Below the surface, living with lupus can mean days spent in bed, missed appointments, and alternate days when we seem “fine.” There’s so much more to lupus than meets the eye. We know that lupus comes with hundreds of possible combinations of symptoms, many of which appear invisible to outsiders. Most people don’t see the many symptoms we experience.
On MyLupusTeam.com, the social network and online support group for people living with lupus, members discuss the chronic nature of the disease and its hidden symptoms. We chose the image of an iceberg to represent lupus symptoms because the life-impacting implications of a lupus diagnosis aren’t obvious on the surface. Please share to spread lupus awareness!
The U.S. Civil War, which was fought to abolish slavery, was not really that long ago. My father tells the story of visiting the Higginsville home for Civil War veterans near his childhood home in Missouri. The Missouri River was a dividing line between North and South, and so when the war was finally over, many families had veterans — and casualties — on both sides. My father remembers watching two old soldiers, one Union, one Confederate, each dressed up in the remnants of their uniforms, having an argument that ended up with one attacking the other with a pair of crutches. Hearing this as a little girl was the first time the Civil War seemed real to me. It is a vivid reminder of the close links that bind this country to its history of slavery, which still haunts our national conscience.
Higginsville Confederates Veterans Home, courtesy of Missouri State Parks
As I recently discovered, we maintain what can be only be called legalized slavery today — the utilization of prison labour for public and private profit. Many, if not most, of these inmates are themselves the descendants of slaves. And they are making fewer license plates and more defense electronics and oil spill cleanups. Today prison labor is a multibillion-dollar business in the U.S. We also have the highest prison population in the world. Are economic incentives at the heart of our sky-high incarceration rates?
History can offer us a guide to answer this question. In Britain, slavery was abolished in 1833, earlier than in the U.S. In spite of its economic lure, it was outlawed, at least in part, because of the persuasive voices of inspired political leaders and artists. The painting The Slave Ship, a J.M.W. Turner masterpiece, depicts the famous episode of the British ship the Zong in 1781. One hundred thirty-two African slaves headed for sale in the United States were deliberately thrown overboard and perished mid-sea, due to a lack of drinking water on board. In his new book, The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery, Professor James Walvin concludes that this event, and the public outcry against it, was the turning point that resulted in the end of the slave trade in Britain. The U.S. was not so lucky, or perhaps, the entrenched interests were too deep, and so a much bloodier battle that ended 600,000 lives ensued, and it took an additional 30 years to abolish slavery.
It is worthwhile to study this history, and to hold its lessons close, because slavery remains in other forms, if not by name, in the 21st century. Mauritania still has a slave population that is some 18 percent of its population, about a half a million people — although it is technically illegal. The poverty and harshness of the Western Sahara and lack of economic alternatives make it a difficult practice to eradicate. We might expect this in the Third World, but we have versions of it in the U.S. Beyond the plight of the working poor, in the U.S. the practice of involuntary labor continues in our prisons, without much public scrutiny. This practice has evolved since the Civil War, particularly in the South, for historical reasons. Former slaves were incarcerated on minor or fabricated charges for extended periods of time so they could work as inmate labourers for the profit of the state and its contractors.
“In the nineteenth century, Texas leased its penitentiary (which survives today as the Huntsville “Walls” unit) to private contractors. For a few dollars per month per convict, the contractors were allowed to sublease their charges to farmers, tanners, and other businessmen. It was not long before the inmates began to appear in poor clothing and without shoes. Worked mercilessly, most convicts died within seven years of their incarceration. Escapes and escape attempts were frequent. Conditions were so horrid that some inmates were driven to suicide while other maimed themselves to get out of work or as a pathetic form of protest.” – John DiIulio, Jr.The Duty to Govern, 1990 Eventually, the prisoner-for-lease system became such a scandal that it was outlawed 100 years ago. But in the 1980s, conditions were ripe for reversion. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolished slavery contains a loophole that allows the exploitation of prison labor:
Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Today, the U.S. prison system delivers profits to both government corporations and private enterprises in several ways: 1) Through the use of inmate labor to produce goods and services in federal and state prisons 2) Through the contracting of this labor to private companies at below-market wages and 3) By privatization of the prisons and detainment centers themselves. Given these perverse incentives to maintain a high inmate population, is it any wonder that the number of prisoners and the length of their sentences — Americans comprise 5 percent of the world’s total population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population — have skyrocketed since privatization began in 1984?
Number of inmates. 1920 to 2006. (absolute numbers) General U.S. population grew only 2.8 times in the same period, but the number of inmates increased more than 20 times.
One might ask if this population surge could be due to a sudden increase in violent crime in America. A much smaller percentage of prisoners than one would imagine have histories of violence. Just 3 percent of those in Federal prisons, and a third of those in state prisons, have been convicted of violent crimes. A majority of those in city and county prisons are merely awaiting trial and cannot make bail. As any policeman will tell you, much criminality would be eliminated if drug laws were changed. Moreover, of the total prison population, it is estimated that 16 percent are suffering from mental illness, according to Vicky Pelaez in Global Research in Canada. And did I mention, the vast majority are black males?
What is the failure of our society that has led to the forced segregation from society of so many of our citizens, many of whom the descendants of slaves, on this scale? In 1860, the U.S. had 4 million slaves. Now, according to Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (Jan. 30, 2012):
Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today — perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system — in prison, on probation, or on parole — than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America — more than six million — than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.
