Tag Archives: Action

Refugees

Matthew 25:34-37.
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Those are the words of Jesus.

Isaiah 58:6-9.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

Those are the words of Isaiah.

Refugees. It’s hard to imagine that this is a polarizing topic among Christians.   But it is.  Some of my Facebook friends — who practice Christianity — claim that this ban on refugees is right and within the bounds of Christian theology and life practice.  Elders, leaders, silent pulpits.

The issue for the American Christian (is that even a category, sadly it is?) is that we don’t trust God.  We won’t speak out on behalf of those who are escaping the very terror that we are trying end. The refugees are the people from Mosul and Aleppo and countless other places where the war on terror is being intensely fought.  We are willing to fight over there, but we are not willing to accept a minuscule risk to our safety here to welcome them? The people who are well vetted, and who have suffered so much to get the chance to come here, we abandon them at the last minute because…? Jesus tells us so?  Huh

Hebrews 13:1-4.
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

We have the opportunity to rescue, help, and bless some of the world’s most oppressed — women, children, families. To be the light of the world.  To show these oppressed the Love of God.  That’s right, to open our hearts and to pour out on these people the love of God which we believe is greater than anything else.  Any nationality.  Any creed.  Any nationalistic, narrowly focused, expression of what’s mine is mine.

All this past week I have read and seen the stories of those who have been turned away at our borders.  I have carried the grief and embarrassment of what our country has done and the vocal silence of Christians, especially conservative evangelicals.  If you, as a Christian persist in telling the most vulnerable to go away, then what are we to make of Jesus’ words?  Of Isaiah’s prophesy?

I was talking with a colleague this week about the craziness in the world.  Our conversation drifted to the refugee situation.  I told her I am a Christian.  We had been very serious in our conversation.  And she simply stopped talking and looked at me.  Silent.  Waiting.

I told her I do not support the US ban on refugees.  It is wrong.  It does not show the love of God.  It does not risk helping the poor and destitute regardless of my circumstances. And I said, if other Christians disagree, well then, on this issue I will say this: You are a hypocrite.

Listening

Yesterday, as I was wrapping up my work week, I told one of my colleagues I felt like I was crashing through the whole week. The image in my mind was one of stomping through a thick forest, a little bit lost, but sure I would find my way out. In fact, I have been in that situation several times. I live across from a state park, and in some of my walks, I take a short cut — I go off the path because I know I’ll get back home sooner. It never works, of course, because I become quickly disoriented and the way out “over there” is never actually there but “somewhere else.”

I was crashing through my week with God too. I could not slow down enough to hear the soft whisper. Monday was a holiday, Tuesday I was in an all-day meeting, Wednesday I was out having some very minor surgery, Thursday was my dreaded steering committee for a major project I have been leading, and Friday was back to back meetings. This steering committee meeting — the one that governs the technology integration between my company and one we acquired over the summer — has a certain edge in which the members tend to take shots at what we are doing and to criticize even the smallest mistakes. And, of course, I take it personally. And I take everything they say seriously, even if it is a lie (because there is always a hidden agenda).

One of my team members, my operations lead, pulled me aside before the meeting and told me “I had it” and he told me to stay “on point.” As would happen, he reminded me, we would go off on a tangent at some point, and it was my job to bring us back to the decisions that needed to be made. (Did I mention I love team members who give honest, direct and useful feedback?)

And so at minute 35 out of our allotted 90 minutes, we went off track. Someone criticized an approach we were taking to solving a particularly difficult situation with some cost overruns. And the frenzy began. After a minute or so, four things happened. My operations lead gave me a look that I interpreted as “You need to bring us back,” then I remembered his words, “stay on point,” then I faced the real physical feeling in my stomach which I call anxiety, and at last, I prayed, “Lord. I need your help.”

Then the miraculous happened. Words came to my mind, “Thank you for your feedback. It’s important to us. But we need a decision on our staffing issue. And while this other issue is important, it’s not the focus of this meeting.” Simultaneously I took a deep breath, and I let that pit in my stomach go. A great sense of calm came to me, and people agreed to get back on track, and we took action to get back to the other topic in our next meeting.

