Nov 30, 2011

Speak Up! They Came For Others...Then Me

First they came for the Communists,

and I didn’t speak up,

because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak up,

because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn’t speak up,

because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,

and by that time there was no one

left to speak up for me.

by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945

See more information about Martin Niemoller here.

Nov 29, 2011

A Christian or Fox or Something In Between?

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.  Luke 13:31-32

What do you do with someone you believe to be a fox? I am talking about Christians that speak about Jesus and their desire to follow him--Christians that go to church and may even share the gospel with others but who commit glaring evils.

I think about the Christians who owned slaves in the South and thought nothing of having slaves or of mistreating their slaves but who would also try to convert their slaves to Jesus.

I am thinking of supervisors who claim to follow Jesus but badly mistreat their workers. They think nothing of ruling with an iron-fist and of hiding or twisting the truth when it comes to their jobs.

I think of the Christians who (as the story is told in one of  Erwin Lutzer's books, Hitler and the Cross) heard the cattle cars passing behind their church and the desperate screams of Jewish people and others who were being carted off to slaughter, on their way to the death camps. These Christians in the little church would just sing louder when they heard the train whistle and the screams every Sunday morning. They tried  to drown out the screams and the cries of their consciences by singing hymns.

I know all of us are a mix of good and evil. Sometimes we, like Peter, function like Satan and compel Jesus to rebuke us with "Get behind me Satan."

But what do we do when other professing believers commit injustices and salient wrongs --wreaking all sorts of havoc? Yes, we pray. But when do we speak up? When do we take action?

There are believers that are acting like foxes. They may be blind to their behavior or they may be maliciously intentional. I've met a few people I'd call foxes while also wondering if they're brothers and sisters.

At the same time, I must be careful that I myself am not blind to the planks in my own eyes. But what  if the plank in their eyes are sticking so far out that every time they turn to the left or the right they take out a bunch of people?

I would love to hear your thoughts. I am truly seeking wisdom in this matter; and I know, our responses may depend on the particularities each situation. But if you have insights, please let me know!

Nov 27, 2011

The God Who Comes And Is Always Coming - 1st Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation.' "

This meditation was originally posted on December 6, 2009

Prepare the Way for the Lord!

In ancient times, inhabitants of cities built wide, straight, smooth roads when kings were coming into the city. The king had to have a special entrance. Craig Barnes tells us that:

One of the most exciting archeological digs going on in Israel is in Beit Shean which is uncovering a great Roman city. If you go there today you can see the main entrance into the city which is a wide, straight, even road, with magnificent columns on either side. That city is located at the juncture of the Jezreel and Jericho valleys. John the Baptist must have been by it all the time. Anyone traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem would have seen it. Everyone knew that a long straight road was what you made when a king was coming.[1]

The Romans spent a lot of time building good roads so that they could expand their empire. Roads were used as trade routes, for foot travel, and to move armies from place to place. And as I said earlier, the best roads were built to welcome the royal entourage. It is said that at the height of the Roman Empire, there were 53,000 miles of good road.[2] Of course the roads fell into disrepair when the empire crumbled. But some of those ancient roads are still used today, although they’ve been paved and repaved over and over again.

During Advent, we wait in joyful expectation preparing for the God who comes, for the God who is always coming as Carlo Carretto so beautifully put it. We need God to come because we are inclined toward destruction. Left to ourselves we make straight paths crooked and smooth places rough. We throw booby traps onto the road, make pot-holes or manholes that people fall into and can’t climb out of. Left to ourselves, we cut paths that depart from the way, the truth, and life without even knowing it, ending up God-knows-where. Left to ourselves, we become destroyers of the road and destroyers of all who pass by—robbing them, beating them up and even killing them. We pollute. We corrupt. We devalue the valuable and value the worthless. So you see, we desperately need the God who comes and is always coming and will eventually come to redeem all things.

I love my husband and daughter infinitely, but at times I say and do things that can destroy, things that mar the beauty of our marriage and family. I cringe as I think about a time when words that I meant for good, had an evil effect in the church, on a friend, because I didn’t think more about how to say them. And you know, as Coldplay sings, sometimes I wonder if I am part of the cure or part of the disease, the destruction. So you see, I desperately need the God who comes, who is coming.

