Inevitable

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)

Friend: Did you watch the (Republican) debates?

Me: No

Friend: They were awesome!

Me: They are playing to the base, so I imagine it was a lot of fun.

Friend: Jesus loves us all. As a person who loves Jesus, I enjoyed the lack of dissing on their Democratic opponents.

Me: But they went after each other pretty hard.

Friend: I only watched the end

Me: I read the transcripts and didn’t think they were all that respectful of one another. Frankly, I think it is better to read their economic proposals, which tell a lot more about the candidates than the debates.

Friend: The thing that is most important to me is… do they know Jesus and listen to His voice.

InevitibleI appreciate my friend’s hope for a candidate who will have a strong moral compass — one founded on his/her life in Jesus. But I don’t expect our presidential candidates to be Christian — not in the hopeful way that my friend does. I am skeptical about the candidates. Though most of them (and most of our recent presidents) have claimed Christianity, very few have acted consistent with Jesus when in office. So when the time comes I will vote for the person who I think will most effectively lead, keep us safe and restore our economy.

I am old enough to have been through many election cycles. There was a time when I held to fairly naive views of what an election promised. I was hopeful. I was thrilled when my candidates won, but then I was disappointed when their leadership betrayed the things they said were important to them (and me). And when those who I did not vote for won, I was disappointed (but not surprised) when they did exactly what I did not want them to do. So I have become increasingly cynical and I don’t really like to be that way.

Power and wealth are irresistible magnets to men and women who aspire to wield them. Those who are in the highest levels of government in America are powerful, indeed. Even the people who orbit about them get very rich and powerful. In an essentially moral environment, conscience could provide a safeguard against misuses of power. But in an amoral environment like we have today — one defined by the survival of the fittest — the ends justify the means (which is a philosophy completely inimical to liberty). As Lord Acton said in his letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton (Apr. 5, 1887),

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which . . . the end learns to justify the means.”

Because there is so much money involved in politics, the stakes are high. And when power and wealth are so clearly attainable, corruption is inevitable.

I have come to believe that the rest of us are “votes for sale.” We are polled ad nauseumand our behavior at the voting poll is fairly predictable.   In a national election there are a relatively small number of precincts that can swing the vote. Highly-paid experts conspire to win them. Voter fraud adds even more corruption. Do we each really get an equal vote or can our votes be disenfranchised? Once the two parties have chosen their candidates, is the result inevitable? Am I pessimistic… realistic… or both?

So what do men and women who love Jesus do in an election year? What do we want the candidates to do? Maybe we can start by recognizing that we are not voting for a Savior. We already have one. And yes it is good to vote! It is a privilege to do so, to be informed and to vote thoughtfully. But whoever wins this election will be a flawed human being. Whether or not they carry our political banner, their sin-nature is a given — it is inevitable— as is the inevitability of a certain amount of evil in places of power and wealth.

But there is another inevitability. God is on the throne. And He can change the heart of a leader in response to the prayers of His people…

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)

And Christians are instructed what to do regardless of who leads in our government…

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

I can advocate for those in power by asking my Father in Heaven to intervene. I wonder how many Christians have earnestly prayed for our current president — for salvation, wisdom, justice and good judgment? Or have we complained and grumbled about him? My own words here convict me! God’s will is not an unknown to me. Prayer for our leaders is a Christian responsibility. It can begin in earnest even during the candidate selection process. For the people of God, prayer for our leaders should be inevitable.

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Women

Behold, children are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)

How amazing it is to hold your own newborn child. This little miracle of life enters the world small, vulnerable and completely dependent. I was entranced each time one of our children were born. They won my heart immediately and permanently. And from that first breath onward God begins to unfold life to the fullest. Truly, boys and girls are a gift from the Lord.

WomenBut it is not a surprise to anyone that in many countries around the world girls are not valued the same as boys. Take China for instance, where until recently it was against the law to have more than one child. The preference for sons has had a disturbing impact on the country’s population. Thankfully, the one child policy was recently revoked. But for several decades the ratio of men to women has been skewed. In China today there are 120 boys born for every 100 girls. There will not be enough brides for one fifth of the boys being born today when they are ready to marry.

In many parts of the world it is normal for a pregnant woman to be blessed by others with a prayer for a boy. A boy has better earning power over his lifetime. A boy carries the family name forward. So cultural pressure on families for having boys in many of these nations is overwhelming. In both China and India ultrasound was used to determine the sex of the unborn child. If it was a girl, it was often aborted. China finally made it illegal to use technology to determine the sex of the child before birth. However, the practice continues in India and in other parts of the world.

In India, poor families will make a decision to send their sons to school while their daughters remains uneducated. She will begin a life of labor as early as the age of 10 (which is why my church invests in a school there to educate poor minority girls Bright Hope English School). And in many Muslim countries women are treated as second-class citizens. Simply put, a majority of women enter this world without even a notion to dream of a different future.