So here’s the thing. I have been in this type of situation before and muddled through the meeting. This time around, with my desire to be more open to the Holy Spirit this year, I later asked God, “Was that you? Did you guide me?” In my intuition, in my growing openness, He did. I believe the Holy Spirit was right there. And I was listening and allowing Him to give me the words to say and the demeanor to manage this challenging situation.

That afternoon, I had three hallway conversations with people telling me that was a great meeting, and two emails saying the same. A first on both counts and this project is entering the end of its first year.

Listening to the trusted people around me, and listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. What a gift.

Losing Faith

Imagine your nature is such that all you are designed to do is to love God. Everything that you are and everything that you can be is simply transcended by this idea. Then imagine finding that this completely eludes you and that everything you hope for is completely misaligned with this idea, and you find your own existences is still the fulfillment of your own desires and cravings. In The New Seeds of Contemplation, this is essentially what Thomas Merton calls compunction, a feeling of guilt followed by an unhealthy behavior that leads us into more alienating behaviors and takes us away from faith.

I have seen it happen a lot. People have an emotional connection with God, we extol this experiences, and encourage the believer to extend the divine encounter with bible reading, small groups, acts of service, and evangelizing. But the emotional divine connection is elusive, and often believers are left wondering how to obtain it again. And so the church encourages the same activities… Bible reading, evangelizing, small groups. The believer may recover a sense of connection, but many times these methods lead to a complacency and abandonment of the initial hope of a changed life.

When people stop “believing” most times they say it is because they don’t “feel it” anymore. And it is usually followed by a sense that music has become boring, the sermons irrelevant, the service projects a chore and church friends distant. In or words, spiritual loneliness. But so often, this is the experience right on the cusp of something better, and these activities that are unfulfilling are human endeavors to keep you engaged. What God is asking is you abandon your whole self, including your church self, to His will, and to enter into a one-of-a-kind relationship with Him. A relationship exactly suited to who you are created to be.

Having experienced this myself (and continue to experience), this is the path we must go through to arrive at a deep, abounding faith. But many times the church, especially us evangelicals, fail to recognize this critical juncture. Instead of acknowledging that the journey to tranquility goes through the desert, we direct more of the same activities that are leaving so many without a path to a truer experience of God. Is it any wonder churches don’t grow when the constant barrage of “let’s feel good” wears thin?

The truth is, friends, if you are at the point where you want to walk away because you no longer “feel” it, this is the place where God wants you to be, and this is the place where God is asking you to abandon all your conceptions of what church and faith has been, and to walk with Him into the next phase of your relationship.

Your spiritual path must be simplified and redirected. Yes, by all means continue to go to church and engage in His word, but as spiritual seekers, sometimes — and often for long periods of time — the barrenness of faith is real, and His love for us is not built on the gimmicks of lights, sounds, sermons, service and experience. True love, true peace, true engagement is found by those who acknowledge that faith cannot rely on what others have made for us to experience. Faith is my sole and direct engagement with Him.

It is in great praise and thankfulness that I accept this emptiness. The vast love of God’s hope for us when is where we stand at the edge. It is a gift. And any gift from God is better than my own dim understanding of how to experience Him. When the sermons or the music stop resonating, it’s because He is saying, “That is not me. I am something better. I am something richer. Come, let me show you.”

I know, right? It sounds really, really crazy that when so much of Church becomes empty He is actually asking us to walk more closely with Him. He is asking us to abandon a false sense of who He is and to enter into a deeper, genuine relationship with His divine self. Not somebody else’s music or somebody else’s words or somebody else’s service project, but our own concerning Him.

So do this first every day, and be committed to just this. Tell God, in your own voice, that you are seeking Him. Tell Him honestly what your faith feels like. Tell Him honestly where you are struggling. And wait. I can’t tell you for how long. But I assure you He is there with you. And you will not look back on this time as anything other than a great transformation and a great gift to a deeper awareness of His presence.

 

American Blessing

I have been thinking about this idea of the US being blessed for the last few months. Being blessed implies that there is a way to assign goodness to an action or result of one’s standing. Did God bless me with good health? Or did I just make some good choices? When I get sick, did God make me sick, or did I get sick because I made some bad choices? (Is that an anti-blessing?) Did God bless me with my good job, and what was my role versus what God gave me? Or did I respond to the circumstances in a way that led to good outcomes? I simply don’t know what is a blessing and what is a result of my personal choices. But what I do know is I can be grateful either way.