America has now created its own Gulag and it makes much more than just license plates. Of the 2.3 million prisoners now being held, more than 100,000 work in federal and state prison industry programs. This doesn’t mean the usual cooking, cleaning and peeling potatoes, but work that produces products for sale — about $2.4 billion dollars annually and has its own trade shows. UNICOR, the trade name of the government-owned Federal Prison Industries, cites the following products on its website:
The government, particularly the Department of Defense, is the biggest customer for the federal prison labor. Most military clothing, furniture, and helmets are made by Federal inmates. It is very likely that they made the furniture at your local post office. Calling directory assistance? You might well be talking to a felon. Clearly, UNICOR has expanded beyond clothing and furniture. Look at just one category, electro-optical assemblies:
Our electro-optical and circuit board assemblies, and electrical connectors are used around the world and have broad applications in missile guidance, tactical combat and emergency communications, radar, and avionic and submarine control systems. UNICOR/FPI is highly proficient in electrical and fiber optic cable convergence technology, which is used in applications requiring faster transmission of signals over longer distance and with less weight. Our electro-optical cable assemblies are used in avionic and missile controls, submarine navigation, and tactical observation and targeting systems in fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and other armored vehicles.
Our expertise in manufacturing electro-optical assemblies is proven in numerous programs, such as the Bradley eye-safe laser rangefinder and the Patriot missile guidance system. We are talking guided missile components here! UNICOR had revenues of about $900 million in fiscal year 2011, of which 7 percent went to pay inmates. According to my estimates based on their annual report, this averages $3,000 per inmate, at least half of which must be used for fines, victim restitution and family support. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks a year (there are no holidays in prison) that would amount to pay of about 75 cents per hour, which “may be spent in the prison commissaries,” according to the UNICOR annual report. This puts the federal prison worker on par with his Chinese counterpart. No wonder this labor group is attractive to industry: no unions, OHSA, health care or retirement funds to fret about. As UNICOR boasts on its website: “All the benefits of domestic outsourcing at offshore prices. It’s the best kept secret in outsourcing!” Actually, it is even better — although we will not accept imports from Chinese laogai, or prison factories, there is no U.S. law that prevents export of our prison labor products.
Federal prison workers, however, are the envy of state inmates, some of whom earn nothing for 60-plus-hour weeks. Texas and Georgia offer no compensation at all. (It is no surprise that these states have highly privatized prison industries as well.) In The Nation, Abe Louise Young writes about the use of Louisiana state prison labor to clean up the toxic waste that resulted from the BP oil spill:
Work release inmates are required to work for up to twelve hours a day, six days a week, sometimes averaging seventy-two hours per week. These are long hours for performing what may arguably be the most toxic job in America. Although the dangers of mixed oil and dispersant exposure are largely unknown, the chemicals in crude oil can damage every system in the body, as well as cell structures and DNA.
Inmates can’t pick and choose their work assignments and they face considerable repercussions for rejecting any job, including loss of earned “good time.” The warden of the Terrebonne Parish Work Release Center in Houma explains: “If they say no to a job, they get that time that was taken off their sentence put right back on, and get sent right back to the lockup they came out of.” This means that work release inmates who would rather protect their health than participate in the non-stop toxic cleanup run the risk of staying in prison longer. This kind of cooperation is enabled by PIE (Prison Industry Enhancement), a program run by the Department of Justice, which allows both UNICOR at the Federal level and state prisons to partner with private enterprise. It is not just the government prisons that have perverse incentives for maintaining high prison populations. It is the very business of warehousing human beings which was privatized in the mid-80s that is to me the most disturbing. Here is a map of private prisons in Texas created by the website Texas Prison Bid’ness:
It just seems to me that judicial punishment is one of those functions that is uniquely the business of the state, and that somehow it is immoral for anyone to profit from this. In fact, two big players, CCA and GEO, weren’t doing all that well until 9/11. Since that time, they have also been building immigration detention centers at a very fast pace. No secret that privatization has therefore had the greatest momentum in the border states, including Vermont. It is hard to forget the awful “Cash for Kids” debacle in which two judges (now themselves recently sentenced to prison) took kickbacks for sending children to for-profit juvenile detention centers. Dave Reutter in Prison Legal News quotes Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research: “Privatization just doesn’t work” he stated. “It’s a way for politicians to throw business to their friends. “
A compelling economic argument against prison labor is that it competes unfairly with free labor. Diane Cardwell writes in the New York Times that UNICOR is now getting into production of solar panels and other forms of alternative energy. “This is a threat to not just established industries; it’s a threat to emerging industries,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who is the lead sponsor of the proposed overhaul legislation. “If China did this — having their prisoners work at subpar wages in prisons — we would be screaming bloody murder. “There is now pending legislation to create a wage floor for prison inmates, as well as require basic safety standards. The discussion is not just about protecting inmates. In an era of high unemployment, jobs matter. Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina has said, “It is simply wrong for the U.S. government to administer a military procurement policy that favors giving jobs to felons over law-abiding Americans. That is especially true during these difficult economic times.” There is also concern about quality control for defense-related production. Reportedly, 42 percent of UNICOR’s orders overall were delivered late.
What are the benefits to society of prison labor? I have read articles that it helps and doesn’t help recidivism. That there are better ways to prepare inmates for life after jail, such as education, training, and addiction counseling. What is the overall impact on the economy? According to Jeffrey Kling and Alan Krueger of Princeton University and NBER, 100 percent utilization of prison inmate labor would result in a rather small economic benefit — 0.2 percent of GDP at most. Because this is mostly unskilled labor it could, in fact, reduce the wages of high school dropouts in the private workforce by 5 percent — which would increase the overall rate of poverty. (Note, however, that some estimates suggest that people with wages under $13,000 spend 9 percent of their income on buying lottery tickets.)