The empowerment of women in the West has brought amazing vitality to our nations. Educated and capable women make contributions at every level of our society. But culture shifts are hard. It was hard in the west. A century ago in America it required a long struggle before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified (on August 18, 1920). When they first tried to pass it they had plenty of advocates in the Republican and Progressive parties. But the Democratic Party and the President were powerful adversaries against women. Both used their power to defeat it when it was first presented in 1915. Beth Behn[1] writes about how it was finally passed in the House with President Wilson’s support…

“The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA)… was decisive in Wilson’s conversion to the cause of the federal amendment because its approach mirrored his own conservative vision of the appropriate method of reform: win a broad consensus, develop a legitimate rationale, and make the issue politically valuable.”

Cultural challenges existed in America. Reasoned arguments were offered on both sides. There were Christians who argued for and against the amendment on biblical grounds. One of the biggest contributors to a change in the heart of America was the impact of women on the World War. There was a broad recognition of sacrifices made by women and of their role in winning the war. As Behn says, they won broad consensus, developed a legitimate rationale, and made the issue politically valuable. NAWSA persisted. Justice is not always as immediate as its advocates want. But in America, a nation where equality is one of the highest ideals, justice is inevitable.

In The Crucified God Confronts Gendercide Dr. Paul Metzger says,

“The Lutheran Bonhoeffer… argued that Jesus is the man for others and the church is the community for others. Special consideration is given to those others who suffer genocide like the Jews or gendercide like so many women and girls across the globe. May we, the church, not stand aloof as we hear the cry of the victims of violence and sexual abuse (domestic abuse included). If we do, we fail to listen to Jesus’ call. Rather, may we enter their nightmare with the hope-filled advocacy grounded in faith in the all-powerful, gracious and costly love of the crucified and risen Jesus. Our Jesus is their victor.”

As long as there are women in this world who remain marginalized we have a responsibility to actively pursue and value them. We may be hindered by culture, law and opposition, but we need to be persistent. It is the Christlike thing to do.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants. Those who have gone before us have sought and won justice. They changed the argument, won broad consensus and affected laws. Can we do any less with the freedoms and blessings bestowed upon us in Christ?

 

 

[1] Behn, Beth, “Woodrow Wilson’s conversion experience: The president and the federal woman suffrage amendment.” (PhD dissertation, U. of Massachusetts-Amherst, 2012)

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Unwanted

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.(Amos 5:24 ESV)

Amos longed to see righteousness prevail in a society that objectified and dehumanized the poor in their midst. He could not believe that those in power would continue to take advantage of those without it. Amos wanted a just world — one where God’s goodness prevailed — and it was untenable to him that God’s own people would be reluctant to bring it about. How is it that we see this repeated again and again, generation after generation, for thousands of years?

Institute students enjoying water

Institute students enjoying water

In Honiara, Solomon Islands, there are scores of unwanted street kids who grow up fending for themselves in one of the poorest nations in the world. They were abandoned. They have neither education nor resources. They do what they can to survive….

  • pick-pocketing
  • child labor (industry, logging camps, mining camps)
  • scavenging
  • prostitution
  • live-in slaves for housekeeping and babysitting.

Their situation is not unique. All over the world there are street children who are abandoned while very young and who have to survive on very mean streets. Society has no use for them and they are treated poorly. They have no defenders. They grow up to become young men and women who perpetuate the same situation on another generation.

IMG_2291Titus Luther came to the Solomon Islands from Papua New Guinea. He had been the Foursquare National Director of Youth there. He opened a community center to serve meals to the street kids. He offered them chances to learn to read. He shared the life of Jesus in word and deed. He found among these young men and women that there were some with pastors’ hearts. So he built an Institute outside of town and began to teach them . When they are ready they are sent to one of the 300+ occupied Solomon Islands to bring the good news of Jesus.

Titus invited me to Solomon Islands to assist him in a water distribution project (see Water). His vision was for abundant fresh water to be available to all of the students on all corners of the Institute campus (they had neither water nor electricity). I met amazing, talented young men and women who have been transformed by Jesus at the school. No matter how marginalized they had felt, no matter how valueless they had seen themselves, and no matter how hopeless their situation seemed, there was a God in Heaven who knew them. God wants the unwanted! So while society neglects “the unwanted,” by the touch of Jesus these have become “the sent.”

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

…For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-16)

These men and women were never out of God’s sight, but He had been out of theirs. So He sent an invitation. He always sends an invitation. He condescends to use us to deliver it. These marginalized men and women saw a loving God and said yes. They were actually never unwanted. God wanted them to come home to Him, to be loved, to become King’s kids.

