HOPE FOR THE LITTLE GUY

My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counsellor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2.)

Mr. Singh was the plaintiff and a foreign born citizen of India and with his green card was working here legally. He brought suit against a business owner and two private investigators.

The Plaintiff was a Foreign Born Citizen of India

At the end of the week, I was surprised to hear our judge say that the other judges in the courthouse had come to refer to our trial as “the trial from hell.” But it had been a week of surprises. The first shock came on Monday when I was selected as a juror. According to urban legend people in my profession aren’t supposed to serve as jurors. Obviously this isn’t true and I spent the next five days thinking to myself, “Boy, was I wrong.”

After the trial was over, our judge revealed that some of the other judges in the building had been taunting him throughout the week. From time to time they stuck their heads into the courtroom in order to smile mockingly at him. As the senior most judge in the county, he had assigned himself this trial.   The other judges let him know they were glad that they didn’t have to preside over this mess. We never saw that behavior ourselves, but the members of the jury did feel the tension that provoked the members of the court to consider the trial to be a visitation from hell. We were told that the lawyers trying the case had strong feelings of resentment toward one another. This was the fourth in a series of four lawsuits involving the same team of lawyers so the emotions were running high.

It must have been like pouring salt into an open wound when the defense lawyer implied again and again that the plaintiff’s lawyer had tampered with the evidence. The plaintiff’s lawyer didn’t get mad, he just got even by focusing harder and by making certain he stated the plaintiff’s case clearly and thoroughly.

CONFUSE ‘EM

Let me set out the basic facts of the case. Mr. Singh was the plaintiff, a foreign born citizen of India and with his green card was working here in the United States legally. He brought suit against his former employer and two private investigators for having him arrested on false charges. Mr. Singh is from the Sikh community and follower of the Sikh religion. His lawyer argued that as a result of his false arrest, Mr. Singh suffered emotional damages and had lost face in the Sikh community. His counsel had also presented evidence to show that his social relationships and reputation in the Sikh community had suffered because of what had happened.

Typically, the five day trial ran from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and was highly technical. At least sixty percent of the evidence and testimony dealt with how to make and secure an accurate copy of surveillance video from a computer’s hard drive. As I recall, we received testimony from six different computer technicians and specialists.

The key piece of evidence was the video from the hour that had been the basis of Mr. Singh’s original arrest. The defense team argued that while the video no longer showed Mr. Singh stealing from the store he managed, originally it had captured him stealing several cases of beer. The defense claimed that the video file had been tampered with and brought in a professional computer hacker who works for a company that manufactures processors for personal computers. Since he was a witness for the defense, it surprised me when the “hacker/expert” witness testified that this kind of surveillance equipment should not be used to chronicle employee theft. In addition, he ultimately admitted that there was no evidence that the video for the hour in question had been tampered with and that there was no evidence of video editing software ever being on the computer that was used for surveillance. After hours of testimony in these areas, the jurors suffered from mental fatigue and in my opinion could have become confused.

Throughout the week I was reminded of the old axiom that describes the lawyer’s strategy, “If the facts are on your side, then argue the facts. If the law is on your side, then argue the law. But, if neither the law nor the facts are on your side, confuse them.” I am pretty computer savvy but I kept worrying about the other jurors on the panel that they might be led astray by the confusing and contradictory information that was generated by the testimony that had been given. All week I fretted about my role as a juror, and I recognized that it would be inappropriate to introduce information that was not a part of the testimony that was presented during the trial.

HOPE IN ANSWER TO CYNICISM

In the closing arguments, the defense counsel committed a major gaff when he repeated the phrase again and again, “There is nothing special about Mr. Singh.” I thought, if there was a juror still on the fence, in that moment the defense counsel pushed him off and toward Mr. Singh’s side. Even a man without the rights that go along with citizenship in the United States is still a special person. He was special since he had a right to a trial by a jury he was given something that made him very special. He was given the right for the truth to be heard. Unfortunately, not everyone that has been treated unfairly will have his day in court or has an opportunity to see injustice corrected. But, in this case Mr. Singh did.