Kling and Krueger conclude:
In concert with privatization, we suggest that inmate workers be covered by all relevant labor legislation that applies to private sector firms: including the right to form a union, fair labor standards, and workplace safety regulations.
That is the very minimum that must be done. We need to do some national soul-searching about all of the reasons we have so many people in jail. But it is an election year — and felons don’t vote — so the probability is high that nothing will be done. But let’s begin the discussion. As I finish this article, by weird coincidence, police cars are flashing their lights outside my house. A young man, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, crashed into the gate of our driveway as he was pursued by an unmarked car for speeding. I saw him as he was led away in handcuffs, in tears. I hope his parents have a very good lawyer.
As Adam Gopkin reminds us, “mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.” The racialization of this process, popularized by author Michelle Alexander as The New Jim Crow, has meant that African Americans in the U.S. now have more than triple the incarceration rate of Blacks in South Africa at the peak of apartheid. In the haste to impart some rationality to all this, many activists and analysts have been quick to point to corporations as the sole culprits behind the prison-industrial- complex (PIC). An important component of this perspective is the notion of prisons as “slave labor camps”. In this scenario a sea of multinational corporations super-exploit hundreds of thousands of contract prison laborers to heartlessly augment their bottom lines. Late last year researchers Steven Fraser and Joshua Freeman took up this point in a study which they presented in a CounterPunch article, arguing that “penitentiaries have become a niche market for such work. The privatization of prisons in recent years has meant the creation of a small army of workers too coerced and right-less to complain.”
Their perspective has resonated with a number of news services, anti-mass incarceration blogsters and activists. For example, a recent report from Russian news service RT claimed that prisons are “becoming America’s own Chinese style manufacturing line”. Huffington Post picked up the story, quoting Fraser and Freeman:
“All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day.” The HuffPost went on to name Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, Starbucks and Walmart as major participants in what they called a “competitive spiral” to capture prison labor at the lowest possible wage levels. Vicky Pelaez, writing for Global Research earlier this year called prison industry a “new form of slavery” identifying more than twenty corporations involved in contract arrangements. Her list included IBM, Pierre Cardin, Target and Hewlett Packard. She concluded that, “thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets.” As appealing as these scenarios are to our sense of moral outrage and the role of multinational corporations as the villains of our era, such assertions about prison labor are off the mark. I spent six and a half years in Federal and state prisons at high, medium and low security levels. In all these institutions, very few people, if any, were under contract to private corporations. My memories of prison yards feature hundreds and hundreds of men trying to pump some meaning into their life with exercise routines, academic study, compulsive sports betting, religious devotion, and a number of creative and entrepreneurial “hustles.” But being under the thumb of Bill Gates or entering a Nike sweatshop was just about the farthest thing from our warehoused reality.
Statistics bear my memories out. Virtually all private sector prison labor is regulated under the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). Any prison wanting to publicly markets goods worth more than $10,000 must register with PIECP. The PIECP statistical report for the first quarter of 2012 showed 4,675 incarcerated people employed in prison or jail PIECP programs, a miniscule portion of the nation’s more than two million behind bars. Likely the largest single user of contract prison labor is Federal Prison Industries, which handles such arrangements for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Of the nearly 220,000 people housed in BOP facilities, just 13,369, representing approximately 8% of the work eligible “inmates” were employed as of September 30, 2012. However, the overwhelming majority of this production was for government departments like Defense and Homeland Security, rather than private corporations. There is an economic rationality to why prison labor is so infrequently used. While incarcerated people may constitute a captive workforce, in the era of mass incarceration security trumps all other institutional needs, including production deadlines. A fight on the yard, a surprise cell search, even a missing tool can occasion a lockdown where all activities, including work assignments come to a halt for hour, days, or, in some cases even weeks or months. Multinational corporations accustomed to just in time production systems and flexible working hours don’t respond well to this type of rigidity. Portraying our prisons as slave labor camps satisfies a certain emotional appeal, but hunting down multinationals that are extracting superprofits from the incarcerated diverts us from the crucial labor issues at the heart of mass incarceration. Those behind bars constitute a displaced and discarded labor force, marginalized from mainstream employment on the streets by deindustrialization in their communities and the gutting of urban education in poor communities of color. More than half of all Black men without a high-school diploma will go to prison at some time in their lives. The school to prison pipeline is far more of a reality than slave labor camps. Plus, the shift of the prison system’s emphasis from rehabilitation to punishment in the last three decades has blocked opportunities for people to upgrade skills and education while incarcerated. As the nuns used to tell me in grade school: “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop and idle hands are the devil’s tools.” The brains behind our prison system clearly had the devil’s welfare in mind when they reoriented our institutions away from rehabilitation into warehousing millions of people while stripping away their opportunities for personal and collective development. As a result purposelessness and excruciating boredom, not overwork, are the dominant features of most prison yards. For those trying to put an end to mass incarceration, framing the labor issues of the prison industrial complex in this way takes us down a very different road than upgrading the conditions of the minute numbers behind bars who are under corporate contracts (or as some unions are want to do-portraying prison laborers as scabs who undermine hard won working class gains). The chief labor concerns about mass incarceration are linked to broader