John the Baptist has been considered by some to be the last Old Testament prophet. Although he wasn’t the Messiah, he paved the way for Jesus the Messiah. He was filling religious valleys and excavating spiritual hills and mountains. But his road construction didn’t just affect and threaten the gospel-less religious institutions, his message paved socio-political and economic roads that some didn’t want paved. He both intrigued and threatened Herod in the political establishment. However, neither Herod nor his wife would allow John the Baptist to build inroads. So eventually he lost his head, beheaded on the road to Zion. Sometimes that happens when you make ready the pathways for the Lord. And God will reward those who sacrifice their lives to pave the way for his coming.

John the Baptist still speaks. He speaks to us in the words of Isaiah the prophet in Luke chapter three and calls us to prepare the way for the Lord, to make straight paths for him so that every valley is filled in, and every mountain and hill is made low. Then the crooked roads will become straight and the rough ways smooth. But we’re going to have a hard go of it, a hard time making straight paths for others if we are all crooked inside. And all of us are crooked in some way.

It is said that the phrase, “I am stumped” comes from back in the day when tree stumps were left on wagon trails.[3] Apparently, when the trees weren’t completely taken out, when stumps were left, sometimes wagons got hung up on a stump, thus the phrase, “I’m stumped.”[4] Are we stumping Christ, stumping others or are we currently stumped?

This Advent, Christ is knocking at the door of our hearts asking if he can come in to make the rough places in us smooth. Are we going to be hospitable to God? Are we going to allow him to get to work and fill in the valleys and bring low the hills and mountains in our souls so that we can do the same in the world? We must. For as Saint Teresa of Avila says (as quoted in A Guide To Prayer For Ministers and Other Servants):

Christ has
No body on earth but yours;
No hands but yours;
No feet but yours;
Yours are the eyes
Through which is to look out
Christ’s compassion on the world;
Yours are the feet
With which he is to go about
Doing good;
Yours are the hands
With which he is to bless now.[5]

Missing His Coming

We know Christ came, is coming and will come again, but we need to remind ourselves that it is possible to miss his coming. Many who looked forward to his coming, missed it because he came unexpectedly. Most of the educated religious people of his day missed it. And today, we can miss him because we’re too busy. Too busy paving our own roads while claiming to be doing his work. Notice that the word of God came to John the Baptist in the desert. The desert wilderness was a place where people went to hear God.[6] Sometimes God sends us into the wilderness to get us away from our busy lives, so that we can hear him. Sometimes, we have to pack up and head there ourselves if we are to hear him. What I mean is, we have to have silence and solitude to hear God. It could be in our rooms or in a park in the city. But we have to make time to hear him speak.

Why? Because our incessant busyness puts us in grave danger of missing Christ when he comes. We want to advance ourselves, sometimes in the church or in Christian institutions. So we miss him as we play church or play at Christianity. It is a very real danger. In Matthew 25, at the end of the age, when Jesus rewards those who were hospitable to him, who noticed him when he came, he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”[7] We can’t say, Oh Jesus, I wanted to, but I was too busy doing things (or paving my own roads) to welcome you when you came. He’ll tell us to depart, that we never knew him. May that never be for anyone here. May we not miss Jesus when he comes.

I close with a poem written by monk John L’Hereux reprinted in the book, Monk Habits For Everyday People by Dennis Okholm:

Christ came into my room
and stood there
and I was bored to death.
I had work to do.
I wouldn’t have minded
If he’d been crippled
Or something—I do well
With cripples—but he
Just stood there, all face,
And with that d—ned guitar.
I didn’t ask him to sit down:
He’d have stayed all day.
(Let’s be honest. You can
Be crucified just so often;
Then you’ve had it. I mean
You’re useless; no good
To God, let alone
Anybody else.) So I said
To him after a while—
Well, what’s up? What do you want?
And he laughed, stupid,
Said he was just passing by
And thought he’d say hello.
Great, I said, hello.
So he left.
And I was so d—ned mad
I couldn’t even listen
To the radio. I went
And got some coffee.
The trouble with Christ is
He always comes at the wrong time.[8]

Christ is coming this Advent, may we be prepared for his coming and pave the way for him to come into the lives and institutions and the world so that all humankind will see his salvation. Amen.

