Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thank You!

Thank you so much for being a part of this blog.  I am truly thankful for all of your interest and rigorous but amicable responses and debates.  Enjoy your Thanksgiving and looking forward to a new series around Christmas just for you subscribers!

Love, John

Thursday, November 19, 2015

God sends them to us . . . all expenses paid.

This week has been a difficult week.

A new terror attack.  Sifting through the aftermath of how it happened and how to prevent another one from happening. 

Add to that the difficult moral decision about what to do with refugees that are fleeing the war in Syria.  Were they involved in the Paris attack?  Middle Eastern countries aren’t taking them – do they know something we don’t?  Are terrorists going to sneak in with the refugees?

And everyone has an opinion on the subject.

Strike that.  Everyone has an oversimplified opinion on the subject.  Social media is full of manipulative memes that paint any opposition to their view as brainless, heartless or both.

For example, those in favor of bringing Syrian refugees liken the problem to Jesus’ mother looking for a place to stay at the first Christmas.  


Mary and Joseph were registering for a census and were planning to go home.  They were denied a place to stay for one night because everyone else arrived earlier.  No one was denying Mary because they feared she may be preparing to carry out terroristic plans to usher in a radical Muslim apocalypse.

Very different.

But the opposing view is equally as reductionistic.  So you don’t think we should accept Syrian refugees because there might be terrorists in the group.

Okay, do you really think there are no terror cells in the US right now?  Do you think that they have been waiting for the cover of refugees to enter our country? 

Just to be sure - you are right - admitting refugees from a country where 20% of its people have a favorable opinion of ISIS seems pretty dangerous. 

You are also right to be afraid.   Let's remember, this is not a little morals test that we take on Facebook:

“do you think that refugees should have a home – click yes or no.” 

We can't weigh in on this subject like it is a survey question.  We could be talking about one of my kids who takes a field trip to D.C.  How willing am I to bet that none of the 10,000 people coming aren’t going to buy a gun and shoot the place up?

Are you willing to place that bet with your boyfriend?  Your mom?

How simple would the decision be then?

This is a very complex moral issue – not a political one.  And it goes so far beyond a back-and-forth war of memes with an “I’m right, you are wrong” attitude on social media.  Give each other space to think through this.  Let’s value each other’s thoughts on this matter and give each other the dignity of having deep-seated ideas and passions that we can learn from.

That’s because these are moral issues – not political issues.       

The worst kind of ignorance is to surf Facebook, see what people are thinking and then throw a meme on your status and think everyone else is an idiot who thinks differently.  Please, let’s not be that kind of country.

As for me, I do get nervous about whoever comes into this country that may potentially do massive harm – and it happens every day.  But in this life we weren’t guaranteed safety.  As a Christian, I see the refugee issue as much bigger than whether my family is safe.

Think of it this way:

There is a lot of junk going on in the Middle East right now – Syria to be exact.  And 99.9% of us can’t afford the time or the money to go to the Syria to help people’s hearts and minds change about Christianity, peace, change or humanity.  

So we pray . . . 

and what does God do?

He sends them to us – all expenses paid.

Seems like the opportunity of a lifetime to shine the light of love to a people who have been kept in darkness. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

It's a lot more than you think . . .

"Islam is a religion of peace" is an idea that is wearing thin . . .

I heard the news, like many of you, last Friday night and I said to myself, "here we go again."  After getting over the initial shock, I thought of the talking heads and the politicians who would be trying to soothe us by reminding us that terrorists are not true to the spirit of Islam.


I think we need to give up on the idea that you can say anything about "Islam."  There are so many varieties and interpretations of Islam that you oversimplify it by classifying it as any one thing.  So we can't say that Islam is evil but we also can't say it is a religion of peace because both views are naive. 

Consider this:

There are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.  Most of whom are peace-loving and interested in religious coexistence.  Some I have personally met in the cafes of Northern Africa - most of whom cannot stand groups like ISIS.

However, even when you temper the most aggressive statistics (a range of between .01% to 25%) the number of Muslims who have been radicalized total in the tens of millions.  Millions of people who support bringing the world under the submission of Islamic law aggressively.

