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America, America. . .

I’ve decided to write my post election blog post before election day. This is for my believing friends mostly. And just a place to ramble without polluting facebook more than I already do.

America Is Not a Christian Nation

We’ve never been a Christian nation. But we’ve been a nation that has sort of by and large pretended to be one.  It’s sort of been the “in” thing to just assume folks were. It’s still like that some in some places like the South or the heartland. But it’s changing. It’s turning.

America isn’t. No nation is. We really haven’t ever been. This is something that isn’t more true today because ___________ won the election. This isn’t more true today because _______________ lost the election.

It’s always been true. God deals with nations (see my next heading). God is sovereign over all. But he doesn’t “have” nations any longer. That passed with the New Covenant.

We’ve been tricked a lot to think that we are a Christian nation. The moral majority and “religious right” and “evangelical leaders” like to remind us that we are. And then they tell us that to prove it we must vote a certain way. They are no different than the image of Rome fighting the reformers. Politics first. God as a tool or weapon of politically minded men to control those who just follow.

The change this year shows that we aren’t Christian more than many years have. For the first time ever the GOP has put forth an admittedly immoral man. A man who has said things that make me have to mute my TV if I want to watch the news in front of my daughters. A man who has said rotten things about people. A man who uses a paint roller instead of a broad brush when talking about groups of folks. He has accurate points in that roller around laws and policy, don’t get me wrong, but he’s careless in his words.

For the first time a national candidate could sit there in a debate and unequivocally say that she absolutely unequivocally supports abortion. And not just abortion – but even the more visibly grotesque (all abortion is grotesque mind you) form of abortion called Partial Birth Abortion. And it didn’t hurt her.

We live in a time where morals are brushed aside. Where moral relativism reigns. And the only accepted absolute is that there are absolutely no absolutes (except they say it with straighter faces).

So…

I don’t know who won yet. But I can tell you that neither candidate represents Christ. Neither deserved the full-throated endorsement that the “evangelical” “leaders” gave to Trump. Neither deserve to have their morals overlooked.  I couldn’t endorse either. I did vote for one of them though. I voted for the one that is least like the same system that has been ruling over us all these years. The one least likely to commit boots to faraway wars because it isn’t in their best business interests. But it wasn’t an easy choice. It was that or no top portion of the ballot and if I could do it again I cannot say for sure I would do it again.

So what do we do on Wednesday once _______________ wins?  We pray. They need it. Our nation needs it. We read our Bibles. We realize that we have more power over what happens in our lives by living Godly lives. We put off our sins. We look at Psalm 51 and look at our own sin as more disgusting than that of others. We purify our hearts. We ask God what He would have us do. What we should have been doing all along.

We should change what the charlatans have done to bring the “church” down. We should listen to Isaiah 1:17 – learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed.

We should love on those who voted for her. We should love on those who voted for him. We should love on those who voted for the other him. We should love on those who decided to not vote because their consciences wouldn’t let them.

America didn’t lose when ________ was declared winner later today. We lost when they were nominated honestly. We probably lost well before then.

But God can work with that piece of clay. The Potter knew that __________ would win. This is in His Plan A. Because He has no plan B. He works ALL things out for His will.

It’s cloudy at times from our perspective. But go on an airplane trip during the day on a really cloudy day. Low ceiling. Low visibility. It’s hard to see while you are taxiing. From our perspective there is no end to the clouds. No end to the dismay. Then we get into the clouds and it’s a lot worse. Eventually? You get out of the clouds. On top of the clouds, and you need sunglasses. You can see as far as your eyes will let you. It’s clear. To me whenever I fly on a cloudy day, I think of God’s will and purposes and plans. Every time.

So.

We aren’t a Christian nation.
We never have been. It’s more clear now.
That should call us to repentance of our laziness and lack of concern for the souls around us. The political parties look like Rome in the dark ages – courting religion as long as it helps them.
The solution to what ails us isn’t political.
God is in charge no matter what.
We should pray. For our leaders. For our nation. For our friends who don’t believe. For ways to live out our faith more.
Know that God is still in charge.

Use the election of _______________ to inspire you to prayer. To humility. To urge one another on to Good works for Him. Tell a lost and dying world that ________ isn’t going to answer the real problems. Or the suffering in their heart which is at enmity with the God who created them. Only Christ’s sacrifice can ease that pain. Only God is good all the time.

A psalm to close:

Lord, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.

Psalm 85 (ESV)

Before a Tragedy…Normal

It’s September 11th. It’s 2016. 15 years after the events that have forever changed the meaning of the date and given it recognition and significance. To some it’s a day they celebrate the time they succeeded in an attack. To some it’s a day their parents talk about and remember and they vaguely understand what happened. To others it’s the last day their loved one was alive.

I’m sitting in an airport. It’s the second or third time I’ve ended up traveling on 9/11 after the events that beautiful September day. I’m watching the interactions. I’m watching the conversations – I’m a people watcher. As I do this, I found myself struck by two thoughts. Not really spectacular thoughts, but just thoughts I wanted to explore in a blog post.

Before a Tragedy…. Normal

Most of us don’t have the blessing or curse (depending on perspective) of knowing “Today is the day I’m going to die” or “In 3.72 weeks, I’ll be dead”. We don’t get the chance to plan, to close relationships. Most of our deaths will be a surprise to those around us. And to us, in a sense, though I don’t know how long the surprise is.

As I sat at a restaurant at the airport I watched the folks around me. I watched the folks at the gate adjacent to the restaurant. Each scene wonderful in its own way because it represented a life. It represented a human being. Created in God’s image. With unique circumstances and perspectives and burdens and expectations.

Next to me was a couple playing Gin Rummy. They were maybe in their late forties or early fifties. They were laughing. Giving each other a hard time. Being playfully competitive. You could say they were flirting while they played. Laughing. Having fun. Their conversation kept darting to “remember that time a kid did this?” or “remember that mother’s day?” I don’t know how old their kids are but they have some and they aren’t here with them.

Outside in the gate area was a young couple travelling with an older relative, perhaps a mother of one of them. Good looking couple. Smartly dressed. The wife was tall, blonde and had an addictive smile. She had a baby carrier on, and in it was the most precious little girl. I’d say she was about 2 months old, if not younger. She had an overfull head of hair. Reddish and curly. Reminded me a lot of one of our daughters when she was a baby. The baby was a little cranky, but the smiling mom was dancing to the pop music playing at the restaurant. Walking up and down, dancing with the baby. Holding her hands. Twirling. Trying to get the baby to dance. A few smiles and laughs broke out.

I was in a high seat at a counter. Sort of beneath me was a couple at a table. I think they had a fight earlier. She was giving him that look. He seemed a bit broken and sad. They talked to the waiter, but not to each other. He wouldn’t look at her but the look was palpable. Their phones were busy. I’m sure they love each other very much. I’m sure he deserved the look even. I imagine they both knew it would blow over, tomorrow. So they didn’t care about fighting the cloud of frustration.

Next to me on the left was a busy business man. On a Sunday night still making work calls. Still sort of rushing whoever he was talking to in some office somewhere. I couldn’t tell the business, something to do with energy or maybe energy commodities trading. He was quick with the waiter. The waiter was there to serve him and this man didn’t have the time for pleasant conversation. I’m sure he has a family. I’m sure he is sweet and nice in certain situations.

Near the entrance to the restaurant, a family on some trip. Tired kids, slightly cranky mom, sort of clueless dad meandering along (man that family looked familiar). They were deciding on eating there or going for snacks.

Behind them a woman with an adult in a wheel chair and the wheel chair attendant from the airport. Maybe the adult in the wheel chair had Cerebral Palsy, maybe advanced MS or something else that affected both the body and the mind. I don’t know if the woman travelling with him was a wife, a friend, a relative. But she cared a lot for that person. I can’t imagine their experience traveling. The extra screens. The wheel chair hassle. She was happy. And pleasant to the attendant and to the hostess.

