Undercover Boss

One of the reality shows I've enjoyed is Undercover Boss, where the CEO of a major corporation masks his (the CEO was a man in all of the shows I watched) identity while he works with some of his employees.  The best part of the show is the reveal, where they find out his true identity.  At that time, he usually recognizes their talents and bestows them with a personal gift that he found out they needed during his time with them.  The viewers can usually see the incredulity in the employees' faces.  Harder to tell is whether they find it harder to believe that they worked side-by-side with their CEO or that he would take a personal interest in their lives.

Today, we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  But to fully appreciate this day, I believe we need to step back and consider His true identity: Son of God, King of Kings.  He, who was there at creation, humbled himself to be in the flesh.  Why would the Creator of the world step down from His world?  To better relate to us?  No, He is all-knowing.  I believe God knows our thoughts and feelings without having to come in the flesh.  Rather, I believe He came so that we can better relate to Him.  

In a few months, we'll celebrate His reveal.  When Jesus died and rose after three days, He declared once and for all that He is God and conquered death.  For now, let us cherish the fact that our Boss of Bosses has been born.  

Merry Christmas to all.

Prayer for church in the midst of terrorism

Lord, I pray for Your church.  Lord, open our eyes and keep them open.  Let us realize the attacks and deceptions around us.  Let us stay focused on the task You've set before us: to share Your good news, to make disciples, to love.  Lord, let us love with abandonment.  Let us realize and embrace our citizenship in heaven and care less about any other identity.  Lord, let us be bold in our faith and fearless in our conviction.

Tragedy, Fear and Call to Action

  • What would cause a man to slaughter people he's worked with, coworkers who'd thrown the couple a baby shower months earlier?
  • How can someone sit with coworkers to celebrate a holiday and, a short time later, murder them?
  • What parents would leave a six-month old, rather choosing death and destruction?
  • What would possess someone to take such cold, calculated steps to kill scores of strangers?
  • After 9/11, our nation was unified.  Why, after this catastrophe, does our nation seem more fractured and polarized?

The senselessness of this event has cast a gloom over my life.  I want to understand, but realize that we may never have all of the answers.  I crave logic and order where it may not exist.

In lieu of answers, I'm tempted to offer solutions.  Based on friends' posts, I'm not alone.  Sadly, their proffered solutions show how polarized we are as a nation.  Some want to curtail the availability of guns.  Others want to restrict the freedom of a people-type.  I know some may not agree with my characterization, and for that, I apologize.  I understand the desire to offer solutions, but I resist it in myself.

This is a time for mourning.  I want my moment of silence.  I want to grieve for the 14 lives lost and countless lives permanently stained.  I grieve for the 6-month old orphan of the murderous couple.

Image Credit: Jeremy Myers @ redeeminggod.com
And, I pray.  I pray, not because I feel inept, but because it's the best thing any of us can do.  I pray to draw closer to a Father who cares.  I'm comforted with the assurance that He is in control.  I pray, not to avoid other action, but as a way to humble myself and to remember that He is able and He is just.  I pray, not so that He will fix this, but to remind myself that the solution has been in hand for over 2000 years.  I pray because the hope our Father in Heaven offers is the only sure way to combat the tool of terrorism: fear.

Dear Heavenly Father, In the midst of tragedy, I seek Your comfort and the peace You offer.  Lord, guard my heart so that I may respond with love and grace.  May I submit to Your perfect justice and rest in the assurance of Your sovereignty.  Lord, let our cravings for answers draw us to You.  May Your promises of peace and salvation soothe our turbulent hearts.  May we, as a nation, make wise choices, choices that honor You and Your righteousness.  Lord, may Your Son return soon so that Your promises may be fulfilled.  In His name I pray....

4,289,792 Refugees

The telecom company I work for spends a lot of time and money trying to tell the difference between good and bad traffic.  Bad traffic (i.e. malicious attacks) can have a crippling effect on our network.  The easiest thing to do would be to indiscriminately block all traffic from suspicious sources.

The debate around Syrian refugees reminds me of this problem of differentiating between good and bad traffic.  As I've observed this conversation play out in both the social and traditional media, I've become more and more disheartened to witness how quickly we can lose sight of the whole picture and become hyper-focused on the negative elements.  Some seem willing to allow a few suspect elements deter us from doing what's good and right for many others.

