Monday, November 16, 2015

The Forgotten 93 Percent

    Today, Governor John Kasich added Ohio to the list of several other states that are refusing to accept even one refugee from the war torn areas of Syria and other nations.  This announcement is purely political and is entirely lacking in common sense and human compassion. 

    Judging by the Facebook posts I’ve been reading for two days, I’ve just offended many of my friends. 

I don’t care.

    Why? Because if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are completely ignoring nearly every instruction that Jesus ever gave.

Let me explain.

    It is obviously apparent that terrorists have infiltrated the flood of refugees landing in Europe and elsewhere.  But while estimates of how many terrorists might be among them range from a few to as many as 15 percent, most estimates go no higher than 7 percent.  Still, considering that there are hundreds of thousands of refugees, 7 percent is a lot.  Allowing 10,000 refugees into the United States could mean admitting 700 terrorists.

That is unacceptable.

So why do I think that Governor Kasich and a whole host of other politicians have it wrong?

    Because closing the doors on legal immigrants, even in the face of this enormous threat, conveniently ignores too much human pain and suffering.  Before I get around to Jesus, let’s first take a look at who these refugees are and why they are fleeing to other countries.

    The civil war in Syria isn’t just about one group of radicals who are fighting against the government.  We think that way because we think of the Confederate States fighting against the Union, but that example is just wrong.  In Syria, there are literally dozens of armed factions that are warring, not only with Syria’s government, but against one another.  And so thinking that this is like the Rebs against the Yankees doesn’t really do it justice.  Instead, imagine that every church that you passed this week represented the headquarters of a different armed group.  Imagine that, in your community, the Baptists are fighting the Lutherans, the Catholics are killing Pentecostals, and the Republicans are at war with Democrats.  Not only is your neighborhood a war zone, every week or two, another group tries to capture it from the group that captured it the last time.  Some towns have been blown up and shot up multiple times, churches have been burned, women raped, and entire towns lined up in the streets and murdered.

This is daily life in much of Syria.

    And so, not surprisingly, a lot of people, both Christian and Muslim, have left their homes, their families, and all that they own, to literally walk across several entire countries in hope of finding something better.

Are there “bad guys” mixed in with the “regular” refugees?  Yes.

But those of us who claim to follow Jesus are called to see the world in a different way.  Not through the lens of Democrat or Republican, but through the lens of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

    If we look at what Jesus taught, we won’t find words like revenge, retaliation, or retribution.  We won’t find instructions to hate our neighbor or to fear the foreigners.  Instead, what we find are instructions to be merciful, compassionate, loving, and helpful.  Our mission is to rescue the lost, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and help others find hope and a future so that they too might hear the message of the Prince of Peace.

    We have every right to be concerned about the possibility of allowing hundreds of jihadi terrorists into our country, but that fear cannot allow us to slam the door on the 93 percent who are only looking for a place to live that won’t get blown up next week.

    It is convenient and easy for politicians to preach from a pulpit of fear and xenophobia.  But as Christians, we are not called to follow the teachings of John Kasich or any other politician.  We are called to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to be stupid or act foolishly.

We remember that Jesus teaches love, mercy, and compassion, but he also said, 

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 NIV)

We are called to be merciful, but to be smart about how we do it.

Governor Kasich and other politicians are looking for easy, and popular, solutions but in doing so they sell Ohio, and the people of the United States short. 

We are smarter than they give us credit for.

We are more than capable of sorting through the refugees and discerning which ones can be allowed in safely.

It won’t be easy.

But we can do it.

And it’s the right thing to do.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Helium, God, and the Church

Most of us want as little of God as possible.

    We don’t want to admit it of course, but God scares us.  My friend Brian Baer once read a meditation in our Sunday school class called “Just a cup of God please.”  It said that God is prepared to pour out blessings on us through a fountain the size of Niagara Falls.  But we come prepared to collect it in a tea cup because we’re afraid of what God might do with us if we had more.

    The other day I saw a yard sale sign with balloons attached to it but the balloons had been there too long.  Instead of floating, they just sort of hung there.


    As I drove by, it occurred to me that our churches are a lot like that.  We are like a balloon.  We are a vessel that takes its shape by being filled with the Spirit of God.  The more of him we contain, the more we begin to take the shape that he intends for us, the more we look like what God intends for us to look.

But to get there, we have to be stretched.

    Balloons aren’t useful unless they are stretched.  Until they are stretched, and dangerously close to bursting, they do not, they cannot, do the thing that they are intended to do.  If they aren’t stretched, they just hang there… lifeless.  

That's exactly how many of us are.  We want God to come into the church, but too much of God frightens us.  

Being stretched is hard.

It scares us.

    We’re afraid of what might happen if we allow too much of God to come into our lives.  When balloons are too full they fly away or they burst.  We’ve read the stories in the Bible.  When God fills people up, scary things happen.  Life feels like it’s out of control.  Lives are changed.  God asks people to do things they’ve never done before.

Like helium in a balloon, when God comes in we get stretched.

    But if a balloon isn’t stretched by the helium in it, there isn’t enough to overcome the effects of gravity that is pulling it down and it just hangs there.  Lifeless.

    Likewise, even though it might feel safer, when there isn’t enough God in us to stretch us, then there isn’t enough of God to overcome the evil in the world that drags us down.  Without enough of God in the church, we look just like every other human organization. 

We don’t have enough God in us to take his shape.

I know that it’s scary.