Originally posted on December 6, 2009
[1] Found online at:
[2] Found online at:
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ruben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide To Prayer For Ministers And Other Servants, (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1983), 22.
[6] Found online at:
[7] Matthew 25:34-37 NIV.
[8] Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits For Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, (Grand Rapids, Brazos Press, 2007), 88.

Nov 24, 2011

God's Comfort In Our Pain

The Conversations Journal Blog posted some of my thoughts on God's comfort in our wilderness of pain. I pray it'll be a comfort to you.

Nov 22, 2011

The Folly of Envy

What is that to you? You must follow me.” -- John 22:21
Repost from 2009.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Yet at times during the race, we take our eyes off him. What diverts our attention from Christ? Sideline distractions? Other participants?

Imagine running a race and then suddenly hearing the quick strides and controlled breathing of another runner. As the runner approaches, you sneak a quick peek to determine the runner’s proximity to you and whether or not you recognize the face. And then it happens: in the split second it took you to turn your head you drifted off the path, tripped and fell into a ditch. You’re livid. There’s no use getting up now. The other runner is way ahead. You’ll come in last for sure. So you lay there, staring at the sky, sulking in the ditch, bitterly complaining to the Lord, “Why’d you let me fall? You could’ve prevented it. You could’ve made me faster. It’s not fair that so and so is ahead. So and so is always getting ahead of me.” You grow angry at and envious of so and so. As you fume in the ditch, runners pass by. A few slow down, beckoning you to get up and keep running. You ignore them. You’d rather stay wallowing in the ditch of dejection.

In John 21:15-20, Jesus identifies Peter’s calling and reveals details about Peter’s death. Yet Peter didn’t ponder his calling or the specifics of his death. Instead, his first impulse was to turn when he noticed John and ask, “Lord, what about him?” (John 21:21). Peter wants to know what the Lord plans on doing with John’s life and how John would die. Jesus gently rebukes him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). In essence Jesus was saying, “Peter, don’t concern yourself with John, concern yourself with me. Keep your eyes on me, fulfill what I’ve just commissioned you to do and leave John’s life in my hands.”

Do you get tripped up because you’re too busy focusing on others instead of Christ? Do you compare and then become discouraged because of their abilities, beauty, or accomplishments? Do you question God about your own pace and wonder why he hasn’t given you the opportunities he has given them? When you do that, bitterness towards God and envy towards others creeps into your soul. Your race comes to a screeching halt. You’re in the ditch. In the sin filled ditch of envy, we project our values on God acting as if he values the object of our envy and the role he has ordained for him or her to play more than he values us. However, it is we who place a higher value on that person, not God.

When we do this, Jesus says to us, “What is that to you? Follow me.” Jesus did not let any person or thing deter him from accomplishing what he was sent to do.

“Envy is the ulcer of the soul.” --Socrates--

Nov 20, 2011

On Loving Others

From 2008

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." I John 3:16

It easy to "love" those far away, those we have little interaction with. We can be patient and kind with those hard-to-love people we run into infrequently. The real test of our love for others is manifested in our day-to-day lives. How do we love those we experience every day? Do we lay our lives down for our spouses, children, parents, neighbors, members of our church community?

Obviously loving is not merely having positive feelings for a person, not merely wishing good upon someone. Dallas Willard says it is acting on behalf of the good of others. Notice in the above verse, John indicates that our love is measured by how well we lay our lives down for our brothers, not our enemies, even though Jesus tells us to love our enemies.

So how are we doing? When we're impatient and annoyed--that's when the real test of love comes. When we're tired and would rather be refreshed than refresh others--do we consider others above ourselves? Choosing to love is a cure for selfishness. Love is a choice because more often than not, we don't want to expend the energy it takes to love others. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can love consistently. And of course, Jesus is our prime example: he laid down his life for us. And out of love and appreciation for him, we lay our lives down for others.

In the Lord's prayer, when we request our daily bread, we need to ask for the strength and energy to love those we encounter. Otherwise, we'll fail miserably.

