A LETTER TO A DYING FRIEND

The following excerpt is from a letter that I wrote to a friend. He passed away today, but I sent him this note 3 weeks ago:

…What I am writing about concerns God’s promises and faith in Christ — it’s about God’s gift of eternal life. Understand that I feel compelled to say something at a time like this, and it would be shameful if I said nothing. If you’d rather not hear it then set this letter aside. Regardless, we will continue to pray for you along with many of our friends. Otherwise read on.

A little over a year ago a leader from a Lutheran church, and I went to visit with my friend Ivan. Ivan had attended the church from which my companion was a member and leader. Ivan had pancreatic cancer, and it had spread throughout his body. His time was short so their was urgency in our visit.

I told Ivan of a promise that is written in one of the final books in the New Testament. It is 1 John 5:13 and it states: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” That is a promise that God has given not only to Ivan but also to you. It means that a person can know that he has eternal life now and in the world to come. The promise is God’s contract with mankind so that we “may know” that we “have eternal life.” It’s not a hope so message. Since it is a promise that has been sealed in the blood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

God saw our need and recognized that we were not able to do anything to deliver ourselves from condemnation and judgment. Because of His love for us, our heavenly Father devised a plan by which He determined to send His Son to do what men could not do for themselves. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

He sent Jesus to die for our sins. The next verse John 3:17 explains God’s purpose in sending His Son, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” This means that God saw our need so He sent His Son to die and thereby to bear the punishment that we deserve.

It doesn’t matter how good or moral a man or a woman might be. It isn’t enough to be moral or good since we are all sinners. Romans 3:23 makes it abundantly clear, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Imagine a hospital room that has bacteria lurking about on the equipment and the room’s surfaces. The bacteria is invisible to the eye, but it will contaminate instruments and be introduced into a patient’s body. If untreated such a condition will lead to death. That is our situation. Our spiritual condition is, we have been contaminated by sin. All of our efforts to be moral and good have been tainted. Isaiah made this point when he wrote in Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags….” Our sin infects everything we do.

God’s requirement is absolute holiness. God is a holy God and requires that we be without any sin, “because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:16). But like a patient recovering from his injuries is helpless against infection so it is with us. We are helpless without God’s intervention. We must recognize that our sin is an offense to God. We must change our minds about how we have been living with God and turn to Jesus. We must declare our allegiance to Christ.

Salvation and eternal life that goes with it are a gift. Romans 6:23 promises: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” You don’t work to receive a gift. A gift is presented without any requirement. To benefit from a gift all a person must do is receive it. Again the Scripture gives us a promise: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:13). The promise here speaks of receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior. It isn’t talking about receiving a religion.

Also, we must become children of God. That isn’t something that happens because of the fact that our parents were followers of Christ. God doesn’t have any grand children He only has children. Each individual must choose to become His child.

Finally we do this by: “believing in His name.” Jesus said, “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6). Jesus declared that He is the only way. You may think, “How can this be possible?” The words from Luke 18:27 give us the answer to that question: “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”

As they were dying the thief on the cross said to Jesus, “‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” The thief was a sinner like you and I. He hadn’t been attending synagogue or church. He couldn’t do any righteous deeds to save himself, and it wouldn’t have worked anyway. He recognized that Jesus was the “Lord,” and he recognized that Jesus was the only one that could save Him.

After I shared these same things with my friend Ivan. I asked him if he wanted to declare his faith in Jesus as his Savior. Ivan said, “Yes.” I then led him in a prayer. I ask you the same question: Do you want to receive Jesus as your Savior? You may do so by praying this simple prayer from your heart: “Lord, I know that I am guilty as a sinner, I turn from living for myself alone, I turn from trying to get to heaven by my own effort, and I turn to Jesus to deliver me. I now claim Jesus as my Lord and Savior and ask that you forgive me of all of my sin. Thank you for saving me. Amen,”

The day after I spoke with Ivan I made a plaque with the words of 1 John 5:13 on it: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” I took it out to Ivan’s the next day. Later when I visited again there was the plaque on the mantel where he could see it every minute that God gave to Him. It’s God’s promise sealed in the blood of Jesus.

