What to do about Refugees?

refugeesRecent events have once again thrust the values of compassion, life, safety, and responsibility into the forefront of our conversations. After the most recent events in France, the issue of immigration and refugees is at the center of conversation.

To be clear, America has not always been kind to the immigrant or refugee, be it Mexican, Irish, Jewish, Catholic or Sudanese. We are not unique in our circumstances – fear, compassion, and safety have forced many generations to face their ideology. As a nation, we have an ideology that touts compassion, but when faced with the reality of perceived safety vs. ideology we, the people, often choose perceived safety.

I see many posts and statuses (thanks social media) saying some version of a few ideas like:

“If we can’t take care of (homeless vets, children in poverty, mentally ill, etc) in our own country then we should not take more refugees” or “It is shameful that we care more about refugees than our own people.”

and my favorite…

“If I had a bowl of 10,000 m&m’s and I0 were poisoned, how many people would be willing to eat a handful?”

First, let’s make sure we understand m&m’s are not people and they do not bear the image of God and they are not escaping war and terror.

Second, does our compassion for one group of people negate our compassion for another group? One person cannot do all, but all can do some. My question for those in the “care about our own people first” camp is this: In what ways are you already caring for these populations (homeless, orphaned, impoverished)?

My experience has shown me that the people who are actually working with at-risk populations are the same people advocating to bring the refugees into our community.

Now, let’s be clear. I am not saying we should abandon our due diligence in screening those who want to immigrate. I am not saying we should have open borders. I am not saying our actions are without risk. I am not saying we should not seek justice for the perpetrators of terror.

It should be remembered that without welcoming refugees fleeing terror, the United States would have never known Albert Einstein, Madeleine Albright, or Sigmund Freud. Also, if you are of Anglo-Saxon descent then at least one of your ancestors was likely fleeing religious persecution in some form.

Immigration, war, and refugees are complicated issues that deserve complex and diligent thought. We cannot afford to be either bleeding heart liberals or closed-minded conservatives.

Most of us are not in a position to directly influence public policy (we are a republic, not a democracy, after all) so I will not address the issue of public policy. What I do know is that there are already immigrants and refugees in almost every community in our nation and there will likely be more. Isolation, poverty, and lack of opportunity are 3 main drivers of radicalism in any culture (neo-Nazi, IRA, radical Islam, to name a few). Perhaps the way we combat extremism is not through isolation and fear, but through community and relationships.

If you are a believer in Christ, then you must examine his word and let his authority determine your actions. We have been sent as sheep in the midst of wolves, to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We are immigrants in a foreign land, longing for home. Our actions and beliefs should reflect an ideology greater than personal safety and deeper than political dogma. We should seek both justice and mercy, safety and sacrifice, wisdom and compassion.

When we think about an issue let’s think deeply, slowly, and be willing to say “I don’t know.”

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Beauty, Sorrow, Strength, and Tears

desert

There is beauty in our sorrow
There is strength within our tears
And you meet us in our mourning with a love that casts out fear

Strength within tears. When I think of the times I have cried, an ever increasingly frequent event I might add, strength and beauty are two of the last attributes that come to mind. I don’t like to cry and for years I didn’t cry but about once a year. I saw crying as a sign of weakness and lack of control. Not to mention, I almost always felt/feel very weak and drained after I cry which is not fun. It has only been within the last few years that I have come to accept and recognize the need for tears, at least in my own life.

Tears enable us to express emotion in ways too deep for words. We can join in someone else’s suffering by crying with them or we can express our own emotion through tears. Crying can actually help us release hormones and chemicals built during stressful times. Perhaps this is why people frequently say, “I just need a good cry to feel better.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I don’t know about the first-rate intelligence part, but I’m learning the ability to hold two ideas in tension is certainly a mark of faith. The tension of sovereignty and free will, justice and mercy, suffering and good, obedience and joy, beauty and sorrow, strength and tears are all seemingly contradictory and ever present.