Here in the Sky Club now that my meal is done. I see a lot of folks with nose in their phones like I am here in my laptop. I see a couple folks chatting. A black woman with a beautiful smile and really pleasant demeanor is in a conversation with an older greying man sitting in a chair she was walking by. They started talking about the Giants/Dallas football game on the screen. But now they are just talking about life and family and life experiences. Engaged. Hands flying. Laughs. Smiles. Loud talking. Makes me smile to just watch them smile and talk.

Between me and them is an older woman by herself. She’s smiled at me a couple times and I at her. She doesn’t seem like a chatter. Just a smile and nodder. So I smiled and nodded. In fact I just did again while typing this. I don’t know her story. She may have Parkinson’s – just a slight head shake. She’s just waiting for her flight.

I could keep going. All these people. Thousands of them at the airport, hundreds or more in my terminal alone. All with stories. All with lives outside of the airport.  All of them, well at least almost all of them, if not all, have one thing in common. Well two. They are about to jump on airplanes. But they all have lived their lives today like they have another day tomorrow.

They are all assuming that there isn’t going to be a sudden heart attack. A plane crash. A terrorist event. A car crash leaving their next airport heading home or to their hotel.

Is that bad? I don’t think so. But watching them having normal days on 9/11 made me think of those who also had normal starts to their days 15 years ago today. The mother and baby. The playful couple. The angry couple. The friendly strangers. The flight attendants with great plans when they got to LA, maybe one who was about to be there for the first time. The parents eager to go home and give a stuffed animal to their kids. The tender and caring caregiver who is everything to a disable family member. The self important business person with a tender side. All of these types of people were on planes or in offices on that clear morning 15 years ago. Completely unaware that their day would change.

I’ve been to many car accidents or untimely deaths as a firefighter and EMT. Same thing with them all. They had stories and weren’t living knowing that “today was the day”.

So.. What?

I don’t know. Let me ask you. How are you living today? Are you living with a sense of your finite state? If that couple at the table in front of me down low knew today would be their last or one of their lasts – would they be doing the silent thing about whatever small thing it is? (And it is small. If they love each other and the thought of today being it would cause them any pause, it’s small. It may be big. It may be huge! But it is smaller than them being apart forever by death or dying together in a tragedy). I suspect that couple next to me playing Gin wouldn’t change a whole lot, but maybe they would have been home with their kids.

I could probably write an equally long post about the things I would have done differently today and yesterday and the day before if I knew that today would be my last. Or my wife’s last. Or my parents last. Or my kids. Or the person I bump shoulders with on this next flight.

Moses said in Psalm 90, verse 2 “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

That’s a wise saying. I don’t think we should live our lives in this fragile “I could die today!!” anxiety riddled worrisome state. But we should live lives that are pleasing to God. To the humans we interact with. To the humans we are intermingled with.

So. What about you? What would you do differently? What would change if you knew?

We have a unique opportunity because we are still alive. We have a chance to think about these things. Even if the end for us would be in 3.5 days, because we are alive now to ponder and act on it.

I’m happy I’m Christ’s and I’ll enter His Kingdom. That I trust in Him for my salvation and have given my sin burden to Him. But there’s more than that. I mean that’s most important. But there is more than that. There are a few dozen things I could have and would have done differently just this weekend if I knew.

So let’s take advantage of the opportunity. Get right with God. Get right with our loved ones. Treat others with decency and kindness, even when we are different and disagree about things. We’re in this game of life together.

Alright. Time to board.

Love,

Mike

America – Too Angry to be Terrorized…

I don’t know how to express what I’m trying to express here. But I feel like I have to put the thought somewhere lest I get too distracted by it. Last weekend, in Florida, a man went into a nightclub and shot a lot of people. 49 people are dead. Many more wounded. A news report yesterday suggests that there are still 4-6 critical patients who may sadly add to the death toll, or carry severe lifelong disability. This club was nightclub for the gay community (I don’t know the proper/PC term to use here). He used several firearms – including a semi-automatic long rifle with detachable magazine, and a couple handguns. He is Muslim. He made claims of inspiration by several Islamic terror groups to 911 operators, and his own backstory is complicated to say the least as the stories are pieced together.  This week the news, the social media talking heads, the politicians – they’ve all been on overdrive. And it’s a real mess out there. It’s with that backdrop that my mind has been dwelling on the content of this post. I’ll try and keep the thoughts together, and maybe I’ll even manage to come up with a title. Dislcaimer – Perhaps this is hypocritical. To write and publish thoughts like this while being frustrated with the media, the social media, the hyper charged partisan environment, the ignoring of pain. I acknowledge that and apologize, but I’m comforted by the fact that this blog of my personal is much more rarely traveled than my technology blog..  Here Goes.

Dear Person Who Would Seek to Terrorize America,

Stop. It’s a waste of time. I understand the various motives that exist. Perhaps you are frustrated about our involvement in the Middle East. Perhaps you don’t like our warrant-less foreign drone killing program. Maybe you adhere to an orthodox version of your faith which seeks physical subjugation and conquest to spread your ideology. Maybe you are a racist American who thinks this nation is wrong for (sort of) getting over the Civil Rights struggles. Whatever reason. Let’s just stipulate that you want to destroy America. You want to weaken our foundations. You want to turn us into a barren and smoky wasteland where once a great nation stood. Maybe you think that some great event or series of smaller events will make the news focus on the fear, the terror and the horror and that Americans will become too afraid to do anything and thus commerce will grind to a halt and you can shout about how you terrorized us. About how you paralyzed us.

I am not passing judgment on  your goals here. We disagree, but let’s just leave it at that. You don’t need to bother. That’s all. I’m trying to save you time, effort, physical pain and the expense of training and equipping. We seem to be heading towards the desired ultimate outcome of paralysis, inability to execute, etc. on our own…  I’ll explain in light of the recent shooting. This shooting caused no fear. And we were too busy to even notice what we noticed on 9/11. No patriotic songs will be written. No bipartisan renditions of patriotic hymns. Sure a few vigils here and there, some genuine vigils, some a combination of genuine and “issues oriented rah rah rally”, mostly, though, we’re too busy to be terrorized.

Now the American spirit isn’t one that gets easily terrorized anyway. I mean 200 years ago, a bunch of farmers, former Royal soldiers, lawyers, bakers, inventors, pastors and philosophers decided to fight the worlds’ most powerful army – and won. We have a steely resolve and we can’t be terrorized, it’s just not in our DNA. But I’m not talking about that here. We haven’t even been able to go into our “You can’t terrorize us!” mode, like SNLs “Is it okay to be funny again? Why start now?” response after 9/11.

We’re too busy to let you terrorize us. I don’t mean that flippant “I aint even got the time to be terrorized” use of busy.

I mean we are too.busy.to.be.terrorized.

Too busy…

… Giving litmus tests
… Taking litmus tests
… Judging (please note I’m not saying read Matthew 7:1 and stop reading)
… Blaming
… Fighting over nuanced positions
… Doing what the politicians on our team tell us to do
… Watching CNN’s voyeuristic replay over replay of the footage of bullets with interviews designed to make two politicians fight over soundbites and stoke interest and make you sit there, or MSNBC’s repetitive footage about why guns are bad and Republicans are bad. Or FoxNews’ repetitive coverage about why Islamic extremism is bad and Democrats are bad.
… RTing, sharing, posting all this nonsense that the others in our corner shared
… Fighting about Presidential politics – which are especially weird and Kindergarten like this year
… Arguing about why this is a perfect example of why our pet issues (guns, gay rights, anti gay this or that, anti gun this or that, immigration policy, Islam vs other faiths, Watch lists, FBI effectiveness) matter.
… et cetera

Basically – we cannot be terrorized. We’re too busy to even notice. We’ve mostly been too busy to even notice that fellow human beings are suffering. There are 5 stages of grief, well that’s what some psychologists say (Denial/Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance). Nationally we seem to only know two. “Anger, bitter Anger bordering on hatred…” and “Next!”…

So you can’t terrorize us. We won’t even notice we are supposed to be terrorized. We’ll just yell and scream at each other.  Normally, I’d suggest to you that that is still an effective outcome. And you should still try and get to us – inspire this loathing. Inspire this yelling. Inspire this bitter divisiveness through giving us attacks to fight over. But I have to be honest with you, save your energy for some other nation.

