Faith

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.

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Faith

The Holy Spirit

Of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the least talked about among my churchgoing friends. The Holy Spirit is such a profound teaching and is so far outside our experience. It’s a mystery. While Jesus is the perfect Son and by his acts, we are adopted by God as His children; the Holy Spirit resides in our hearts. The Holy Spirit helps create a clearer vision of God’s love for us and helps to develop a closer relationship with both Father and Son. That is easier written than realized.

On some days on my way to work, I get off the train a stop early, and I walk the last mile or so to the office. A few weeks ago, it was 30 degrees and a deep crystal blue sky. As I started walking, I fell into an easy cadence, and in my mind, I began to say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” In a short time, even those words left me until I was simply walking and observing the world around me in silence.

Gradually, everything I saw and heard and felt and smelled had an intense focus, and throughout the whole walk, I had an overwhelming thought inside that said, “This is my world…” There were other people walking and I noticed their faces — old and young and happy and sad and empty — there were children walking hand-in-hand with parents, there were dogs playing in a park, there was the fresh smell of coffee and pastries, there were school buses, and taxi cabs, and birds. A whole world filled with God’s creation. “This is my world, and I love it so… do you see?” was the overwhelming sense I had.

I wonder how I am changed with the very reality that something of God abides in me? I think it is this: through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, I become more aware of what God’s world is. I experience it with the senses he has given me—sight, sound, smell, feel and even taste— which unleashes in me a heart that loves more and more as His does, and I come to understand that even the smallest details are known to Him.

“You know Him, because he abides with you.” John 14:17

Making the time to acknowledge Him and by letting His presence be who you are, we open ourselves to loving as He loves. Why is it that we don’t talk only about the Holy Spirit? And why is it we seem to be afraid of people who have a connection and experience with the Holy Spirit as if God were talking to directly to them? I think it’s because, in this day and age, we need and crave certainty. We need clarification on the rules of conduct for our lives and affirmation of our political and social views. The Holy Spirit is not leading me in that way. In fact, I think He is asking me to give up all I know, and to rest in His presence.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” John 14:26

This year, I will be spending more time listening to the Holy Spirit, and allowing Him to cultivate in me the mind and heart He is opening inside of me. It feels natural, but it is way outside my comfort zone.

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Faith

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.

 

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Faith

Busyness

If my life were made up of busy tokens — a token representing a level of effort to be allocated to some activity —  and I had 100 of them, I would at the present moment be using them all.  In the past, I may have taken my 100 tokens and only used 85 consistently.  30 for family, 20 for spiritual matters, 10 for health, 25 for work, leaving about 15 to distribute to a multitude sof pontaneous busyness.  

Lately, though, I consume all my busy tokens. And I could use some more.  I’d say my ratio is now is 70 for work, 15 for family, 10 for spiritual matters and 5 for miscellaneous things that have to get done like raking leaves.  

It’s happened over the last 18 months, but work has become more and more the place where my tokens go.  It wasn’t that I had planned this.  It sort of just happened. I work for a growing company that is continuously introducing new products on a global scale.  Which just leads to more work for me, my team and many around me.  

It’s an imbalance.  It’s hard. And I am keenly aware that I am not alone.  Many friends share the same situation and I see many for whom work has become more and more. Most importantly, it’s temporary (you know, mortality being at least the upper limit of my employment).

What is it that Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4?  “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Eternal.  Yes, in my current context, eternal is still where I gaze.   

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Faith

Always make the easy choice

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are arrested, beaten and thrown into prison. In the middle of the night, there is a violent earthquake, and their chains are broken and the doors opened. Fearing that the prisoners had escaped, the guard was about to kill himself, but Paul calls out to him, shares the Gospel message, the guard profess Christ, and is saved.

Paul and Silas could have easily escaped, and left the guard to himself. But instead, they made a different choice, and in so doing, shared the Gospel. As I reflected on this story, I wondered about what I do when I am faced with difficult situations. Do I always take the easy road? When do I take advantage of the easy road? When is my own well being first, and the salvation of another second? And in what priority should those choices be?

