman explains that kids lie for many reasons: to cover their tracks, to get out of something they don’t want to do, and to fit in with their peers. Sometimes kids tell white lies to protect other people. I’ve heard my stepson claim a “bad connection” while speaking to a relative on the phone, rather than simply telling them, “I don’t want to talk right now.” When asked, he says he doesn’t want to hurt that person’s feelings by saying he wanted to get off the phone. Simply put, it was just easier to lie.
Some teens develop the habit of telling half-truths or exaggerating about things that seem completely irrelevant or unnecessary. They might think it will get them what they want, or get them out of a sticky situation. Like many adults, kids can also be less than honest at times because they think the truth isn’t interesting enough. They may lie as a way to get attention, to make themselves seem more powerful or attractive to others, to get sympathy or support, or because they lack problem-solving skills.
Lying about Risky or Dangerous Behavior
It’s important to differentiate here between lies that cover up for drug use or other risky behavior, as opposed to “every day lies” that some teens tell just as a matter of habit or convenience. Make no mistake, lying that results in, or covers for, unsafe or illegal behavior must be addressed directly. If your child is lying about things that might be dangerous, involving drug or alcohol use, stealing, or other risky behavior, seek resources and support in your local community.
Why Doesn’t My Child Care that Lying is Wrong?
Adolescence is such a tough time: trying to fit in, feeling unfairly judged or limited, wanting to be seen as powerful even while you feel completely powerless. Teens and pre-teens are navigating some pretty challenging waters. For some, lying can seem like an easy way to deal with the stress of being a teenager. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, an occasional fib from a child is nothing to get too concerned about. Chronic dishonesty and exaggeration, on the other hand, should be addressed – but maybe not in the ways you think.
We talk with many people on the http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Keep-Cool-When-the-Kids-Push-Your-Buttons.php who feel that lying is a moral issue. But even so, as James advises, treating it that way is not likely to help solve the problem. When your child tells a lie, giving a lecture about why it’s wrong is probably not going to help them change their behavior. Most of the time, they’re tuning out our words of wisdom anyway! On the other hand, if you feel that your child is making a habit of lying, you need to acknowledge what you see happening. Open a discussion with them and find out what problem they are trying to solve. Are they trying to avoid trouble? Do they think it’s easier to lie than to risk hurting someone else? Do they believe that saying something dishonest helps them fit in? When they answer you, listen to what they have to say carefully. When Kids Lie to Get out of Trouble
Kids often don’t understand how hurtful lies can be.
In The Total Transformation Program, James points out that most kids lie because it’s expedient—it seems like the best decision at that time. Once you understand what your child is hoping to gain from lying, you can help them come up with a better problem-solving strategy. If your child is being untruthful to get out of trouble—for example, telling you that they took out the trash when they really didn’t—clearly state the rules of your house, and the consequences for breaking those rules. Remind them that they don’t have to like the rules, but they do need to comply with them. You might also tell your child that if they break a rule and lie about it, there will be a separate consequence for lying. (For more information on how to do this, please see James Lehman’s article Why Kids Lie and What To Do About It.)
Exaggerating and Lying for the Sake of Lying
If your child isn’t simply lying to keep out of trouble, you might have to dig a little deeper to find out what’s going on. Start by saying, “I notice that you often lie about things that seem strange to me. For example, when I asked you where the phone was, you said ‘I don’t know, I don’t have it,’ and then I found it in your room. You wouldn’t have been in trouble if you’d told the truth. Can you tell me why you lied about it?” If your child is exaggerating a story, you might ask, “I was interested in your story, and then it seemed like you started to add things to it that weren’t true. Can you tell me why you decided to do that?”
Now I realize you may not get a great answer from your child. From some teens, a shrug is the best response you can hope for. But by acknowledging the lie without moralizing or lecturing, you are sending a powerful message to your child that being dishonest won’t get them what they want. You are also letting them know that you are aware of the fact that they were being less than truthful.
Kids often don’t understand how hurtful lies can be. Still, you need to remind them that not knowing doesn’t make it okay. Start a discussion with your child about honesty and dishonesty, and why they choose to lie. And remember, focus on the problem your child is trying to solve instead of on the morality of lying. You may not be able to stop your teen from creating those every day lies, but you can send the message that there are other options available.
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.