"Love begins by taking care of the closest ones - the ones at home."
-- Mother Theresa

Nov 17, 2011

Downward Mobility ~ Henri Nouwen

Repost from May 2010

"The compassionate life is the life of downward mobility! In a society in which upward mobility is the norm, downward mobility is not only discouraged but even considered unwise, unhealthy, or downright stupid. Who will freely choose a low-paying job when a high-paying job is being offered? Who will choose poverty when wealth is within reach? Who will choose the hidden place when there is a place in the limelight? Who will choose to be with one person in great need when many people could be helped during the same time? Who will choose to withdraw to a place of solitude and prayer when there are so many urgent demands from all sides?

My whole life I have been surrounded by well-meaning encouragement to go 'higher up,' and the most-used argument was : 'You can do so much good there, for so many people.' But these voices calling me to upward mobility are completely absent from the Gospel. Jesus says: 'Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25). He also says: 'Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Finally he says: "You know that among the gentiles the rulers lord it over them, and great men make their authority felt; among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).

This is the way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus. It is the way toward the poor, the suffering, the marginal, the prisoners, the refugees, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless--toward all who ask for compassion. What do they have to offer? Not success, popularity, or power, but the joy and peace of the children of God."

From Here and Now pp. 138-139

Nov 15, 2011

Pervasive Discontentment (Contempt For God)

Reposted from July 2010.

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt. . . . But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? (Numbers 14:1-4, 10-11).

Monotony in our everyday life is no surprise. But what happens when we start to get restless--when things don't go our way? What happens when we feel fettered by our life's circumstances? Do we start to complain? Does wander lust fill our souls so that we'd rather be everywhere and anywhere else but here with the people and situations that surround us? Do we start to hyper-ventilate because we feel confined and restricted?

Think about how restricted Jesus was. He was born into poverty, in a backwater, out-of-the-way place. His friends and family struggled just to make ends meet, to have enough food and clothes for what they needed. He was far from the cultural centers of Athens, Rome, and Alexandria. I doubt the daily conversation stimulated his theological and intellectual curiosity. He chose to limit his power. Very few people knew who he was; others didn't believe he was who he claimed to be so they didn't give him the honor, respect, and glory due his name. Wasn't it better in heaven, where every knew his name and where everyone respected him? But he chose to come here to be despised--to lay his life down for us. It was the will of the Father for the salvation of the world. He was confined for us, but not discontent.

God delivered the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians. But they didn't do well with not knowing what would happen from day to day. They didn't do well with not being in control of their circumstances. Although God did miracles and spectacularly freed them from bondage--when things began to get a little tough, when they didn't know what to expect, when they started giving into the fear of the giants in the land, forgetting what God had just done, they began to complain. They chucked their trust in God out the window.

They became discontent because what God was doing was not what they had in mind or what they had expected. They figured that after he had delivered them from the Egyptians, they'd cruise through the promised land unencumbered and unopposed. But then the possible opposition in the form of giants caused them to forget everything God had done. They became so discontent, so fearful that they uttered the unimaginable--Egypt was better. Bondage was better to this! They were out of their minds.

And we are just like them. We go out of our spiritual minds when we have to wait on God or when we don't see him working the way we think he should in the time we think he should. We start to question everything. Unlike Jesus who faced so much opposition and bore it with humility and trust, we call God's character into question. We put him on the witness stand--we put God on the dock. We stop depending on him for peace and try to work out circumstances ourselves. We figure that since he ain't doing the job, we might as well give it a try ourselves. We become bitter. We become negative. We color our world and relationships with the darkness of our unbelief.

God renders a harsh judgment for such behavior because such behavior shows contempt for him. I looked up the word contempt and this is what Merriam Webster's Dictionary says it means: 1) the act of despising; the state of mind of one who despises 2) the state of being despised 3) disobedience to or open disrespect of a court or legislature. Here are synonyms: despise, disdain, scorn; also abhorrence, abomination, execration, hate, hatred, loathing.

By all means, let us pray for better circumstances--flee abuse if that is what is happening. But if God has us in normal life circumstances in which we feel uneasy and restless, yet circumstances we are convinced he has allowed us to be in or even appointed us to be in, let us not act like the Israelites by treating God with contempt.