inequalities in the economy as a whole, particularly the lack of employment for poor youth of color and the proliferation of low wage jobs with no benefits. Employment creation and the restoration of much needed state provided social services like substance abuse or mental health treatment are the measures that will keep people on the streets. Forget about minimum wages for the mythical millions working for Microsoft in Leavenworth and Attica. But the labor aspect of mass incarceration doesn’t end there. People with a felony conviction carry a stigma, a brand often accompanied by exclusion from the labor market. Michelle Alexander calls “felon” the new “N” word. Indeed in the job world, those of us with felony convictions face a number of unique barriers. The most well-known is “the box”-that question on employment applications which asks about criminal background. Eleven states and more than 40 cities and counties have outlawed the box on employment applications. Supporters of “ban the box” argue that questions about previous convictions amount to a form of racial discrimination since such a disproportionate number of those with felony convictions are African-American and Latino. Advancing these Ban the Box campaigns will have a far more important impact on incarcerated people as workers than pressing for higher wages for those under contract to big companies inside. However, even without the box, the rights of the formerly incarcerated in the labor market remain heavily restricted. Many professions, trades and service occupations which require certification, bar or limit the accreditation of people with felony convictions. For example, a study by the Mayor of Chicago’s office found that of 98 Illinois state statutes regarding professional licensing, 57 contained restrictions for applicants with a criminal history, impacting over 65 professions and occupations. In some instances, even people applying for licenses to become barbers or cosmetologists face legal impediments. Those with felony convictions face further hurdles when trying to access state assistance to tide them over during times of unemployment. In most states, those with drug convictions are banned from access to SNAP (food stamps) for life. Many local public housing authorities bar people with felony convictions even if their parents or partners already reside there. Lastly, the very conditions of parole often create obstacles to employment. Many states require that an employer of a person on parole agree that the workplace premises can be searched at any time without prior warning-hardly an attractive proposition for any business. In addition, tens of thousands of people on parole are subject to house arrest with electronic monitors. All movement outside the house must be pre-approved by their parole agent. This makes changes in work schedule or jobs that involve travel an enormous challenge. Some basic changes to the conditions of parole could constitute an important step to easing the labor market conditions for people coming home from prison trying to secure and keep a job. All of this is not to deny that many corporations have made huge amounts of money from mass incarceration. Firms like Arizona’s Kitchell Construction, which has built more than 40 state prisons and 30 adult jails have made millions. The Tennessee-based Bob Barker Enterprises is a “household” name among the incarcerated. With a corporate vision of “transforming criminal justice by honoring God in all we do,“ Barker has reaped massive profits from producing the poorest quality consumer goods, including two inch toothbrushes, for people behind bars. Then, of course, we have private prison operators like CCA and the GEO Group. Although the privates control only 8% of prison beds nationally these two firms managed to bring in over 3 billion in revenue last year. While such profiteering continues, the prison-industrial complex remains driven by an agenda that is more about politics than profits. State-owned prisons and political agendas continue to lie at the center of mass incarceration. The combined revenue of CCA and the GEO Group for 2012 was less than half of the California state corrections budget. Politicians, with important influence from pro-corporate organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have made the PIC possible by passing harsh sentencing laws, funding the War on Drugs, tightening immigration legislation, and creating isolation units like Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Tamms and Angola. They have built a base of popular support for the “colorblind” approach of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” So while we need to curb the opportunities for corporate profit from putting people in cages, the main target of any campaign against the PIC must be to counter the racist ideology of “punitive populism” and reverse the political processes which perpetuate mass incarceration and the criminalization of the poor.
James Kilgore is a research scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He writes on issues of mass incarceration with a focus on electronic monitoring and labor. He is also the author of three novels, all of which he drafted during his six and a half years in prison, 2002-09. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Investigators filed simple assault and harassment charges against a Lackawanna County prison guard accused of spraying an inmate’s genitals with pepper spray.
Sgt. Scott Blume, 46, of Dunmore, was arraigned Wednesday in connection with an altercation with Damian Kellogg on Sept. 24. The incident did not come to light until Oct. 18, after Mr. Kellogg wrote to Judge Vito Geroulo to complain, according to members of the inmate’s family. Sgt. Blume is on paid administrative leave from the prison.
According to an arrest affidavit, the sergeant escorted Mr. Kellogg, who appeared to be intoxicated, to the restricted housing unit after he issued him a misconduct for having “hooch,” an alcoholic liquid made from fruit, inside the cell he shared with another inmate.
The incident, which was captured by a prison camera, began after Mr. Kellogg was placed in a holding cage and ordered to disrobe and change into a different prison uniform designated for restricted housing unit inmates. The affidavit says Mr. Kellogg began arguing with Sgt. Blume, which prompted the sergeant to enter the cage and grab Mr. Kellogg’s throat and pull his hair.
Sgt. Blume then left the cage. Mr. Kellogg refused to put on the new uniform and continued to argue with Sgt. Blume. That led Sgt. Blume to twice spray Mr. Kellogg through the “wicket,” a slot in the cell door used to pass food and other items to inmates, to get him to comply. Mr. Kellogg was then handcuffed and escorted to the restricted unit without further incident.
The affidavit does not identify the part of Mr. Kellogg’s body that was sprayed. In his letter to Judge Geroulo, a copy of which was obtained by The Times-Tribune, Mr. Kellogg said he was sprayed in the groin area while naked, causing him extreme pain.