As California Releases Prisoners, It Must Confront the Public Health Consequences
The confluence of three events has dramatically broadened the public health implications of prisoner reentry into California communities. First, the state is in the midst of a deep and persistent recession, which has severely strained the resources available for the health care safety net upon which ex-prisoners rely. Second, the state is implementing its 2011 public safety realignment plan, which shifts responsibility for low-level offenders from the state to counties; this will aid the state’s efforts to abide by a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce the prison population. Third, federal health care reform will expand Medicaid eligibility and coverage for some important services, removing a key access-to-care barrier for the prisoner reentry population.
These events argue for assessing the health needs of California’s reentry population, the related public health challenges, and the policy options for improving access to safety net services. In a study sponsored by The California Endowment, a research team at RAND conducted such an assessment and concluded the following:
The health care needs of California prisoners are high, but their mental health and drug treatment needs are even higher.
Certain California counties and communities are particularly affected by reentry.
Ex-prisoners’ access to California’s health care safety net varies across counties, within counties, and by race and ethnicity.
Public safety realignment and federal health care reform present challenges and opportunities for improving access to services for this population, all requiring the state and counties to coordinate their efforts.
Numerous Unmet Needs Reported
With respect to physical health conditions, California state prisoners reported a high burden of chronic diseases, such as asthma and hypertension, and infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. Ex-prisoners face a number of barriers to accessing health care, including lack of health insurance. As a result, ex-prisoners returning to communities will largely have to rely on counties’ health care safety nets for the uninsured to meet their health needs.
Self-reported mental health and drug treatment needs are especially high. More than half of California inmates reported a recent mental health problem, but only about half of those reported having received treatment in prison. Nearly 60 percent of California inmates reported having a drug abuse or dependence problem. Given the high prevalence of these reported conditions, the need for county mental health services may be particularly high.
When we interviewed health care providers who deal with the reentry population, their observations confirmed that this population has substantial mental health and drug treatment needs and other health problems — needs exacerbated by neglect or reduced access to care. Providers also noted a range of social services needs — such as transportation, employment, housing, and family reunification — that make treating ex-prisoners for such health conditions even more resource-intensive. For example, if an individual has a wound that requires periodic cleaning and dressing, would there be a hygienic place to do it?
Inadequate discharge planning for prisoners can be another major barrier to continuity of care. Upon release, many ex-prisoners lack medical records to give health care providers; thus, providers have little information about their medical history. For individuals with infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, providers felt it was critical to know what kind of care and education a patient had received while incarcerated. Ex-prisoners without health insurance have limited treatment options. Difficulties navigating the health care and social services systems complicate referrals. Discharge planning needs to take such factors into account.
Budget cuts present further barriers to care. Providers report that they have had to eliminate or curtail HIV, dental, mental health, or alcohol and drug treatment programs. Because of state-level cuts in funding for community-based treatment programs, one provider we interviewed had to close a sober living facility.
Parolees Are Concentrated in 11 Counties, Mostly in the South
SOURCE: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation parolee data, 2005–2006.
Ex-Prisoners Concentrated Primarily in 11 Counties
To understand where ex-prisoners go upon release and which counties and communities are especially affected by reentry, we used parolee data to examine their geographic distribution following release, illustrated here in the map of California. The map shows that certain counties are particularly affected by reentry. Tiny dots represent each of the nearly 140,000 parolees released in 2005 and 2006, with major clusters shown as yellow ellipses. Darker shades of blue indicate counties with higher numbers of returnees per 1,000 residents; lighter shades indicate lower numbers of returnees. As shown, parolees tend to cluster in certain communities and neighborhoods, with implications for targeting resources.
Eleven counties, concentrated around the Bay Area and in the southern part of the state, had the highest rates of return. By far the highest rates were in Southern California, especially Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. Also, African-American and Latino parolees tended to return to disadvantaged neighborhoods and communities, defined by high poverty rates, high unemployment rates, and low educational attainment.
We focused on four counties — Alameda, Kern, Los Angeles, and San Diego — that received a third of the state’s total parolees. In Alameda County, almost 45 percent of the returning population was concentrated in five clusters, primarily around Oakland and the northern section of the county. Four clusters within Kern County accounted for almost 58 percent of its parolees, while in San Diego County there were eight clusters accounting for nearly half the parolee population, with the largest in downtown and Southeast San Diego. Unlike the other counties, Los Angeles County had 23 clusters covering a large geographic area but accounting for only 35 percent of the total number of returnees.
Unequal Access to Care
We also wanted to know where ex-prisoners were located relative to communities’ health care safety nets: the hospitals, clinics, and mental health and substance abuse treatment providers that would serve the reentry population. So we overlaid such facilities on our county-level maps and found that the capacity of the health care safety net varies within counties. Many ex-prisoners in the three large urban counties — Alameda, Los Angeles, and San Diego — returned to areas with lower levels of accessibility to safety net facilities than found elsewhere in those counties.
