Monday, August 31, 2015

I just had this great talk with a young man who is trying to figure out his faith.

Almost twenty, he is wrestling through what he believes and wondering if it is time to walk away from it all.  I love that he is dealing with it rather than sweeping it under the rug.  In some ways he is annoyed with other Christians who don't seem to be struggling with some of the issues he is struggling with.

It just seems easier to give up and follow the intellect and abandon faith.  This is a pressure we all feel from time to time.  It's what the psychologists call 'cognitive dissonance' - when what we do and what we believe don't line up we have stress.  This stress makes us want to resolve it by adhering to one or the other - actions or beliefs.  Ditch your faith or ditch your intellect.

Sadly, too many pick the easy way out . . . on both sides of the fence:

The ones who give up faith:
Faith is something that is hard-fought.  It is a process that we struggle with through many life-phases.  The faith you came to at five years old will not carry you into adulthood.  You have to wrestle through it.  For those who walked away from their faith because it seemed so childish:  You didn't walk out on faith, just your five-year-old version of it.

The ones who ditch their intellect:
 It is particularly aggravating when we see others who don't struggle with their faith development.  They are content with their five-year-old faith that sees everything simplistically.  Church becomes a place to level the playing field - to chastise political enemies, reduce everything to 'us vs. them' and make the churchgoer feel 'fed' so that they can go back to their lives 'encouraged.'

Encouraged to never grow in their faith.

See, we have this weird thing that we like to quote from Jesus, "whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child" and we forget that the key word is 'like.'  It is a simile.  A comparison meant to convey a larger truth - beyond the literal meaning.

It means clinging to faith with the questions we have - knowing that God is not afraid of them and pursuing them in the midst of no answers . . . yet.  That is faith.

So I encouraged him to not see this as a time of decision - but as the midpoint of a struggle that one day he can look back on and say, "this was the time in my life that I was surrounded by my questions, but I discovered that God was bigger than any of them."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The outrage is fake from a culture of violence.

Gun violence . . . again.

In talking with a friend, it struck me that we really are not serious about ending violence with guns as long as we have a love affair with murder on TV.

. . . and on the big screen

 . . . and in our headphones

  . . . and on our gaming systems.

Everything teaches.  If you get a job in the city where you hear Spanish spoken you begin to learn Spanish.  When you have kids, you learn how to make a bottle.  We are molded by what where we spend our time.  When we read books about Navy Seals in the Middle East we begin to look at crowded markets differently.  Saltier language drifts through our minds at greater intervals.  Everything we surround ourselves with teaches us something.

So how can we not see the connection between a culture of violence and a young man who vents his frustration by walking into a television station and murdering someone?

Yes, I know guns don't kill people but they sure make it easier to murder efficiently.  It would make me feel a whole lot better if there weren't guns anywhere in the world but that won't stop murder.  Cain wasn't 'packing'.  The extremists used a jet.  We definitely have a problem with guns and we need to figure out how to protect ourselves from maniacs that wield them.

. . . but the root problem is murder.

And when the biggest TV shows and movies all surround themselves with murder we shouldn't be shocked when people are learning from it all.

Hello, Hollywood?  Why are you so silent on this?  Gaming Industry?  Eminem?  Dre?  "Straight Outta Compton" can teach us the glory of violence.   All across America in homes dotting the suburbs we are teaching people the dark respect that twisted minds are afforded when they take other people's lives on shows like NCIS and Criminal Minds.

When will we realize the multiple classrooms of murder that we offer people daily is only killing us?

So please, quit the outrage.  It is fake.  Enough of the tweets from recording 'artists' and actors/actresses who churn out glorified violence - it is completely disingenuous.  You really want to end the violence?  Break the spell.  Stop creating media that plants ideas in the heads of the mentally unstable and the clinically depressed.  Take seriously the sacred trust that has been given to you along with your platform of artistry.  Stop building a culture of violence and then mock the rest of us with your shock when it happens in real life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A little heroism and a jammed gun . . .

This is the stuff of heroes.

Last Friday (August 21st) a 25 year-old Moroccan man named Ayoub Al-Khazzani (pictured above) boarded a train in Brussels bound for France with a Kalishnikov, a hand gun and a knife.

He says he was just trying to carry out an armed robbery.

Right. With a massive assault rifle, handgun and tons of ammo . . .