Lackawanna County District Attorney Shane Scanlon said the prison contacted his office and requested an investigation. The incident was initially investigated under the prison rape elimination act based on Mr. Kellogg’s statement that he felt he had been “sexually violated.” After reviewing all evidence, detectives did not believe it rose to the level of a sex crime, Mr. Scanlon said.
“It appears as though the force used wasn’t necessary based on what we were able to review,” Mr. Scanlon said. “We felt, based on the evidence before us, it rose to the level of simple assault and harassment.”
Sgt. Blume, who has been employed at the prison since 2002, faces a disciplinary hearing that will determine whether he will remain on paid leave or be fired, said Donald Frederickson, general counsel for the county.
“It depends on what happens at the disciplinary hearing. If they feel they have enough evidence, they can dismiss him,” he said.
The World—Everything Is Different, but Nothing Has Changed
And the times are changing quickly. No one has any idea what the world will look like in ten years, let alone twenty or thirty. The rapid development of technology is more than we can take in. Those of us over the age of forty were born before the digital revolution really started. We’ve learned to use laptops, cameras, the Internet, and our personal electronic products, but it’s like learning a foreign language. But those under the age of forty have grown up with the digital revolution, and to them it’s their mother tongue. This has created the biggest generational gap since rock and roll.
Even greater is the moral generational gap. Those over forty in the western world grew up in a culture that still retained a semblance of its historic Judeo-Christian heritage. Our worldview contained some remaining vestiges of biblical truth. But our children are growing in an increasingly secular society.
But don’t despair. The things that matter most haven’t changed one iota. The little Book in my suit pocket is as unchanging as Him who is from everlasting to everlasting. That strengthens us whatever change may come.
Many at Galatia had been influenced by the “Judaizers, ” Jewish Christians, or at least Christians in name, who sought to be justified through keeping the Law of Moses. But Paul tells them that the true function of the Law was not to save but to be a “schoolmaster” or “teacher” to bring them to Christ. Once they saw the impossibility of keeping the Law and the great culpability of breaking it, they would see their need to be saved by faith alone.
Lord, that schoolmaster (your Law) that revealed our need of a Savior is still revealing to us our shortcomings. As love is the fulfilling of the Law, and to love God and neighbor is the sum of it, we see the Law is a helpful guide for Christian conduct. Use it to test us and show us our flaws, then turn us by grace to the keeping of it through love. Amen.
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
To remove the curse of God for breaking his Law from us, Jesus took our guilt upon himself and suffered that curse in our place. God cannot demand “double payment” for sin, so that he cannot justly condemn those whose sins were paid for in full on the cross. That is why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
O Lamb of God, it is your blood that takes away the sin-debt of the world, even of every one who believes on your name. We could not bear the punishment of our sin, nor endure the day of God’s wrath against sin. We praise you for your work of love on the cross, where you redeemed us from the curse of the Law. Amen.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
It is in God’s design of things that children should grow up and leave the home. It is normal that they should go out and begin their own home. For our families to be strong and healthy, unlike the “fractured” if not broken families the world is so full of, husband and wife must remain in close, intimate union. And this union is a picture of the union between Christ and His Church.
God, help us to work at our relationships with others so that they will be all you intend them to be. Let my relationship with you be the foundation for a good relationship with spouse, children, parents, all family and friends, and every acquaintance. Amen.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved; )
Perhaps the two sweetest words in the whole Bible are found here, “But God. ” In the verse just preceding, it is stated that believers were “children of wrath even as others” before their conversion. But God had a great love for them, which led him to “quicken, ” that is “raise to life, ” those who were dead spiritually. Paul then adds emphatically, “by grace you are saved. “
May we say with conviction, O Lord, that old Christian saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I. ” May we recognize that it was your saving love that made the difference with us. We were dead to God, unable to respond properly to him. But your love laid hold on us, Lord, and you imparted to us life. And we know that yours is a love that “will not let us go.” Amen.
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
The Holy Spirit is here called the Spirit of Wisdom, using a grammatical construction that in the Greek indicates the Spirit is the “source of” or “giver of” wisdom. In 2 Timothy 3:15, we learn that the Scriptures are “able to make you wise unto salvation. ” When God opens our understanding to see the truth of the Gospel, he enlightens us and imparts to us wisdom to know and act on the truth. He then gives us hope of future glory and assures us of that hope by “the working of his mighty power” in us. That is the very power that raised up Jesus from the dead.
Open our minds more and more, we pray, to understand your truths. Let the “resurrection power” of God that raised Jesus Christ’s body from the grave raise up our spirits to live more and more a “resurrection life” of obedience to you. Amen.
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
Faith is a gift from God, but it is also a thing that we are called to diligently work at and improve. In fact, these verses on diligence are further informed by verse 10 of the same chapter where our diligence is said to be the means of making “our calling and election sure. ” That is, when faith, virtue (moral fortitude), knowledge (gained through experience), self-control, patient endurance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love abound in our lives, it is fruit of righteousness that helps assure our hearts that indeed we are God’s children and will enter his everlasting kingdom (verse 11).
Lord, we take seriously your command to strive diligently after godliness and all Christian virtues in our daily walk. We know that you do not desire our faith to remain “alone, ” but that it should be accompanied by all Christian graces. We are encouraged to know that you will help us and guide us as we grow in all of these areas, step by step. Amen.
But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.