In Los Angeles County, for example, some county supervisorial districts with high concentrations of ex-prisoners tended to have fewer hospital and primary care clinics than did other districts. In District 2, which covers South Los Angeles and has a relatively high concentration of ex-prisoners, there are relatively few clinics. And there is only one hospital affiliated with the Medically Indigent Services Program, which is the county-provided program of last resort for those who are not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California), or private health insurance and who meet socioeconomic eligibility standards.
To understand how much access ex-prisoners had to these facilities, we created accessibility measures for each facility based on its capacity, demand, and travel distance. In Los Angeles County, more than half of parolees (53 percent) returned to areas with lower levels of accessibility to hospitals. More African-American parolees (60 percent) lived in areas with lower accessibility than did Latino or white parolees (51 percent and 47 percent, respectively). Alameda County had a similar pattern, but in Kern and San Diego counties, more Latino parolees lived in areas with lower accessibility to hospitals than did white and African-American parolees.
Realignment and Reform
California’s public safety realignment plan and the U.S. federal health care reform represent important opportunities to improve services to the reentry population, and the stakeholders involved in preparing for both policy measures overlap. For realignment, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must coordinate with counties to shift responsibility for low-level offenders; for health care reform, California’s Department of Health Care Services must coordinate with counties to prepare for full implementation and for expanding Medicaid.
Both policy measures present opportunities and challenges for addressing ex-prisoners’ health care and reentry needs. As an opportunity, realignment focuses attention on the need to improve pre release planning for the transition of care from correctional health to safety net providers. As a challenge, realignment dramatically changes how low-level offenders will obtain health care and social services, shifting attention from state parole to county-level supervision.
As an opportunity, health care reform opens up the possibility for many ex-prisoners and others in the criminal justice system to become eligible for Medicaid and to have drug treatment services, prevention services, and wellness programs covered more fully. As a challenge, expanding Medicaid eligibility could lead to increased demand for health care safety net services that are already stretched thin.
There are many steps the state and counties can take. They can develop better estimates of the percentage of the Medicaid expansion population that the reentry population represents. Because the Medicaid expansion population is expected to include individuals with multiple comorbidities and a high demand for mental health care and alcohol and drug treatment, investing in “health homes” (teams of providers) and other integrated case management systems for this population will be an important way to manage their complex care needs. Expanding pre release planning to more fully include those with chronic medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems makes sense, as does having the state assess options, such as electronic medical records, for easing the transition of care to community health care systems. Also important will be developing strategies to enroll the reentry population in Medicaid or reinstate their Medicaid benefits and to improve the needed expertise and capacity of treatment providers, especially in localities with higher numbers of ex-prisoners, so providers can better meet the expected increase in demand for services.
Both public safety realignment and federal health reform come with funding streams. Some of this money could leverage existing investments in planning for health care reform for the reentry population. For example, some funds could be used to develop “health homes” or other case management systems. Investing in treatment for this population now may help offset criminal justice costs later on, and expanding access to primary care and integrated care may help avoid more expensive and intensive care down the road.
The gang problem in the United States has remained stubbornly persistent over the past decade. Here are the facts: One in three local law enforcement agencies in 2010 reported youth gang problems in their jurisdiction.1 In a 2010 national survey, 45 percent of high school students and 35 percent of middle-schoolers said that there were gangs — or students who considered themselves part of a gang — in their school. Nearly one in 12 youth said they belonged to a gang at some point during their teenage years. Public health and public safety workers who respond to gang problems know that after-the-fact responses are not sufficient. An emergency department doctor who treats gang-related gunshot wounds and a law enforcement officer who must tell a mother that her son has been killed in a drive-by shooting are both likely to stress the need for prevention — and the complementary roles that public health and law enforcement must play — in stopping violence before it starts.
But how can we prevent gang-joining, especially during a time of limited national, state, tribal and local budgets?
To help meet the challenge, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NIJ engaged some of the nation’s top criminal justice and public health researchers to explore what the evidence shows.
The consequences of gangs — and the burdens placed on the law enforcement and health systems in our communities — are significant. Homicide is the second-leading cause of death for American adolescents and young adults: an average of 13 deaths every day among 15- to 24-year-olds.However, the number of violent deaths tells only part of the story. More than 700,000 young people are treated in emergency departments in the U.S. for assault-related injuries every year. Although kids in gangs are far more likely than kids not involved in gangs to be both victims and perpetrators of violence,the risks go far beyond crime and violence. Gang-involved youth are more likely to engage in substance abuse and high-risk sexual behavior and to experience a wide range of potentially long-term health and social consequences, including school dropout, teen parenthood, family problems and unstable employment.