His parents shrugged their shoulders and said he was a good kid.

Right.  Start showing us pictures of him at 12 . . . "such a sweet kid"

Don't buy it.  He has actually been in and out of trouble with the law for drug trafficking in Spain and at least once has visited Syria.  He has been monitored by Spanish authorities for his contacts with extremists in Syria and Turkey.  In other words, he was aiming to do some serious harm in the name of Allah.

The story goes like this:

They were sitting in a different part of the train and went looking for their first class seats.  They decided to sit in the carriage that Al-Khazzani occupied thirty minutes into the train ride.  Airman First Class Spencer Stone was sleeping when he heard noises in the hall and found a scuffle ensuing.   An unnamed French man was the first to throw himself on Al-Khazzani who emerged from the bathroom with the Kalishnikov over his shoulder.

Imagine that - you are walking down a corridor to the bathroom and someone emerges with an assault weapon.  Split second: what do you do?

The unnamed French man jumped on him.  The noise woke up Stone and his friend Alek Skarlatos (Army National Guard).  Alek hit him on the shoulder and yelled "go" and the two of them join the fight.  Stone at one point had Al-Khazzani in a neck hold form behind despite being repeatedly stabbed in the hand with a box cutter.

Yes, a box cutter.  We need to ban those stupid things.

A few shots are fired.  One goes through the neck of a man nearby.  The other through a window.

And this is the most interesting fact:  Both Al-Khazzani's guns jammed after initial firing.  Both.  Talk about divine intervention.  Even Stone admits if the guns hadn't jammed, "it would have been a very different day."  The three men went on to beat Al-Khazzani unconscious and the train made an emergency stop while authorities dragged Al-Khazzani into custody.

So in a story of such complete good vs. evil it is easy to forget one simple thing:

The only true enemy here is sin.  It is not Islam.  It is not Moroccans.  Or extremists.  Or guns.  Remember that even Moroccan Muslim extremists who plan to kill dozens of people on a high speed train are the likes that Christ Himself died for.  That is the extravagant nature of grace.  God's love for us is extended even to people like Al-Khazzani.  Or perhaps especially for the likes of Al-Khazzani.

Make no mistake - I'm glad they beat that guy unconscious and saved the day . . . to our three American boys - well done!

But that is half the story - let's pray for a complete recovery of Al-Khazzani's soul.

Get a full summary of what happened here

Thursday, August 20, 2015

They did it again . . .

Just because you haven't heard from ISIS doesn't mean they are going away.

No, in fact a small contingent of ISIS has taken up residence in Palmyra (Syria) recently.  Knowing that they were coming, locals worked hard to box up and ship out the historical artifacts of the area.  Palmyra is rich in archaeological finds and antiquities experts made sure that the most valuable treasures were hidden.

It seems ISIS has a habit of coming into a town, finding whatever is valuable and stealing it to resell it on the black market.  The items it can't use it destroys - claiming the artifacts are heretical to Islam.  So not only is ISIS beheading people but they are looting the ancient world as they gain more and more power in the Middle East.

Khaled al-Asaad, an 81 year-old antiquities expert was capture by the group and tortured. They tried to get information from him about where the treasures were hidden.  He never broke.  So in the last few days ISIS rounded up a few dozen people and charged him by the power of the Quran with conspiring with the Syrian government and beheaded him among the ruins he so dearly loved.  They hung his decapitated body on a Roman column with a sign around his waste pronouncing his charge for execution.

Then they destroyed several statues in the arena as well as the surrounding structures.

But do you know the most unnerving thing about all of this is?  

The top 10 things trending as of noon August 20th are:

1. Britney Spears
2. Nicki Minaj
3. Charlie Hunnam
4. Pierce Brosnan
5. VA lottery
6. Galaxy Note
7. Wiz Khalifa (this has me seriously shaking my head . . . the fact we even know this person makes me wonder if we deserve to be troubled by extremists)
8. The Beatles
9. Lady Gaga
10. Gold Prices

Here's hoping that we have sometime in the near future that one of the top ten trends read, "how to pray for peace in our troubled world."  We might see it there at some point - I just hope it doesn't take something tragic to get us there . . .

Monday, August 17, 2015

To know is to do

This weekend I got to talk to my church about Jesus sticking his neck out for a woman who was caught in the act of adultery.  When they dragged her in front of Him, Jesus bent down and started writing in the dust.