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Trusted

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.(1Peter 3:14-16)

TrustedHow do I share Jesus in a secularized society? At this point in history America is a post-Christian nation. While there are certain legacy morality and ethical after-effects, we have seen a fundamental shift. Some would even say that Christianity is viewed with hostility by secular America (though in general I don’t believe it has gone that far). Christianity enjoyed favored status in America for many years. Our laws reflect the privilege given to the church. But our nation has become secularized and pluralistic. No longer does Christianity represent the dominant culture of America.

Sadly, the church did not offer a distinct alternative to the world in America. On the contrary, it got in bed with Western culture. It is hard to separate the democratic republic America from the American church.  Both embrace the same consumerism. The church no longer stands in contrast to society, but has became complicit. The cynicism of our next generation is understandable.

We live in times that mirror Rome in many ways. All roads that propose to lead to God are acceptable (except, increasingly, Christianity, which makes exclusive claims). So what do we do? How do we find a voice in these days? For one, it is imperative that the people of Jesus engender trust in the communities in which we live and work. That should not even have to be said – the very mark of the life of Jesus compels us as such. But we are human and broken and our brokenness shows itself to the world around us when we fail to be the people of Jesus. We still have to learn what it means to be shining lights in this culture. We have to walk in the selfless love that Jesus said would pour out of His Spirit-led people.

Our lives should look different. Something radical has taken place. God says of us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Rom 8:37). He calls us ambassadors of reconciliation (2Cor 5:18ff). Paul tells us, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20).” The power of the Holy Spirit in me is supposed to be evidenced by the change in me. I have a compelling testimony of what Jesus has done in my life. As the Apostle Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).” We live with contentment in all of our circumstances, even the difficult ones, because “the just shall live by faith (Hab 2:4).” So when we encounter the world, no matter where, we are compelled to share Jesus.

I recently read a post wherein the Christian leader advised caution when a Christian chaplain or pastor or trusted friend is given the honor of caring for someone of another faith tradition who is approaching death. He said we should be “very much on guard against manipulating conversations given that we have a captive audience.” The post encourages caregivers to be sensitive to the beliefs of the person approaching death. I agree. Showing respect and listening gives the caregiver credibility. The sensitive care and love shown to the dying patient opens doors of understanding.

That said, I am somewhat troubled by this notion of being “on guard” since this an end-of-life issue. As a person of conviction I do not regard sharing truth as a form of manipulation. In fact, the trusted place I hold gives me the freedom and responsibility to do so. I am certainly not going to hold back the essential truth while someone’s life is slipping away. I will show sensitivity, but there is urgency as well. This is how we give a thirsty soul a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus.

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

Loving people without an end game or an agenda builds trust. Being trusted gives me room to love in the name of Jesus and to share openly about the hope I have within. No, I am not ashamed of the Gospel.

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Refugees

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

IMG_2978People do not want to leave their country and culture of origin. It takes a significant event to make them abandon all that is familiar and step into the unknown. Most of the refugees are leaving because they have no other choice. In Turkey I spoke with a number of people who literally fled ISIS at the point of a gun. These refugees will be seeking asylum in predominantly western countries. But even as they are desperate for safety and security there is growing hostility towards them in the West.

IMG_3011At a recent prayer gathering my church prayed for refugees and for the work of the church in Turkey. It stirred some discontent among our folks regarding the political situation and the impending reception of refugees from these countries.  The point of the prayer was to lift up the Christian leaders in Turkey who are serving the arriving refugees. It wasn’t focused on refugees who may be coming to the US.  But there were people who responded with grave concern.

IMG_3024We will be serving those same refugees as they arrive in our community. The Iraqi refugees are already here. The newer Syrian refugees will begin to arrive in Beaverton in the summer of 2016. Will there be bad people among them who are a threat to Americans? There may very well be. It is why I am prayerful that my country can responsibly screen those who are coming. But concerned people are asking the wrong question. The more important humanitarian question is, “what kind of people would you want to receive your wife or daughter if they fled this country because you had been threatened, imprisoned or killed?”

IMG_2993Our president says that receiving refugees is a demonstration of American leadership. Candidate Ben Carson says we would be wiser to shore up refugee camps in Syria and the Middle East instead. Candidate Donald Trump says we need a moratorium on accepting any Muslim refugees until we have a better idea of how to vet them. The political climate in America is heating up with regard to immigration. There is a lot of debate, disagreement, fear mongering and resistance to the admission of refugees.

Many evangelicals are politically conservative. They take a dim view of receiving immigrants, particularly Muslims.  When they hear refugee they think terrorist. Some concerns are legitimate, so it is not my purpose to try to present a political case for one side or the other. I do not make the decisions that determine our immigration policies or processes. I can vote in ways that I believe are responsible and I can even hope for a particular outcome, but as an evangelical I cannot view the arrival of refugees politically. I have to view it from the perspective of God’s great love.  Jesus challenged the status quo among the religious establishment of his day, appealing on behalf of the love and mercy of God the Father. This is our opportunity to disciple the church, no matter how politically diverse we may be. Unless evangelicals do this, and unless our leaders teach our people about having a heart of love for the strangers who sojourns among us, we will fail to live up to God’s expectations for His church.