Before I go further, let me lay out what I believe should be undisputed assertions about the Syrian crisis:

  1. Before the civil war, the population of Syrian was around 22 million.  (World Bank)
  2. Since then, roughly half of the population has been displaced from their homes. Not all displaced have left the country.  (Mercury Corps)
  3. 4,289,792 of the displaced are registered in one of many UN run camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.  (UNHCR)
  4. Of those, 1,647,281 (or 41%) are under the age of 11.
  5. More refugees, often due to camp conditions, choose to not live in UN camps and are not counted in the 4 million.  (National ReviewMercury Corps)
  6. Before the war, roughly 10% of the Syrian population was Christian.  (CIA World Factbook)  (Note: Given the nature of the Syrian crisis, it would be reasonable to surmise that a larger percentage of Christians have been displaced.)
  7. A certain, unknown percentage of the refugees have malicious intentions to harm their eventual host countries.
Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan (http://lorenabrownlee.com/)

So what's the right response to this refugee crisis?  I understand and agree that we have a duty to protect our immediate family and our country; but, surely, we, a nation at least founded by refugees based on Christian ideals, are not saying that because of the threat posed by a few, we are willing to turn away help for the 10 million displaced, 4.2 million refugees in UN camps, including 1.6 million children.  Let us not forget that these are victims who are not just homeless but countryless.  

Even if we allow that there's a risk with indiscriminately allowing refugees into our country, we must look for other ways to help these victims.
  1. Support the organizations serving these refugees in the camps to improve the camp conditions.  Here are but a few organizations:
  2. Though much of the debate involves refugee resettlement process in partnership with the UN, that is NOT the only option.  Private resettlement remains a viable option.
  3. Travel abroad and volunteer at one of these refugee camps
Arguments and Responses
Let me now address some of the arguments I've seen against helping these refugees:
  1. We have a duty first to the safety of our nation.  Does that mean we stop the dialogue there?  Or do we continue to seek other means of helping these refugees?  
  2. We should care for our veterans first.  I agree that our nations owes our veterans much better care than we've given.  However, why must our veterans be pitted against our humanitarian care of refugees?  Why not divert that money from the bullet train in California or the new building bearing a senator's name?  (I don't actually know that there is such a building.)
  3. Middle Easterner should take care of their own.  While our compassion may have priorities based on proximity, I refuse to believe that our compassion stops at our borders.
Christian Response
It grieves me to see the number of Christians who've taken a blanket position against resettling any refugees in the U.S.  Brethren, before taking these positions, prayerfully study the situation.  The Syrian church is a persecuted church.  Before the war, 10% of the Syrian population was Christian.  Today, we can assume it's much less since entire Christian villages have been wiped out by ISIS.  Those who have survived face even greater hardship than other refugees.  When we turn away refugees in the name of safety, we turn away our own brethren.  I understand the need to protect our country and our immediate family, but does that mean we shouldn't show hospitality to our spiritual family?  Scripture has much to say about caring for foreigners (especially in the OT) and showing hospitality.  I read very little about being safe.
  • Share with the saints in their needs;  pursue hospitality. (Ro 12:13)
  • Let brotherly love  continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.  (Heb 13:1–2)
  • Be hospitable  to one another without complaining.  (1 Pe 4:9)
I know that strong feelings exist on this issue.  In our haste to block bad traffic, let us not be too quick to block all traffic.  Rather than adding fuel to the fire, my hope is that we will consider additional factors in our positions.  Even as we value our safety, let us find ways to show love and compassion to a people who have already suffered so much.

Dear Heavenly Father,
May we share in Your grief for the people of Syria.  Lord, as they suffer in the shadow of darkness, may Your people be the light.  May we, the children of God, reflect Your light be caring for these foreigners.  Lord, give us the wisdom and the conviction to express our love for You by caring for Your beloved.  May our leaders be wise in their choices.  May our resources be used in a way that reflects our values, that is, Your values.

Light over Darkness

Dear Lord,

May Your light shine brightly; may the darkness of the world create a hunger for You.
Lord, may we not over-complicate the nature of evil; may we seek You to overcome wickedness.
Create in us pure hearts -- hearts that reflect Your love for each life equally.  May tragedy against one be felt as tragedy against all.
May we be united in our fight; may evil be declared as such and dealt with justly.

May the Lord bless us and protect us;
May the Lord make His face shine on us and be gracious to us;
May the Lord look with favor on us and give us peace.  (Nu 6:24-26)

Criticizing Pastors - Protecting the Flank

This morning, an article caught my eye.  It's an important enough topic that's not discussed nearly enough to merit more than a simple "share" on Facebook.