I am very sensitive to the issue of injustice and a person’s rights under the law. Other than a few traffic tickets and reporting stolen property and vandalism my, contact with our justice system has been limited. For the first time in my life I have been forced to see the underside of our country’s legal system firsthand. I am not talking about Mr. Singh’s trial, but I have been forced to take a closer look at our system of laws as was played out in this case and four other separate court actions (or inactions). These things include court action to prosecute a man who a year ago at random attacked my son and almost beat him to death; a friend’s son who is in prison for ten years for behavior that a police officer and a former governor committed without suffering any consequence; a couple from Great Brittan who in my opinion are being harassed and defrauded by a nearby municipality since they can’t afford adequate legal help; and the injustice of our legal system that penalizes those who have broken the law, but who are sabotaged by the system from getting their lives back on track. Let me explain.

I have seen how nonsensical our justice system can be since I have started working with people who have been through our penal system. Committing a felony in the United States produces the consequence that on the one hand the felon can’t get a job, but on the other hand, he must pay thousands of dollars in fines. A felon has limited access to housing, medical services, dental services (some dentists charge up to 4 to 5 times more for procedures performed on undesirable patients), and competent professional legal help (in addition to penalties felons have to pay their lawyer again and again). A poor person who commits a crime will spend the rest of his life just trying to get back to the starting point where his life spiraled downward out of control, and it is doubtful if he ever will. It’s easy to understand why so many turn again to criminal activity. I do not have a solution, and I know that with all of its problems, our system of justice is still one of the best legal systems in the world.

In the end, because of my fellow jurors, I found reason for hope. When the jury panel was finally dismissed on Friday in order to deliberate, I asked the jury a series of simple questions: “First, do you have a definite opinion about the testimony that you received?” All of the jurors indicated that they had a definite opinion — they weren’t confused about what to believe. Second, “Do you believe that the video tape was tampered with?” All of the jurors indicated that there was no evidence that the video had been tampered with. Third, “Do you believe that Mr. Singh had been arrested falsely?” Again, all of the jurors were unanimous in their conviction that Mr. Singh had been arrested falsely and they believed that the original arrest grew out of a situation involving mistaken identity (the jurors confirmed what the district attorney had already determined). Finally I asked, “Do you believe that Mr. Singh had suffered injury that warranted compensation?” Even on this the jurors were unanimous. I was amazed. After a weeklong snow job by the defense there was no need to revisit the technical intricacies of the expert testimony. At that point it was the jury’s responsibility to consider the question of whether compensation would be appropriate and if it was appropriate how much should the plaintiff receive? (The jury awarded Mr. Singh over $200,000.00 in damages.)

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

There are a couple of things I want you to think about from this experience: First, this whole episode gives reason for hope — hope for the little guy. In spite of the defense lawyer’s claim that there was nothing special about Mr. Singh, he was wrong. Mr. Singh was one of us. Even if he was not a citizen of the United States, he had a right to a trial with a jury of his peers. Mr. Singh wasn’t seeking some special right,  he was seeking to keep his rights from being tossed aside and trampled upon. The jury panel didn’t have any representatives of a minority group or anyone with Mr. Singh’s background. The twelve person jury was made up of a few business owners, a nursing student, a retired teacher’s aide, a mechanic, a childcare worker, a fitness instructor, a truck driver, a pastor, etc. There was nothing special about us either. Even though I have grown cynical about the inequities in our country’s legal system after what happened on that Friday afternoon my hope was soaring. What impressed me was that some common Americans (strangers to each other) were thrown together in a room, and they could see through all of the attempts to deceive and confuse them about the truth.

People make a mistake about America. They hate our government and then take it out on our people — our country’s ordinary citizens. Don’t you understand? We’re a lot like you. In fact the people in America came from all over the world.

The jury represents the pulse and heart of this country. The lesson here is that at times even the little guy — the weak and vulnerable — will have the truth come out and have opportunity for an injustice he has suffered to be corrected. There is hope for the little guy — the person who seems to have no voice.

Finally, I am a Christian and I believe that there is a spiritual lesson here that is to be learned and remembered. When the Bible tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” it is saying that we are all in the same position. We are all vulnerable and in need of help. We are the little guy. Unless someone comes to our aide, we have no voice and we have no hope. We have a death sentence that hangs over our heads.  Scripture tells us, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23.) This verse speaks of our spiritual condition: we are separated from God by our sin. We are spiritually dead.