That's a force we have to recognize and deal with.

And we don't do it well.  In the west we tend to think in terms of economics.  We think of poor people have been taken advantage of by wealthy clerics.  The truth is that ISIS controls an area bigger than Great Britain because of it's desire to see the world return to a medieval power structure that looks to usher in the apocalypse.

ISIS - hated by non-radical Muslims - is committed to killing large numbers of people that are kafir or apostate (which includes behaviors like not shaving your beard, wearing Western clothing or not support traditional understandings of the Koran - even Sunni's are apostate.)  

ISIS sees itself as bringing in the end times in which a Messianic figure (or mahdi) will lead a battle in Northern Syria against the forces of Rome (read the Christian Church).  Islam's influence will expand for a while but there will be a final battle at the end in which God Himself intervenes.  Even Jesus (Islam's second-highest prophet shows up to assist in the end times for Muslims).  Muslims even had a Daijal or what Christians would call an Anti-Christ - and ISIS is eager to bring in this last chapter of humanity through carnage.  And a whole lot of people are eager to help them.  

So yeah, there is a whole lot more to this than we understand in the Western World.

And if we don't at some point confront this on ideological grounds it could get pretty messy.  So again - Islam is not evil.  Muslims are not bad.  But if we think for a second that this threat from ISIS is not about Islam we are kidding ourselves and the joke is on us.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The gift of my Father

I was in Cub Scouts - maybe 3rd grade - and I was sitting with my Dad watching a Karate demonstration.  The guy Karate-chopped wood blocks and used his forehead to snap a concrete block and kicked a hole in a watermelon.  That last part might have happened on an old Ginsu knife commercial, but I remember being very impressed by this guy.

At the end of the demonstration the man asked if there were any questions.  With a toothy 3rd-grade grin I leaned up and whispered to my Dad, "I would really like to try Karate-chopping a piece of wood."  

He looked at me half-surprised and urged, "raise your hand and ask him."

For a split-second I shied away from the idea but then my hand shot up and he called on me:

"Can I try Karate-chopping something?"

"Of course," he said and brought out a wood block, motioning me to join him in front of all my friends and their parents.  I got up there and looked back at my Dad with an incredulous look as I half-listened to the guy instructing me on how to do it.  There I was in front of all those people - what if I mess up?  What if I don't break it?  

Well I made it this far - let's do this!

So I made my hand stiff.  Shot a quick look at my dad.  He looked at me with confidence.  I can do this.  I swung my bony arm downward and snapped that piece of wood in half.

I couldn't believe it.  I looked at my hand in disbelief.  I looked at my dad in shock and amusement.  It was like someone turned up the volume on the world as I turned and saw all my friends clapping for me.

Every hand went up in the place wanting to be next!

I think of that story today as I look out at this gloomy November rain and remember the gift that my Dad gave me.  

You can do it - all you have to do is believe in yourself.

And that is the kind of thing our heavenly Father whispers to us if we stop long enough to hear it.  Don't doubt for a minute there is a God who is watching and rooting for you in your life.  Nudging you to raise your hand and take a chance.  

So many times we talk about belief as if it is one-directional from us to God.  You'd be surprised how much you can accomplish when you believe in yourself like He does.

You've made it this far . . . you can do this.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ben Carson, Starbucks and Pluralism and Swimming Upstream.

So last Friday I was wrong . . .

I read on a variety of news outlets that the Ben Carson camp admitted to lying about being offered a scholarship to West Point and wrote about it in this blog.  Turns out that the campaign was admitting that he was never offered a scholarship but that didn't mean they admitted to a lie.  I can see how this was a communication error in an age in which things go from conversation to print in the matter of minutes.

But it is important to say, "I got it wrong" concerning Ben Carson - and there is something about his visceral reaction to being pegged a liar that reached out to me.  I think we have all been in that spot where you are unjustly accused of something.

For as much as I like Ben Carson as a person, however, I still think we can do better than the top four people we have in place to elect for President right now.  I really think my wife would make a better President than any of them.  

You probably won't convince me otherwise . . .