Here’s what I mean.. That shooting in Orlando? It didn’t actually create a single new fault line. It was just a frost heave that moved a few around and brought a new one to the surface. That would have happened with another news story if not this one. It didn’t cause Americans to start doing these things. It didn’t actually cause CNN, Fox or MNSBC to change their formatting. It didn’t really change the dialog nationally about these issues. Basically, you just need to be patient. Relax, enjoy the weather wherever you are. Be patient and wait us out. We are imploding all by ourselves here. The 24 hour news cycle, the social media proliferation, the politicians invading our sanctuaries (whether that is a church, a social club, a group bonded together by some common social issue they fight for, etc). The “Either Or” nature of the world. We’re doing it to ourselves.

So just stop wasting your time. The hatred, rancor and anger is far worse than anything you can do here. And in all honesty? You run a risk of a serious enough attack actually uniting us on one ore more of these fronts. There is actually a risk that something could be so drastic that you’d make us have a period of unity across these fissures which society, politicians and social media tell us to be apart over. Then your goals are set back even a bit further.

A Plea…

I can’t end it there. As a Christian. As a human. As a father. As a husband. As a son. As a friend. I can’t leave it there. But I have to say – some exaggeration and hyperbole aside – I believe those words above are truer than they aren’t. And truer now than 10 or 20 years ago.

My plea is that we’d stop. My plea is that we’d listen. Sure I have my pet issues. As a believer there are things I believe in adamantly. But one of those things is this sense underneath it all that I am to treat others with dignity. Even when we disagree on something so critical or central to what may make us up. Even something so core that if you don’t work a little at it and don’t remember the love and dignity and respect first that it should be something to divide over and break friendship over even. But yet I manage to have friends who aren’t believers. Friends who are but don’t read the Bible as I do. Friends who are gay and see no Biblical prohibition or problem. Friends who are and say “whatever”. Friends who are Muslim. Friends who are Yankees fans. Friends who like Oracle as a Database Platform. Friends who think farm raised eggs are weird because they can’t fathom getting food from anywhere other than a supermarket. Friends who think Global Warming is completely man made and the data they look at shows it. Friends who think the data is faked there and think it’s a scam. Etc.

So I say this as someone who has sincerely held beliefs. Who believes things that are disagreeable to probably more of his friends than agreeable.. Stop. Let’s stop.

We have to stop this rancor. This bitterness. This divisiveness. This go team stuff. We need to realize that to some extent “things are going to be what they are going to be” .  We all have so much to change with ourselves, our own families, our own jobs. We can stop trying to change the whole world ourselves and work on these things.

As a Christian, I exhort my fellow Christians to remember who is over all things here. Who is the ruler who rules over rulers. We serve the God who overcomes and overcame and will overcome all things and all evil. We should work to make this world a better world for our fellow humans whether they believe or don’t. I believe God uses us for common grace offered to all. I believe that as Christ’s elect we have a special duty to be kind and gentle to those created in his image who don’t yet acknowledge His rule. Partially in hopes that they are his elect and just don’t know it yet. Partially because we are to be decent and loving and repay evil with kindness and repay negativity with positivity.  Partially because we who have tasted grace should know all the more how much grace means – how it works. We should remember how little we deserved it ourselves and should be aware of just how true Romans 3 is of our natural selves.   (I’m not saying be a welcome mat, but loving a neighbor who is different isn’t being a welcome mat, even if our political team spokespeople want to make you feel like it is. And that’s the problem. Our litmus tests and urge to categorize has many people snowed that “being decent and loving to another human who disagrees on maybe even core issues is tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy.” IT ISN’T!)

And when we stop. We need to start something else. We need to look around and see other human beings. With beating hearts. Bills to pay. Stress at home. Family situations that are sad. Loved ones dying. Pains. Struggles. We need to see that we are all in this thing called life together. That we are more similar than the “spokespeople” and rabble rousers let us realize.

Sure I believe Truth exists. Sure I am confident that the Word of God is the only true and infallible rule for faith and practice. I’d die before denouncing that. But part of that rule for faith and practice says I’m to be at peace with all as much as it depends on me. Part of it says I am to walk an extra mile when pressed into walking a mile for a soldier who has subjugated me. Part of it says I am to walk across the street, go to the stranger who belongs to a group that would normally rip me apart and tend to their needs..

We aren’t doing that. And if you don’t have this raw, eye watering, sore throat feeling when you stop and think about what happened in Orlando last weekend, I pray that you get it. If you have to pause and say a few caveats first. If you won’t accept grief from another because they haven’t passed enough litmus tests to be acceptable to you I pray that you’ll change your heart.

The Bible suggests we should weep with those who weep. We should mourn with those who mourn. We used to be a nation that did that. Yes, if we start doing this, then we’d potentially be susceptible to terrorism and terrorist antics, we’d actually notice the impact. But then our unity and indomitable spirit would be the reasons why it wouldn’t work. Instead of ” don’t bother we’re already imploding all by ourselves.”

 

Flint Michigan – It Isn’t Only About Water

First… A disclaimer.. I struggled with a title for this post. I wanted to say “Flint is lucky” then I wanted to say “Flint won the lottery” then “South Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore Need Lead in their water”.. I also struggled with the tone. My wife tells me I’d stay out of trouble more if I kept quieter. I’m sort of breaking that rule here. What I have to say could sound a bit offensive to some. To others it will sound like I’m embracing the full depth of “It takes a village” or going off the deep end and Feeling The Bern.. I’m not trying to be offensive or insensitive. I’m not trying to minimize the real health and physical difficulties the folks in Flint are facing. And I’m not all of the sudden saying that money alone fixes everything. So if you read angry right wing racist rant – then, well I guess – who are you and why are you one of the 3 or 4 people who read my posts. If you read this as progressive democrat or socialist then I ask you to wipe your goggles a little.

My Premise

I was driving to the airport this morning, and I ended up tuning into a rebroadcast of the Rachel Maddow MSNBC town hall in Flint, MI (seriously, I’ve not gone full moon bat. I actually didn’t like some of the political tone injected into event. but this post isn’t about that). It was interesting. I understand lead poisoning can have many effects, some life threatening or longevity effecting. But one of the major focus points was on the gradual and harder to fully quantify impact. They were talking about the cognitive issues, the learning disabilities, the impact on graduation rates, the fact that the kids of Flint who have detectable lead levels are at greater risk now of being left behind. They are at a greater risk of cognition challenges. They are at a great risk of impulsiveness, violence. Basically the experts on her stage were talking about them having an uphill battle to take their education and apply it.

That breaks my heart. For many reasons I have a heart for those who have learning disabilities and challenges succeeding. I know the makeup of Flint in a socio-economic manner of speaking. You can see the statistics. Here’s the deal – the kids in Flint already had a tough road ahead of them. Statistics don’t say much good about their potential graduation rates, their avoidance of violence, their college acceptances, their ability to string an education into rosy futures.

The panel was talking about how it’s incumbent on the educators to watch ever so carefully. For the parents to get their kids to the pediatricians and get involved in their schooling and look for the signs so they can get learning challenges identified and get plans in place to plow past them.  The pediatrician talked about how there was a real lack of great food options in many of the effected neighborhoods and areas and how nutritional support isn’t there and how key that is to developing minds. They talked about how no school in their district has a school nurse and what that means. They talked about some true education funding challenges they are having (* huge asterisk here.. I’m not a fan of money = problem solved, more money = problem more solved… And there are wastes in education, some union led by paying for teachers who should be gone, some bureaucracy induced…).