Dear friends, I preach this to myself frequently. This was a sermon to myself first and foremost-- sermon to myself that I share with you.

Nov 14, 2011

What Is Choking The Jesus Life Within?

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”  Mark 4:15-20

Every now and then it hits me: there are thorns growing in the garden of my life. Thorns that threaten to choke out gospel life, the life of Jesus within. St. Mark tells us that some of these thorns are the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for things other than Jesus and his life.

Worries of this life. These can be terrifying days with wars, rumors of war,  hate, sickness, family problems, unemployment, and lack of money to make ends meet. We are tempted to allow these concerns to consume us, to become idols that control us. Worry (the cares of this life) feeds our fears and if we don't cut it off, it becomes a powerful force that chokes off God's life in us. It chokes out the gospel. We start to believe our worries are accurate reflections of reality and we bow to them instead of to God. Our eyes become paralyzed. They become laser-focused on our trials and can't move instead focusing on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. Like Peter, we sink.

This is when we need to turn to Scripture and prayer and to the community of believers so that they can speak truth to us. However, let me not limit truth telling to these avenues. Reading all sorts of literature including stories of saints who have overcome trials can encourage us. But let us cling to God and his word so that our minds will be transformed--because his word cuts deep into us and sets things right (Hebrews 4:12).

When I feel especially overwhelmed, when I worry there is no way out, I think about the Israelites with their backs up against the wall. Pharaoh's army is behind them and the Red Sea in front of them. At that time God did the unimaginable, the unthinkable. He made a way through the sea back then and he does the same for us today. Can you remember a time when God rescued you from a difficult situation even if it was internal?

When I feel trapped, my mind turns to the question God asks in Jeremiah 32:27, "I am the God of all flesh, is there anything too hard for me?" I know he is directing that question to me. I have to answer. Eventually, I have to say, "No, Lord there is nothing that is too hard for you, not even this situation." And so again, I place my trust in the goodness of God (note: placing my trust in God doesn't always happen in an instant. It can be a struggle, but these are things I think about when I am in a difficult situation.)

The Deceitfulness of Riches. We are all tempted to find our security in money instead of God. Jesus said we must choose whether or not we will serve God or money. "If I just have all my school loans paid off and am debt free, I will have peace." "If I just had a better job and got paid more money, I would have no need for anything else." We are deceived into thinking money will provide security. Think of the rich celebrities in our culture; many are tormented even though they are swimming in money. Allowing money or the lack of it to become an idol leads to self-deception and to the gospel being choked out in our lives. We must learn that we cannot find our security in money and instead trust in God who provides what we need.

(Proverbs 30:8-9)

give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

You can be poor with money as an idol or rich with money as an idol. But let us remember what Jesus says to us in Matthew 6:32, "Your heavenly Father knows what you  have need of."

The Desire For Other Things. As I alluded to in other posts, our desires for other things can choke out the gospel. We become selfish and self-centered. For example, we're in ministry and it starts becoming about us instead of God. Somehow in the process, we've lost our first love. We are more focused on our own notoriety and the largeness of our ministry rather than God. Somehow we kid ourselves into thinking we are living for God when really we are living to promote ourselves or to get a nice paycheck. We chase success (spiritual even) instead of God. We enthrone educational degrees, relationships, or a perfect body. These desires for other things choke out the gospel. But what does God say? To love him with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and of course, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

What is choking the Jesus Life in us?

Nov 13, 2011

What Would You And I Have Done? What Will We Do?

My Thoughts On Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Recently I've heard about students who object to what I am about to say because they say, "We shouldn't break the law." But sometimes to do what is right, we have to break an unjust law. Daniel broke the law in Babylon by praying five times a day. As a result, he was thrown in the lion's den. Shadrach, Mishach and Abednego broke an unjust law. They would not bow down and worship the statue. As a result, they were thrown into the furnace. Early Christians broke the law. They continued to meet. They went down into the catacombs or were burnt at the stake.

Those who hid Jews and helped them during World War II broke unjust Nazis laws. Christians all over the world break unjust civil laws by meeting together, by sharing the gospel, and by distributing literature about Jesus. They are breaking their countries' unjust laws.