As Christians, we often rely on our pastors to teach and admonish us in our walks with Christ and each other.  But who guides us with regards to how we relate to our pastors?  And yet, there are few relationship more important than that with our pastors.

Pastors have responded to a calling that requires them to be at the forefront of our spiritual battles.  That means they're on the clock, all the time.  That means they put themselves at the forefront, physically and spiritually.  That means spiritual attacks often hit them first and harder.

The last thing pastors need is for attacks to come from the very people they're called to serve.  That's not to say they shouldn't be corrected.  Pastors are imperfect.  Most pastors I know are more aware of that fact than they dare to show.  When we see such imperfections, what we ought to ask ourselves first is how we respond in love.  Knowing the banner they carry on our behalf, what they need most is love and prayer.  More than anything, pastors need an extra dose of grace.

Is that to say that pastors should be above criticism?  Certainly not.  "Graham doesn’t claim that pastors should be above criticism, especially those who neglect their responsibilities or truly are at fault in some way. In these situations, “most churches have ways of dealing with such matters through their ruling board or denominational structure,” Graham includes. Gossip and criticism among churchgoers is not the solution to matters like those."

So when we get that urge to criticize:
1. Pray for the pastor
2. Pray for the pastor's family
3. Pray for the unity of the church

God's Will: A 12-hour Journey

Our life group is learning from a study on "Discovering God's Will" and, wouldn't you know it -- Peggy and I had a chance to put it into practice two days ago.

The Call:
Peg woke up earlier than usual.  Before she got out of bed, she read the Bible and prayed that God's will would reign in her life.  A few minutes later, her phone rang.  A woman we know called to ask if we would take care of her 2-year old son for 6 months.  We have known this boy since birth and loved him as one of our own.  If we said, "No," he would be in the care of strangers through the foster system.  But to say, "Yes," would mean that Peggy couldn't get a part time job as we'd been planning in order to pay for Luke and Bella's education.  Based on our experience last year, it was important that they attend a school that shares our worldview and values.

The more we discussed the options, the more frustrated we grew.  In order to take care of the boy, at least one of our children would need to attend public school (which, by the way, would start in two days instead of in four weeks).  It was hard because we knew that we couldn't say no to taking the boy.  From the day of his birth, God's had a plan for him that's involved us.

The Prayer:
In the midst of our emotions, we prayed.  We prayed for God's will be clear and that we would be wise enough to make the right choices.  We dared to remind God that He would be respond to our faith with faith.  We affirmed our belief that He would provide, as He always has.

The Answer:
We decided on the calls that needed to be made and went our separate ways.  One of the items on Peggy's agenda for the day was to go by the kids' new school to drop off some paperwork.  In the few minutes she was there, the love, faith and community she witnessed convinced her that both of our children needed to attend.  That was the answer to our first prayer was answered: It's His will that our children attend the school.  Hours later, in case it wasn't clear enough, that was reaffirmed.  We were offered a solution that would allow us to afford for both children to attend even if Peggy doesn't work.  (I can't provide details on how that came about, but, suffice it to say that it's completely unnatural and unexpected.)

What I Learned:
  1. All we need is God's will.  We don't need to know how it's going to work; we just need to know who's asking us to do it.  (Ro 12:2, Job 42:2)
  2. He loves our children more than we do.  What He has planned for them is what's best for them.  (Jer 29:11)
  3. To know that God hears our prayers is the greatest assurance one can imagine. (Col 4:2)
  4. The sooner I align my will with His (in big and small things), the less painful the journey will be for me.  (Prv 19:21, 16:9)

Blindsided by God by Peter Chin (Book Review)

When I picked up Peter Chin’s book, Blindsided by God, I wasn’t overly enthusiastic.  After all, what more could be said on the subject of a loving God who allows suffering?  Skeptics, however, continue to raise the question.  So, perhaps, I thought, Pastor Chin would offer something new with which we counsel those who hurt.

The book chronicles the battle Carol, Chin’s wife, fought with cancer.  In truth, the cancer was but the background; the real battle was for Pastor Chin’s faith.  The book starts by introducing us to the young couple, how they met, how he courted her, how they came to be married.  The stories are amusing, but hardly inspirational.  Even as they received news of the cancer diagnosis, I remember thinking, nothing new here.  How many people have fought the battle with cancer and retained their faith?