What I found interesting is the common thread I have seen from people of faith in reaction to this and other cultural hurdles in the last week or so.  Starbucks cups, biased media and politics -  there seems to be an awful lot of whining and counter-whining about the misinterpretation, under-representation, manipulation and general mistreatment of Christians and Christianity in our culture.

Well . . . yeah.

Like you, I was incredulous and yelling at my TV when the debate moderators were tossing out sixth-grade-style 'gotcha' questions to Presidential hopefuls, but that is what we signed up for people.  



Anyone following Jesus is walking away from what most people value.  Period.  Following Jesus does not mean we have an easy life - it is a life of swimming against the tide.  Swimming against the tide means we bump into a whole lot of people heading in the opposite direction . . .  but bumping is not the same as cultural head-butting.

I think sometimes we forget that we live in a pluralistic culture - not a Christian culture.

Pluralism is where two or more competing lifestyles, ideas and worldviews live together in civic peace.  Thanks to urbanization, increased communication, speedy transit and mass education we live in hodge-podge of thoughts about everything.  While this is good for ideas, it makes it hard to hold onto your faith when you are constantly bumping into people that think differently than you.  In ages past it was easy to demonize people who believed differently because they lived over the sea or on the other side of the mountain or they spoke a different language.  Now a kid from China is sitting next to your nephew in English class.  Freshmen in high school are playing Destiny from separate continents.  Their beliefs mix and it makes it hard to keep one's faith from being sifted together with any number of ideas out there.  For some this is scary . . .

There are basically three reactions from people who want to hold onto their faith:

Retrenchment - Fight it at all costs.  Demonize those who think differently.  Discredit opposition.  Build a wall around our ideas and thoughts.  Create a subculture that doesn't mix with others.  God-Tube.

Accomodation - Take bits and pieces of culture and weave them into a patchwork of faith and modern culture.  Claude Levi-Strauss called this psychological 'bricolage' - using random scraps of whatever is available to construct new ideas about society and culture (and potentially even faith).  Love Wins.

Embracement - Ditch what you know about faith and instead take up whatever culture values as true and trustworthy.  Um . . . Universalists.*

So I get it when people want to throw up walls and keep the faith pure, but that really misses the point.  Was the mission of Christ to keep our ideas intact?  Or was it to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth?  And even Jesus recognized that embracing the latest ideas and trends just makes us lose our saltiness . . . so both throwing up walls and shaking hands with every new idea seems pointless.  

And really, who wants to be good at accomodating?  I like to think that following Christ is a transformational way of doing life, not trying to negotiate differences . . .

So I guess that means not whining about the Starbucks cups but showing people (in all of its peculiarity) what following Jesus looks like (even if it offends them).  I guess it means making sure your passion for helping people encounter Christ is never outpaced by your passion for ideas and policies (or worse - winning an argument).  

This path we walk is so hard.

But the end of it leads to life.  Don't lose heart in finding it . . .

*Ideas are taken from Peter Berger and Anton Zjilderveld's book "In Praise of Doubt" - check it out for a great treatment of these three areas.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Ben Carson's Lie . . .

Can American politics get any crazier?

In the pursuit of the White House, the field on both sides is (politely speaking) insane.

Consider this:

- We have a very nice old man who wants the government to pay for everything (including college) while saddled with a $17,000,000,000 debt.

- In the next corner, we have a billionaire whose foreign policy promises us that we will "get so tired of winning" and domestically will force Mexico to pay for and build a wall on our southern border.

- Then there is the woman whose 60% of her own party says she is untrustworthy.

As if that wasn't enough . . .

We now discover that we have a former surgeon who has fabricated parts of his past.  Sections of his autobiography mention being given a scholarship to West Point.  The problem is that West Point doesn't offer scholarships and Ben Carson never even applied to the institution.


I mean, there are lies and then there are lies that make no sense.  First off,  good for him that he admitted he lied - but why did he think he had to lie to us about something so insignificant?  You don't need to have been offered a scholarship to West Point to be President.  This is something that he could have rescinded more than a few times in his past.  But now he is caught.  It is worse when you think of Carson's deep connection to his Seventh-Day-Adventist faith.