Also, many who were a part of the underground railroad in the United States--broke the law. Those who didn't abide by Jim Crow laws and those who spoke out against them were retaliated against even though they were doing what was right. History shows they were right; but there were Christians who said back then as they do now, "But you are breaking the law" or "It's the law." What we fail to remember is that laws can be unjust. There were laws here in the U.S. that at one time discriminated against the Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Irish Catholics and others. These were law. But they were unjust. And much injustice resulted from these laws. Travesties, in fact.

Over the years I've asked myself: Would I break the law to hide the Jews? Would I have been an abolitionist or stood with African-Americans and have broken an unjust law during the Civil Rights Movement? Would I have stood together with Native Americans who have been mistreated since the inception of this country?There is no way to know for sure what I would've done back then. I'd like to think that I would have. But all I have is now.

John Perkins, a Christian and founder of Christians for Community Development (CCDA) has said that immigration is the new Civil Rights Movement. I stand for immigration reform now (even if it isn't popular). These are unjust laws that need to be changed. Flagrant human rights abuses are occuring. Families are being torn apart. And these aren't just "those people." They are part of our churches and communities. It is a problem for the Church. Jesus, please help us to change these laws and reach out to our brothers and sisters. If you want to be better informed about what is going on, I welcome you to watch this video from PBS's Frontline Series:

Nov 11, 2011

God Sees And Remembers You

"She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.' That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered." Genesis 16:13,14.

I don't know where you are this moment as you read these words. Maybe you stumbled across this place by accident. Even if that is the case, I want you to know that God sees and remembers you. Your prayers are heard by God most high (even if you don't know him quite well yet). He does not turn away those who call out to him (those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved). In Isaiah 42:3 he says that he will not break a bruised reed or as I translate it, "God doesn't kick us when we are down."

Instead, this is the God who says, "do not fear" and "grace and peace be yours in the name of Jesus Christ." Perhaps you are suffering. Maybe you are depressed and not sure that you can survive another day. Maybe you are unemployed--without money, low on food--wondering where your next meal will come from and if you will be able to pay your bills. Perhaps you are chronically or terminally ill. Maybe you lost a child or a spouse or are going through a divorce or are in a bad marriage or are suffocated by your singleness. Or maybe you're in college or just graduated and wondering what will become of your life. Maybe you feel as if you are drowning in your sins.You're lonely. Know that God sees you and remembers you.

I also think of Christians in Iran, Christians in Iraq, Christians in Saudi Arabia, Christians in North Korea, Christians in China --Christians in places where you fear for your life because of your devotion to Jesus. Or maybe you're in one of these places or a place like it and trying to find out who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. Perhaps I can assist you as you read my posts. But know this: God sees you and remembers you.

Abraham and Sarai got impatient with God. God had told them they'd have a child in old age. But sometime during what scholars believe was a 25 year waiting period, they lost faith. "Maybe God meant that someone else would bear my child" Sarai thought. "I know," she said, "I'll tell Abraham to sleep with Hagar and the child she bears will be our child of promise." She decided to play God and concocted a plan. The plan worked--kind of. Hagar became pregnant. But then Hagar began to despise Sarai and then Sarai mistreated Hagar.

Hagar ran away. But God ran after her. He had compassion on her in her distress. He told her to go back to Sarai and Abraham. And he told her that she'd have many descendents. She was moved by the love and compassion God showed her and was overcome by his goodness and love. She named him "The God Who Sees." And she went on to say that she'd seen the one who sees her.

God sees you in your distress and hopelessness. Throw yourself upon his mercy and grace. I often picture myself leaping into white way of throwing myself on God's mercy and way of banking on his goodness and love. In Jesus Christ, God has said "Immanuel" ... I am with you. Immanuel means "God with us." When Jesus came to earth as a baby (soon we will be celebrating Advent) the angels proclaimed that it was good news and great joy for all people.

Like the father in the story of the prodigal son, God says to you and me "Everything I have is yours." I pray that wherever you are that he would open your eyes to his presence and care and that he would open mine, too. I pray that you would see that everything he has is yours if you are his child.

Remember, God speaks to us through his words and in others ways. He speaks to us through his people and creation. Maybe this little post is his way of encouraging you, of reminding you that he sees you and remembers you. I will pray that you become aware of his eye beholding you and of his arm that is not too short to save.