….[We]…would be more than happy to come down to visit with you and…[your wife].

By God’s grace,

Keith Churilla

THE PLACE FOR THE SWORD

I believe that Christian pacifism contradicts the teaching of the New Testament. As I begin I will state that I don’t own a gun, and I helped a man in my congregation get out of the army in 1990 (before the first Gulf War). His commanding officer also argued on his behalf for his release from military service. He was/is a pacifist, but I am not.

Some Christians embrace a pacifist position on defending their person, family, community and country. I ask that you consider evidence from the New Testament. I know Jesus said that we are to “turn the other cheek,” but there is much more evidence in the New Testament that must be considered. I believe Christ’s words pertain to defending and establishing the Christian faith. The point is that we cannot use the world’s methods to advance Christ’s kingdom. For example, John Calvin’s burning of Michael Servetus as a heretic at the stake was totally inconsistent with New Testament teaching. By the way, a conservative estimate would be that 99% of the Christians who fought in the Crusades never read the Bible—the printing press wasn’t invented for two to three hundred years after the Crusades.

Salem police search for a gunman in a South Salem residential neighborhood.

A thief broke into a home in my neighborhood on December 11. The thief shot the homeowner. (Statesman Journal Photo.)

Here are some facts that demonstrate that the teaching of the New Testament distinguishes between personal safety and defending and advancing the Christian faith. Yes Jesus laid down His life when the time for His sacrifice arrived. But on several occasions prior to the Crucifixion, he withdrew and took evasive action when he was threatened. John 8:59 states, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself….” In Luke 4:29 Jesus was led out of out of the city, and His enemies were taking steps to kill Him. In verse 30 it states that: “…but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” These are only a couple of examples where Jesus didn’t just turn the other cheek. (Hang on I am only getting started.)

JESUS TOLD HIS DISCIPLES TO BUY TWO SWORDS

If the Christian faith is inconsistent with the premise that it is necessary at times to bear arms then why did Jesus tell his disciples to buy swords. Luke 22:36 states: “Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” Yes, shortly there after Jesus told Peter to lay aside his sword, but that was because the time had come for Jesus to lay down His life. Jesus wasn’t giving contradictory commands to His disciples. His kingdom could not be established through violence but in the years to come his disciples would face many dangers.

Remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits….” (2 Corinthians 11:26, NIV.)

If being a follower of Christ in our day requires that we do not take steps to protect our person, family, community and country, then why isn’t soldiering, and why aren’t soldiers, seen in the New Testament in a negative light? John the Baptist didn’t tell soldiers to repent of their sin of soldiering. Again we turn to the book of Luke, “Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages’” (Luke 3:14).

We can use force to promote Christ.

“Tell me more about this Christianity of yours. I’m terribly interested.”

TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS CHRISTIANITY OF YOURS

I heard of some Christians witnessing to Jihadists by capturing them, pretending to prepare to execute the Jihadists by beheading them. Just before the victims thought they were to have their throat’s slit their captors stopped, released them and witnessed to them. I question this strategy for the advancement of Christianity.

In America many Christians try to perpetuate a macho image one way or another as a means of attracting people to Christ. Jesus didn’t project a tough guy image. This can be a variation on the same theme of using toughness, intimidation, violence, and even the practice of religious genocide—to promote Christianity. Jesus was meek and humble. Christianity is most attractive when we imitate Christ and humble ourselves to help the helpless.