There will be days when you are tempted and days when you need protection, but you are a child of God. God will never leave you or forsake you – you will never have to walk through these challenging times alone. He is always faithful. He offers his protection and will help you stay away from evil. He has given you his Holy Spirit as a guide. Trust the Spirit to alert you when you have stumbled into trouble and call on him for protection.
Dear God, when I am fearful and need courage, I know you will strengthen me. You are always faithful and you will never leave me – thank you! Help me to trust you to guide me through difficult situations and protect me from any evil the evil one tries to use against me. O Lord, make my faith stronger so that I do not have a spirit of fear. Thank you for rescuing me time and time again. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Isaiah was dirty and full of sin. He was unworthy to see God’s holiness. Then the heavenly being took a hot coal from God’s alter. He put it on Isaiah lips and his sins were taken away and cleansed. Similarly, Jesus cleanses us who have faith in Him. He cleanses us and He makes us pure. Jesus Christ is our only hope of salvation from our wickedness. He is the only way to the Father and to heaven. Do you have faith in Jesus to remove your sins? If you cannot confidently answer, think and pray about it. It is always better to be sure. It is okay to not be sure; there is no shame in that. Get on your knees and ask God to reveal Himself to You. Proclaim your faith in Him and give Him your life. This is the way to salvation from your wickedness, sin, and the punishment you deserve – that we all deserve, but Jesus bore.
Moses had brought the Israelites out of Egypt and now they were wondering if they were any better off! They had reached the Red Sea, and couldn’t see any way around this barrier that had been placed before them. But God knew what he was doing and Moses followed his instructions and the sea parted so that the Israelites could pass through on dry ground. A question sometimes asked at a job interview is, “What do you do when you face an obstacle?” How would you answer? Would you try to go around it, through it, or perhaps over it? Moses could not go around his obstacle and knew that without help, he could never bring all the people, animals and supplies through it. So, he asked God for help. Was that the first thing you thought of? There is a saying, “If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it.” The key here is to ask God to bring us through it.
We often face challenges in our lives, especially when we are trying to live as Jesus wants us to live. Have you ever been asked why you believe? If not you probably will be. It can be hard to find the right words at times, but God will give us the words if we ask. Just as he promised Samuel, Isaiah and the other prophets, he will not leave us on our own and will give us the words we need when we need them. The next time you meet an obstacle, let God lead you over, under, around or through it. He will guide us in the right way to go.
Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, He was prophesied about. That He would restore and bring life not break and ruin. That he would bring forth judgment on the Earth, and people everywhere across the oceans would listen to what He had to say. Now thousands of years later, people all over the Earth still listen to what Jesus has to say. Jesus is glorified through all history. People on every continent and in every country listen for His voice and read His Word.
Jesus, thank You for bearing the burden and punishment of my sins and wrongdoings. You are the only way to come to the Father and to everlasting life. I place my faith in You and You only. I believe that You, Jesus, are the Son of God. I believe in the Father and Holy Spirit also. I believe in the trinity and that the Trinity is one. I put no one else before You in my priorities. If You are not at my center, remove idols from my life. I place my life, faith, and trust in You. I repent from my wrongdoing, and I come before You in faith. My life is in Your hands. I come to You because You are gracious and let me call on Your name. Amen.
The first thing Andrew did when He found out Jesus was the Christ was to go tell his brother. Andrew went and got Peter and brought him to Jesus. Andrew could have been scoffed at or rejected by Peter if Peter did not believe Jesus was the Christ; yet, Andrew took him to Jesus anyways, and I’m sure he was glad he did. You have Jesus, and you love Him. Have you tried to bring your family to Him? Knowing Jesus is the only way to eternal life, wouldn’t you want to try your best to introduce Him to your grandparents, mother, father, brothers, sisters, and cousins?
Heavenly Father, give me strength and courage to introduce You to my family. They need You. I want to speak to them about You. Help me to tell them about You well. Help me to answer questions they have and to try to find them the answers I don’t know. Soften their hearts. Only You can bring them to You, so please do so. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
Sometimes we grow weary as believers. Walking the road of faith gets hard. Other times it gets mundane. Sometimes doubt creeps in. We may even allow sin to fester in our lives and lead us to complacency and ceasing to listen to the Holy Spirit. But as believers, we can encourage our brothers and sisters to continue in the faith. Sometimes all someone needs is a reminder, encouragement, and support.
Heavenly Father, help my brothers and sisters. Give them strength and endurance to continue in the faith You called them to. Place people in their lives to encourage them. Bring them to a deeper love for You. Make them to feel Your presence this week. Let them remember why they first loved You. You are our great love. You are the worthiest of our love. You are worthy of more than we can give. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Father God, You sent Your son to the world to save us. He was with you in the beginning. People everywhere listen to His words. Jesus is amazing and true. Thank You for Your goodness, and that You build up and care for the weak. Help Your Church that is scattered all over the Earth. Unite us, Your Bride. Help us to glorify you and to proclaim Your gospel to the nations. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
When we reach a point of contentment, we are not moved by what another person does or does not have. Contentment prevents us from defining ourselves according to the world’s values. We become content through God, in whom we know we have everything we need. Eternal life, being the most important of it all.
Dear God, I thank you that I can be totally content in you. You have filled all the gaps and voids in my life. I know that I will never find contentment in this world; only in you and you alone. I pray that more and more of your children will come to realize this too, Lord. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Sometimes people tend to take God’s love and everlasting mercy as a way for them to continue living irresponsibly. When they are confronted about their actions, their response is “God loves me for who I am. ” Yes, he does, but our love for Him should compel us to be convicted of our sins and confess them to him. God won’t hold our sins against us; he is quick to forgive and swift to restore.