After the trial, I happened to run into Mr. Singh’s lawyer outside of the court house. Several years ago he had been our city’s mayor. I teased him and observed that I had never voted for him. Then I told him, “But, you are one fine trial lawyer.” If I ever needed a lawyer, he would be the first person that I would ask to represent me.

However, don’t just think about these things on an earthly plain alone. Don’t be confused and distracted for someday you will pass from this life into eternity. When it comes to the issue of judgment in the world to come, I want you to consider the best Advocate of all. Looking at what lies ahead you and I need the Lord on our side. We need the Lord to represent us and to present our case. Romans 8:31-33 offers this hope to those that have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior: “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” This promise becomes effective in our lives when we trust Christ as Savior and He becomes our Advocate. He is the One that saves and keeps us and Romans 8:34 further confirms this hope, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” I tell you there is hope for the little guy like you and me.

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2011.)

Also by this author: The Armor of Light Bible Study & Planner
Checkout our web site: http://www.servantoflight.com

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

FAITH PUTS OIL ON YOUR TIRES

Old Bicycles in Prague -- Mike Short, Photographer

Old Bicycles in Prague -- Mike Short, Photographer

I have a new friend that has been a Christian for four months. So if you are going to laugh, don’t laugh at what he did until you hear the end of the story. (I told this story to some of my pastor friends and they laughed at first but they had to stop when they heard the whole story.) My friend lives in a neighborhood that is considered by most people in town to be a place where ex-felons, addicts and drug dealers live. Some of our praying grandmas in our church encouraged him to pray over his house and anoint things with tiny amounts of oil that is used for prayer. They encouraged him to pray over his house, wife and daughter seeking God’s protection and covering over his home.

While we are in the process of taking steps to expunge his record, three years ago he was arrested and convicted of drug possession. Because of his arrest and resulting sentence, most of the time his only means of transportation is his bicycle. People that get in trouble with the law can lose everything and like my friend, they can lose a lot of possessions and rarely have a car. Individuals that get caught and prosecuted for possession are a lot like you only they lose the opportunity for a good paying job, and control over where they travel and live. Years before, he had a job that took him all over the United States and the world. Since his arrest three years ago and after serving five days in jail, he has been virtually under house arrest (neighborhood arrest).

To say the least, his first day praying over his home and family was very interesting. He anointed and prayed over everything he could think of in his house. He then reasoned that if he anointed his shoes, he could walk around the neighborhood and pray for the people that lived there. Knowing the power that drug dealers have over the neighborhood, he began to pray for them. He didn’t pray against them, he prayed that their eyes would be opened to their need for Jesus Christ as their Savior. He prayed that they could experience the same kind of transformation that he has experienced since he received Christ.

As the day went on he again thought about praying for the neighborhood but now considered putting oil on the tires of his bike. He reasoned that if he put oil on the tires he could travel around the neighborhood and pray over the community. He concluded, by anointing his tires he could anoint more of the neighborhood and pray for more people. He anointed the tires of his bicycle and started praying for the people, families and drug dealers as he rode down the streets. There is a highway overpass that gives a vantage point to look down over the neighborhood. He stopped on the overpass and as he looked down upon the community he prayed for the people that live there. There are tougher and meaner neighborhoods in other parts of the country but many of the people that live here still live in the same kind of bondage and travail.

When he got back to his house his daughter called and needed another pair of shoes at school. She was already downtown so he decided to anoint his tires and head downtown. This time he prayed for the city and prayed that the people in our community would see their need for Jesus Christ. By the afternoon he finished his round trip at his home.

Late in the afternoon and at home his thoughts turned to questions. “What am I doing?” He thought to himself, “This is stupid.” (Admit it, you had the same kind of questions when you began to read this.) Who am I to presume to pray for people like me? This is silly, “Who ever heard of putting oil on your tires to anoint a community?”

He doesn’t remember what prompted him to go outside, but he stepped outside of his house and looked at the intersection that is 100 ft from the door of his home. A police cruiser pulled up behind a man that stopped at the intersection. Then another police cruiser cutoff the path of the man in the car from another direction. Then another police car and then another car and then another. A total of five police cars and one motorcycle patrolman pulled up and arrested one of the drug dealers that works the neighborhood. My friend was shaken. In the days that followed he learned that before taking on the devil he needed to be prayed up and supported by others in prayer, but I am glad he put oil on his tires. The sceptic denies any connection between prayer and results; and sometimes we chuckle at good news but at other times we laugh in unbelief. Remember what Sarah, Abraham’s wife, did…she laughed at the promise of God that she would bear a son, “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself….” (Genesis 18:12.) I say faith puts oil on the tires and unbelief scoffs in laughter. Just think of what you could do with a car…

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2011.)