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40)

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Turkey

Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)

TraffficMost of the Ankara streets are not marked — at least not with visible corner signs. I began with an expectation that I could simply map out my drive to the center of the capital of Turkey and follow the instructions. I wasn’t using a mobile service, so I wisely looked up the directions prior to leaving the wifi zone and confidently took a photo of the details. According to the instructions, I should have been there in 12 minutes after entering the city. 3 and a 1/2 weary hours later I arrived at my destination.

This was truly a problem of my own making. Having traveled to numerous countries around the world, I know that turning on my phone without a local service card in it is an invitation to telephone robbery. I have seen outrageous phone charges from just a small text exchange. I didn’t think that the purchase of a local service card was necessary, so I did all my planning when wifi was available.

I have learned how to be patient in life, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. This is just the kind of situation that tests me! But I kept my cool because I was committed to doing this my way (which wasn’t working). I would occasionally stop when I found a free wifi service and get a GPS reroute. Getting a little wiser, I would try to pay attention to the actual distances that were listed in the GPS instructions. That failed numerous times as I was routed onto congested traffic with no clear way to get back to my point of failure. These lanes can carry you along with them like a riptide.

But there I was the middle of rush hour traffic unable to find any help. I tried, but most people are not fluent in frenzied-tourist English. I searched desperately for an advocate – someone who would take some pity on the humble and lost American. I imagined giving them the keys and letting them drive me to my destination. Frankly, there was no shortage of thoughtful, gracious people who tried to explain to me what to do, but Turkish doesn’t get any clearer to me when it is spoken loudly with hand gestures. So the situation only progressed from bad to worse. At one point I was in gridlock and thought about abandoning the car altogether and getting a taxi.

My determination blinded me. It finally occurred to me that I would happily pay the outrageous data bill if I could get out of this mess. I had an advocate in the sky outside myself. I need only enable my cellular communications. So I did. And I finally heard the comforting automated voice of my GPS. It told me where and when to turn and what to anticipate in the moments ahead. It turns was not very far from my destination. I could have walked and gotten there in 3 minutes! All I really needed was an advocate who had access to information that I didn’t have.

It is fitting that I am here working with a man who helps Syrian refugees. These aliens in his land are desperate and without any sense of direction as well, only their difficulty is lasting a whole lot longer than my 3 and ½ hours. The stories I have heard are heartbreaking. Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. They come here frightened and tired. They are trying to find some way to get a footing. They need an advocate who has access to things they cannot get and will share with them in their sufferings — someone with a sense of direction.

In the verse above, Jeremiah was warning the king to be an advocate for those who were oppressed. He had it within his means to relieve the suffering. All he needed to do was to act. It is God’s heart that His people would be the ones who would set aside their own needs and desires and serve those who have no one to advocate for them.

 

 

 

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Immigrants

IMG_2623It is a very old table cloth. We have had it for over 20 years. Each Thanksgiving we put it on our table and at the close of our meal we invite everyone to write something for which they are thankful. We have had many guests over the years. Some are folks who live in the area but do not have family nearby. Some are “adopted” family who have a standing invitation to be with us. And others are friends who have come from all over the world. We are reminded of these friends each year as we read the notes they have left behind. For us the tablecloth has become a mosaic of gratefulness.

Many of us have immigrant stories. Some may have lost their stories over the generations, but for others the stories have remained fresh as they have passed from generation to generation. These stories remind us of the diversity of our heritages and yet also encourage us regarding our adopted common culture.

Our church, Beaverton Foursquare, is a multiethnic, multigenerational church. After 9:30AM services each Sunday many of us gather as family at what we call the Mosaic Fellowship. It is a time to connect after services and enjoy time together. Thanksgiving weekend is an especially significant gathering since after our meal together we get to hear new immigrant stories. This year started with two junior high masters of ceremony. Natalie’s parents are from Taiwan and she was born here in the US. She lead with the story of the first Thanksgiving. David is from Serbia. He talked about traditions and the development of this day of thanks over the years.  After that we heard from 6 immigrants: a woman from Serbia, a woman from Congo, a woman from Kenya, a man from Kyrgyzstan, a woman from China, and a man from Indonesia. As I listened to each story I felt more and more proud of the country that my own Irish immigrant family came to over 120 years ago.  We are all grateful to be part of this great country and each of our stories are stirring reminders of our journeys to freedom.

This is a day of thanks and a day or remembering and a day to thank God for a bounty of blessings in this great land.

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