The involvement of judges, prosecutors, social service providers, law enforcement officers, crime victims, community-based organizations, and others is critical to improving the juvenile justice system and reducing youth violence. The Action Plan supports interagency law enforcement teams, or task forces, that coordinate the investigative efforts and suppression tactics of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in weapons, drug, and gang arrests.
In many communities, law enforcement has taken the lead in implementing innovative juvenile crime prevention and intervention efforts as part of an overall community oriented policing approach. Successful public safety and prevention strategies provide comprehensive, targeted community services and support to youth to keep them from becoming the next generation of offenders. Youth-focused community oriented policing that is effectively linked to the juvenile justice system can significantly contribute to the reduction of crime, restoration of order, and eradication of fear in local communities.
Crimes by juveniles are growing across our county and our nation. These crimes encompass so many offenses in the justice system that many are considered violent enough to be adult crimes.
At Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, we have targeted Juvenile Crimes as a major focus of this administration. We want to work with the youth and their family members so that, with everyone working together, we can address the issues before the young minds of our communities lose sight of basic decency and continue on a path of destruction.
Trends show that violent traits appear at a younger age each year. Since September 11, 2001, our youth are more aware of violence on the home front. In Riverside County, terrorism seemed far away, but that is no longer the case. Fear plays a major factor for today’s youth whether it is at home, in the community or at school. Many pre-teens and teenagers try to hide their fears through aggression. Others will withdraw from family and society.
BE PROACTIVE INSTEAD OF REACTIVE
Keeping abreast of behavior changes in your children will help you to become proactive. However, don’t be afraid to react to any of the behavior changes listed. Start by seeking assistance from your child’s school. They can provide you with a host of resources that may include referring you to a school counselor, law enforcement resource officer, Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or county mental health professional.
BE ALERT TO BEHAVIOR CHANGES
If you note any of the following, start now to seek solutions to these problems:
Unusual mood swings,
Drastic change in selection of friends,
Friendships where there is little parental supervision in the home,
Unusually hostile or arrogant attitude toward family members or authority figures,
Fixations with music, video games, and TV programs promoting drugs and violence, or
Withdrawal from the family as a unit and preferring to be in seclusion when at home.
SHERIFF SNIFF SUGGESTS
Talk to your children about their daily activities. Talk to your child’s teacher on a regular basis. Be aware of what your children wear to school each day. Update their photos at least every six months. Know where their medical and dental records are. Know their friends and their families. Know what accesses they have on their computer. Know where they are at all times. Involve your children in church, community and school activities.
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.
One church is dealing with a major conflict between the pastor and the elders. Another is struggling to keep together factions that have polarized over changes in worship. A third is reeling from the sudden suspension of its pastor. A fourth is grieving over the tragic death of a child. A fifth is facing the loss of a large portion of its membership; yet another is adjusting to the consolidation of a smaller congregation into its midst. These are all for instances May & I are comfronted with while attempting to partner with leadership to kingdom building.
These are just a few of the difficult times congregations can face—circumstances that affect all of a congregation’s life, especially its worship life. Such situations raise questions like these:
How do congregations worship in a difficult time of crisis, transition, or conflict?
How can congregations plan worship thoughtfully and meaningfully through a difficult time?
How can worship help the congregation in the process of healing from a difficult time?
For most congregations, worship is the main event of the week. Even though Christians worship individually and often do so outside of the sanctuary, the weekly worship service is the occasion when, more than any other time, the congregation gathers and expresses its identity. So when a congregation experiences a difficult situation, symptoms are bound to appear in worship. The leaders of the congregation must carefully discern how to plan worship appropriately during these times. Ultimately, worship may be the element of congregational life that has the most potential to help the congregation through the process of healing.
Difficult Times: Crisis, Transition, Conflict
Worship services can become a calm island in the storm of conflict or a guiding force through a turbulent period, but different situations will require varying approaches to worship planning. Situations of crisis, transition, or conflict each raise a different set of issues to deal with.
A crisis is a sudden change that creates a great amount of tension and upheaval for those affected by it. Examples of congregational crises include the sudden death of a leader or church member, the unexpected resignation of a pastor or staff member, a natural disaster that damages the church facilities, or a regional or national calamity. In a crisis, announcements and methods of communication are of urgent importance. In these situations, leaders will need to ask questions like the following:
What will we say to the people on Sunday morning, and who will say it?