This is the only account in the Bible of Jesus writing.

Think of that.  As the Son of God - tasked with saving mankind - He never wrote a single thing for us to remember.  No books, no pamphlets and certainly no websites.  In fact Jesus didn't give homework, never assigned reading and not once used a desk.

It seems like the way that He wanted His disciples to learn was to do.  

When you think of it, learning by doing is one of the best ways to really learn.  "You feed them" Jesus said when the thousands were looking around for something to eat after one of His teachings.  Chances are you will never forget being stressed about your own inadequacy to do something for the first time.  Learning by doing is scary but effective.  You have to trust while thinking on your feet.

This is hard for us - we like to understand before we do something.  We like to 'know what we are doing' when it seems more likely that we were meant to 'do what we are coming to know.'

Maybe you are in that time in life where you think you are just treading water.  You have no idea what you are doing and you feel like you are making it up as you go.  The fine thing about faith is that though you might feel that way - you are never alone.  When you include God on your decision making and you send up quick prayers you are never lost.  Make sure each decision you make is righteous (not selfish, vengeful, bitter, greedy etc) and talk to God through every step and you will never be out of God's will.  You will always be exactly where you need to be.  In the end - if you had to choose between the two -  doing God's will is always better than knowing God's will.


Maybe that is why it never made it's way into a book.  You know the truth - just do it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

One year later it is the same story . . .

One year ago Mike Brown was shot and killed by a police officer.  For many this was the event that began a year of headlines that told of violence between police and young black men.  

The anniversary was looking hopeful - there was a peaceful march over the weekend but then things got out of hand Sunday night when a 20 year old man opened fire on a police cruiser.  Police returned fire and then chased the young man on foot until he reengaged the police in gun fire.  He was shot multiple times and is in critical condition.  A full account can be followed here.  

It is so sad that we are a year later and this is what happens.

Everyone has a take on the larger issue of racial tensions - some blame police and some blame angry young men who are involved in crime.  Both have good points.  Sometimes it seems like the police are too quick to the the trigger.  Sometimes it seems like inner city young people are playing games with violence.  

And so it turns into a drama of people on opposite sides of the spectrum - those who think they can fix it with protests and laws and those who think everyone needs to arm themselves to stop the violence.  A friend of mine posted an invitation to join several other religious leaders in New York City marching for peace and was met with a series of skeptical questions about solving this problem with activism.  I think deep down we all share the cynicism of waving a flag to solve a problem.

And yet arming up only kills more people.  You can't shoot at this kind of problem.

I think the Bible is pretty clear that we are dealing with sin and until we take care of the sin situation there will be no peace.  When I say sin, I mean the gut-level selfishness that makes us destroy others as well as the system we construct as a culture that continues to produce oppressive conditions for those who have less.  In other words I mean we are all responsible for making sure that we aren't being jerks to each other on a personal level ("do unto others . . .") but also we need to make sure we aren't content with a system or society that seems to breed conditions of ignorance and violence.  We get to the point where we turn off the news helpless about what we can do about it.

When Cain killed Abel and God asked him about it, Cain shrugged his shoulders and asked, "am I my brother's keeper?"  That is the essence of sin - not so much that Cain just murdered his brother but that he was so detached from it that he could coldly push aside a question from God.

So I am not saying that I have the answer . . . but I think I have a good start.  It is to care for those that you can.  Does God's question still apply to us?  Can we be our brother's keeper?  Perhaps this is a suitable challenge for today . . . by the end of the day make contact with that kid, friend or sibling that you have drifted from.  That person that you know is troubled and needs someone in their life.  Call or text them to set something up so you can build the relationship up again.  If we all did  this there would be fewer Fergusons.  Perhaps this is the best way to honor Mike Brown.  If he had someone in his life checking in on him, we wouldn't have to observe the anniversary of his death.  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What we are forgetting with Planned Parenthood

If you are in the mood for a political throw-down about how he left or the right are wrong keep moving, there is nothing to see here . . .

If you are still reading, let's talk about what we are forgetting in the current debate regarding the videos released featuring Planned Parenthood leadership . . . not from the political perspective but from the human perspective.  