Can we imagine the world today if Jesus has been more like us? Or me? And had simply given up, walked away, or worked around the way of the cross? His words and his deeds would scarcely exist, and the wrath of God would be upon us.

I pray Lord for the faith and steadfastness of Paul and Silas. In the prisons of life where I live and work, I pray that I would seek and find God’s power and love, and be a witness to those who are my captors, even when the easy way out is the tempting choice before me.

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Faith

I Toil at Work

“All toil and all skill in a man’s work come from his envy of his neighbor.”  Ecclesiastes 4:4.

I don’t really think that is true.  For some people.  But for a lot of my career and a lot of the careers of others I have seen, a little bit of envy of “something” can go a long way as a motivation factor.  Of course, as Jesus has taught us, our neighbor is everyone.  So there is a lot of opportunity to look at someone else and find something about that person we might desire. Money has not really driven me, but show me a good title, and I just might be all about some role envy.

A simpler way to look at this is to ask, “What motivates me in my work?” I think it is a really important question because our motivations drive our behaviors.  I think if we really ask ourselves this question, we might be surprised at the answers. Is it money?  Or being a great politician?  Or power?   Or being an inspiring teacher?  Or some other motivation?  And what do those motivations lead to in my daily interactions?  Am I little sharp tongued, or too aggressive, or a tad bit dishonest, or completely trustworthy or willing to help others?

Now that I have led you down this path, let me ask this: How is it as Christians we can even ponder that question: what motivates me in my work?  We are either motivated by Christ or we are not.  He’s either at the center of all we do, or he’s not.  Is it even remotely possible that we can separate our work motivation from anything other than following our Savior?

All toil and all skill in a Christian’s work come from surrendering to Jesus Christ as Lord of all.

Seriously, in all that we do as Christians, we do under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Including work.

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Faith

Change

I love change.  Every bit about it from the new people who come into my life to the new opportunities I might encounter at work.  Everything about change is totally exciting.  I only have one small caveat.  I love change as long as I am in complete control. Otherwise, change creates in me anxiety.

There have been times in life when so much is going on, that just getting up in the morning seems like a monumental task.  The last few months have been one of those times.  Between my company being sold — and my fate as yet undetermined — my oldest son going to college, a really close family to ours moving away, and a slew of other little things, it has felt like a siege of change.

So this is the part where, as a Christian, I am supposed to trust God.  I am supposed to trust that it is all going to work out and that all of my cares and worries will be handled by my Creator.  Someone recently said that, in regards to my job, it would “all work out.”  Having crossed the mid-century mark, I am not so sure, and I don’t feel I have the energy to tackle all of this potential new opportunity.

So what are we to do?  I have asked several people about this in the last few months, and either I get a trite answer like “Trust God” or I get an honest one, “I don’t know.  It’s a really tough situation.” Somewhere in between the superficial and the I-haven’t-a-clue, there has to be an answer.  Luckily, some people have genuinely offered really good ideas, and I have encountered some great reading to shed some perspective on all this change.

Here a couple of the good ideas.

  • focus every morning on devotional time with God
  • for work, think about your network, and re-engage with it. Even if nothing adverse happens with your job, staying connected to people really helps
  • think of your son’s transition as the life work you have been aiming for.  You have prepared him for this moment, now use the next two weeks getting yourself and your wife ready (had to laugh at this one; but it is so true)
  • give praise and thanks each day for at least three things.  Gratefulness is a blessing and helps you focus on the good
  • Exercise.  Endorphins rock.

Amidst all of the good advice, there have been some morsels of truth.  And being the normal guy that I am, living out my normal faith, here is something I have found that is critical to this time in my life:  really, really focus on building a stronger relationship with Jesus.

Be intentional about faith.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4.

In times like this, it is very easy to set my interests above others.  I am intentional each and every day to remind myself that this life is not about me.

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