Also by this author: The Armor of Light Bible Study & Planner
Checkout our web site: http://www.servantoflight.com

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

YOU CHOOSE WHERE YOU LIVE NOT WHERE YOU’RE BORN

Auditorium. Abandoned City Methodist Church. Gary, Indiana

Abandoned City Methodist Church. Gary, Indiana

People chuckle now and again when they ask me where I’m from. I was born in a place that some have described as the Pompeii of the Midwest. I think of it as an American Nazareth and am reminded of Nathanael’s question concerning the village in which Jesus grew up, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Because of the toxic waste in parts of the city, some just assume that the American government considers it to be one big Superfund site. Interestingly, a number of famous people came from there. Just to name a few: Astronaut Frank Borman, Nobel Prize winner Paul A. Samuelson, actor Karl Malden, football coach Hank Stram, football players Alex Karras, and Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon. The place of my birth was Gary, Indiana, and it is obvious to all that it has seen better days. As happens so often with folks when I tell them, perhaps the refrain from the song “Gary Indiana” wafted through your mind as you read the words.

While I was at the Phoenix Airport a few years back, a woman from Chicago gave me a hard time about where I was born. During our conversation she indicated that she didn’t think of Chicago as being located anywhere near Gary. You have to remember that I moved from Indiana when I was a very small boy and my memory may be faulty about something so long ago, but we lived outside the city in the outlying area. I thought Gary was somewhere near Chicago…but apparently not. She got on her plane and went back to Chicago. I got on my plane and got to fly back to my home in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve learned something that is pretty basic: you can’t choose where you are born but you do choose where to live. While I was born in Indiana, I have lived almost 90% of my life in the American West: the San Francisco area, Denver, Colorado, Seattle, Washington, Portland, and Salem, Oregon. I haven’t been back to Gary for over 45 years. I have lived most of my life in Oregon and the majority of that time in a county that in pioneer days was known as “The Garden of Eden at the end of the Oregon trail.” 

CHASING A DREAM

They say that as a boy my grandfather was a shepherd in Romania, but at the age of 15 he left the place of his birth. He walked approximately 340 kilometers from his village near Brasov, Romania to the ancient Romanian seaport of Constanta (211 miles). There he boarded a ship and immigrated to the United States. My grandmother was also from the Transylvanian mountains in Romania, a place called Agnita. No doubt it was the hope of work that brought them to Gary, Indiana. Grandpa eventually found work at US Steel in one of the most dangerous jobs in the mill, working at the open hearth. It is ironic that his supervisors never knew my grandfather’s last name and always misspelled his name the entire time he worked at the mill.

My grandparents arrived in Gary when it was a boom town back when it was still called “magic City,” “the city of the century,” and an “industrial utopia.” How did Gary go from being a city with such hope and promise? Since much of it was built on an old sand dune, Gary was literally built on the sand. Spiritually it was built on an weak foundation since it was created for the purpose of making money for US Steel.** No doubt there are several factors that contribute to Gary’s struggles, but let me advance a theory: Racism. To some I am stating the obvious, but it is important to point out that racism and racial tensions made it a place where it is difficult to attract new industries. It was the inability of various ethnic groups to live together with mutual trust and respect that inflicted mortal wounds upon the community. It was easier to leave town than it was to fix things. I believe that Christians and churches must shoulder a great deal of responsibility for what happened. Churches failed to adapt their ministries to include outsiders from different ethnic groups. Recognize that in the early part of the 20th century Indiana was a hot bed for the Ku Klux Klan. Many white Christians simultaneously embraced their faith and racism together, and they resisted outsiders. Ironically, Christians will send missionaries to Africa, Mexico, South America, etc but have difficulty integrating people from these regions into their ministries here. [**The city was founded in 1906 by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for its new plant. The city was named after the lawyer and founding chairman of U.S. Steel, Elbert H. Gary. (Source: Wikipedia.)]