ROMAN SOLDIERS WERE SOME OF THE MOST COURAGEOUS SAINTS

Consider this important fact: Cornelius as a Roman soldier was a Centurion. He was not just another centurion. He was an officer serving in Rome’s regional capital in Palestine, Caesarea. Acts 10:2 states that he was: “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” Roman soldiers didn’t just project an image of toughness—they were tough—they were the real thing. And yet, it is Cornelius who is the one upon whom the Lord Jesus chose to pour out the Holy Spirit. If defending one’s country, participating in executing the application of Roman law was evil, then Jesus’ choice of Cornelius was evil. But Jesus’ choice of a soldier/policeman wasn’t evil. Our failure to use discernment in applying Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” is wrong. We must recognize that the Scriptures allow us to protect ourselves from thieves, robbers, and any who would destroy our community and country.

Later in Roman history there were many soldiers who were Christians. In fact in the third century many of them laid down their lives for their faith. They fought as Roman soldiers, but when commanded to offer sacrifices to the emperor they refused. They fought for the Roman empire, but died for Christ’s kingdom.

But you better think twice about pulling out your gun. Recently, I read of a woman who pulled out her gun when she witnessed a robbery underway. She wasn’t robbed but watched the gunmen run out of a store. She shot at the fleeing assailants. She didn’t hit anyone, but she left several bullet holes in the robber’s car.  Our “good Samaritan” of sorts is now facing prosecution for use of a handgun. She was heard to muse, “I’ll never get involved ever again.” If you use a handgun, you better be prepared to get “lawyered up.”

WHAT ABOUT A WOMAN AND CHILDREN FACING ABUSE?

One final thought: those who insist that Christians must turn the other cheek in all situations need to think of the implications of their premise carefully. What about a Christian woman in an abusive marriage? She is under the threat of death. Is she supposed to just turn the other cheek? This is the kind of advice that some preachers in a bygone era erroneously offered. What about a mother who knows her children have a father who has sexually abused them, is she to turn the other cheek? We would make exceptions in these cases and have made laws that are to be followed in order to protect our families.

I am not suggesting a woman or anyone use a weapon to defend herself or her children. I am suggesting that she doesn’t have to stand there and take the abuse. Jesus withdrew and at times hid himself. You don’t always turn the other cheek.

There is much more to be said on this topic. I don’t think I have produced the final word on this subject. I am just defending my understanding that as an American I have the right to protect myself, my home, my community, and my country. As I close I am reminded of the words of Senator Sam Ervin from the Watergate hearing: “An interpretation must not only be consistent with one text; it must not be inconsistent with other texts.” (Quoted by Chairman Samuel Ervin at the U.S. Senate Watergate Investigation, Washington, D.C., June, 1973.) When the whole of the New Testament Scriptures and Christian history are considered, I believe I have a duty to protect myself, my family, and my country. I can lock the doors to my house and have an alarm system—I don’t have to let everybody in. I also reserve the right to call 911 if I need to.

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2016.)

 

A PARABLE OF A PIG

All We Could See was Heads, Snouts, and Ears

We’ve all had those experiences where we know something bad is going to happen, and yet we can’t do anything to stop it or keep it from happening. Several years ago my wife and I were making a trip. Our journey would take us north on Interstate 5, through the Columbia Gorge, and then up into eastern Washington State for the week.

As we got on the freeway heading north, we found ourselves behind an old furniture truck loaded with pigs. Since they were large and full grown, no doubt they were on their way to the slaughterhouse. The pigs were secured by a barrier/gate in the back of the van. The gate was just a couple of 2 x 12s —  one on top of the other. Our car was the vehicle immediately behind the van, and all we could see was heads, snouts, and ears.

The entrance onto the freeway was a cloverleaf that swung traffic around to merge north onto the highway. As we came around to go north one of the pigs lifted himself up by putting one hoof over the top of the barrier and then another. He rocked back and forth trying to leverage himself over the barrier and out of the truck. My wife began to say, “Oh my goodness…oh my goodness.” I knew I couldn’t stop the impending catastrophe so I slowed my vehicle.

