Sunday, January 31, 2016

The American Gospel Of Trump

"Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough 
of the scorn of those who are at ease,
of the contempt of the proud."
- Psalms 123:3-4

I had not planned to write about Donald Trump. Ever. There are many, many reasons why I had never intended to write about this man and part of that was that this blog started out of the desire to share the realities of my family's life as we adopted internationally. As the shift in focus of this blog has necessitated a change (Cava deserves his privacy and for his story to be his story), I seriously considered to stop blogging altogether. What I've realized is that the focus, from the beginning, was not just about our adoption: it was about our faith and, at the roots of this blog's genesis, is the strong undercurrent of social justice. Now I know that last part concerns a lot of Conservatives because they hear that term "social justice" and immediately jump to the conclusion that it's part of the liberal agenda. Yet social justice is not a political idea, but a biblical one.

From the beginning of the scriptures all the way to the end, God is presented as a God who has a heart for the least of these (orphans, widows, immigrants, sojourners, refugees, the oppressed) and has used his prophets to be a voice for the voiceless when those in power no longer concern themselves with taking care of the poor and downcast. Social justice springs forth from repentance. First, personal repentance from sin and then a national repentance from those injustices they have committed against those who were at the bottom of the ladder. As Proverbs 14:31 starts, "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker." When we neglect the poor, when we are a part of the problem whereby we want cheap goods at the expense of those in third world countries, then we are literally mocking God.

Therefore, I have had a very difficult time watching as Donald Trump continues to rise in the polls, especially among those who identify themselves as "Christian." This is a man who makes half-hearted references to the Bible in a cheap attempt to court the Christian, particularly the Evangelical, vote. And despite the fact that it is obvious that he is a man who does not believe, there are Christians who support him. Why do they support him?

Certainly not because the fruits of the spirit are shown in his life. Jesus said that we would know his followers by their love, but this is a man who intentionally stirs up hate and racism as he demeans blacks, immigrants, Muslims, and Syrian refugees. This last part is especially troubling since there are now reports that there are 10,000 missing refugee children in Europe and that many of them may have been kidnapped or forced into human and sexual trafficking ( As Christians, our hearts should go out to people who find themselves persecuted within their own country and find themselves unwanted by so many others. Trump prays on people's fears that these refugees are nothing more than terrorists waiting to get us. Now I know and have heard from many that they agree with him on this point, but what did Christ say?  From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus went into the synagogue and proclaimed the promises of Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the the year of the Lord's favor."

Those who are oppressed, those who are poor, those who are enslaved (and there are more people who are in slavery now than in all of history), the widows, the orphans, the marginalized, the ostracized, the ignored, the refugee, the immigrant, the lowly. He promised us that we could always find him there, but do we find ourselves there? I can't help but look at the current Pope and see a man who shuns power and spends much of his time among the poor, even when he is touring other countries. Can you imagine one of our candidates stooping to wash the feet of a poor man?

The Messiah of the world came to this Earth as a servant. He rejected power and glory when Satan tempted him with both. He washed the feet of his disciples, even the one he knew would betray him. The King of Glory lowered himself to be amongst the lowest, while too many of our politicians appear to be using Jesus simply as a way to raise themselves up among Evangelical voters. They are using Jesus and the Bible simply as a means of trying to gain the very power that Jesus rejected. They want to make America "Great" again. Why aren't they working to make America compassionate? We live in a world that can no longer afford the American dream. 

It's not enough to quote the Bible, one has to live it out in their lives. Yet Trump has said to Anderson Cooper of CNN, "Why do I have to repent or ask forgiveness when I am not making mistakes? I work hard. I'm an honorable person." This is a smug answer full of pride and arrogance. It goes against everything that Christ taught or lived out. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All are called to repent of their sins because all have sinned against a holy God. The Gospel is this very fact that "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever should believe on him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). God stooped low to love us. Jesus gave up power to become one of us, to love us back to his Father. He is not concerned with popularity or power. Because of this, many were disillusioned with Christ and turned away from him (one of those was Judas who thought Jesus would be the Messiah to deliver Israel from Rome, not from their sins).

Does Donald Trump then reflect the modern Church in America?

Is he a reflection of our desire for celebrity, money, success, power and the American dream?

I think so. 