How will we tell the news and still be able to worship?
Who will lead our service and preach the sermon (if the crisis involves the pastor’s absence)?
Should we scrap the planned liturgy completely and simply start over?
What songs will we sing instead of the ones previously chosen?
Who will make these decisions?
A crisis requires thoughtful planning and decision-making without much time for processing. It calls for wisdom from church leaders—wisdom that can be developed by setting good patterns long before any crisis occurs.
Though a crisis is a sudden change, it often is followed by an extended period of grieving—for a person, a group, a building, or even a congregational identity. The situation then leads to a time of transition, or, in some cases, a time of conflict. The issues caused by a crisis do not go away quickly when the immediate crisis is over. Careful responses from leaders will have long-term results for the health and well-being of the congregation.
A transition is the process of changing from one form, state, activity, or place to another. Unlike a crisis situation, transitions allow more time for careful planning. The most common transitions for congregations are changes in pastoral or staff leadership. Other examples of transitions include building additions and relocations, development of a new vision or new programs, mergers of two or more congregations, and consolidations of one congregation into another.
As in a time of crisis, leaders need to ask important questions. For example, in the case of a consolidation, church leaders will want to ask questions like these:
How will we publicly welcome these people into our family?
How will we acknowledge that together we become a new worshiping community?
How will we acknowledge the grief that some will feel in losing their identity (and even their building and many of their ways)?
How can we ritualize the transition?
A conflict is a prolonged controversy or disagreement between opposing forces. Church conflicts can arise from a variety of issues—from worship style to leadership style to interior decorating style. They may develop out of an unresolved or poorly handled crisis. They may begin with a sharp disagreement or with a quiet dispute that grows into a heated discussion. Leaders have to think carefully about whether their actions will fan or douse embers of conflict.
Conflicts often serve as evidence of deeper disagreements or hurts within the congregation. Sometimes healing has been needed for a long time, but no one has facilitated that process. Leaders need wisdom to discern how best to acknowledge the conflict and how to work toward resolution. They will have to address questions like the following:
Should we “name” the conflict in worship?
Should we speak words of confession to one another?
Can we do this without making hypocrites out of people by attempting to force contrition?
How (and how often) should we address themes of unity and reconciliation?
Should we take care to involve members who are on different “sides” of the conflict?
How can we use worship and Scripture to build hope in the congregation, knowing that our Lord will carry us through this difficult time?
Congregations need to recognize that things don’t always go well, and difficult times are a normal part of congregational life.
Planning Worship in Difficult Times
Worship services can help a congregation through a difficult time by reminding members of the major themes of Scripture and the promises God has made. In worship, congregations gather as God’s chosen people, recalling who they are by baptism and finding themselves again in the gospel narrative. During difficult times, careful worship planning becomes more crucial than ever. Services must be designed carefully, with thoughtful awareness of the difficult situation and the many opinions and questions swirling around.
Church leaders who are dealing with the conflict, crisis, or transitional situation should be in close contact with those who plan worship. They should not naively assume that they can simply take care of the difficulty behind the scenes so that the problem won’t affect the worship services. It will affect them—one way or another. The challenge is to manage that effect and guide the process with discernment.
Public acknowledgement of the difficult time may be helpful for a congregation, but it requires sensitivity and careful planning by the leaders. They must be sure to preserve the dignity and purpose of worship, as well as be sensitive to the presence of visitors in the worship service. One church-shopping couple visited a church on the very day the suspension of its pastor was announced. They kept coming to see how the church would handle the crisis, and are still members ten years later.
Church leaders may find that simply naming the difficulty facing the congregation will go a long way toward reducing the anxiety that members are feeling. Instead of avoiding the obvious, leaders can help the congregation admit that things are not quite the way they’re supposed to be. This may also give the congregation permission to admit failure and begin moving toward health. In the midst of pressure to be the best church, draw the most people, and have the most inspiring worship services, congregations need to recognize that things don’t always go well, and difficult times are a normal part of congregational life. This attitude, when modeled by church leaders, may help members work through the difficulty. In fact, the congregation may learn that difficult times can be times of great spiritual growth.
Leaders can facilitate that growth through careful collaboration with worship planners. Congregations experiencing challenges are often characterized by a variety of intense emotions, including an increase in anxiety and a concurrent decrease in the creative energy needed for planning and implementing corporate worship. Sometimes the crisis or conflict results in a loss of leadership—even a loss of the pastor or other central worship planner or leader. Congregations in these situations need guidance in knowing what questions to ask and what matters to consider regarding worship. (See Q&A, p. 30, for some examples of such questions.)