My dad used to tell a story about how back in the 30’s his mother and father took a Sunday drive out to Hobart, Indiana. Two Klansmen on horseback stopped them on the outskirts of town and told them to go back and said, “We don’t want your kind here!” It is ironic that over the decades that followed, Hobart incorporated the rural area my family lived in. Had we remained in Indiana, we’d be living in Hobart—in spite of the men on horseback. (Note: I am not trying to impugn a whole community for the actions of a couple of men riding on horseback while wearing bed sheets.)

Klan marching in Hobart, Indiana, in the early 1920s

Klan march in Hobart, Indiana, in the early 1920s

I never understood why my father couldn’t handle working at US Steel after World War II. It sounded like he had a good job to me. Before being drafted into the army at the age of 24, he was an overhead crane operator at US Steel. Then he served in the South Pacific and no doubt suffered from what we now know to be delayed stress syndrome. As a veteran, he went back to his old job. Now I understand that with his delayed stress and personal issues returning to the mill after the war would have been difficult for him. Since he was involved in defense work, I’ve always questioned how someone like my dad, married with one child, could have been drafted in the first place. Over the years I’ve met many men my dad’s age from Seattle and Portland that were never subject to the draft because of being involved in some kind of “defense work.” Gary, Indiana, had a major part in what was called the “Arsenal of Democracy,” but dad’s boss simply told him, “I went in World War I and you’re going now.”

Sometime ago I came across a presentation by a graduate student from the University of San Francisco, Megan Nordin. It has helped me understand the dynamics that race played in the steel mill. She posed this question about where people worked at the US Steel plant in Gary: “So… who works where?” She then gave this response: “Well… it’s complicated. Originally, Eastern European immigrants manned the eastern end of the plant, where most hazardous processes occurred. American born whites manned the cleaner western portion of the facilities and held management positions.” Now I understood something about grandpa and dad. Grandpa worked at the open hearth and dad ran a crane that traversed constantly over toxic materials. Why? They were Eastern Europeans.

Of course, during World War II the racial composition of Gary and the steel mill changed even more. Blacks came from all over the country to work in defense work and the complexion of the mill was changed in the eastern end of the plant. The community changed ethnically, many couldn’t handle the change and these tensions spilled over into the community.

A DREAM ON A COLLISION COURSE

Since my brother remembers the story it must have taken place in the fifties. One day a black woman showed up in a Sunday service in our all white Baptist church. She became too boisterous for the pastor. She kept praising God at his preaching and kept saying “Amen!” The minister considered her exhortations to be an interruption and couldn’t contain himself any longer and in the middle of his sermon called her down. He admonished her to hold her tongue for the rest of the service and suggested that in the future she attend a church with her people. Now I’ve been a pastor for many years, and I don’t care what color the person is, if they’re saying “amen,” it tends to get me a little more fired up. Instead of considering her an intruder, the pastor should have considered her the first fruit of a broader ministry in the community. The pastor cursed that church that Sunday and added to the curse on the city.

In the decades that followed the crime rate in Gary rose, and that Baptist church covered its windows with chain link. Symbolically, the church shut the community out even more. Church members were robbed in the parking lot, and I remember hearing a report that a girl was raped in the church basement. What I am suggesting is that had that church considered the woman an opportunity instead of a threat, its members could have been a part of reaching the black community for Christ.

My point is even broader than this. In the New Testament, the ideal church wasn’t the church in Jerusalem—a church made up of only one ethnic group. The model church was the church at Antioch—a multiracial church. Listen to the Bible’s witness: “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” (Acts 13:1.) This church had Jews, gentiles and black people—people from all over the Mediterranean area. Earlier in the book of Acts, this church was described as a thriving church: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21.)

I believe that Gary became a dangerous place because the churches and Christians there failed to seek to help its newest citizens and they created a barrier. They failed to take steps in order to build bridges and that barrier led to more and more hostility and danger. They sowed to the wind and reaped the whirlwind. I’ve been told that this church sold its property to another group and moved to Hobart. Why in the world would you send missionaries to reach blacks in Africa but not seek to reach and train blacks in your own community?