As the truck merged onto the freeway at about 30 miles an hour, the pig came tumbling out head over haunches on its side onto the pavement. He slid about 25 feet, and he then pulled himself up on his front legs. The traffic behind us came to a halt, and as I drove by I could gaze into the pig’s face (I guess pigs have faces). He looked stunned, dazed, and bewildered. I don’t think he had any plan about what to do next. The truck driver had no idea that he’d lost part of his cargo. As the truck sped away the vibration of the truck caused the ears on the pigs to shake up and down. It was as if they were waving goodbye to their friend.

Since I knew nothing about pigs I thought that the most I could do was stop the truck and alert the driver. We followed the truck for several miles, and I honked my horn and flashed my lights. I pulled alongside the vehicle waving trying to get the driver’s attention, but there was no response. The driver was engaged in a very animated conversation with the passenger seated in the cab next to him. It was also evident that even if I stopped the truck I might have a communication problem. Eventually I gave up, and my wife and I went on our way. I reasoned that the cars behind us were forced to stop and would call the police.

In the days that followed I wondered what happened to that pig. We returned home for the weekend and I spoke at our morning service. When the service concluded I stood at the church’s front doors and spoke with people as they left. One of the dispatchers, a member of the State police, attended my church. He was present on the Sunday following the incident with the pig. I asked if he knew anything about a pig being abandoned on the freeway that week. He said, “You know when I was on duty this week I had a couple of calls about a pig on the freeway. I dispatched two patrol cars at separate times, but they never found the pig.”

I don’t know what happened to the pig. There is a golf course nearby, an old peach orchard, and a marsh at that interchange. Did the pig live out his days there? Or, did someone stop and get a free pig? When the cargo arrived at its destination did the farmer discover that he was missing a pig? Did he send the truck driver back to search for its missing passenger? I’ll never know. The years have passed, and believe it or not, the Lord has taught me a lesson or two from this little parable.

First, I have concluded that the pig was pushed. You must understand ultimately as the pig moved closer and closer to the back of the truck he was pushed out. Such a claim may shock you (or maybe you don’t think about such things but indulge me and listen to my point). As the pig moved to the edge, the herd pressed in upon him, and he couldn’t go back into the truck. There was only one way to go and that was out onto the pavement.

Life has the habit of throwing us a curve, and we all come tumbling out of our comfort zone at some point. It’s going to hurt, but you can survive. These hard things either make us bitter or they make us better. It might be the breakup of a relationship, a life-threatening disease, the loss of a loved one. You might lose your job, or face a natural disaster. At some point in time its just going to happen, and you won’t be able to stop it.

Further reflection on this parable has taught me a second lesson from the pig’s experience. It is human nature to fight and resist when it is obvious that we are being pushed out by someone or several someones. Perhaps you know what it’s like to go through an experience where you came tumbling out. Not out of the back end of a truck, but you know what its like to be rejected — pushed out. Perhaps you were cast aside and rejected by someone you trusted and you thought loved you. It hurt when you hit the ground and you were stunned, dazed, and disoriented. In all honesty, you must recognize what just happened may have saved your life. I am not talking about your physical life, but I am speaking of the things that make you productive and give you joy. Sometimes we don’t realize that we’re in toxic and destructive situations that are off task and crushing our spirit.

Let me explain a little bit more: Much of what American Christians and the American Church does isn’t even on the “to do list” that Christ gave us. This is what I am thinking of when I say we are in situations that are off task. Apart from teaching people the Bible, the American Church focuses on tasks that perpetuate the church as an organization rather than fulfilling Jesus’ “to do list.” Leaders may unwittingly choose to teach topics that divert our attention from what is really important.

We have been warned that it is possible to be off task and to focus on the wrong things. Jesus admonished us when he said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; ‘but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.'” Many of us have to admit that we are heading down the road of life just enjoying the ride and delighting in the view.

When you are being pushed out, at first you may think that it’s just your fellow travellers that have gone wild. Look very closely and you may be surprised to see a familiar face guiding the herd. The One shepherding the herd will be the Lord. He will be directing events to push you out and on. He won’t be trying to shame or hurt you. It has to be done this way because you won’t let go of what is of little or no eternal importance.