The first thing we have to remember is that there are no monsters.  It is easy to gain some sort of moral high ground and point fingers at other people who think differently than we do and label them evil.  There are no monsters because our sin nature makes us all monsters.  If you are uncertain about this talk to your spouse or your siblings or parents.  Anyone that knows you will tell you that you are kind of gross on the inside because of sin.  The truth is that good people - people with values and spiritual depth - people who have made peace with God and try to follow Christ who have for a variety of reasons had an abortion.

And guess what?  The truth is that many women who have gone through an abortion still wrestle with that decision.  Just like you do when you think about what you used to do in college.  Or what you did just a few years ago to keep your job.  We have all walked through dark areas in our lives that perhaps we wish we could do-over.

Just imagine the intense pain you would feel to see your sin churned up in political Facebook rants . . .

This is why Jesus was clear:

"Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  Matthew 7:1-2

Did you get that?  The measure you use will be used for you.  That is why grace is always the best option.  But grace is hard to understand sometimes - especially when we take it for granted.

We need to be reminded that the scandalous nature of God's grace is that we are all forgiven our sins  - even the ones we deem unforgivable.  Remember that quote?  "While we were still sinners Christ died for us."  We didn't clean ourselves up and earn grace.  It was given to us when we didn't deserve it.  And just because we sit in a pew for 20 years and can recite a few scriptures doesn't mean we don't still need that same grace.  In fact, I wonder if it is like we are spitting on the cross every time we forget the grace we received as we remind someone else of their sin?

Or worse yet - by judging others do we create a measure that could do some real damage when applied to ourselves?

I think what it really comes down to is that we have two ways we can mess up grace.  We can either:

1.  Be too judgmental.
2.  Be too lenient.

Jesus spoke about both, but it seems like He spent so much more time addressing our judgmentalism.  I think I would rather err on being too lenient.  I could be wrong, but it seems like the safer option in light of a Holy God.

So all that is to say if you have ever felt judged by the church but drawn to Jesus, email me - I think I have a church where you can connect with Him again . . .

But that is not to say we can't speak the truth.  With a little love and humility we can strongly say that the stuff talked about in these videos needs to stop.  Whether it is legal or not.

Someone I was having a discussion with on this topic kept pointing out the legality of the transactions in these videos.  Actually more videos are popping up.  The latest videos are showing more and more the illegal nature of the business conducted.  John Kass from the Chicago Tribune talks more about that here.  

But I kept trying to emphasize legality is not the issue - as humans we don't care about law, we care about what is right.  But no one listens when it is a fight.  If we aren't careful - as people of grace - this can easily be turned into 'us vs. them' rather than 'how can we work with God to redeem the culture?'

So maybe a little less "that organization is evil" and a little more "how can we work together on making sure this doesn't happen?"

A little less "that is disgusting"  and a little more "we can do better than this."

Or how about just a little more acknowledgment of our own sinfulness?  Maybe that is why this issue isn't getting the traction it should.  People stay silent on an issue in which they feel already condemned.  Perhaps we would have more allies in accomplishing what is right if we stop coming across as moralists.  We aren't moralists.  We are redeemed people.  God changed me because God takes what is thrown away as useless and makes it beautiful.  

Let's go do the same . . . with people, not against them.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

The City of Brotherly Love strikes again.

Philadelphia . . . the City of Brotherly love.  Birthplace of the Declaration of Independence.  Cradle of hoping beyond hope that the Eagles will someday bring home a Lombardi trophy.

The city that booed and then threw snowballs at Santa Claus at an Eagles game.

Now the city that killed Hitchbot.

Hitchbot is an experiment from a series of researchers in Ontario to see how far a robot that sends regular tweets can get on the kindness of strangers.  His maiden voyage was last year from one coast of Canada to the other in twenty six days.

Think about that - it went coast to coast in Canada from the help of those who picked up Hitchbot and gave it a ride.  It actually returned to its makers unscathed.

Only 300 miles into its US voyage it was savagely attacked by a moron this morning at 5am outside of Philly.  


What possible purpose is there in abusing someone's science experiment?  Those researchers were looking to study the behavior of strangers.  They were looking for the social dynamics involved with how people interact with technology.

I was embarrassed by my favorite city.

In shock about what the city 10 minutes from my birthplace did to Hitchbot.

But then I looked at the photo of the offender and it all made sense.  The guy was wearing a Patriots Jersey.  Number 12.  There is only one thing lower than a guy who dismembers people's science experiments - and that is a Patriots fan.

Phew.  Was feeling bad for my city when it was really a bonehead from New England.