I think the modern Church is far too happy with the moneylenders in the temple because those are the ones running so many of these mega-churches who preach not the gospel but the American dream. Their Jesus is not the servant, their God is not one who offers his only Son for the sins of the world. They want a God who serves them and "blesses" them with prosperity (health and wealth). They ignore the very fact that Jesus came to give comfort to the afflicted. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, he did not have a mansion, a private jet, or great wealth that he had stored up in banks (even if any of those things had existed during his time). Too many of us identify with the rich young ruler than we do with the Savior we claim to follow.

He rejected popularity because he saw that people were praising him and seeking after him for all the wrong reasons. The same ones who shouted "Hosanna" to him one day were shouting "Crucify" him the next. Why? Because he doesn't allow us to be comfortable. He cannot be bought and sold. He is not a commodity. Jesus challenges us and confronts us. The Bible is not a tool to promote ourselves, but a two-edged sword that cuts deeply into the root of our heart and causes us either to accept its truth and change or reject it for those things the world has to offer. Jesus wants disciples not followers. His kingdom is neither conservative or liberal. He is interested in his kingdom and not countries. And his kingdom is based on compassion, mercy, grace, and love. 

Too many of our churches are places to avoid God rather than to encounter and be confronted by Him. We have allowed our churches to be places of entertainment or worship-tainment instead of places where we go with a holy fear and trembling to worship a righteous God. The Church is too full of fashionable faith and trendy worship that is based on getting goosebumps or good feelings. They are places of performances and celebrities, which is its own form of idol worship.

So is it any wonder then that there are those who call themselves "Christian" who would seek a candidate who is a celebrity, who promises them power again, wealth, and greatness? But we have to see that this is what Satan and not Jesus offered. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Setting A Table

Recently, I happened to open my Bible to one of the most famous Psalms: the twenty-third. The line that jumped out at me was verse 5, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . ."  The literal translation for "table" is "spread." I like how Eugene Peterson translated it in The Message as, "You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. . ."

What this conjures in my mind is the image of Downton Abbey where they are served those grand feasts regularly. And as anyone who's ever seen Downton Abbey knows, these banquets are not just thrown together. They are well thought out, planned and prepared for. These are an occasion.

It also presents Jesus in the role of a servant. He is serving us a feast in the midst of our desert and in the presence of those who wish ill of us. This verse shows how hospitality is a trait of God. And He is preparing this feast just for us. Unlike Downton Abbey, there is only one guest: us. God honors us with a feast in a place of desolation, in a place where death's shadow looms. A feast for one. Imagine that. Picture in your mind the most delicious foods all prepared for you and you alone. 

Is this not a beautiful image of grace? Of His love for us? Of His tenderness towards us?  
It's not just stop and rest, it is not just Him providing, it is God telling us, "Even in the midst of your troubles, I give you this time of joy and feasting." In Judaism this is called hakhnasat orchim ("bringing in the stranger") or gemilut hasadim ("giving of loving kindness"). The Hagadah even commands, "Whosoever is in need, come and eat." This is what Jesus is doing. And like hosts are commanded to do, he will make his guest feel comfortable and at home. All the guest is expected to do is show gratitude.

During biblical times, to share a meal with someone was more than just sharing food, it was sharing life. It is an intimate act of friendship. Think of how many were drawn in to the love of Jesus simply by his sharing a meal with them. Why? Because they understood that he was offering himself, communion with him, fellowship with him. Through meals he brought in tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. It was his way of loving the alienated, the lost, the broken, and the hurting. This is what he is doing in this verse of the 23rd Psalm. He is showing us his love and care as he tends to us with a banquet. The creator of the universe serves us at his table. This time he is not feeding 5,000. No, he is feeding just us. And as he does so our enemies look on. They watch on as he provides provisions and comforts. "My child," he says, "this is all for you." 

As if all of this is not enough, Jesus anoints our head with oil. In Arabic, they translate it as "aromatic ointments." These were used during this time at great feasts to honor the guests. Our Savior is honoring us? He serves and honors us?

In this one Psalm, Jesus has gone from being our shepherd to our host and servant. Is it any wonder then that this Psalm ends with the words:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

In the midst of our troubles, our wilderness, Jesus will do more than just provide. He will love us until our cups runneth over. He has graciously received us and is offering us the table of fellowship. He is giving us consolation and joy, blessedness in our time of want, comfort in our time of fear, safety in the presence of our enemies. Jesus like his Jewish ancestors at the Passover Seder is telling us, "Let all who are hard-pressed come and eat. Let all who are in need come and share this Passover sacrifice."  