Dear God, once again I would like to thank you for your endless love and everlasting mercy. Father, I am sorry for any time I have taken you or your love for granted. If there has ever been a time where I tried to use the grace you have given so freely as an excuse to live irresponsibly, I humbly confess where I have erred, and I receive your forgiveness. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Dear God, I pray for those who have chosen to turn from you. Lord, I pray that something in their hearts will make them change their minds about you. May they experience your love, Lord, in all its fullness and may they be compelled by this to know you more. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Someone once said that there are no u-hauls behind hearses. The implication is that you can’t take it with you when you die. There’s a story of a man who tried. When the doctors told him he had a short time to live, he converts some of this cash into gold bricks, puts them in a suitcase and instructs that this suitcase should be buried with him. When he approaches the pearly gates carrying the suitcase, St. Peter stops him and asks to look inside the suitcase. The angel Gabriel asks, “What’s in the suitcase?” “Pavement,” replies St. Peter. The story illustrates that in heaven what we consider to be wealth on this earth is really nothing. Heaven’s streets are paved with gold. That would be the equivalent of us finding some kind of value in asphalt or concrete chunks here on earth. We spent a lot of time trying to get things on this earth. We spend a lot of time working to get more and more and more stuff that we just don’t need. If you don’t believe it, take a look at what happens when a person dies without an heir. A lawyer has to come in, open up the house, and sell off all the belongs to settle the estate. Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of stuff–sometimes still in boxes–is sold for pennies on the dollar. An entire lifetime of obtaining things and the only thing that happens is that strangers come in to pick over the possessions a giant yard sale. This passage tells us that we are to be content with what we have. We should be content with food and clothing. As long as our needs are met on a daily basis, that’s really all we should ask for. Everything else is just bonus stuff and if we are spending time away from our families, if we’re spending time focusing on getting rather than focusing on living, then we’re being very foolish because we can’t take it with us. When the end comes, all the stuff that we bought stay right here our closets or our garages. While we’re on this earth we need to make the right choices and be sure that we are able to be content with what we have. Then we may end up with few things that we want.
Childbirth can be a painful experience. Even with the best pain killers available, the stress and trauma of childbirth cannot be lessened greatly. A mother giving birth may travail in labor for hours. Her contractions may be painful and the birth process may be grueling. In that period of labor, she suffers greatly. But as soon as she sees the face of that newborn child, all of that passes away. The suffering, the pain, disappears and is replaced by joy. Here Paul gives us a similar situation. Paul explains here that the Gospel has great power to sustain us in times of trouble. He was not talking only about the trials that Christians in his time had to endure, but the sickness, pain, and trouble that all Christians, throughout time would have to endure. He says that no matter how difficult the suffering in this world is, it does not even compare to the glory that awaits us in heaven. The glory that will be revealed to us is so great in comparison to the suffering that preceded it. We will forget our former trials when we get a glimpse of that glory.
We are children of God. Think about that for a minute. The God of the universe sent his son to be born of a woman on earth living under the law – a woman like us. He sent his son so that we might be free from this law – the law of sin and death. We are free because of his sacrifice, and we have been made sons and daughters of God through him. How amazing!
Paul cries out here in anguish over indwelling sin that remained in him. He longs for the day when he will be free fully from the power of sin. While we live, a conflict is in us between the old and the new natures. It is a daily battle. It does not end until we leave this world, but God can help us subdue the flesh and live increasingly out of the new nature.
Father, I thank You for being with me in my trials. I know that I will have to suffer some in this world and I know I will have to go through trials. I also know, however, that what will be revealed to me when I finally see You face to face will make it all worthwhile. My suffering will fade to nothing as I see the glory of Your face. Amen.
If we hate that which is evil, we will love that which is good. The two go together hand in hand. You cannot love God and love Satan; you cannot love God’s Law and also love the paths of unrighteousness. At least, your heart of hearts and your new nature from the new birth will seek what is truly good; the old nature will seek sin, but the Christian must subdue and overcome it. The age old question of who’s right! There’s a commercial for an automobile company that uses the slogan of “either/or, or both/and” that I kind of like. Not that I’m supporting the company, but because I believe we sometimes think in an either/or way when it’s really important to be a both/and kind of person. In today’s gospel, Martha is busy about hospitality and Mary extends hospitality in a quieter manner. We need both, and we need to be both. There are times when we need to be about doing what Jesus tells us to do, but if all we do is “do” and we don’t take the time to listen, we just might get it wrong. Mary sits and listens to Jesus while Martha feels overwhelmed with her tasks. When Martha complains, Jesus tells her not to be anxious and worried, and I think that here is the key. When we take the time to sit and listen to Jesus and then move on to follow the will of God, we don’t have to be anxious and worried; we can relax in the knowledge that we are doing our best, and that is what is required of us. Jesus doesn’t say that what Martha is doing is unimportant; he just seems to imply that she shouldn’t be so focused on her work, that she neglects her need for being present and listening. We, too, can be so busy doing that we forget to take the time to pray, to reflect on Scripture, to sit and listen to Jesus. During the sometimes lazy days of summer, let us take advantage of the laziness and just sit in God’s presence and reflect on who we are and who we are called to be, so that when the time comes to be busy again, we’ll be ready.