But there is more.  It looks like this next big thing in the news will be that his childhood friends cannot corroborate his stories of being a violent youth.  The question now is, "how far does his dishonesty go?"

Remember Brian Williams?

Add in some recent talk about Nazis and Obama supporters, the Egyptian pyramids built by the Biblical Joseph as storehouses for grain and taxes as a form of tithing and it all starts to sound a little nutty.

Hey, the guy is brilliant.  He is a man of faith.  I like him as a person - the kind of guy you want to sit down and explore a dozen ideas with . . . but you can't deny right now he is looking a little kooky.

Which actually brings me to the bigger discussion:  How have we as a nation narrowed it down to these four people?  Have we lost our minds?

Just like you, there are parts of each of these four I really like.  I would love to talk economics with Sanders, business with Trump, Syria and ISIS with Clinton and neuro-psychology with Carson, but thinking of any of them as Commander-in-Chief is scary.   Is this really the best we can do?  Isn't there a better way to figure out who should serve us in government?  I have a sneaky suspicion that if we went to five of the leading industries (Consumer Goods, Tech, Education, Health Care, Economics) and talked with ten of the most innovative minds from each institution we would at least have four people who could lead better than what we have to choose from right now.

But instead, we have . . . politics.


Oh - and think of this - it is still a year away.  We have twelve whole months of crazy to come!

God help us . . .

Monday, November 2, 2015

Which voice are you ignoring?

I took my youngest to a harvest party-kind-of-thing over the weekend.

No, it was not a Trunk or Treat.

It was a great time - music, food, games and a hayride.  The major reason we went was that there are pony rides and my daughter loves horses.  So we stood in line twice for a ride on the pony. She loved it and I was happy that she was happy.

As we stood in line there were two girls that had to be about seven or eight years old running in circles around their grandmother.  Cute from a distance, but as we took our spot in line behind them it was obnoxious.  They were running in and out of the line, spooking the horse and generally not listening to their grandmother.  The one girl fell down and really hurt her knee on the pavement and was loud about it.  

I know, I am terrible - I thought, "well that's what you get . . ."

So I thought 'lesson learned' but sure enough the girls went right back to running in circles - causing everyone else in line to roll their eyes.  No one wanted to be near those little terrors.  You know the kind of kid, right?  The parents are smiling, like 'oh how cute they are disobeying' and you smile back but you are thinking, 'they need a swat on their fanny.'  

Yes I said it.

But we are still in front of two kids who were not at all listening to the repeated attempts of their grandmother to corral them.

So this is great, I knelt on one knee and said, "girls, I really think you need to listen to your grandmother . . ." 

- she corrected me - 

"I'm their mother . . . it's the grey hair, I know."

Oh man.  How do you recover from that?  Calling a mother a grandmother is worse than assuming someone is pregnant.

So I apologized and stood back up.  The girls totally ignored me and went back to obnoxious.  Again, the girl fell on her knee.  Again she was loud. 

I was wondering is there no connection between cause and effect here?

And once more they went back to circling wildly.  So I tried once more and got on one knee saying, "girls, the man taking care of the horse is getting nervous about your running around - can we play a game instead?"  My youngest, Kylie, joined in and got the girls playing an alphabet game and distracted them until they were next in line.

It was a victory of structure over wildness but I couldn't help but remark afterwards how Thing 1 and Thing 2 had not connected their behavior with falling on the pavement.  The girl repeatedly went back to the thing that hurt her.  

I admit I was smug . . . until I talked to God this weekend at one point.

And he reminded me how much I am like those girls.  How much we are like those girls.  We return to the things that hurt us.  We hear God's voice but we don't obey it.  

Proverbs 26:11 says it flatly:
As a dog returns to its vomit,
    so a fool repeats his foolishness.

It is like we have lives that circle hearing His voice, choosing our own way and getting hurt.  Rinse and repeat.

It is why we need grace.  But also why we need to listen to the voices in our lives that help us listen to God.  Sometimes the hurt in life is from ignoring the voices in our lives that want to help.  The voices are always there - and so is the pain - the question is which voice am I ignoring at the moment?