And everyone is listening. And everyone is watching. And heads are rolling. And people are being held accountable. And with all the eyes on them? They are going to get what they need.

I have a friend whose wife is an administrator at a school in the south that is a Title 1 school – most of their students are on free or reduced lunch. They have struggles. They have learning disabilities. They have to work hard to get parents to the table to partner in their kids’ education. And they get funding. But the funding our schools get often comes with so many strings. You want to give every kid an iPad? There’s money for that. In fact.. There is money that comes first, and then you must use it to get the iPads. There are mandatory items to spend on that don’t help and just add frustration. Not to mention the emotional and fiscal cost of the testing for NCLB. But you want an art teacher? Or a music program? Crickets.

We’ve taken education out of the control of the folks who know what is best and we’ve led DC decide what is best. It may very well be well-meaning people who start an idea. But by the time it gets into the mixer, beat to heck and then sent through the sausage grinder – it doesn’t look the same at all. It looks like most of what comes out of DC – and then it gets thrust onto the states, one size fits all/

But I digress..  My premise is – Flint was screwed before the lead.  They were screwed by me. By you. I can’t begin to understand that. Most of my friends can’t either. I grew up in a middle class world. Mostly white. Mostly two parent families. Mostly intact communities. Athletic boosters, decent budgets to the enrichment opportunities and I lived in towns where what happened in Flint wouldn’t have been allowed to go on for more than 1 month because the multi-generational poverty wasn’t there, most of the community had education, had voices and when we spoke we were listened to. We could advocate for ourselves and do so in a way that would get attention (See my father’s day series when I first started this blog..  That was just one middle class white kid who could string thoughts together to paper and a copy machine and a lot of stamps that started a media firestorm)

Flint was screwed already. Those kids? So many of them would get the outcomes that folks are worried about. Some of it is the school funding. Some of it is the economic status of the parents. Some of it is broken families. Some of it is a multi-generational curse because our programs don’t help lift up and out and teach tools to do something different – it is easier for the system to just keep someone down and “surviving” it seems.

It’s not just flint though. Detroit. Baltimore. Philadelphia. Parts of NYC. Neighborhoods in Boston. Swaths of LA. The south side of Chicago. These other cities don’t have a water crisis (which for the record.. I’m pissed about the injustice of the water crisis in Flint. I think the governor should resign. It isn’t all his fault and it isn’t a party problem – it’s a “gub’mint” problem). These other neighborhoods with the same make up. The same socio-economic challenges, the same feeling of abandonment from those who have moved on.. These cities are all just as screwed as Flint was.

We won’t talk about those neighborhoods. Because there just aren’t headlines about a huge inept government challenge. There aren’t politics angles and actual people to blame and castigate so clearly in those areas. You see.. In Flint? We have a scapegoat. And that scapegoat isn’t all of us. We will never allow the scapegoat to be all of us. It has to be someone with a face, a name, a job title and an R or a D after their name.

Well.. Flint was screwed already because of us all. I’m not saying that the socialism of Bernie Sanders is the answer. I’m not saying that the policies out of our federal DOE are the answer. But I am saying that we all live here together. We all share this space. We are all created in the image of God. Maybe responsibility sounds like too strong of a word to my more strict Libertarian friends – but we do have a responsibility to one another. It’s in the Bible. All over the Bible. Now I don’t think that has to be the by force contract the government has with us. But I think we’ve all looked the other way.

We’ve abdicated our responsibility to a government. And then we look away when it doesn’t get it. And we just get frothed up and blame the party we don’t support and then move onto the next news cycle. Our guilt eased because government stood up and said “I got it… just give me a few of your bucks, but don’t worry I’ll take more from people who make more than you” and we sort of shrugged and said “cool” but inside we sort of know it’s not helping. Now don’t get me wrong. Government is good – it’s ordained by God for a purpose. And it can be a force to help and a force for Good. And a social contract isn’t evil on its face.

But we’ve been failing whole communities. Whole classes of people. Even, perhaps most sadly, colors of people for generations. And we think this is working.

I don’t know what to do here. But we can’t let Flint’s conversation be ONLY about the lead and horrible policy of emergency city managers. Because if we keep the conversation there we may fix Flint – for a decade or two – but we won’t move the needle on anything else.

I keep coming back to this verse with injustice. But let it speak to you here.  Let it speak to you as you think about the least of our citizens. What a crying shame that we are letting so many get left behind.

Isaiah 1:17 (ESV):

Learn to do good;
seek justice,
    correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
    plead the widow’s cause.

 

A Juxtaposition in Two Videos

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America. We celebrate family, what we have to be thankful for, we spend time with family, we pause for thanks. We eat turkey. We relax.

Then the next day a lot of folks here go shopping. Or that night. And they fight for more stuff. Sometimes for themselves, sometimes for others.

There’s nothing wrong with that. And it’s good to see folks in retail have work to do. But these two videos paint a difference of cultures…

America at a lot of shopping malls this week:

 

A woman living in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia – she spends her day fetching water for her household. One of the 660 Million or so people without easy access to clean drinking water:

 

I’m not saying don’t shop this Christmas. But –  Check out Living Water or Charity Water and see how you can make a difference.

Various estimates exist for solving the world’s water crisis. The number is probably somewhere between $10 Billion and $30 Billion.

On Black Friday? We’ll spend somewhere around $51 Billion…

A Tale of Two Worlds…

This past week at the PASS Summit was perhaps the most meaningful PASS Summit experience I’ve had yet in a lot of ways. The diagnosis I blogged about has me with a new outlook and perspective (another post later for that – in short – I hope it continues and doesn’t go away as it all settles in and goes to “new normal”). So many great conversations. So much encouragement. So many friends. So many conversations with folks praising God in much deeper valleys.

The biggest shift I’ve noticed just in this first week besides the peace and contentment I blogged about in the earlier post, is a more acute reality of just what a vapor this life is. We are temporary creatures and we are all in it together. Our days are numbered and the priorities should shift as a result.

Add to that a sense that I’ve had building in me, and I got into a little on my guest post on Pinal’s Blog  , that we have discrepancies in this world we oughtn’t to have. We also seem to have the money, the talents, the technology and the innovation to do something about that in ways that are fresh and new and feel more possible than at other times.

I don’t have an answer here. You could accuse me of saying the common refrain from politicians on either side of some aisle – a sort of brain dead, soundbite refrain of, do something!”.. That’s a fair accusation. I’m not proposing answers here. But I do know the answers are there. I do know the communities out there innovating an using data to do amazing things are creative an solve first world business problems easily and readily. And I know the story I’m going to share is true.

Is this the greatest need facing the world? As far as eternity goes, I would say not at all. But I’m also a fan of common grace. God causes the rain to fall on the just and unjust alike. We aren’t islands in this world. We should be here for each other.

In this post? I’m just introducing a thought with a quick story.. We can all help in a different way and place. Get inspired. Go do something.

A Diaper Genie and A Real Need

I was talking to a really good friend who lives out this way. He and his girlfriend have cats. They hate the smell of the litter box. So they bought a diaper genie. A neat contraption to hide the waste and smell of diapers. It is a trash compaction and collection system. It’s neat. And he loves it.

Well the other day – in the afternoon or evening he realized that they used the last bag. Oh crud! he thought. He’d have to do it the old fashioned way and let the smell spread. But then he went to Amazon. He ordered his replacement bags and he selected the 1-2 hour shipping available in his region..

In two hours he went from having a need. For something that is hard to find in some brick and mortar stores. To having it. In under two hours.

That’s fine and great and there is nothing wrong with it at all.

But. Halfway around the world that same day he did that – a teenage girl aged out of an orphanage. And she had an inadequate education. And she became statistically likely to become a trafficking victim sometime soon… A family was holding a vigil over a dying baby with a distended belly because of hunger – hunger at a time where we have more than enough food to fee the world most likely..  At the same time, a woman with no educational opportunities or freedom was in fear for her future – knowing she had no chance or choices because she wasn’t afforded an education. Someplace else, another family was going through a long walk to collect dirty, poisoned water a couple hour’s journey away.

