Friday, November 20, 2015

What We Can Agree On

My Facebook feed is filled with arguments going back and forth on the debate of the United States accepting Syrian refugees following the terrorist attacks in Paris. It can be increasingly tempting to unfollow those who are taking the viewpoint opposite of your own or simply to tune it all out altogether. In times like this, I think it can be helpful to step back and consider if there are areas we can work together even as we may have to agree to disagree on certain important matters.

Here's the thing. Regardless of whether you think the US should accept refugees or not, the fact remains that there are millions of Syrian refugees who have been forced from their homes and neighborhoods as a result of conflict and violence.  For the moment, suspend the debate about whose fault it is and what the correct geopolitical response should be and simply respond respond at the personal human level. 

What are you going to do about it?

Perhaps it would be helpful to be reminded of this:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii [worth two days wages] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him. 
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Want to go and do likewise?

Here are two 4-Star Charity Navigator rated charities working to help these refugees: and one of them a donation. If you don't like those organizations, choose another. Here's a list. And if by chance you agree with what I would consider to be a fallacious argument that we should not help foreign refugees because there are homeless vets in the US, then give to help them. Here is a list for that. 

(If you are more of a video person and have 15 minutes, watch this modern retelling of the parable.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Meaning of Your Circumstances

Next week at lifegroup we will be discussing the question, "What has God been up to in your life lately?" I have been pondering that question with a backdrop of two recent sermons, one from Matthew 7 and one from Matthew 8 that I had never thought of in connection with each other, and it's helped me to keep in mind the importance of rightly interpreting my circumstances.

In Matthew 7, Jesus finishes his sermon on the mount by saying, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it."  As was pointed out in the message, the wise person is the who who actually does what Jesus says, not just who hears, understands, and agrees with what Jesus says.  Most often, the problem isn't what we don't know; it's what we don't apply of what we do know. (I know I should eat fruits and vegetables, but I actually order the fries.)  Jesus also doesn't say that the one who hears and does what he says will avoid the storm.  It says he will withstand it.  How often do I fall under the misconception that if I am just obedient enough, I can avoid the rain altogether?
In Matthew 8, Jesus is heading across the lake with the disciples and lo and behold they run into a fierce storm.  While Jesus is sleeping, the disciples are panicking.  In Mark's account, the disciples wake him and ask, "Don’t you care if we drown?".  Isn't that interesting?  Not long after hearing the greatest sermon ever given about doing what Jesus says and withstanding the storm, the disciples do what Jesus says by getting into the boat, enter a storm and then interpret their circumstance as indicative of a lack of Jesus' care and concern for them.  Isn't that so typical of what I do?  I create false expectations of what I think my life should be like (all sunshine and no storms) which have no basis in what Jesus actually taught, and then when circumstances turn unfavorable the deceiver is right there at my elbow saying, "See, look at that, obviously Jesus doesn't care that you're drowning," and I totally buy it.

I can understand why Jesus would then ask the disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  Am I looking at what God is doing in my life with eyes of faith, standing firm on the rock and doing what he says?  Or am I seeing those sames circumstances through eyes of fear, doubting that he is concerned for me and failing to trust him enough to do what he says?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mingle Their Madness

It was gripping to read these pages tonight in view of the recent tragic event at an Ohio high school.

The principle of withdrawal and assault operates at the highest levels of cultural, social, and political interaction, with constant glorification in the popular arts and media.  The spiritual malformation of children is the inevitable result.  Their little souls, bodies, and minds cannot but absorb the reality of assault and withdrawal in a climate where their parents or other adults are constantly engaged in them.  And of course they are soon in the line of fire themselves.  They soon are being attacked and frozen out.  In such a context you can almost see the children shrivel.  
Their only hope of survival is to become hardened.  This amounts to a constant posture of withdrawal, even from oneself.  It is a defensive posture, which, incidentally makes attack (on others and on oneself) easy and inevitable.  Hardened, lonely little souls, ready for addiction, aggression, isolation, self-destructive behavior, and for some, even extreme violence, go out to mingle their madness with one another in nightmarish school grounds and 'communities.'  They turn to their bodies for self-gratification and to control others, or for isolation and self-destruction.
The wonder is not that they sometimes destroy one another, but that the adults who produced them and live with them can, with apparent sincerity, ask 'Why'?  Do they really not know?  Can they really not see the poison in the social realm?  It is another profound case of the blind leading the blind and both falling into a pit (Matthew 15:14). - Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart 

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I was captivated this week reading Perelandra, especially chapters 12 and 13 in which Ransom realizes that Maledil has chosen him to battle and defeat the Un-man and the vastness of the stakes at hand.  I could empathize with the character facing a battle that seems ridiculously beyond him.
"When," he asked, "did I ever win a fight in all my life?"
I took away a few things from this read.  One goes along with a theme we discussed in lifegroup a few weeks ago when we looked at Mark 4:1-20. How should you approach life differently knowing that you have a spiritual adversary intent on obstructing and destroying the work God is doing in your life?  The proceeding chapters present the enemy volleying lie after lie (or, perhaps more accurately, half-truths) to the Lady, attempting to wear down her confidence in what she knew was right and good.  Do I take time to be alert and aware of how that might be happening to me?