Now on the national scale, we have many incredible things to be grateful for, but I think we fall into a trap. We ascribe our blessings to some special favor God has given us. And when we don’t have that special favor, we say America is losing its greatness and on the verge of losing its God-given blessings because of a long list of rationales including our insufficient virtue. In other words, we’re rich and powerful because God blessed us due to our ways of living (and to be ignored, slavery, the systematic annihilation of Native Americas, but extolled our wealth and freedom). Somehow some people just know this American blessing to be true. It is a power packed sentiment, and I have to admit, it is alluring to think we are special in the Creator’s eyes.

I think we confuse our national prosperity, freedom, and safety with some type of divine blessing. That’s a mistake easy to make. After all, why wouldn’t there be some external factor giving us all these things? But Jesus told us differently. He told us what being blessed is. And he told us how we are to know that we are blessed. It all comes down to our attitudes and our actions. Just after he began his ministry, Jesus sat down with a crowd, and he taught them. And the first thing he taught, according to the Gospel of Matthew, was what it means to be blessed.

Matthew 5:3-12 (NRSV)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We Christians have to beware we do often confuse prosperity with what Jesus described as being blessed. Maybe if Jesus had said, “Blessed are the constitutional republicans, for they shall have great wealth and power and righteousness.” Well, then I could be convinced America has great blessings through its form of government (a constitutional republic). But Jesus did not say that. Instead, he talked about the way an individual is supposed to live. He said our blessings would be derived from being poor in spirit, being meek, being merciful, being a peacemaker. And a result, we would know the kingdom, we would inherit the earth, we would receive mercy, and we would be called a child of God.

So is America all these things: poor in spirit, meek, peacemaker? Are we pure in heart as a country? Can we even be pure in heart? Perhaps, as a country, we could. But I think it would be fair to say a lot would have to change. But as a Christian, I know what Jesus taught does not have to be on a national level. It must be personal. That is hard stuff in this day and age, and this idea goes against the current national climate. But blessings are not a direct result of my earthly citizenship. They are a result of my individual choices and the way I live. And in that area alone I — we all — have significant work to do. And that’s the key idea, and one of the more frequently missed points of Jesus’ ministry: work on yourself first, and the rest will follow.

Stop Praying

I recently finished a book called, Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing by Greg Darley (five stars for this book). The basic premise is that we Christians pray a lot, and when confronted with action, we often say something like, “Let me pray to God, and see if He gives me a clear idea as to what I should do.” And that does often sound really good. I mean really, really good. And pious. And devoted.

But so often that is where things stop. In all honesty, I have been praying about a lot of things, and not doing anything about them. For example, re-engaging in this blog has been at the top of my list for a long time. But I have been doing nothing about it, and wanting so much to see what the “big plan” was all about while ignoring the nagging thought, just write once this week.

Darley recounts the story of Peter’s calling. After a miraculous encounter with Jesus, Peter becomes a disciple (Luke 5). As far as we know, there was no clear plan explained to Peter. We modern day people often want that 100% clear plan before we decide anything. So, imagine if we were the modern day Peter, we’d ask Jesus for all the details, and he’d tell us: We’ll do a lot of walking, you’ll see some miracles, we’ll be challenged by the local politicians, you’ll betray me, you’ll try to kill a Roman soldier, but cut off his ear, you’ll make some amazing speeches, convert a lot of people, and eventually you will be crucified because of me. Peter: well, thanks, Jesus, but I think I’ll fish instead.

The point is, our must-know-it-all world stops us in our tracks, and progress is often really, really slow. Instead, Darley’s idea is to respond to little yeses. “This is the beauty of the small yes. I think it’s one of the ways God protects us. The small yes allows us to deepen our trust in the Father and his call. With each yes, we build a little more trust, gaining a little more confidence for what the next call may be. If God isn’t giving you the entire picture, rest in the possibility that this is a grace allowing you to only focus on the step in front of you.”

So there you have it. I don’t know where this blog will go. Or what I will do next week. But if I am going to follow Jesus, I have to begin walking behind him. And I don’t need prayer to do that.