In 1956, Nate Saint along with his fellow missionaries Jim Elliot and Ed McCully were martyred by Auca Indians. Nate left us these  sobering words, “And people who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.”

In this parable/life story I’d like to think that the pig that fell of the truck didn’t make it to the slaughterhouse — he didn’t suffer through the experience of his fellow passengers. When I told this story to one of my pastor friends he shouted, “Glory! He was saved from destruction!” Sometimes God is working and using people to push us out to keep our lives from being unfruitful and meaningless. He doesn’t want our opportunity to serve Him to be wasted and destroyed.

One final thought: It’s important to stop thinking of yourself as one who was rejected and start recognizing that you are the one that got away!

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2012.)

Also by this author: The Armor of Light Bible Study & Planner
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Character Development Resource

Also by this author: The Armor of Light Bible Study & Planner

NO LONGER BEHIND BARS BUT STILL IN PRISON

Stop whining about criminals becoming repeat offenders. If you don’t want to take steps to change the laws don’t look down your nose at the high crime neighborhood in your community. It could be argued that it is good for business. As things are set up now, the process is postured to encourage felons to become repeat offenders and people with “legitimate businesses” benefit from the status quo. You may ask,”What in the world are you talking about?” Let me explain how things work. [The following article is not intended to address issues related to individuals that have been convicted of sex crimes. Criminal activity of this nature is considered outside of the scope of my comments here. Since many crimes are rooted in dependency behaviors, the comments posted here are pertinent to the issues of addiction.]

THREATS FEAR AND INTIMIDATION 
http://www.flickr.com/photos/12993556@N05/5787604219/

“I was in prison and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25:36.)

I live in Oregon. If you live in a state like Oregon that uses plea deals to streamline the process of prosecuting criminals, then you better think things through (Alaska has banned the use of plea deals). When a person commits a crime and after investigation of the crime is completed, he will be pressured into signing a plea deal. In order to pressure the culprit into signing, the district attorney’s office will pile on more and more charges. The D.A. will look for any actions taken by the accused that can be potentially interpreted as violations of the law. The perpetrator will be offered a reduction of charges if he accepts the plea deal. If he chooses to face the charges in court, he will run the risk of being found guilty on all charges and be punished for each infraction of the law. He will be coerced into signing for the lesser charges because of the threat of being found guilty of a greater crime with a more significant penalty. The system works through threat and intimidation.

The accused will have a court appointed attorney, but for all practical purposes his court appointed attorney may only provide minimal legal services. In fact, more times than not the court appointed attorney works to lead his client into signing the plea deal. They aren’t making too much but they get paid even if their client signs a plea deal. The defense lawyer probably won’t remember his client’s name in a week, but he will collect his fee and his client will be required to ultimately pay the county back for the court appointed attorney’s services.

I have trouble seeing that the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty is protected by the present plea deal system as is practiced so broadly in the United States. It is a certainty that a person who isn’t guilty will be pressured into accepting the district attorney’s offer. Without adequate legal representation an innocent man or woman would be tempted to sign a plea even if he knows he’s innocent. A district attorney with all of the trappings of his office and having the cooperation of other law enforcement officials, will appear to be a formidable opponent. In addition, the authorities will be faced with the moral dilemma of using all available evidence and the severest charges to intimidate. The D.A. will use this tactic even if he doesn’t have the expectation that he could prove the charges in court or the time to develop each charge in a trial. For these reasons, the plea deal system can easily prey upon the uneducated and poor.

The plea deal system has arisen in order to reduce the number of cases that require a trial before a judge. I was told by a judge that the plea deal system is essential. He said that half of the cases must be settled through the plea deal system. He observed that without plea deals there wouldn’t be enough judges to preside over all of the cases in the county in which I live. This system isn’t in place because it is good, it is in place because it is cheaper.