We Have the Right Stuff..

We can fix these problems. Together. Many people are. But this generation has the tools, time, money and innovative ideas to solve these problems.

Let’s figure out how. So much more in future posts. So much more. We’re all in it together.

All We Like Sheep

Most people who know me know we have a small farm brewing at our old farm house. We have a growing flock of Icelandic Sheep. One of our lambs born in the 2015 lambing season, Jacob, recently got his head stuck in the cattle panels making a hoop house I built. I’m going to share the story of Jacob and the time I had to wrestle him free.

I want to relate it to one verse in the Bible, though. Isaiah 53:6. I’ll share the first part of that

Jacob as a new lamb

Jacob as a new lamb

verse to start:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;

– Isaiah 53:6A

This means a few things. As a new shepherd I understand the illustration. We’re stubborn. We care more about ourselves than others too much. We choose our ways over God’s ways and we even reject the good things and good instruction and common sense he gives us….

The other day Jacob had wedged himself in the hoop house with his right horn. Because of the curve of the horn to free himself he had to move a certain way – but it was a way that would have made him feel more trapped. It was the “wrong way” from his perspective. He was baaing like a mad sheep while pushing forward as hard as he could. He would have not freed himself in a million years doing that. But he kept trying. Stubbornly. He felt like he knew what was best.

The hoop house he got stuck in...

The hoop house he got stuck in…

To succeed he would have had to move backwards and in an awkward way – almost like he was making himself more trapped. It was probably a position that made him feel like he was going to be in trouble. Probably an uncomfortable position. Definitely awkward.

So I had to help him.I tried to coax him and sort of shoo him the right direction, to no avail. Instead I had to straddle my legs over his body so I could use my thighs to try and steady him and pressure him towards the direction I wanted him to go, while I grabbed his left horn with one hand and sort of held him in a headlock with the other and tried to move him back. He’s a lamb, probably only weights about 100Lbs,  but he fought hard!  It took multiple tries and considerable strength. He bucked and moved against me the whole time. He wanted to be free his way. He wanted to be free on his terms.

He knew what was best from his perspective and his vantage point. I was adding stress and making him angrier, certainly to his understanding no helping, but hurting.

Except. I eventually freed him. In spite of his complete unwillingness and inability to free himself. I fought him for control and won the wrestling match and he ended up free as a result. He ran off to join the flock and was fine while I sat there catching my breath chuckling about his stubbornness and his blindness….

(Quick aside – funny that it was Jacob who decided to get into a wrestling match with his shepherd…)

All WE like Sheep…

Replace the shepherd above with “God” (not that I am anything comparable to Him, in spite of my name) and replace Jacob with “me” or “you”..

How often does God know what’s best for us. How often does he try to give us what is beset for us – while we – like a dumb and stubborn animal fight and kick at Him – as he frees us in spite of ourselves?

From our salvation – where bitter hearts set against God are turned in spite of ourselves, to our sanctification where Christ works change in those changed hearts. To the way he answers prayer, it’s not always (contrary to the prosperity movement) a “yes! whatever you think you want!!!” or “A New carr!!” sometimes the answers – from our view are bitter and hard to understand. Think of Christ’s prayer in the garden “let this cup pass – but nevertheless not my will, but thine” – we sometimes miss that second part. And we get stubborn.

One of the most beautiful verses in the Bible speaking about grace – God’s grace to sinners like us – is in Isaiah 53:6 here. And it applies well in this situation. Both my wrestling match with Jacob – and the times we wrestle with God ourselves.

Remember – it starts out: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;”

We’ve all gone our own way. Stubbornness rules our hearts. Self will and self determination win. We think we’re entitled, owed even, to this. We don’t want God in our natural state. We are enemies of Him from Adam to now in our natural state.

God could end this verse with “So, I let them go their own way and turned my back on them.” or “So I gave them what they wanted and set their enemies against them”.

Except he doesn’t

Isaiah 53:6 ends with:

But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

Who is the Him? Read the rest of Isaiah 53 to see who is described. I’ll give you a cheat –  Christ is described. God has been turning the hearts of stubborn, stray sheep happy going the wrong way for generations. And he’s still in that business today.

Frankly – it doesn’t matter how you are stubborn. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. You don’t have to come part of the way to him – you can’t. You wouldn’t be one inch closer to Him after a thousand lifetimes of trying. That’s how great the gulf is between his holiness and our sin. But he comes to those who are his. He causes our iniquity to be deposited onto Christ.

I’m Christ’s but it isn’t because I figured out how to get my own head out of my fence. In fact, just like Jacob will probably do again, I am constantly putting my head back into fences… I’m Christ’s because God elected me before the foundations of this world – but not for any cause in me.

Christ’s Example – Suffering not Complacency

 Following Christ’s Example

I’m in Christ. God drew me to Himself – not because of anything good or promising in me, but because of His choice. He moved towards me. He did all the work and called me to Himself. The Bible tells me that this wasn’t just some sort of “one and done” fire insurance policy. This wasn’t just a get out of Hell free card. I’ve been changed so that I can live for God’s glory. So that I can allow Christ in me to Glorify His father – my adopted father – through me. Christ has supposed to become my example for daily living. I’m supposed to let Him rearrange and direct my life and follow his example:

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  2 Peter 2:18-21 (ESV – emphasis added)

See that? Christ is our example. We are to follow in His steps. It says that the destination may also be suffering. That sounds uncomfortable – I think it is supposed to sound uncomfortable. Look at my post from a couple weeks ago about a problem in the American church, though. I don’t think we are supposed to be comfortable first or as our end goal in life. We may have moments of comfort and it is not a sin to be comfortable – but being content in comfort and luxury isn’t the goal of this Christian journey. It’s to Glorify God and enjoy Him. This isn’t a rare and isolated concept. Jesus Himself spoke of suffering after His example many times.

Just one example: “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)

That’s not Greek for “count your savings, take off your shoes and send a few dollars here or there to ease some guilt and be content with the way things are.” The cross was a horrible way to die. It was the source of our word excruciating, in fact. The weight of punishment for my sins that was due to me for all eternity was placed on Him in addition to the physical torment – talk about suffering – multiply that by every believer’s punishment.

Jesus’ call wasn’t “I need you to choose me, I want to have you in my sheep fold because I’m lonely. Please.. Pick me and then put on your slippers and recline in me.” It was more of a message of “you were bought with my blood – a precious and dear price that cost me much. Go after me in this life fully, tell people about me in words, in actions, live my life through your life. Go!” He did promise that He would give us rest. That rest, though, in Matthew 11:28 wasn’t meant as a physical retiring from doing hard things. It was meant as a ceasing for striving to be good enough, ceasing working to try and earn something we cannot ever earn – our salvation. But it wasn’t a promise of an easy “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel life with His yoke on us. Our souls will be rested in Him – even if our bodies are working hard for Him or being tortured for His sake.

Richard Wurmbrand in his book, Tortured for Christ written about his time suffering for Christ under Soviet rule, says this at one point about his fellow prisoners in Communist prisons for political prisoners such as Christians for committing the crime of believing in something higher than the Mother Land and the party running things:

“I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.”

I would be willing to hazard a guess that the prisoners he described here were more in Christ’s rest than I’ve ever been. I would be willing to say that they were resting tenderly in Christ’s yoke – no longer striving in that emotional heart-brain striving that is done when we try to work out our own justification or sanctification. Yet – at the same time they were more uncomfortable physically than I have ever been and likely will ever be.

What’s My Point?

This Christian Life – it’s not designed to be easy. The Christian life isn’t a free pass away from leaving our comfort zones. The Christian life is actually an invitation a call to a life of action. It is an invitation a command to follow the great commandment – to teach and preach and disciple. It is an invitation  a demand to search for how God wants to use us in His world. Whether that is to ease the suffering of those who need material help, to share the Gospel, to pray for those workers in the field, to financially support those in the field, to become preachers, to lay down your life for another, to invest in someone else’s life, etc. The Christian life is supposed to carry a risk (almost a guarantee) of sacrifice and a willingness  to sacrifice even to the point where there may be suffering.