All of this is for our benefit. All we need is offer our gratitude. Like the example rabbinic sage Shim'on Ben Zoma gave of  how a good guest is to respond, we should simply say, "Look how much this householder has done for me! He has brought me so much meat, such fine expensive food! How many cakes has he set before me! And all that he has done, he has done just for my benefit."

This is our Savior. This is our God. This is his love for us. He simply wants us to enjoy the feast.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Drones, Technology & Benjamin

One of the things I most admire about Benjamin is that he dreams big and he pursues his passions with his whole heart. Technology is something that has always interested him and, though I don't always understand what he's talking about, I have done my best to encourage him in his endeavors. Just like writing is for me, coding and programming are part of how he communicates.

At school he's in TSA (Technology Student Association) and their drone club. This sparked his interest in drones. For Christmas he got his very own drone. Now he loves flying it and taking aerial photos:

Benjamin has the mind of an inventor, entrepreneur, and altruist. With the help of one of his teachers, he worked to fund getting his high school a 3-D printer. Now he is focused on creating a drone club in his area. His hope is to raise the money to supply drones for kids in our area that can't afford to buy them.

If you would be interested in reading more about it and possibly donating, please feel free to go to his Indiegogo site:

Here is the link the blog he just created that will be used once the drone club gets up and going:

He also has his own technology blog at:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Faith & Fiction (How Books Impacted Belief)

For anyone who knows me even a little knows that I love to read. I cannot remember a time when I did not love books. I love the way they feel in your hand and the way they smell (Glade really does need to come out with a "New Book" scented candle). The true test of whether or not I should continue to date a girl was if she could hang with me in a bookstore. My wife clearly won that endurance test. For all of my life, I have tried to sneak books with me whenever I had to go to any type of social event. Even now, I usually have a book with me and there is at least one in my car's glove box just in case. I often carry more than one book with me just in case I'm not in the mood for one (usually it's a novel, maybe some poems, a biography, or nonfiction book, or short stories - yes, it's very Rory Gilmore of me). If you don't get that reference here's a clip and, yes, it hits home for me:

To say books are important to me is an epic understatement. I try not to miss a single library book sale. Of course, waiting in the line to get into the book sale is difficult for me because I'm convinced that everyone in front of me will buy all of the good books before I get there. It's not a problem. Really. It isn't. A problem, a real problem is not having a book with me. If your not a book lover, too, then don't judge me. 

Books are important to me, to my life, and shaped the way I am, including my faith.  The first books that had a huge impact on me were C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. I can remember how magical The Lion, The Witch,and The Wardrobe was for me. Stepping through a wardrobe, the snow, and then that lamp. It was the lamp that grounded the magic into reality for me. It was sheer genius on Lewis part to have that lamp. When we went to Ukraine, I got so excited as we were walking down the snowy sidewalk and I saw this one and just had to take a picture of it:

I looked all around for Mr. Tumnus to step out carrying his packages. Alas, he did not. 

As a child, I longed for a wardrobe instead of a closet. Closets don't lead to magical lands. Wardrobes do. I found this out because no matter how much I tried to push through my closet, I always came to the wall. "Aslan, take me away," I cried out like that woman in the TV commercial who asked the same thing of Calgon.  

I loved the Pevensie children and wanted so much to be one of them. To enter Narnia. To meet all of the magical creatures. To come in contact with Aslan the lion. This quote really stuck with me:

They turned and saw the lion himself,
so bright, and real, and strong
that everything began to look
pale and shadowy compared to him.

I would imagine that is how the disciples felt when they saw Christ after the resurrection. Resurrection was something I learned about through Aslan going to the stone table to die for Edmund's betrayal. That also taught me about love and grace. 

Aslan also taught me that Jesus was not some meek and mild Milquetoast of a guy. No, like Aslan, the new Testament makes you realize, "Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn't safe. but he's good. He's the king, I tell you."

This was my indoctrination into the magic of theology and I didn't even know it. This would also be the series that gave me my love for the writing of C.S. Lewis that I continue to marvel at his genius, his insights and wisdom, his wit, and his love for the magical; after all, he made a wardrobe and a streetlamp into something transcendentally un-ordinary.