If lawyers didn’t encourage clients to sign plea deals, the courts would collapse under the volume of court cases. You wouldn’t be able to find a courtroom that could handle the occasional law suit where the lawyers make their real money. (Since street criminals typically don’t read articles like this, airing these issues in a public forum doesn’t pose a big threat to the status quo. You will forgive me if I just pity the pour soul for making wrong choices, and grieve over his inability to anticipate all of the pitfalls that lie ahead as he passes through the maze of our legal system.)

You would think that our highest priority in America would be a criminal justice system that punishes the guilty and that would prepare the offenders to reenter society when they have served their sentences. We have ended up with a system that appears to have as its highest priority to extract as much revenue as possible for people in various professions. Certainly our legal system serves to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. My comment is about the highest priority. Plea deals serve to free up the courts and provide more room for lawsuits where a lawyer will reel in from thirty to fifty percent of an award from a lawsuit that he has litigated.

The plea deal system doesn’t make society safer, instead it has the opposite effect. My point is that the plea deal system works to increase the likelihood that a person committing a crime will become a repeat offender. The system cannot distinguish between individuals who are unrepentant about their crimes and the individuals who are trying to make a fresh start.

The formula of penalties piled one on top of another with: jail time, heavy fines, limited work opportunities, few desirable housing situations lead to a sense of hopelessness. There is a sense of having no voice or potential for getting free from the past. There may have been risks but the criminal sees a perverse hope in criminal activity—it is what he understands and that with which he is familiar. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that under these circumstances many become repeat offenders.

I am not some whacked out drug fiend or hippie type. I was ordained in an evangelical denomination, and I am in my 35th year of ministry. I’ve never had a drink of alcohol, smoked a cigarette, or used any illegal drug. (I’m not trying to impress you with these facts. I am just trying to give you my perspective.) None of my family members have ever been accused of a felony, and I have traditional views on crime and punishment. All I have to say is that we have ended up with a system that in my opinion increases the likelihood of a felon becoming a repeat offender. Rather than giving a person a clear path for becoming a law abiding citizen, it becomes a path with many setbacks and pitfalls. As things exist now, felons can be hindered from getting their lives back on track and are marked for life with no hope of overcoming their past. I am painfully familiar with the con artist who seeks to garner sympathy and support only to exploit the ones who have helped him, but there are people who want to get out of the legal ditch into which they have stumbled.

Several months ago I was involved in a conversation with an officer who works in a youth correctional facility in a different county. I knew he’d only been working as a corrections officer for about a year and a half. I asked him if he had much job security. He said, “You never run out of stupid.” His point was that he has job security since there are always more kids doing dumb things. But the system itself is dumb. It seems we never run out of stupid when it comes to writing more and more laws that will rob a man of hope and increase the likelihood of him becoming a repeat offender.

WHACK-A-MOLE
 
Remember the game that children play down at the pizza parlor?

The System Plays Whack-A-Mole

Now I come to the main portion of this airing of the problem that I call the “whack-a-mole” routine. You remember the game that children play down at the pizza parlor? The person playing the game stands in front of the whack-a-mole game machine. A mechanical mole sticks its head up out of one of five or six openings. In order to score points, the contestant whacks as many moles on the head as possible. The object is to score points by whacking a mole on the head before it retreats back into its hole. This is the picture that I have of our legal system. When a felon tries to make some headway he is beaten down. He tries again, but he is beaten down by another thing. This is the practical outcome of our system of laws that were established to punish the guilty and protect our society. Even if the lawbreaker has paid all of his fines and fulfilled all of the obligations established by the court, there may be little practical benefit.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to start a conversation with a second corrections officer from another facility. I was trying to bait him about the injustices that I believe are in the system. His response was, “The system is corrupt.” My comments were not accusatory, and I was only trying to draw him into a conversation yet his response was repeated three different times, “The system is corrupt.” This is the point that you must recognize: “the system is corrupt.”