There is another famous person from the Gary area the musician Michael Jackson. His lyrics from his song “Black or White” are: “Where Your Blood/Comes From/Is Where Your Space Is/ I’ve Seen The Bright/Get Duller/I’m Not Going To Spend/ My Life Being A Color. In a gentle way Jackson was declaring that he wasn’t going to allow someone else to define who he was by his color. Perhaps Jackson saying that his own perspective on the people’s color may have dulled (changed)—”I’ve seen the bright get duller.”

CHANGING WHERE YOU LIVE

There is a church just south of Seattle and its leadership created a similar dilemma for its congregation. The church board didn’t know what to do when a black family attended so they decided to encourage the family to attend elsewhere. The Seattle area is even more diverse than Gary, and has had strong Black, Spanish speaking, and Asian communities for decades. The all white congregation dwindled down to nothing and the church was turned over to a young Korean pastor. The reports are that the church is growing and even ministers to whites. A major key to its current success is it seeks to do things to help people in the community.

Several years ago I ministered in a church in South Seattle, and I wish I had the same understanding of ministry then that I do now. When I was there I worked in a bedroom community that was created for the area war industry and was already in a state of decline. Ultimately I moved on to another church in Oregon. After several years had passed we returned to discover how things had gone from bad to worse. Now you need to be careful as you move around in that section of town because of the gang activity. We also discovered that the grocery stores that we used to shop in have been converted into sleazy looking casinos. (Do you remember in the movie Back to the Future II! The main character Marty McFly returns to his home town. When he returns he finds it filled with all kinds of unsavory characters and that the city is dominated by a large casino. Now you’ve got the picture.) Was there an alternate future that might have been? Technically we will never know. After I moved from Seattle, the church I pastored dwindled in numbers. When I was in Seattle, much of what I did was limited to ministering to the people that walked through the door and working in denominational activities. We did nothing to bring relief to the neighborhood and community. Much of the community ranged from lower income to poor (poor according to American standards).

Let me suggest a different approach to ministry that builds bridges, helps those who have lost their way, and can be invaluable in bringing a community back to life. If you are preoccupied with the concept of targeting (focusing on reaching people who are young urban professionals who already have their lives pretty much together) you may have difficulty relating to what will follow.

Silver Falls, Marion County, Oregon

Silver Creek, Oregon: "South Falls Fog." Marion County "the Garden at the End of the Oregon Trail"

I now work in what some consider a rough neighborhood in my hometown but because of my roots it is hard for me to think of it as being that tough. Regardless, some call it “felony flats,”and its much like the neighborhoods in almost every American city that has had a history of drug activity. I am certain that God brought us here to minister and help people no matter their ethnic background. We aspire to fulfill the principle that the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

You might ask what does this all have to do with the purpose of this web site which seeks to help people that are struggling with addictions? My purpose has been to point out that we need to teach people to ignore issues like where you are from—or your ethnicity. We need to get people to focus on where they’re going—focusing on their heavenly future. They need to be trained to live in light of their future—not their past. I also wanted to raise the issue that when the Church focuses on the wrong things, it diminishes its credibility and effectiveness. A sick church will have a hard time helping sick people. When a church focuses on denominational activities and chooses to feature activities designed to only perpetuate the organization, it has difficulty relating to people struggling with addictions.

Unwittingly, many American churches seek to entertain their congregants with sports competition, the handbell choir, the musical extravaganza, drama, the coffee bar, and preaching that coddles the status quo. “Kingdom ministries” or “helping ministries” are designed to help the outsider, the poor, the infirmed, the elderly, and those in prison. Churches that help people through helping ministries break down barriers and transform and revitalize. Churches that just entertain people waste precious time especially in a community that is falling apart. They distract the people of God and keep them from conducting meaningful ministry.

Our church has no building—on Sundays we meet in a school gym. In spite of lacking what most church people believe to be absolutely essential—a church facility with all of the trimmings-over the last four years our little church has helped 3,600 families through its mobile food bank (14,000 people). We have provided thousands of sets of school supplies and winter coats for free. We work hard to make certain that the people that really need the help get the help (this is extremely important). Some may think that this strategy is simplistic but remember what Proverbs 14:34 states, “Righteousness exalts a nation.” In other words, “Doing the righteous deeds to help others lifts up a nation…a city…a neighborhood…a life.” There is a renaissance in our neighborhood. Families are moving in and homes and homeowners are replacing rentals with landlords, but its not about real estate—its about lives.