At points in my life I remember telling missionaries things like “It’s amazing what you are doing.” I never really thought about those statements. I saw those missionaries as extraordinary (extra ordinary.. outside of the norm). I saw them as super humans doing something amazing. See the problems with that line of thinking?

One – I was looking at them individually. Yes – it is great that they are obedient to God’s call in their lives, but I was looking at them, and not looking at Christ through them and at Christ doing His work through them.

Two – I saw what they were doing as outside the norms. I saw them as somehow more saintlier. I often, in my walk with Christ, have had that attitude towards many things. The prayer warrior was special to me. The person who sacrifices so much materially to equip those who are called onto the field, etc.

You see, though.. These things aren’t supposed to be extra-ordinary. They are supposed to be the normal Christian life. But I say again as I did in my last post – we are content with comfort here. We are used to luxury. We take much for granted in America because we have much. The professing church in America is large – but I contend that many would be surprised at how many would fall away if just some mild persecution were applied. If just a little suffering were incurred as a result.

As our family goes through the adoption process, I’ve heard things that make me uncomfortable for different reasons. I’ve heard many encouraging and great things but I’ve also heard or seen the attitude I just described myself as having held in the past.

I can’t read the Bible and not see that we are called to carry our cross. To die to ourselves and to live for Christ. To live like the only thing we need or have that is worth keeping is Christ. Only when we fully grasp that He is the only permanent thing we have can we start to be willing to live like it. To see doing what He wants us to do to be a “normal” thing.

Some of the things about adoption I hear that make uncomfortable, but remind me of things I’ve said or thought or remind me of what I think may be a problem with our comfortable lives here in America. I imagine the same things are said to folks who pack up and leave their lives to join the mission field:

  • “It’s amazing what you are doing.”  – I don’t want to sound falsely humble here but it really isn’t that amazing. It shouldn’t be. Reading the Bible and looking around at the world as a whole and without an American-centric lens on – the only amazing thing is that it took this long to see the need and have the desire to follow God’s clearly revealed will about orphans.
  • “I could never..” – Yes. Yes you can. There are complexities and there situations. Going into the field isn’t for everyone. Hosting an orphan isn’t. Adopting isn’t. Preaching isn’t.. But.. (And I say this with grace and love) it is for a lot more people than those who follow it. Some sacrifice and discomfort is required for many of these things – but they aren’t reserved for “super saints” – they are reserved for people who obey God, take Him at His Word and then follow.
  • “What about _____?! “ What about your biological kids? What about age order? What about the problems that come from bringing a hurt kid into the house? What about the finances.. These are all great questions. I’m sure many a missionary family has had severe pushback – “You could be killed!” is a very real concern with many called to incredibly hostile places. But here’s the deal – there are no guarantees in this life no matter what. Who is to say that a plane doesn’t fall out of the sky and destroy your comfortable, easy, house with 2.5 kids in the middle of the night? Who is to say that sickness doesn’t ravage a loved one while doing all the safe things?  We Christians have what is perhaps the best guarantee in the world – God.. The very God of this world will never leave us nor forsake us. He has adopted us as His own with all the rights that implies. We are His, we cannot be wrestled away from Him and the absolute worst thing that could possibly ever happen to us, isn’t even in the same ballpark as the joy of Christ or Heaven.

So…

We either serve the God of this universe. The God who created us and loves us and whose will WILL work out in the end. Or we don’t and we are working against Him.

If we are His then we are serving Him, and we have a book full of assurances and promises that if we jump off that diving board and jump in trusting Him and following His guiding and His will that the results will be right from an eternal perspective. Someone may be called to street preaching in Saudi Arabia – they will surely be risking death – but again the eternal perspective there is what is important. Someone else may be facing selling everything and moving to the jungle with their young family and the very real risks that are associated. It may be adopting an older teenager who carries baggage and risks.. But we don’t serve an insurance company. We serve God. We serve the one who conquered death and Satan at the Cross. We fight with Him on our side and even the worst thing that can happen to us along the way isn’t really that scary when our gaze is fixed towards Heaven. Ask Steven about that when you get to Heaven. Ask the apostles. Ask the ten Boom family.

So we need to trust Him and then let Him work through us. I think the quote from Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words” , is often misused to support actions alone. I am not getting on that bandwagon. I’m not stirring us up towards an actions and works based sharing of the Gospel. I am not saying that social justice trumps the Gospel. In fact it is Christ that the world needs more than anything else. It just so happens, though, that we can reach many more when our hands and feet follow our mouths.

There is a lost and dying world out there. There are people without the gospel living lives of suffering misery. They need Christ first and foremost, but they also need your help right now. Our 1% lives like the 99% of the world. There is much suffering, hopelessness and hurt outside of our ivory towers that we’ve built for ourselves. 

Let’s stop and pray and ask God what He would have us do. How our money, our time, our feet, our hands, our hearts, our huge American houses (on the average) and our comfort can be used and shared to help those in need.

I don’t want to push someone down one path over the other. There are so many places to help that no place to start is wrong. There are wells to be dug. Many languages to have the Bible translated into. Sanitation systems to be built. Houses to be built. But the one closes to my mind is – Kids to be loved. Orphans aging out of orphanages all around this world are sent out to a fate that is statistically aligned against them. A fate that spells death, prostitution, human trafficking and misery for more than not.

As we go on vacations, do fun stuff with our family, drink clean water, etc. Just remember that just about every single thing we take for granted is a desperate need of someone out there.

Let’s remember that Christ never promised us our “best life now” – He promised us that even in sufferings, we can take comfort that we are His and are not experiencing something he has no knowledge of. We should have the strength to run towards those areas where there is need and trust Him the whole way, no matter where that way takes us in this land on which we are sojourners temporarily living in corrupt bodies.

The church in this generation has the resources and families to be used by God to solve many of the current crises in this world. We can afford to provide clean water to the world. We can put an incredibly sizable dent in the number of orphans. We can clothe and feed most of those who need it. We can finish the Bible translations that need finishing. We can supply Pastors and teachers to the furthest regions of the world and into the deepest and most closed societies on earth.

I repeat the same prayer from the post a couple weeks ago:
“Oh God! Would you allow us to see our state. Help us see how we have paralyzed ourselves with convenience. Show us how we have chosen complacency in a hurt and dying world. Show us where we sin both through our actions and through our inactions in the midst of the needs of this world. Start with me. Change me. Change us. Change our churches. Let us not be idle in the face of the slaughter of abortion, let us not be slack in opening our wallets, our homes and our hearts to the needs around us. Let us hear the great commission and understand it is given to us.”

But I add “Stir us. Stir us to action. Stir us to realize what is at stake in this world and to do something about it.”

(And lest you think this post is me sitting in a position of authority as someone who has it all figured out. Let me say quite clearly that I am preaching at myself first here. I have far to go on this path.)

A Problem in the Church?

Introduction

There is a problem in “the church” in America. I don’t have any one church in mind here. But there is a problem of sorts. Perhaps you could call it apathy in some cases. Maybe foolish spending in some cases. Ignorance of the problem in other cases. Consumerism in some. But I think the problem is a “Sending” problem more than it is a “Laborer availability” problem as this 8 minute video explains. This video was recently shared by a friend on Facebook. It combines well with thoughts about this problem that have been rolling through my head. Watch the video if you can.

This is a problem that we need to repent of as a body of believers. We need to repent of this and let Him change us from the inside.