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was the next book to really open my mind to the awesomeness of God. It was the doorway to science and that there are truths bigger than mere explanations. As she wrote, "Don't try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition." Even now it astounds me at how deep her book was. I immediately connected with the bookish, shy, awkward outsider Meg Murry. Like Lewis, L'Engle was great at weaving theology into her fiction. "We look not at things which are what you would call seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal but the things that are not seen are eternal." How many other children's writers do you know that work the words of Saint Paul into their fiction?  This helped guide me into understanding as she writes that, "Some things have to be believed to be seen." She introduced me into paradox, into the battle between darkness and light, that one cannot be ruled solely by the mind and intelligence but that it must be balanced by the soul and the heart. It was also the first "banned book" I'd ever read. I would later to go on to read her Crosswicks Journals and Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

Science fiction and fantasy lend themselves to theology. There are so many parallels to the Christian walk in this journey to destroy the one true ring, but what J.R.R. Tolkien taught me was in this one line, "Not all those who wander are lost." This has summed up my entire spiritual walk. I am by nature a wanderer, wonderer, and filled with questions. This line has shown me that all of these things are okay because all of them make me delve deeper and wrestle more with scripture. I can't take things at face value. Like those in the fellowship, my journey is seldom on a straight path from A to B. I get sidetracked, backtracked, and overwhelmed by the task before me. But never do I take it lightly. Tolkien was so right when he said, "There is nothing like looking if you want to find something." His books showed me that it was okay to do just that.

I cannot even estimate the importance of To Kill A Mockingbird on my life. This novel has made me rethink my own thoughts of the world and how one has to let go of childish things to truly see the light and darkness that is really there before me. Atticus Finch has been a character that I looked up to, admired, and aspired to be. He taught me the importance of empathy and imagining myself in someone else's shoes. It is this that has most impacted my faith. How so? Because it means I listen to others and what has either led them to or away from faith. It has allowed me to approach their stories with tenderness and not judgment. This has made me open to dialogues and share my own story with compassion and light. Atticus has also shaped my view of fatherhood and what it means to be brave.

No one better understands grace than the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. His works are profound theological works that wrestle with the best and worst of man's nature. When I first encountered his works, I was knocked off my feet. I had never read anything like this before. "The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man." WOW! 

"If you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be permissible . . ." Dostoevsky attacked nihilism and the belief in nothing. 

The section that hit me the hardest was that parable called "The Grand Inquisitor." It is during this section that Dostoevsky has Christ on trial by the Grand Inquisitor after having returned to earth amidst the Inquisition. It shows how religion, even now, fears the power and freedom that Jesus has to offer man. They fear it and him and despise even the notion that they are not in control. This section is told by the older brother Ivan to his younger brother, Alyosha, the novice monk in an attempt to get him to renounce his faith. The parable ends with Jesus silent, as he was with Pontius Pilate, and kissing the Grand Inquisitor on his "bloodless, aged lips." Though the "kiss glows" in the Grand Inquisitor's heart, he still moves forward with killing Jesus all over again. 

It was after having read The Brothers Karamazov, that I discovered my favorite Dostoevsky novel The Idiot. In this work, he writes of a pure soul entering the sinful, selfish and violent world of Saint Petersburg. Prince Myshkin is described as a "positively good and beautiful man" and as "an idiot" by those who encounter him. Dostoevsky imagined Myshkin as a "Christ" figure who is both loved and rejected by the world around him just as they confide in but don't understand him. One of my favorite lines from the novel is, "Compassion was the most important, perhaps the sole law of human existence." It was through not only his difficult life but in writing his complex novels that Dostoevsky understood grace in a world that was harsh and unforgiving. He once said, "The Genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Faith does not . . . spring from the miracle, but the miracle from the faith."

Dostoevsky' works have not only taught me about grace but about how those who believe will always be on the outside, viewed as odd, viewed as "idiots."

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton is referred to as a "metaphysical thriller." Chesterton was a brilliant and hilarious man who easily debated atheists like George Bernard Shaw, who was also a friend of his. One of Chesterton's famous quips was, "The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people." I would later discover his monumental works such as Orthodoxy and Heretics but first I came to him through this novel about Gabriel Syme, who's recruited by Scotland Yard, to a secret anti-anarchist police corps. There are elements of Christian allegory woven into this mystery that describes a world of "wild doubt and despair" and about ultimately finding faith and hope. It's a surreal work with a profound message.