A man that I met nine months ago completed all the court required in response to his drug conviction from three years ago. He did a week in jail and his sentence resulted in a kind of virtual house arrest. Traveling out of state and out of the county was considered a violation of his parole so he stayed home. He reported to his parole officer faithfully for the last three years, paid all of his fines, and completed the diversion component that the court required. When he applied to have his record expunged, the D.A. sent a young lawyer to speak against expungement because he had two felonies.

The judge and the assistant from the D.A.’s office both seemed rather new to the whole process. I couldn’t help but wonder whether both judge and the assistant had been handed this task because no one else had the heart to face the twelve felons who appeared for the hearing. The judge was given the grievous task to tell all of these felons that there would be no relief until ten years had passed or maybe ever. The judge didn’t believe that she could exercise any discretion in each of these cases. (The legal maneuver to deal with this problem is to get the convictions reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. However, neither the judge or lawyer let these poor folks know what was the appropriate step. My hunch is that the judge and the lawyer were unaware of this point of Oregon’s laws.)

Let me explain how the law calculates two felonies in this situation. My friend’s first felony was his drug conviction and the second was endangering his mother (who lived with him) by his use of drugs in his home. These felonies pertained to the same event, but he had signed a plea deal that made him guilty of two crimes. If you have two felonies, Oregon law states that your record cannot be expunged for ten years even if it involved the same event. Double jeopardy doesn’t apply in this situation because there is more than one charge and conviction. They are considered two separate crimes, but from the same event. In ten years this man will be retired and on social security. Under these circumstances there appeared to be no real incentive for him to pay his fines but he did. There wasn’t any reason to be diligent and to do what the court required at sentencing, but he wanted to make things right.

Forgive me, but I don’t understand how the man’s crime could warrant no more than a few days in jail and yet it couldn’t be expunged. It seems ridiculous to me that he can now visit his mother and isn’t considered a threat. I don’t get the fact that he can work (if he can find work) and travel all over town and isn’t considered a threat to the community. In addition since his seven days in jail, he and his girlfriend fought to get her two teenage children back from children’s services. Oregon thought he was sufficiently fit to adopt her two teenagers, but because of his conviction, he isn’t deemed fit to hold a good job even if he has all of the necessary skills. In spite of his responsibilities, the inconsistencies in the law have become a snare. He can raise children, but he can’t be considered for a career that would provide for his family. Like a leper from Bible times, the felon must warn prospective employers, landlords, and all that pass by that he is unclean.

Job opportunities for people that have done jail time are scarce. Even if you were qualified for a technical position before, now prospective employers won’t even consider your application no matter how qualified you are. At my friend’s hearing, the first case that was considered involved a young woman who similarly had two felonies. When she was told that the District Attorney’s office opposed the expungement of her record for the same reason she was devastated. Her voice cracked when she said, “What am I supposed to do? I can’t get a job.” Many in the criminal system draw the same conclusion and then think: “I’ll do what I know best. I might as well sell drugs, or I might as well run a scam,” etc.

[UPDATE: As is stated above my friend’s record couldn’t be expunged because of a technicality. In the days that followed he and his girlfriend then sent brief letters asking that their crimes be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. His felony can’t be expunged but it can be reduced. Her record has now been changed by a court order by a judge, but the judge lost my friend’s letter to the court. He had to send a second letter yesterday and his charges more than likely will be reduced if they don’t lose the letter again. After his sentence is reduced it can then be expunged. Why couldn’t the judge at the hearing last Spring have reduced the crimes from felonies to misdemeanors?]

FELONS ARE GOOD FOR BUSINESS
 
Let me explain how a high crime neighborhood is good for the economy and what are called “legitimate businesses.” Ironically, a law school that provides lawyers for our community has much property in and adjacent to “felony flats.” “Felony flats” is the name that is used to identify the neighborhood where many who have been convicted of crimes are forced to live. They are forced by their circumstances to live there once they have been released from jail. The state has created this situation in order to save money and reduce the number of people in prison. It is where I work and where my church ministers. Jesus taught us about the importance of protecting those in prison from exploitation and abuse with these words: “I was in prison and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25:36.) I’ve found that you don’t have to go to a jail to fulfill the principle of visiting people in prison. State governments have created communities that house people convicted of crimes outside the prison walls.