I’ve often heard stories of God’s sweetness and loving presence in the midst of sorrow. In my own experiences, there have been times I felt nothing close to good, sweet, or loving. Instead I felt alone, it was difficult, and I had doubts. Now, facing new uncertainties and tragedies, I am beginning to understand the beauty and sweetness is not in the circumstances, which are often lonely, difficult, and anger/doubt inducing, but the beauty is in the deeper understanding and knowledge that God’s promises hold true – even if I don’t feel it. God is faithful and in control even when I feel faithless and out of control. God is with me even when I feel alone. God is making my paths straight even if they are difficult and dark. Even though I walk through the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

Now, I am not saying anyone who has said this or described tragedy this way is wrong or lying – not even close. I am not an emotional person by nature and I often connect intellectually to people and ideas before I connect emotionally; so for me, comfort comes first in knowing God’s promises hold true then feeling them – not the other way around. It has taken me 25 years to realize this and not feel guilty for not feeling spiritually happy in difficulty. Yes, there is a level of comfort and good, but there is also great pain and difficulty which can threaten to overwhelm the good, comfort, etc. I think God’s mercy can extend and help us feel good, even in the bad, but I also think God is still good, even when we don’t feel it.

Perhaps all of this can best be summed up by Psalm 27 written as David was being chased around the wilderness by Saul (1 Samuel 21-24):

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour[a] me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

He is No Fool

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Benjamin FranklinLiberty. The foundation of the American Dream. Life. Liberty. And the Pursuit of Happiness. Through our figurative and literal blood courses the dreams and legacy of our forefathers. The legacy of these same daring men who challenged taxation without representation, who sacrificed their lives for a cause greater than themselves, is echoed in our lives today. Suggest to any American over the age of 10 that we should go back to having a king or to any tax payer we should give all our money to the government for them to distribute and you will be laughed at, mocked, and perhaps threatened.

The value of liberty is an essential part of who we are as a nation. Yet, we have changed. No longer to kids roam freely on the streets to find the next adventure. No longer do children learn to fail from a young age. No longer do we talk of duty, honor, and sacrifice. Instead, our lives are managed, controlled, and planned from the day we are born. Many of us shudder to think of our lives without the convenience (necessity?) of smart phones, Internet, house alarms, and more.

There exists a constant tension between liberty and safety. With our love of liberty comes rules of conduct – my liberty cannot infringe upon your safety. Ideas are dangerous and yet we hold fast to our liberty to express ideas – even dangerous ones.

I love adrenaline. I love the gut-dropping feeling when you first jump off a cliff into water. I love the rush of competition when I feel my heart beating faster and my muscles twitching in anticipation of the next play. I will risk the safety of my physical body to make a play. Why? Because the glory of success is greater than a bruise or broken bone. If this is true in sports, how much more so in life?

In this same vein, there are ideas, causes, truths worth risking our lives; to stand for freedom against oppression like Malala Yousafzai, to die for an unknown people like Jim Elliot. In our quest for safety, equality, and sameness we have sacrificed liberty, danger, uniqueness. We forget the legacy of the men and women who gave their lives for a cause greater than they could even comprehend.

If we are to thrive as individuals and a nation we must remember their legacy and we must fight for liberty – even at the expense of safety. We must be willing to give ourselves for something bigger than ourselves and to sacrifice our lives, figuratively and literally, for people we do not know.

When I read biographies of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for an idea there is a common thread throughout each of their lives. This thread is the overwhelming greatness of an idea, a movement larger than life. An idea, a truth so wonderful it is worth everything. What is your idea? What truth do you follow, without which, life would be devoid of purpose? Are you willing to risk your life, figuratively or literally, for this truth?

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

January Goals: A Review

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My view half way up Table Rock Mountain 

If you’re new here, I confirmed I am, in fact, crazy posted my goals for the year. As someone whose strengths are Achiever and Discipline, I really like goals. Goals keep me focused, motivated, and constantly improving. Of course, there’s also the downside which I wrote about recently.

My goal for January was to pray daily for women living in Muslim contexts in the Middle East, North Africa, and South East Asia. I would say I was about 70% successful in praying daily. More than the task itself, this goal refocused my attention and broadened my daily awareness of God’s blessings. I found myself appreciating my freedoms and privilege more regularly, like having enough food in the refrigerator or working heat in the winter.