How does one truly explain the Southern Gothic world of Flannery O'Connor? She once said that, "The freak in modern fiction is usually disturbing to us because he keeps us from forgetting that we share in his state." Her strange short stories reveal biblical truths like the last shall be first in a comical and tragic way such as in "Revelation."  Flannery O'Connor presents this most magnificently as the character of Ruby Turpin, who believes herself to be superior to others, especially blacks, in the end gets a vision of heaven that horrifies her as she sees souls winding their way there. Those that Ruby deems "proper" Christians are in the back of the line, while in front of them are those she deemed inferior: minorities, the lame and crippled, and the poor. O'Connor said of her writing, "All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, and brutal." O'Connor wrote her stories from a state of belief and the notion of "help me in my unbelief." Her stories, like she said of the South, weren't so much "Christ-centered" as "Christ-haunted." It was reading her short stories in college that led me to reading her amazing letters Habit of Being as well as her novel Wise Blood and her prayer journal. Nothing challenged me like her writing. As she so aptly put it, "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."

I love the work of Wendell Berry, both his fiction and nonfiction. His humane vision and his stressing of good biblical stewardship of the land has influenced my thoughts on the environment. My first experience with his fictional town of Port William came with Jayber Crow and the community of that fictional place. It is essentially a love story in which the love of a woman draws a man to the love of God. As Berry writes, "Young lovers see a vision of the world redeemed by love. That is the truest thing they ever see, for without it life is death."  But my favorite quote and the one that rings truest to me was:

As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me
that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came
instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry
religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the
roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and
publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership
of all that is here. 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005 about the elderly congregationalist pastor Reverend John Ames. It is supposed to be an epistle to his seven year old son so that he will understand something about his father once he's died. It's also about his faith and how it cannot always be expressed in words. Robinson deftly weaves theology and Calvinism throughout this novel in the most masterful way that I didn't believe possible for fiction. She is a gifted writer whose books I cherish (from Housekeeping to the two other books in this trilogy Home and Lila, as well as her collections of essays). A line that I love from this book is, "Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defense." I wish more Christians had that attitude when talking sharing their faith. Maybe if they did less in an attempt to convert as a way to share their story. As Reverend Ames puts it, "Christianity is a life, not a doctrine . . . I'm not saying never doubt or question. The Lord gave you a mind so that you would make honest use of it. I'm saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own."

These are just a few of the works of fiction that influenced my faith. What are yours? 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Three Years Ago Today . . .

Just because you are obedient doesn't mean your life is going to get easier. We learned this three years ago when our adopted son arrived here in the States and our lives would be forever changed. Yet despite how hard it got at times, we could not imagine our lives or our family without Cava in it.

It's so amazing to see how love can transform a child, to watch him gain confidence and trust. To see him going from being unable to make it through a week of school without being suspended for a few days to making the A/B honor roll, getting elected student council for his fourth grade class, was in our local Christmas parade, and, most recently, getting the Character Trait award for "kindness." We have seen him go from being the troubled child to now being the one who helps another boy at his school who struggles as he once did.

Just the other day, I was sitting with Cava as he worked on a word search (one of his new favorite hobbies) and I told him how truly blessed and happy I was that he was my son. Then I surprised him by saying, "You have taught me so much."

He looked up from his word search. "Really?"

"Yeah. You just thought I taught you, didn't you?"

He laughed, "Yeah, that's right."

"But you have also taught me so much. One thing you have taught me about is bravery. When I was in elementary school, I was small and shy, so I get picked on. Unlike you, I wasn't brave enough to try out for robotics club or make a speech in front of the class to run for student council and then get elected or just put yourself out there like you have. You have real courage. And you inspire me to be braver and to work harder because I see how hard you strive to reach the goals that you have for yourself. You've also taught me how to be a better dad."

And he has. I had to relearn how to be a parent with him. He has helped me work towards being more patient, empathetic, compassionate, and one who stops to pay attention to the beauty in the world around me. I am definitely more aware of birds than I ever have been in my life.

Cava makes me laugh. I love his silliness. I love his boisterous laugh and him saying, "Oh Papa, you make me so funny" when he means, "Oh Papa, you are so funny."

I love his enthusiasm. Nobody I know has the enthusiasm that I see in him daily. It's infectious.

He is a literalist. When I took him to get his haircut, the lady asked, "Do you want me to take some off the ears?" He freaked out. "NO WAY! Are you CRAZY???" I had to step in and explain, "She doesn't want to take off some of your ears, she wants know if you want her to cut the hair around your ears." He eased back down in the chair. "Oh yeah. Sure." I mean, how could you not love that?