Nov 8, 2011

How Power Corrupts

"We grew older, and we came to understand one of the central truths of human nature, which is that when you brush up against a truly powerful force, it is never quite as benevolent as you imagined it to be. In order to acquire power, you have to be at least a little ruthless.5 All you can hope for is that those who do acquire power operate by some sort of rough ethical standard, and even if I no longer deified Paterno, I continued to believe that the monolith I'd grown up inside was essentially a force for good. They did things I found untoward, but I always presumed they did them for the right reasons . . . . "

This comes from this article, a reflection on the Penn State scandal where young men were sexually abused and no one spoke up--all to save a football program. See the article here:

This sometimes happens in the church too.

Nov 7, 2011

Workers Not Master Builders

A repost from 2010 - In honor of All Saints

"It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Nov 1, 2011

Seeking Paradise

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Hebrews 2:14-15

We're all driven by a desire to make something of ourselves, to find meaning and purpose, to know and be known by another person--to be loved and accepted for who we are. We seek the paradise that was lost, to return to ourselves and to our maker, to the way things were in the beginning. Whether we know it or not, we are seeking to become the people that God created us to be. We are seeking paradise, salvation and escape from death even though we might not be able to articulate what exactly we are doing or searching for.

We do things to attain this feeling of rightness, a feeling of all being okay. It is the feeling of biblical shalom that we seek--a feeling and knowledge that everything is and will be as it should be. But in our twisted states, in our desperate desire for shalom, in our desire for love, joy, and peace, we start to try to manufacture it ourselves.

Some of us do this through being control freaks--in our pain we are slavishly seeking to control ourselves and everyone around us. But in the end, we only make ourselves and everyone around us miserable. Perfectionism--it manifests itself in many ways--even through eating disorders.

Other pains. Maybe we are suffering from depression. So, we sleep our lives away in order to attain some peace. For others of us, our pain drives us to anesthetize ourselves (maybe a different way of dealing with depression). We might anesthetize ourselves through workaholism or illegitimate sex (trying to find solace in a person or virtual person) or by stuffing most minutes of our lives with frenetic activity. Others of us stuff ourselves with alchohol or drugs or food. We try a buffet of gods.

And of course there is the allure of success. We think that climbing the corporate ladder or having our fame and money will satisy the gnawing feeling in our souls that we just can't put our finger on.
Some of us think that marriage is the solution to quelling the ache in our souls.

You see, we (even some Christians) are held in slavery by our fear of death. We fear physical death to be sure, but also a death of who we dream ourselves to be. We fear the death of our dreams. In order to prevent these deaths--because of our fear of death and desire for paradise-- we chase after everything but God, the life-giver and sustainer.

Remember, God gives us life. He always leaves life in his wake. Jesus has come to free us from death--including physical and spiritual death and the death of us (the children of God he created us to be). Death encompasses so much. But Jesus has overcome death. He gives us life (which includes shalom and the fruits of the Spirit) abundantly. He restores life. He restores us to the people he has made us to be. Do we believe this?

In our decisions we are either moving forward in life or in death. That's why God tells us to choose life. We don't have to let the fear of some sort of death lead us into death-dealing and death-making decisions. We don't have to be held captive in slavery by our fear of death. Jesus has set us free. Now, we need to learn to walk in freedom and we need to learn and experience what it means to be free. Sure, because of the Fall, shalom and all the good and all the life God has for us will not be experienced in this life. But my goodness, a lot of it can be.

We need to learn the ways of the Lord, to take Jesus' yoke (his teaching) upon us and learn from him. We learn from him through faithful followers of Jesus whether living or dead, through spiritual disciplines, creation, etc. But we have to intend it. We have to want to move toward and into life. And  God will give us life. Sometimes though, in his grace, he rescues us even when we're not looking for him.

My dear one, do you seek paradise, the paradise that was lost? God is restoring it to you and all of creation. I do pray that in some way this blog is life-giving. Turn to him and also ask for help from believers. We're in this together.

Hebrews 2:14-15 along with the Coldplay song, "Paradise" combined in me to bring these thoughts to you today.

The blessing of the Lord Jesus upon you this moment.