When I began to pray, I wasn’t really sure where to start. I don’t know any women from these contexts, I’ve never been to the Middle East, Africa, or Asia, nor do I know much beyond my reading of fiction and non-fiction, including news sources. I felt very disconnected initially, my prayers seemed more like a recitation – what I was supposed to pray instead of my heart’s desire.

However, this all changed in week 2. I was challenged to pray the attributes of God in my “regular prayers” and I began to pray these for the women too. All of a sudden, God’s all-powerful, all-good nature became much more meaningful. My prayers gained weight and substance previously lacking. If I could trust God to act powerfully in their life – why should I doubt his power in mine? If God is merciful enough to redeem me, a broken and selfish person, then He is also merciful to ransom their lives too. Instead of feeling distant, contrived, and separated from my own life, my prayers merged into one prayer.

My compassion, concern, and prayers for the women were neither singularly spiritual, nor singularly physical – just like my own life. I do not pray only for my heart or the hearts of my friends and family, but for our physical needs as well. So, too it came to be with these women.

I don’t know what will come from this month. I know I have no power to change the living circumstances, the hearts, or the minds of the women in these areas. I do know, incredibly, God is not only powerful enough, but is already working! My own weakness, in yet another area of life, is an opportunity to showcase God’s power.

My one regret is I did not pray daily. Too often, my prayers centered around myself and immediate needs. I would get distracted in tasks and to-do’s or hyper-focused on my small desires. I crave the strength gleaned from uniting my heart with God’s heart beyond my own microcosm of the Universe.

As far as my other goals for the year are going, I already broke my “only books by dead people rule.” I mistakenly believed Harper Lee had already died and I read To Kill a Mockingbird. I do not regret it at all. This is perhaps one of the most poignant books written and was even more touching because I live in the South and was challenged on my own prejudices and bias in praying for the women in MENA, SEA. If you haven’t read TKAM since high school or within the last 5 year, I would highly recommend it. I’m also reading Plato so I feel like that makes up for it too 😉

In January, I also had my first day of solitude and it was worthwhile. I learned I must tire my body out first, before my mind, heart, soul will be still. Fortunately I went hiking and was able to do both! It was a great way to start the month and I felt a lingering “refreshment hangover” for several days. That’s right. I just compared a spiritual solitude to a hangover.

On the negative, I have not prayed through any of my notecards nor have I really started learning the arabic alphabet. I have downloaded the sheets though, so that counts for something, right?!?!

My goal for the month of February is no personal social media-pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum of importance from praying daily for Muslim women in MENA, SEA, but hey! it may actually be harder. Wish me luck!

My thoughts on Sandy Hook

By now, most everyone has learned of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. Unspeakable emotions course through my mind as I try to comprehend the reality that children were murdered at school. In the coming days, more details will come to light – perhaps the shooter himself suffered unspeakable horrors, but that will not make our grief any less pointed.

There are legitimate questions being posed, as is always the case when our fragile and temporary existence is shattered. Where is God in all of this? How can something like this happen to innocent children? What do we do about it? How do we prevent this from happening again?

To the questions of what do we do and how can we prevent this from happening again, I have no answer. There is nothing about this situation that makes sense. Comfort feels far removed, a mere intellectual idea rather than a living thing. As is true in many situations, a great irony abounds. In this time when we celebrate the birth of Immanuel, God with us, we feel far removed from God or that He is far removed from us.

Yet, God is with us. The anger, sadness, and unspeakable grief that we feel is a reflection of God’s anger, sadness, and grief. Deep in our souls we know that this is not right. This is not how a perfect world should operate.

In a move that can only be described as miraculous, Jesus came down to meet us in this mess. This world where children, learning their A, B, C’s are killed; where millions of people die because of disease and famine; where women and children are sold into slavery for the pleasure of others. This is the world that God entered. This is the world that God died for.