He is resilient and strong. He is caring and kind. Cava has a hear as huge as his smile.

Those who meet and get to know Cava can't help but love him. He is lovable. Not to mention that he gives great hugs.

I love that when he went to his first school dance, he told us, "I'm gonna' dance like there's nobody watching!"

Cava is my book buddy. He can spend as much time in the library or bookstore as I do - sometimes even more than I can. I love to watch him reading or listen to him read or read to him as he snuggles up beside me to listen. I can't help but delight in hearing him ask, "Can you read just one more chapter so I can find out what's going to happen next" because it sounds just like me.

I love to hear Cava singing. He reminds me of a drunk person at a concert: he sings loudly and, it doesn't matter one bit if he doesn't know the lyrics, because he will sing something anyway.

I enjoy being around Cava, spending time with him, getting to know him better, and watching him develop in so many ways. I can't wait to see what interests he develops and what new thing will spark his imagination.

Everybody goes on about how much we have changed him for the better but they don't see how much he has changed us for the better. He is an amazing kid and not a day passes that I don't thank God for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be his Papa.

I am in awe of how far Cava has come in only three short years. I will be even more overwhelmed by how much further he will be in three more. He is one of my heroes.

For those who don't believe that prayers are answered or that miracles can happen then you haven't met Cava because he is both.

Cava, my heart is full every time I say, "I love you, my son" because you have taught me so much about what love really means. 

To read the original post about his arrival, here is the link:

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Biblical Bravery: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Throughout my life I have often found spiritual role models through reading. Men and women who were flawed but despite their flaws strove to do the will that God had clearly placed on their lives. One of those who had a huge impact on me was Martin Luther King, Jr. Like most kids, I first learned about him in school and it filled me with questions about the prejudices of the past but, over the years, has made me take a closer look at those that are deep down within me and, when they pop up, disturb me for being there. When such thoughts do crop up they remind me of how sin is so rooted in man. Two books that had a profound impact on me were Martin Luther King, Jr's autobiography and A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Both revealed to me a man who truly sought after God and to live his life in the manner that Christ had called us: one of love, mercy, truth, grace, and justice. 

In a culture that is too consumed with entertainers and athletes, we have too many celebrities and too little men and women of conviction. In our society where we hear the slogan "Black Lives Matter" and we need to confront that all lives matter and we will not see whoever our "other" is in that manner until we face that all are made in the image of God. As the Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who marched with Dr. King, once wrote:

We must never be oblivious of the equality of divine dignity of all men.
The image of God is in the criminal as well as the saint . . .
The basic dignity of man is not made up in his achievements,
virtues, or special talents. It is inherent in his very being.

Both Heschel and King understood this in their core being. How much would our society, our culture, our world be changed if all of us saw each other that way? What if we saw that each person is not ordinary, but a divinely created being that reflects his or her Creator? We would approach issues like poverty and injustice not as political issues but as matters that affect our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers wherever they were in the world. Everyone has worth not because of their standing in society, their affluence, their power but by the fact that they were created in the image of God. 

As children we sang this in Sunday school, "Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight . . ." We sang it, but have we honestly lived it?

Believers are called to be salt and light in this world. Dr. King took this literally. His life lived this out. He gave his life for it. As he said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." These are words we will not hear on Fox News, MSNBC or in mainstream media that is fueled by distrust, fear, hostility, and drawing lines in the sand of "Either you're with us or against us."  

Martin Luther King, Jr. like Old Testament prophets and Jesus Christ, rose up in his culture to speak words of compassion, truth, justice, and faith. He encouraged the broken in spirit while railing against those who worked to burden them with the shackles of  injustice and hatred.  

As I have blogged, this is a year in which I am called to "Live bravely. Love fiercely." One of the examples that I look to is Martin Luther King, Jr. His life personifies both of these things. His words and actions both lived this out daily and he understood that such love and courage flowed out of one source: God. "Every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God," he said. His letters, his journals, his speeches, his autobiography reveal his theology. He lived what he preached. 

He was a man of courage, who understood that true courage is rooted in love, peace, and God. He understood that social justice was not a political issue, but a biblical principle. I wish the world was full of more men and women like him. Men and women don't just read scriptures but live them out in this broken world to bring about healing. 