HOW YOU LIVE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAT WHERE

I believe that it is essential to involve individuals that struggle with addictions in helping others in order to bring the addict to a place of spiritual health. We help the addict find his or her way back to health by giving the opportunity to help others. It’s hard to get excited about perpetuating church as a religious institution, but the normal Christian becomes excited when they help the helpless. When a drug user is craving his next fix it’s called “Jonesing.” They wait for their drug dealer to show up with their drugs and they’ll be Jonesing—looking out the window. There is a couple in my current church that received Christ a little over two months ago. Three years ago they were arrested for their amphetamine use, but they are developing a new craving. I first met them about the time of our Fall School Supply Fair, when they started attending church we got them involved in helping with our food bank. The Lord has brought healing and strength into their lives, and they are already participating in prayer meetings and Bible studies. They told us at our prayer meeting the other night they’re “Jonesing” for God. They wait eagerly for our people to return to the neighborhood. When a time scheduled for an activity approaches, they stand at the window of their home and watch. They said they now wait for our truck or for people to show up for the meetings we hold in the neighborhood.

We don’t choose where we’re born but we choose where we live. I didn’t choose to be born in a certain location—no one does. I wonder if I had I grown up in the area could I have made a difference or would my thoughts and beliefs been poisoned by my toxic surroundings? I really didn’t choose to move away-it just happened. I don’t remember the bad things, I was too young and we moved before things got out of hand. It’s not about where you’re from. It’s not about you’re color. It’s about making a difference for Christ. That’s what really matters—making your life count for something of eternal significance.

The idea of choosing where we live can be a metaphor about whether we live in the shadow of the past or in the light of the future. The idea of choosing where you live can also represent choosing “how” you live. Where you started isn’t as important as how well you finish. It’s really about eternity. Where you were from won’t amount to a hill of beans in eternity. The choices you made will make all of the difference.

Make certain that you have made the most important decision of your life. Make certain that you have been born again. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3.) You start on a sin cursed planet but you must make a choice about how it is to end. You may have lived in New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing, Calcutta, or even Gary, Indiana. But where will you spend eternity? A couple a verses later Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5.) Heaven is the place to be but will you be there?

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2011.)

Character Development Resource

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

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

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A LIFESTYLE OF SELF-DENIAL

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General Robert E. Lee

Following the American Civil War, a congregation in Richmond, Virginia prepared to participate in a communion service. In keeping with its practice, the congregants were about to stand and walk forward to the altar to partake of the elements. Before they could stand, a black gentleman walked down the center aisle and knelt at the rail in order to receive communion. Not knowing what to do, the stunned congregation began to stir and whisper among themselves. Since this was a breach of the church’s practice of serving whites first, no one moved. The minister was frozen in his place and was filled with bewilderment. Then a graceful and dignified figure strode down the aisle and knelt by the black man and by his actions declared the tradition of the past to be null and void. The man that stepped forward was none other than the former leader of the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee.

It was a symbolic gesture, but the message was clear. Lee had accepted the outcome of the war and now more importantly, received a black man, a brother in Christ, as an equal. It is tragic that the nation had to suffer the agony of the war but a mind set and actions had to change. Since Lee’s conduct on that Sunday went against the ideology that he’d fought to preserve, Lee’s action was an act of self-denial. There could be no more significant convert to the new order than General Lee.

Even a superficial look at General Lee’s life will demonstrate that Christ’s teaching in Luke 16:24, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me,” was a principle by which Lee lived.

Another anecdote from Lee’s life reveals this principle to be his core value. A young mother brought her baby to Lee in order to be blessed. As he was doting over the infant, the topic of the child’s instruction came up. The mother asked Lee, “What shall I teach him?” To which Lee responded, “Teach him to deny himself.” Lee’s preoccupation with this principle seems out of place to our generation. Our time is characterized by self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement, not self-denial. But self-denial brings us to the end of ourselves so we will turn to Christ for salvation. Self-denial is the realization that the solution to our problems is not to be found in ourselves and leads us to find the solution to our problems in Christ. Self-denial involves setting aside one’s own priorities and seeking to fulfill the Lord’s desires instead since they are best. In addition, self-denial is central to our being able to overcome the snare of sin and sinful habits. It doesn’t just bring us to Christ and the new birth, it is a part of a lifestyle that is to be observed by Christ’s followers.