Micah is a prophet at around the same time as Isaiah and has come to prophesy punishment to those who are behaving in an unjust manner. Just because a person has the power or authority to act unjustly, doesn’t mean that he should. One might think that harassment or schemes to defraud people of their property or their inheritance, are something new, but Micah lets us know that these things have been going on since antiquity. God isn’t any happier today about these practices than he was then. Micah made known God’s displeasure to the kings and leaders of the day. He warns that their unjust practices need to stop and that the people need to repent or else they are leaving themselves open to attack by armies greater than theirs.
As we know, Assyria and Babylon both decimated Judah and Israel. Think about the Roman Empire, they too had fallen into such a moral decay that they were open to being overcome by Constantine. What about today? We have become lax in our time as well. Corporate takeovers that have little respect for the rights of the workers have become common. Even companies that have not been taken over have been known to change their policies and limit the benefits that their employees enjoy. Communities can take property away from individuals for schools, highways, shopping centers, by eminent domain and those who live on the properties are forced to move. Although owners are reimbursed, renters need to fend for themselves. Looking out for number one, whether personally, communally or nationally can lead to ignoring the essentials and there is nothing to stop others from overcoming us. As Micah says, we need to work for justice if we want peace. And so still today, the Jewish people celebrate Passover and one of the traditions is for someone to ask why we celebrate this feast, and the youngest child answers with the story of the Passover. Jesus was celebrating Passover with his friends on the night before he died. I know this reading comes up during the summer, so it’s not the time for Passover, or the Passion of Jesus, but I have a question. What are our traditions surrounding the passion and death and resurrection of Jesus? Do we celebrate the end of Lent on Holy Thursday? Do we spend time with Jesus on Good Friday remembering his sacrifice? Is Easter all about candy and the Easter bunny? Today, many of our churches are practically empty on Easter Sunday and the children think more about an Easter egg hunt than God. Would the youngest member of the family be able to tell the story of why we celebrate? God brought the Israelites from slavery to freedom at the original Passover, but Jesus brought us from the slavery of sin and the freedom to celebrate eternity with him in heaven. One was temporary, the other is permanent. Why is it that we take this celebration so lightly? Even though it’s summer, let’s take a moment to think about how the story of our faith is being passed on to our youth.
God’s name as it is written in Scripture is either Jehovah or Yahweh, or just YHWH. All are translations of He is Who He is. Because the Jewish people did not call God by the name he gave Moses. It is for this reason that the Jewish people were so angry when Jesus said that before Abraham came to be I AM. To say God’s name was to blaspheme. For the people of Moses’ time, names had power. They felt that to use the name of God was to say that they had power over God, and so the name was sacred. I can remember an uncle of mine who would often take not just the Lord’s name in vain when he was angry, but would also use it to curse whoever he was angry with. I’m sure you know many people who do the same without even blinking an eye.
Good Christians, all, who would be horrified if they were called on it. We are offended when people use foul language, why are we not offended when the Lord’s name is taken in vain? A friend of mine used to work in the office of a major manufacturing company and the man who sat behind her was continually cursing the company and its managers. One day she had had enough and turned to him and said, “No wonder the company is going to pot, you keep asking God to damn it.” He had never considered that he was both swearing and cursing, but he stopped. What about us? Do we need to clean up our speech, or ask other to do so? How do I praise God? God doesn’t want an animal sacrifice he wants a sacrifice of the heart. He wants a joyous heart, a heart that bursts into song because it can’t help itself. A heart so full of gratitude that song is the only way a body can express it. I love music; I love to sing the songs of praise in church. I might not have the best voice but it’s the one God gave me so he must think it’s good enough. There is something about music that lifts the soul. It’s no wonder that the psalms are music. In fact, this psalm even tells us which piece of music to sing it to – “Lilies!” When we think about it, some of the most glorious music was written for religious reasons: Handel’s Messiah is but one example. When we listen to the anthems of many nations, we see how they give thanks and praise to God. Whether we raise our voices in song or not, what is important is that we raise our voices in thanks and praise to God. Our prayers acknowledge that we know who is in charge, to whom we owe everything and who deserves our praise.
Lord, I pray for the older people who do not know You. I pray they will find Your love and joy. Let them lean on You for strength and understanding. Help them to smile and live out the remainder of their days for You. Get them the word if they don’t have access to it. Bring Christians into their lives to speak life into them. You are the God who cares for the young and old, weak and strong, rich and poor. Bless our elderly and help us honor them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The writer of this Psalm desperately wanted God to show His strength through him, an old man. He wanted everyone to know God’s power. As we grow old, we can still show God’s strength. As we become weaker, we can proclaim how strong He is. Do not lose heart as you grow old. The retired missionary now goes door to door to preach even though he’s walking slowly. The woman who started doing jail ministry long ago is often decades later faithfully visiting the jail. Whatever God is calling you to, God is greater than your age.
Lord, as I grow old, let me still serve You faithfully. When I’m weak, help me to show others Your strength. Through wrinkles, let others see the joy on my face that comes only from You. Even if I’m moving slowly, let me still move for You. I will gladly do Your will until my last breath. If I’m on this earth, You have me here for a reason. I will continue to live for You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
We were all introduced to our savior, Jesus Christ, through someone else. When we truly understand salvation, it is not enough for us to simply receive it. In our excitement, we will gladly go tell others about this miraculous savior. The prophet describes how when a city came to know the Lord, they rushed to pray and seek God so that they could go to another city to share this good news. The Word tells us we are commissioned to tell others the good news – let us go quickly!