"Courage is an inner resolution to forward despite obstacles;
Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.
Courage breeds creativity; 
Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it.
Coward asks the question: Is it safe?
Expediency asks the question: Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?

But conscience asks the question: Is it right?
And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right."

Those words are words that I want to live out and to teach my sons to live out in their lives. They need to see the truth of his words that, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Those are not easy words to live by, but Christ has not called us to an easy, comfortable life. Dr. King knew this. Like a true disciple of Christ, he denied himself, took up his cross, and followed his Savior to the point of losing his life. 

Martin Luther King, Jr's life and legacy must be more than one day to think about his "I Have A Dream" speech. No, we must take up the message of love, forgiveness, and justice because these are all a part of the character of our Creator who made us in His image and wants to remake us in His character through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Tomorrow, when so many will stop to remember the remarkable legacy and words of this man, we need to do more. As Christians, we need to " ... move into the sometimes hostile world armed with the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus Christ. With this powerful gospel we shall boldly challenge the status quo . . . By opening our lives to God in Christ, we become new creatures. This experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists . . . Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit."


Friday, January 15, 2016

Live Bravely, Love Fiercely

I grew up a shy and, admittedly, fearful child. Please pretend like this surprises you. As a child I remember hearing the Bible verse, "God has not given us a spirit of fear . . ." and thinking, "Oh really???"  I wanted to stand right up in my pew and offer myself as an argument to the contrary, but that would have meant standing up, speaking up, and having everyone in church notice me, which was something to be avoided at all costs. Needless to say, I heard terms like "timid," "bashful," "introverted," "reserved," and "reticent." Because of my shyness my kindergarten teacher suggested my parents hold me back a year from starting first grade and they agreed.

Being shy, I naturally was always very internal and began to develop a very rich fantasy life. I also developed a deep love of reading. The books I found myself drawn to tended to be those of kids who are resourceful and brave. The first series that had a profound impact on me were C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. I adored these books and read them and reread them and reread them. One of the quotes that stuck with me was when Aslan told Edmund, the youngest brother who betrays them all, "You doubt your value. Don't run from who you are." Wise words.

Yet I have done just that for years. 

Psychiatrists say that we basically make decisions based on two factors: either fear or love. How much of my life has been determined by fear? 

So I find myself at a point in my life where I don't want those words (shyness, timidity, fearful, bashful, introverted, etc) to define me. I don't want them to be the epitaph on my gravestone. Nor do I want those words to be those things that I model to my boys. What am I teaching them through my actions, which they pay closer attention to than my words?

Fear or courage?

Worldly comfort or compassion for the world?

Love or loneliness?

Anger or tenderness?

Uncertainty or trust?

As I ponder my answers to just those few questions, of which there are so many more, I decided that this year was going to be one of change. The phrase that instantly rose up in my spirit was:

Live bravely. Love fiercely.

And I do believe that bravery and love are intertwined. Certainly true courage involves us being vulnerable enough to put ourselves out there in love. 

And how do I love others? 

Do I carefully measure my love out in spoons or do I pour it out in buckets?  How would my kids answer that question about myself?

Mother Teresa said, "Intense love does not measure - it just gives."

That is how I want to be. 

I know love does not have to be extraordinary, but it does have to be genuine. We see this kind of deep, intentional love in Jesus and that's why he told us, "Even as I have loved you that you also love one another."

That's why this year will be one of living bravely and loving fiercely.  

How do I go about that? 

To be honest, all of the path is not clear to me and it doesn't have to be. 

Not yet. 

I just have to trust God when He asks me to move. One of those steps we have already taken in beginning classes to become foster parents. This, as I have said, was something I always swore I would never do because it was "too hard." I said I couldn't do it because it would be too difficult to become attached to a child and then have to give them back. I'm sure God must've been shaking His head and chuckling, "Is that what he really thinks?" But God has a sense of humor and I have come to realize that to love someone, truly love them, is to love sacrificially. This is not about me, it's about simply loving a child when they need to be loved the most. God has led me to this place. Not everyone will be brought to such a place. 

This is just part of the move from timidity to boldness, from fear to love for me.

Am I scared?

"YES!" (The all caps is not hyperbole).

But I will Carpe Diem in Christ!

In Narnia, one of the phrases I loved most was, "Aslan is on the move!" And I want that to be true in my life. I want Aslan to be on the move through me in this world. 

I am going to stop offering my tidy excuses that are filled with my hesitancy and reluctance.  When I stand before God do I want Him to look at a life filled with excuses or with loving others?