While the community’s reputation keeps property prices low, the growing university has been buying up property. The university benefits from the low housing prices that are in the neighborhood. This puts the felons in competition for the use of property in the neighborhood. You might think I am being cynical, but you can say the university benefits from there being a place called “felony flats.” Its law school will provide the lawyers that will keep the criminals there and then assess legal fees for providing their services.

There is the landlord who rents to felons. A person with a felony can and will be rejected by most landlords. This means that a person convicted of a felony can only rent in certain circumstances. My wife and I went into a boarding house someone thought our church ought to purchase. We found that in felony flats you can rent a single room with a dirty mattress on the floor for around $500.00 a month. Yes, the tenants in this district have been known to run out on their rental obligations, but the landlords still make a profit. The truth is you can rent an entire apartment in a nicer part of town for less money. In addition, felons had better be careful about complaining about rent issues because their landlords can and will black ball them if they don’t keep their mouths shut and complain to the housing authority.

After he is released from jail, the felon is in a position where he can be exploited. Since their driving privileges are often suspended as a part of their conviction, most of the felons I’ve met don’t have transportation. As a result, they have to walk or ride a bicycle in order to shop. They have to purchase groceries at the neighborhood grocery store or the major chain store no matter how high the prices. Both the major grocery chain store and the corner grocer both benefit from having a captive clientele.

We don’t have food stamps in Oregon, we have the Oregon Trail Card. It works like a credit card for food. There is the businessman in the neighborhood who is rumored to have purchased the Oregon Trail Card from people who wanted cash. Of course he paid half the card’s value, but received full compensation for the card from the state.

The legal profession benefits from the status quo. A court appointed attorney to keep you out of jail is one thing, but you’re not going to get free legal advice to help you with clearing your name. There isn’t any court appointed attorney who will help get your kids back. In addition to all of the court fines, you are going to have to hire an attorney to untangle any of your legal problems.

There are individuals in the medical profession that benefit from the way things are. I have heard of a dentist charging $3,000 to do one root canal and crown for one tooth. The patient was a convicted felon, and I assume the dentist didn’t want her business so he quoted her a high price. In spite of a new beautiful dental clinic being built a few blocks a way from “felony flats” I don’t think the people in the neighborhood will be going there. I could be wrong, but I doubt if they’ll be able to afford the dentist’s services.

If you have been convicted of a felony you are going to have a hard time finding a job. I know of one man who was a favorite worker who was hired again and again to do one job after another by a temporary employment agency. The temp agency merged with another company and informed the man that since he had been convicted of a felony, his services would no longer be needed. The new company decided it would no longer hire anyone that had been convicted of a felony.

The unscrupulous businessman who violates laws needs felons so he can break codes and do things that violate the law. With employees who have to keep their mouths shut, his illegal activities will go unreported to the authorities. He can expose his employees to asbestos or other dangerous and illegal situations. He pays his employees under the table so he is not paying out taxes or paying for workman’s comp insurance. (This is why some employers use illegal aliens.) You might say the businessman who is willing to break the law needs a pool of individuals who find it almost impossible to find employment. To add insult to injury, the State of Oregon has passed laws that prevent felons from being hired by contractors working on state projects.

WHY WOULD ANYONE PAY HIS DEBT TO SOCIETY?
 
No wonder so many convicted criminals find it easier to make money by returning to criminal activity. If there is no immediate benefit or any real means, why would a person pay court levied fines? If he can’t find legitimate employment, how can the convicted felon pay his fines? Face it some people like it—they like the way things are. Either stop whining or do something about it!
 
Matthew 25:37-39
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?
‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?
‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
 

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2011.)

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Also by this author: The Armor of Light Bible Study & Planner