The second thing it left me with, as alluded to at the beginning, was the desire to be part of a meaningful fight.  I feel so insulated by a life of comfort and convenience that I do not even know what that might look like for me.  Where am I to stand in the gap and protect the innocent?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Birthday Reflections

As I celebrate my 33rd birthday today, I find myself looking back in awe of all of the opportunities and experiences God has given to me.  I am amazed that this little kid from Pennsboro, WV would get to see and do so much! 

I have now lived in 5 different states and travelled to many more.  I have seen the great cities of New York and London, and the natural wonders of the Grand Canyon and the arches and deserts of Utah. I have seen the monuments of Washington, D.C. and the battlefields of Gettysburg and Antietam.  I have jumped out of an airplane and snorkeled in the ocean.  I have swam with dolphins and  ridden on a camel.  I have hiked in  both the Rocky and Appalachain Mountains and walked on the beaches of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  I have seen the last standing Wonder of the World, the Great Pyramids of Egypt and sailed down the Nile River.  I have had opportunities to serve halfway around the world in Indonesia with ESL and five minutes from my front door with Habitat for Humanity.

I have experienced the deepest heartaches and the most exhilerating joys.  I have gone on a 7 day silent retreat and a 40 day fast, and celebrated with throngs in a stadium and feasted on the finest steak dinners.  I have mourned the loss of all four of my grandparents and an uncle, and celebrated the birth of two nephews and a niece.  I have lied awake in the longest lonely hours of the night, and watched my beautiful bride walk down the aisle to me. I now get to spend the rest of my life with the most beautiful, amazing woman in the world who is my very best friend.  Many great friends have passed through my life and thankfully some remain and will always share this journey with me. 

I have tried and failed at both surfing and dancing.  I have gone to school for financial planning and massage therapy but am not currently practicing either.  I have seen Lifehouse in concert 5 times.  I still have my Saturn.  I have been able to make a lot of people laugh, and hopefully made very few cry.  My family has always been there for me, and I love them very much.  I also love my new in-laws and look forward to getting to know them more.  My life is ridiculously blessed. I hope I have been able to share that blessing with others.

I will close with words oddly coming from Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.  "All credit belongs to God, who thought this whole thing up."

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Poor You Will Always Have With You

I always feel frustrated when this verse gets abused as a condescension towards work to alleviate poverty and suffering. The point, I think, is mainly in the words that come next, "But you will not always have Me." Jesus' argument was not to say to stop working to alleviate poverty but to recognize the unique circumstances of what was happening at that moment.

Along with my new church's current sermon series which often deals with such matters, I have been binging this year on reading books calling Christians to wake up from the stupor of our culture and become aware of our call to serve those in desperate need. So far this has included "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger", "Charity in Truth" and "Radical". Pope Benedict's work has been my favorite, but all have something valuable to share. I would also recommend some of my past reads including "The End of Poverty" and "Living High and Letting Die" which are secular reads from an economist and a philosopher, respectively.

I am finding several challenges in attempting to live out the calling these authors inspire me to do. One of these is that if I am not careful, I can drive myself crazy with guilt. As David Platt, the author of Radical points out, nearly everything we purchase as Americans is relatively speaking a luxury when considered on a global scale. For instance, I could have eaten much more simply yesterday (and presumably shared the savings with those in need), but instead for the luxury of convenience I ate out for both lunch and dinner, all the while knowing the problems of hunger that largely come from our horribly discriminating global distribution network of food. Is what I ate wrong?

Another hazard is that being passionate about this kind of thing can lead a person to become very judgmental of others. Displays of overt luxury from others start to become odious and one can easily begin to assume that these individuals are greedy and selfish when that might not be the case at all. Jesus' stern rebuke to Peter comes to mind here; "What is that to you? You must follow me."

Perhaps the biggest struggle is knowing at what point "balance" becomes "lukewarm." Material possessions are not inherently evil and we are free to enjoy them as we give thanks to God for them. But they also should also not become cumbersome obstacles towards sharing generously and loving others. Where that line is for each person and in each circumstance is ultimately between them and God, as we seek to obey the Word and be led by the Spirit. Father, help me to choose wisely and lovingly.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Please Reduce My Benefits and Raise My Taxes

No, seriously. I am sick and tired of Americans who loudly complain about how big the federal government's budget deficit is and will be, and yet when pressed about which programs they want to be cut, they don't want to cut any of them. Further, when asked if they would accept a tax increase to reduce the deficit, they again say no. Guess what? It doesn't work that way.

I think it would be worth a tax increase to reduce or eliminate the budget deficit, and improve areas like infrastructure, education and energy independence. Ideally, this would come in the form of eliminating deductions and exemptions and lowering overall rates to move towards a simpler, flatter system while still increasing total tax revenues. Also, unlike 60% of Americans, I do not want the government to cut the less than 1% of the budget that goes to foreign aid. I would actually like to increase it to 1%. If you think you have it bad in this economy, try being among the billions of people who survive on less than $2 a day.

I would also like my social security age to be raised. Look, no one in my generation thinks Social Security is going to be around when we retire anyway, so go ahead and cut it so the numbers improve. Life expectancy has gone up since Social Security was created so the age in which benefits are received should also go up. If everyone on the right who claims to be against "big government" and for "individual responsibility" backs it up by supporting this, it can pass. No one is saying you can't still retire at a younger age, just that the government is not going to help you do it. Fair enough.