Being stretched is uncomfortable.

Being filled with God feels dangerous (and it is).

But if we aren’t filled with enough God to really stretch us…

                  …we will never fly.


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Friday, May 1, 2015

Baltimore - A Rush to Judgement?

I wish everyone would shut up for a minute.

But probably not for the reason you think.

    I waited a long time to write anything about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri because I wanted to try to understand the issues.   

    But this time, after watching and listening to media outlets talk about what is happening in Baltimore I don’t want to wait.  I am posting now, not because I think I understand what is happening, but because I am convinced that almost no one does.

Every media outlet, every reporter, every politician, and a great many bystanders have taken sides.

    Just like the Ferguson case, and the Travon Martin case, and so many others, everyone seems to be absolutely certain that they know exactly what is happening and why.

Everyone is rushing to judgement.

    They judge the police.  They judge Freddie Gray.  They judge the mayor.  They judge the President.  They judge the protestors, the rioters (those are vastly different groups), they judge the victims of the violence, and people are even judging the parents of the people in the streets. 

    Christians are often accused of being judgmental, but this is ridiculous.  Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike seems to think that they know so much about what is happening hundreds of miles away in Baltimore that they can stand in judgement of people they’ve never met and who they know almost nothing about.

I wish everyone would all shut up and listen for a change.

As I watch and listen to the reporting from Baltimore, all I seem to find is more questions.

What exactly happened in police custody that led to the death of Freddie Gray?

Did Mr. Gray really have surgery on his spine only weeks before his arrest?

Did that matter?

Did the mayor tell the police to allow the mayhem to continue when it might have been stopped much earlier?

I could ask questions all day but it seems clear that, so far, there aren’t very many answers.

    And without answers, all the self-proclaimed experts (left, right and center) should slow down their rush to judgement until they actually have some facts.  Right now there are too many things that we just don’t know.   
Instead of rushing to judgement, why don’t we listen instead?

We all want justice.

    But we should be careful to find the facts so that there can be justice for everyone.  There needs to be justice for the police, the demonstrators, the rioters, the politicians, and especially for the victims.
Investigating, finding, and sorting through the facts are all things that will take time.

While we wait, instead of judging everyone, why don’t we do something helpful?

    Why don’t we try to find ways to help those who lost homes, jobs, and businesses?  Can our politicians and academics find ways to reduce poverty and joblessness instead of just pointing fingers at each other?  Why not volunteer with some charity or aid group to clean up and rebuild Baltimore?  We should all take the time to listen and understand people with whom we disagree.

    Instead of pretending that we know exactly what is going on and who is to blame, our time would be better spent trying to fix the problem and help Baltimore heal.  And while we’re doing that, we should talk less and listen more.

Instead of judging, try donating.

And if you are so inclined, I’m sure that everyone involved could use your prayers.


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Friday, March 27, 2015

Our Hardest Prayers

Could you pray for God to take your life?  Or your child’s life?  Or pray for cancer? 


Our gut says no.


How do we pray for something that we *don’t* want to happen?


Everything in us resists.


But sometimes the prayers God desires are the prayers we do not want to pray.


Surrender is necessary.


What do I mean?


Is God so vindictive and manipulative that he would want me to die? Or take the life of a child?  Or give someone cancer?


Honestly, those are deep theological issues that we all struggle with and I do not have a solid answer for you. 


Seriously, I don’t know.


I think that the answer is no.  I know that God is a loving God and I know that before the world was corrupted, Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to die.  Death and disease and suffering are abnormal.


But on the other hand, in our world, these things exist and while God doesn't give us these things, sometimes, for his own reasons, God chooses not to take hardship away from us.


And so the question is, when trouble comes, when we experience hardship, and suffering, pain and even death… how should we pray?


Our natural reaction is to pray for God to rescue us from our trouble, to take away our pain, and to save us from death and most of the time, that is exactly how we pray.  Unfortunately, that is not the model that we have been given.


In John 12:27-28, shortly before Jesus was arrested, he said this to his disciples:

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

    And later that night Jesus prayed two times saying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) and then later, “He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

    Knowing that God has sent him to die, Jesus prays that the Father will use his suffering to bring glory to God.  Jesus lives as an example to us that our prayers might not always be for God to rescue us from our troubles, but that, if God has prepared that trouble for us, or has chosen to allow it into our lives, that our suffering would somehow bring God glory.

    The crucifixion of Jesus meant the death of God’s own child but God allowed it, even planned it, because, in the grand scheme of things, in God’s master plan, that pain, that suffering, that death, made the entire world, and the future of everyone, better.

    God brought glory to himself when Jesus was lifted up on the cross because that action pointed all of humanity toward Jesus and toward God.  So we know, that whatever we do that points others toward Jesus, likewise brings glory to God.

    And so when we experience hardship, and suffering, pain and even death, even though our natural reaction is to pray for God to rescue us, we must remember that is not the model that we have been given. 

    Praying for rescue isn’t a bad thing.  Before his arrest Jesus was praying for exactly that when he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” But he didn’t stop there.  Jesus continued by saying, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

    It is okay for us to pray that God would rescue us, in fact, it’s normal.  But we always need to remember that rescue might not be a part of God’s plan.  And so, as we pray for rescue, we should also remember to pray that if God chooses not to rescue us, that our trouble, our suffering, and yes, even our death might, somehow, bring glory to God and point others toward him.

And those are probably the hardest prayers we will ever pray.


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