I am tired of reading about adventures and I want to live one. I want to take that journey which starts with just being open to the possibility. That's why I am praying, "Whatever you want me to be, wherever you want me to go I will, Lord." I have my belief and that is enough. As Reepicheep the mouse from Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader, said, "We have nothing, if not belief."  So belief is where we start. Belief that we can trust in a God who loves us with all tenderness to guide us because when He does, He will take us somewhere that is beautiful and filled with joy. 

Again, I don't know what living bravely and loving fiercely will look like, but I open and willing. Are you?

If you, too, want to "Live bravely. Love fiercely" this year, please let me know. We can do this together and encourage each other in whatever and wherever God so leads us. 

I know I already have some internal nudgings about some steps we are to take and I will blog about this year and this journey. Hope you will not only read about, but also reach out and do the same. 

Can you imagine how not only our own lives, the lives of our family, but also of our community will change if we step out of our comforts and comfort zones to truly live bravely and love fiercely?

I'll end with this quote from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: Some journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny.

So, who's with me?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Samaritans And Birth Parents

We are taking a class on foster parenting. One of my biggest concerns (code word: fears) is dealing with birth parents. I, like many, have seen this as a hindrance to becoming a foster parent. And, if I'm being honest, I have approached birth parents whose kids are now in the foster care system with judgement. Before taking this class, I have simply viewed them as "bad parents" and did not stop to consider their stories or how they might have come to a place in their lives through poor choices that they have their children taken away from them. I didn't think about their pain or suffering. How un-Christlike is that?

Certainly John 4:4-26 cut through all of that for me. It's the account of Jesus and the woman by the well. At that time, Jews avoided Samaria and would purposefully walk the long way around rather than walk through this town. Why? Because they didn't consider the Samaritans to be truly Jewish since they were part of the northern kingdom when Israel was divided in 922 BC. Two hundred years after the division, Assyria took over Samaria and the Israelites were forced out. When the Israelites later returned, they began to intermarry with the Assyrians that were still living there. To the Jews, the Samaritans were the lowest of the low. Of course that's where Jesus goes. Isn't that always the case with him?

Not only does he go into Samaria, but he speaks with one of them. Unheard of in Jewish culture of that day. But he doesn't just speak to any Samaritan, he speaks to a woman. This was definitely not done. But she's not just any Samaritan woman because she's at the well around noon, the hottest part of the day, and the time when no other woman would go and fetch water. She's a woman avoiding other women. She's avoiding their scorn, their judgements, their gossip, and harshness towards her. This woman doesn't want to be spoken to because the words she hears are harsh cruel ones. But not on this day. Jesus is there at the well waiting for her. It is the longest recorded conversation Jesus has with anyone.

Jesus is loving the lowest of the low in the lowest of the low. She can't even reach the bottom rung. But it's always at the bottom, at the lowest part, that we will always encounter Jesus. He promised us that that is where we would find him.

To continue in his list of doing the unthinkable, Jesus asks her to draw him some water. For him to drink from her cup is to make himself unclean. He is breaking religious and cultural taboos left and right. Why? To love someone who desperately needs this love. Jesus is gentle and tender with this woman. He knows exactly where she is in her life and does not approach her with scorn or judgement. He offers her grace, "living water" because she is spiritually thirsty. Jesus is offering himself and salvation to her and she believes.

It's at this point that Jesus' disciples return to him. Can you imagine what was going through their minds as they saw him talking to this Samaritan woman? I doubt there was compassion, but they didn't dare question their teacher. Though scripture records two questions "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?" so you know that they were thinking both these things.

Why am I so much more like the disciples than the savior I, too, claim to follow?

Who are the Samaritans in my life?

Will I approach birth parents with the same compassion, mercy, and grace Jesus did the woman at the well?

Do I do that with others I might normally look down on? Such as homeless people?

Or people on welfare?

Or people in prison?

Illegal immigrants?


Jesus saw past the woman's life to her her heart, to her needs. Jesus is showing us that we are to reach beyond what we consider acceptable and go to those who are outcast, marginalized, and so often forgotten, neglected, or even persecuted. We are to move past our stereotypes, prejudices, and customs. We should be like Christ and work in love. We should do as Mother Teresa said, "Let us conquer the world with our love."

How much will this world change if we truly do that?

How much will we change when we truly do that?

Let us find out by starting today.