SIN IS A DISEASE THAT HANDICAPS US ALL

Sin is not only a damning limitation; it is also a disease that handicaps us all. Coming to Christ as Savior not only sets us free from the penalty of sin, it also opens us to a process that can rehabilitate us and equip us to resist sin. To be rehabilitated from the practice of sin, we need the Holy Spirit’s help to acquire the necessary skill. If we are to keep from being entrapped by sin, we must learn to practice self-denial.

There are some things that the Spirit can’t do for us, but we are commanded to do ourselves in the Spirit’s power. The basic training and preparation of a soldier is something with which we are all familiar. A soldier’s training involves self-denial and conditioning. The soldier must lay aside a mind set that keeps him thinking as an individual. He is conditioned to have a mind set that pushes him to think as a part of a team. Rather than doing what comes as a result of our fallen nature we need to be conditioned like soldiers by doing what is right. The purpose of the military drill is to memorize certain actions until they become instinctive through repetition. We are to obey the commands of Scripture in the Spirit’s power while allowing them to become instinctive.

YOUR MOTHER OR FATHER CANNOT OBEY GOD FOR YOU
There are several commands in Scripture that must be practiced as if carried out as a part of a soldier’s drill. No one can do these commands for you—you must obey them yourself. I remind the reader of the command from Ephesians 6:14 which is of this nature. Consider its words: “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . . .” This is Paul’s point with the breastplate of righteousness. This cannot be referring to putting on Christ’s righteousness— we do that when we receive Christ as Savior. This is talking about righteous behavior— righteous deeds. Our righteous deeds are to become a part of our character that are integrated into the fabric of our lives.

Notice that this command can only be obeyed by one person—you. The pastor or youth pastor can’t do it for you. Your mother or father cannot obey this command for your sake. Your spouse can’t take your place and be your proxy. The only person that can fulfill this command and secure its benefit is you.

There are a number of similar commands in Scripture that are related to Ephesians 6:14. They chart out a course to be followed in our drilling and training. Here is a list of commands that demand the individual believer take action and if obeyed will involve self-denial. They are our call to arms:

· “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness . . . .” — 1 Timothy 6:11
· “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” — Romans 13:14
· “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” — Ephesians 6:11
· “. . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . . .” — Romans 12:2
· “. . . redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” — Ephesians 5:14-16
· “. . . exercise yourself toward godliness.” — 1 Timothy 4:7
· “. . . arm yourselves also with the same mind . . . .” — 1 Peter 4:1
· “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge . . . For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ .” — 2 Peter 1:5 and 8
· “. . . keep yourselves in the love of God . . . .” — Jude 1:21

Each of these commands is directed at the individual believer. These verses illustrate the fact that obedience is essential in releasing its power in our lives. You become a Christian the moment you trust Christ as, but your behavior is likely to be still rather heathen. Your mind and heart must be retrained by intentionally imitating Christ in faith with Christlike behavior. Musicians practice their music over and over until it is played flawlessly. A member of my family is a gifted cellist and she practices on a given piece of music for hours until her hands move instinctively. There are things she would rather do but she sets those things aside in order to master her instrument. Athletes practice plays until members of the squad act in unison and reactions become intuitive. All athletic endeavors involve self-denial: training in the early morning, running, lifting, following a restricted diet, etc. All of these activities involve setting aside the things a human body would rather do and following a regimen the body would rather not follow. Believers are commanded to practice these imperatives in such a way that fulfilling them becomes automatic.

WE RETAIN ONLY 20% OF WHAT HEAR 
We remember 80 percent of what we do or experience, versus only 10 to 20 percent of what we hear. Educators speak of service learning as a powerful technique for instruction. Service learning is the knowledge that is gained through doing. The concept of service learning is in contrast to reading about or hearing someone talk about a particular concept. Service learning is a parallel to the concept that we are advocating, but there is a major difference. I am not just talking about doing good deeds in the flesh, these commands must be fulfilled in the power of the Spirit. These positive behaviors will change us when we lay aside negative fleshly behaviors as a result of self-denial.
(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2010.)

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Title :: A LIFESTYLE OF SELF-DENIAL
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Character Development Resource

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

Checkout our web site: http://www.servantoflight.com