Thankfully, I kept reading.  Chin takes the reader for a wild ride with emotional ups and downs.  We also get a glimpse of the life of a church planter.  That this battle came about as the family moved into a new home in order to plant a church is not just an aside.  As he struggled with his myriad of emotions as the prognosis sunk in, the feeling of betrayal by God that surprised Chin.  “I felt betrayed by God because he had broken his promises. … I had absorbed it from the pervasive culture of the American dream, which teaches us that everyone gets what they deserve.”  How, after all, could a church planter, pastor, and family who’d given up so much for God’s Kingdom been cursed by cancer?

Chin tackles these and other hard questions and lessons with deep, spiritual depth while, at the same time, keeping it accessible and revealing of his heart.  One can imagine Chin sharing those harrowing years over a cup of coffee.  At times, he’d cry as he relived the pain and doubt; other times he’d laugh as he recounted some of his foolish, boorish responses.  

I recommend, without hesitation, this book to everyone, believers and skeptics alike.  My wife and my 12-year old son have both been blessed by it.  We’re reminded that, “He does not promise that we will not suffer, but that when we do suffer, he will be there with us in the midst of it all.  It is a promise, not of painlessness, but of his presence.”  But even more than helping us to cope (which is the aim of many books on suffering), Chin demonstrates that suffering helps us to more fully appreciate God’s grace and the demonstration of His love.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review. 

Immersive Ministry

Walk into our garage and you would see two car seats.  Next to them are plastic bins filled with children’s clothing and supplies.  On a shelf is a pack-and-play and another bin full of toys that our children have long since outgrown.  These items have accumulated since we started hosting as a Safe Family three years ago.  They surround us and remind us each day that we stand ready to open our homes and our lives.

Safe Families has transformed the way we, as a family, view ministry and service.  We used to (and sometimes still do) view service or ministry as another activity to schedule along with other things in our lives.  Worship on Sundays, AWANA on Mondays, baseball on Tuesdays, Bible Study on Wednesdays, etc.  Occasionally, we leave our homes for a day or a week to serve somewhere.  For us, service was always an activity that was segregated from our normal lives.  When we served, we consciously chose to step out of our comfortable lives.

Being a host family is different.  We open our homes and allow strangers to become immersed in our lives.  When we’re hosting, there is no life outside of service as the children (and sometimes their parents) become intertwined with all aspects of our lives.  We’ve shared meals, prayer and devotional time, worship, and birthday parties with children we barely knew.  There’s a little boy we’ve hosted on several occasions; our daughter introduces him as her little brother.  Some of these children and their parents have been part of on our church’s prayer list.  When we’re hosting, there really isn’t a part of our lives that’s not affected by these children. 

About two years ago, Peggy was driving down from Northern California when we got a call for a hosting.  A baby had been born that day and the mother couldn't care for him for another 40 days.  Now, even though we have two children, we adopted them when they were between one and two so Peggy and I had never cared for a newborn before.  The next 40 days were a blur of diapers, feedings and more diapers.  We each learned to adjust our schedules around Skyler, the baby’s.  Most mornings, I’d wake up to find Peggy on the recliner rocking Skyler.  Our children learned to tone down their playtime, which is no easy feat especially for a 9-year old boy.  During those weeks, our church family rallied around us.  We've always enjoyed worshiping our Sundays, but those Sundays were even more special as we found reprieve in dropping Skyler off at the church nursery for a couple of hours.  Members of our church donated food, diapers, and gift cards.  One of the members even stayed overnight at our house so Peggy could get a full night of sleep.

It wasn't easy, but that’s part of what made it so special.  Through our trials, through that sacrifice, we formed a bond…not just with Skyler but also with his parents and with members of our own church.  We still see Skyler every couple of months so mom can get a reprieve.  He’s the little boy our daughter refers to as her little brother.  Next month, we’ll be celebrating his second birthday.
One of the reasons Peggy and I decided to become a part of Safe Families was to have something we could do together as a family.  This was a service opportunity we could do not just in front of our kids but with them.  But, to be honest, at some level, I was thinking of a way to train our kids, to transform them.  What I've realized though is just how much it’s changed me.  You see, I was the one who thought of service as an activity we do rather than a lifestyle.  Much like worship, serving and giving is part of our identity as children of God.  And just as worship shouldn't be limited to Sunday morning, neither should service be limited to segmented parts of our lives.