The Problem Statement

That’s how I approach technology problem resolution.. What’s the problem statement? The statement is simple – “There are a lot of orphans in the world. But there are enough Christians and Christian churches arguably to take care of the problem. In more than one spot Christians are told that this is an area of concern for us or shown it is an area of concern for our Father”

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, andto keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

“When the ear heard, it called me blessed, and when the eye saw, it approved, because I delivered the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to help him.The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.” Job 29:11-13

That’s the problem statement. Now please don’t take this as me calling out any church, any believer or asking any organization to repent of some sin. I am, however, calling myself to repentance here. I am calling the body of believers in America to repentance. We love our comfort. We love our money. We love our stuff. And, sadly, I am included in each of these We’s. What a shame.

My prayer here is “Oh God! Would you allow us to see our state. Help us see how we have paralyzed ourselves with convenience. Show us how we have chosen complacency in a hurt and dying world. Show us where we sin both through our actions and through our inactions in the midst of the needs of this world. Start with me. Change me. Change us. Change our churches. Let us not be idle in the face of the slaughter of abortion, let us not be slack in opening our wallets, our homes and our hearts to the needs around us. Let us hear the great commission and understand it is given to us.”

Same Problem Statement Pattern – Many Problems

I believe there are many problems with similar problem statements. We live in a world of suffering. We live in a world where there are still thousands of unreached people groups without the Gospel! We live in a world where there are many problems. A world with a clean water problem that costs less than what the USA spends on Christmas each year.

This is a world, though, with adequate workers  and supplies to handle these problems. The church in America alone could be used to fix many of these issues with the abundance of blessings we’ve received.

So the problem statement is the same for each of these. But I’m focusing on the one that is on my heart the most right now, in my prayers and on my mind right now. But the root problem is the same. The heart transplant we need to address all of these problems is the same. It is the same surgeon we need to visit before we can be used by Him to help others.

What Can we do about this? What’s the Solution?

The pattern is the same no matter which specific problem statement you come up with. We repent. We seek Him first and His Kingdom. We ask for Him to show us how He sees the world, to have hearts that feel, have eyes that cry and hands and feet that move as they are led.

Quick Aside – Why Adoption? Adoption is on my mind as my family is somewhere around 3/4 of the way through an adoption of an older child from Ukraine. There is nothing special about us as a family that qualifies us for this over another family. There is really nothing that drives us towards it other than open hearts that were willing to go on this journey and see where He leads us, the realization that there really isn’t any good reason to not extend our family this way and the fact that nothing in the Bible tells us not to – and the only verses we see really sort of say “yes.”  There is more to it than that, those who know us know more – but this is really a God driven, God started journey. While I’m disobedient in sadly many areas – we’ve been obedient here. It took us awhile. Our hearts were stirred to adoption for a long while before we took steps in faith.

Here’s the deal though. Adoption – local or international alike – is not inexpensive. In most cases you are talking 10s of thousands of US Dollars. Internationally there are trips, facilitators, government fees, red tape, etc. With in country and international there are home studies, social workers, courts and government approval processes. Now I am one who firmly believes that God can and often does break down barriers and when He calls someone to a task, He will see that it is possible to finish it. So this isn’t a moment of doubting God – but I know there are many families who see cost as a barrier and don’t pursue it.

There are still many families who perhaps don’t know the plight or need out there. They don’t know that the statistics on a child leaving an orphanage at “graduation” are absolutely horrible in many locations (in one nation from a UN report – 10% commit suicide; 10% graduate college, start a family or meet some other mark of “success” by this study; 80% end up either stuck in a well below living wage job in a nation without much support structure, involved in drug dealing, get trafficked where the life expectancy is a few years after being trafficked often for sex work, choose prostitution or end up as drug users with no hope).

Please note – I am not saying that every family is called to adoption. I am not saying that every family should. I am not saying that we should be put on a pedestal because God has made this idea blossom and brought us along on the journey – in fact this post is a difficult one to write while in the middle of the process, I risk sounding prideful though that isn’t my intention.

But… I can’t read the Bible and not see that we are all called here. More families are called, and yet the call goes unheeded. More families with open hearts, loving homes and the ability to bring in a child are missing out on being a part of giving and receiving a blessing because they haven’t been equipped. There are laborers called to missions who are right now sitting in comfort not realizing they are called or not exploring that possibility.

So here is where the problem statement comes to mind. I find myself with no other option than to believe that on the whole our churches can do much more here. Some do – some make these types of problems their business and encourage a culture of adoption, a culture of poverty fighting, a culture of supporting missionaries reaching unreached people groups. A culture of equipping the saints to service and then sacrificially supporting them. It should be the majority, though. It should be all of them.

Many are caught up in building programs, in trying to reach the most youth they can reach, trying to fill as many pews as they can, fighting other churches for “taking” their members, promoting a book their Pastor wrote or arguing about how much the new PA system should cost and who chooses the worship music style… Again I am not thinking of any specific church here, but I sadly just painted quite a few.

Our churches will make a difference when they:

  • Make financially supporting adopting families a priority. I’d love to see a church raise an “adoption fund” before raising a building fund if they aren’t in a desperate need for space. What if they encouraged potential adoptive families and helped them in dramatic ways. We’re blessed by my career. We’ve cut corners and the budget feels the strain – but we’ve been able to do this. What a blessing! But 4 years ago? No, this wouldn’t have been possible as it has been. What about a family that wants to but the cost of an adoption is about the same as their annual income?
  • Taught and reminded families about the needs as much as they promoted a ladies conference or a special youth concert or activity. If they made it a point to teach what the Bible says about giving as we have received. Taught about the urgent needs around the world and showed how the families in the body could make a difference. Instead of going on a short term mission trip to do part of a house building – they can serve for a lifetime in their own house.
  • Equipped families. It’s like having a new baby – but older, from a different culture, with some traumas and hurts to work through. Create some groups to not just encourage adoption but come along side and help the families emotionally, prayerfully and proactively. I am sure every church out there does this – but do they do it when a family stumbles on adoption? Or do they set the programs up on a quest to encourage their church to be a beacon of life to some of the people who need it the most. Remember most children over the age of 5 aren’t going to be adopted out of an orphanage. Most are going to live out their days in the institution and then be pushed into the cold real world. Most with special medical or mental needs are stuck in cribs right now – and they will be in one until they die.

Again. Replace the problem statement as you like there. And yes, there is a danger of being spread too thin to the point of not being effective. I get that – but when I look around and talk to folks at many different churches, the risk that more than a few have isn’t being spread to thin – it’s becoming too stale and comfortable and myopic with tight wallets, soft hands and hard hearts.

This generation of Christians could do so much to alleviate many “problem statements”. We could be used to equip, train and send more into the field to bring the Bible to unreached people groups. We could be better equipped to be the Godly mothers and fathers we are called to be raising our children right. We could have an overwhelming desire to cut back our comfort a few notches and support more on the fields. We could do more to encourage, partake in and support families going through adoption. We can surround women in crisis pregnancies with the Truth presented in grace. We could confront a culture of death that has taken over our land. But for some reason we aren’t.

In Closing

I’m not saying that social justice trumps the Gospel. I’m not sharing this out of bitterness about anything in our situation – we’ve not asked for help and we’ve received some unsolicitedd support from brothers and sisters in the Lord and folks at our church.

I just want to see us all think through this more. I’d love to see churches ask “What more can we do as His hands and feet to make an impact today?” That starts with us seeking repentance here. It starts with us asking God to show us where we could do more. And it starts with us trusting the change that He begins in our hearts and living it out. I pray that you join me in praying for this in your life, in our lives, in my life and for God to work through that and for there to be a revival of sacrificial giving and serving across the American church.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29: “At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns,  so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

Did you catch that? The blessing isn’t in getting stuff and getting fat and comfortable (I’m guilty on both charges here..).. The blessing is in sharing what He gives us.

Lessons From My Dad’s Family

This one wraps up a few posts on thoughts for father’s day. I know it’s early but I’m usually always late with father’s day greetings… In the first post I talked about a little history that drives the importance of these lessons. In the second, I talked about lessons I’ve learned from talking to my dad and from what little memories I had of him from my childhood. I’ll finish with lessons on family from his relatives…

So not only was my dad out of those years but, naturally, his brothers and sisters were out (this was not their fault.. I’m not getting into blame in these posts other than to talk about the child abuse witch hunt in MA at the time.. But they missed us just as much as we missed them). I missed some really important observations and lessons that I get to see now anytime I visit them or talk to them. Things that I bet would have been instilled in me. I think a certain closeness in my immediate family has been missing and I think not seeing this modeled is a big part of it.

Family Matters

My dad’s family… The Walshes… I can’t even begin to describe them. Strange. Quirky. Hardly serious (unless it is called for). In love. There for each other (usually). Together. They just do things together. They call each other – a lot. They visit each other – a lot. They hug and kiss – everytime they see each other. They are close knit and they get along really well. Sure they have their moments and their personality clashes (you can only get along with a Walsh for so long… We can be are loud and annoying and we all seem to suffer from some of the same flaws.. get everyone together and it can come out 😉 )

Whenever we go to a family event it is really a family event. You can just see the love and enjoyment everyone has being together. There are jokes, long long running jokes, inside jokes, gags, random presents, a desire to serve and help each other out for the most part. They’ll sometimes call each other to compare notes while watching a Red Sox or Patriots game. They still do stuff together as adults.

Wrigley’s Gum, Orange Sprinkle Cheese & Spagetti Sauce

One of the things I remember most about my childhood? Sleeping over Aunt Sue’s house. There were rituals about it… We could count on her to have gum. We could count on her to make whatever we wanted to eat – but it almost always consisted of a noodle dish – normally her great spagetti sauce with sausage and orange “parmasean” cheese sprinkled on top. There was always a chocolate cake smothered in frosting for some occasion or another.. Her kids, my cousins, were older but always fun to visit. Her husband – Uncle Brian – was a great role model for me. He was (and is) an engineer’s engineer. Even had the engineer’s beard. Always with the latest computer even before they were around everywhere. Always with some sort of electronics gadget to play with from his day job or hobbies. I spent as much time playing on his computer as I did playing the organ (with my headphones on.. I think I was required to wear those) over at PAPA’s house.  I never met my grandmother, she died before I would have had the chance but Aunt Sue seems to have become the matriarch of the family. I think you could say she’s the glue that holds the family together. She isn’t happy unless she’s giving her house, her time and her stuff to you. She isn’t happy if everyone isn’t chatting. (She also isn’t happy if the house is any warmer than 58 degrees… That’s why Uncle Brian just about always has a hoodie on – even in August…)

Being There For Each Other

Dad’s brothers and sisters really banded around him. They protected him and cared for him. They advocated for him. Even to this day when he’s in a funk or having a tough time medically or emotionally they rally around him. I have to be reminded to call family, they just do it automatically.

Even Until the End.

I was there when my grandfather – PAPA – died. I was in his nursing home – as were a lot of the family. Even more would have been there but things progressed faster than expected. They were all just there for him. They knew what to do, and they stayed by him, encouraging him as he very peacefully went, with a smile on his face and a tear on his cheek. In so many ways that is a memory I’ll always be moved by. By the tenderness of the family, by the comfort, peace and strength everyone exuded and by the dignified, proud and peaceful way he passed.

You can’t be at a family gathering without at least one of the uncle’s or dad doing a papa impersonation. His antics, his mannerisms and expressions. It’s great. It isn’t irreverent, it’s flattering and it memorializes a great man who valued family. A man who had his own ups and downs but was there and in love with his family. He came to my wedding, I’m so happy that I can look back and remember him there in his wheelchair watching his grandson get married. After I started getting to know them again – and before papa died – he would always be at every family party. He hated that he couldn’t get the right words out and it would frustrate him until he just gave his “NEVERMIND!!!” wave with his arm. But even though he couldn’t communicate – you could see the joy he had seeing his family together and laughing. Even if it was at him. You couldn’t visit papa without getting a hug and a kiss.. Didn’t matter if you were a man, a woman, 5 or 50…

They are always there for each other when something bad strikes them or one of their in-law extended families. That’s just the way they are.

Speaking of Papa..

I have a TON of happy childhood memories of Papa and his house, too. Those memories are just as significant  as the ones of my father or hanging out with Aunt Sue. I remember his typewriters downstairs. I remember that organ he had that we would play. I even seem to remember a big circle rug in a porch that the dog (Turk, I think?) would always be on. He was happy. Always happy. He was just as much a jokester as the rest of them and he just loved being around the family.  A good reminder for grandparents… You’re as important as parents in the growth of the children in your family. Be there for them.

Outside is where the fun is 

I can’t help but mention that anytime we go to a family gathering there are four constants… Chicken cutlets… A sports game on in the TV room.. Dad being sarcastic and a clown… And most of the fun happening outside. They still do family kickball games. They still play ball outside. They know how to play outside – young and old. You don’t see that all the time these days…

It’s almost like they have a lot of the good family life aspects from the 50s ingrained into their genes and modeled generation after generation.

That’s it…

I said just three posts. I’ve learned and continue to learn a lot from my dad and his family. I look forward to the lessons I have yet to learn and I hope to pass these on to my kids. I can tell you, though, this father’s day the lessons about being a good dad are going to be most heavy on my mind. Thanks Dad. We had a great beginning, a horrible middle and we’re enjoying the ending. Let’s hope it’s a long one and I’m happy it is all behind us. I love you and trust you with my own kids.

No… That’s not it.

I was all done but wanted to add this.. This really did come to my mind after writing the above. The whole point of these posts isn’t to trick you into reading my thoughts on my faith, but I think it fits. I think it’s important.

I have things to share with the rest of the Walshes too, I think. I think sometimes there is a bit more anger left stuck inside folks than there should be about the circumstances I described in the first post. That is understandable but keeping that bottled inside doesn’t do anything. It deadens  your nerves, it lessens your ability to get close to people and it prevents life to happen as it should. Forgiveness is the key. I don’t think I fully realized that until I became a Christian like my Aunt Trish – coincidentally we found that path about the same time unaware that either was heading towards it. When we don’t forgive it tends to be because we are stuck looking at life from our own lens. We are stuck thinking of “me”. I think I got some of the desire to hold on to anger from the Walsh side. We think that by not forgiving and holding onto our anger we are sending “justice” to the other party.. What we forget, though, is that anger only hurts us in the long run. It poisons our systems. That’s true when it comes to forgiving others, it’s true when it comes to allowing yourself to be forgiven. This was a crappy situation and there were a few factors at play but we’re here now and none of us should hold onto any bitterness about our situation any more. It’s done.

I know most of my family doesn’t believe as I do. I know most have scars and wounds from their own faith upbringing.. I gotta tell you though –that isn’t God that messed things up…  That wasn’t Christ… Sometimes some churches can be really bad places to find true Christians living like Christ – loving you where you are..  Loving you for who you were created to be.  That’s what Christianity is… It’s a God who loved us so much to send His son to die for us. The closest thing I can equate to how that might have felt right now would be Dad giving up the fight to see us because he knew it was in our best interest. Now what Christ and God felt was so much worse but I think that is heading in that right direction. Jesus agreed to pay the price of our sin – separation from His father while on that cross – if it meant he could redeem us eventually. He bore that full weight of my sin, of your sin. Whatever that feeling of separation was – he got it.

I am so happy to have each of you in my life now and I really hope that we can have that relationship forever. There’s no magic formula, there’s no dollar value. Just an agreement that we aren’t perfect, and an agreement that Christ paid the way for us into Heaven and a belief in Him as the one who has the power to open that door to Heaven for us. Someday we’re each going to die, between now and then we have a decision to make about where we’ll be after that. On one side is an eternal closeness that probably feels a lot like a Walsh party – except on streets of Gold. On the other side is emptiness and loneliness, regret and memory of the times we could have accepted this gift… forever… Probably not that unlike those times Dad or I were having sleepless, lonely nights in different places for different reasons. I’ve chosen God.