In times of grief when God seems most far away, we often find him closest to us. Not born in a palace, but in a foul-smelling manger. Not exalted high as victor, but lifted up to die on a cross – closer identifying himself with us as broken, needy people rather than the most holy God that he is. Yet, he emerges victorious. We are assured that death has been defeated. We serve a King who grieves with us and has assured us of the coming redemption and restoration; when children are no longer buried, when tears no longer flow, and when senseless actions are put to death. This is our hope right now. We cling to the God who came as the most innocent of children and now lives as the mightiest of Kings.

…Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

As Common as the Sun Rising in the East

The Sun rising in the East is to humanity as suffering and persecution is to Christianity. Do you believe this statement?

I recently attended Secret Church: The Cross and Suffering at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. I cannot even begin to unpack all that I learned and that I am continuing to learn from my time there. Suffice it to say, David Platt could be a professional auctioneer and we covered 220-something pages and 75 key texts in 1 night. Now, we all know that I am a Nerd (yes, that’s “nerd” with a capital “N”), but whoa Nelly! my mind was so moving so fast that night that I think a little bit of it is still spinning trying to comprehend everything that I learned. Perhaps that is why I took no less than 4 trips to the main office building today at work in 20 minutes because I kept forgetting something. Yes, that sounds like a good excuse.

Now, my last post was about my love of old hymns, more specifically I reposted a montage of old hymns and their lyrics as they display the Gospel message. The reason I love old hymns and the reason I love Secret Church are one in the same. They both speak concentrated truth that penetrates my mind and soul. There is something unique about the eloquence and unabashed lyrics in old hymns just as there is something unique about uniting with 50,000 people in 70 countries to learn together, pray for the persecuted Church, and worship God by devoting ourselves to His Word.

One of the highlights of Secret Church is the opportunity for believers around the world to learn about a specific region or country where believers face persecution. This time Nik Ripken enlightened us on the Horn of Africa and his 20+ year experience working there. I highly recommend reading some of Nik’s written work like here and here.

Previously, I would pray that persecuted believers would stop being persecuted. Dumb. They are persecuted because they are proclaiming Jesus’ name. Jesus never promises that we won’t be persecuted, he actually promises that the best we can hope for is to die on the cross like Him (John 15:20). The only way to prevent persecution and suffering is to stop talking about Jesus. I know this is already a long post, but please read this story below as I cannot tell it any better:

[…]After hearing story after gripping story, he was compelled to ask this group of pastors and lay leaders, “Why have you cheated us in the West? Why haven’t you written these stories down? Where are the books that chronicle your faith and persecution? These stories are worthy of a movie. These are Bible stories come to life! Why have you not shared these lessons learned?”

As Common as the Sun Rising in the East
His outburst was greeted with confused silence. The pastors and lay leaders were dumbfounded. Most of the people simply ignored the embarrassing questions and the harshness of the challenge. Finally, one brother stood up, took the interviewer by the arm, and drew him to the end of the large room by the eastern window of the dwelling. Looking out at the horizon, the man spoke calmly to the interviewer: “Sir, when your sons were growing up, how many mornings did you take them to the window of your house and say to them, ‘Look, boys, the sun is coming up in the east this morning?’”

The interviewer found the question silly. “Well, I never once did that,” he answered. “Had I done that, my sons would have thought I had lost my mind, because the sun always comes up in the east!” Gently, the wise brother made his point: “Sir, that is why we talk little of our persecution and suffering. That is why we have not written our stories down. And that is why we have not made a movie. Our persecution is always with us. It simply comes as we walk with Jesus. It is like the sun coming up in the east.

“Besides,” he continued, “when did you Christians in the West stop reading the Bible? Our stories have already been told. God has already told all of us what we need to know about persecution and suffering.”

To say the interviewer was deeply humbled belabors the obvious. But the truth found a way into his heart and he was changed that day.

What kind of person sees persecution as biblical, expected, and hardly worth mentioning? Clearly, a person steeped in the story of scripture and well-acquainted with God. We would be wise to listen and learn the lessons. Source/Full Article

Wow. Needless to say, my view and my approach of prayer with the persecuted church has been changed. My understanding of missions work in unreached and unengaged people groups has grown, but with that comes a weight to support them in their work in ways that I do not yet understand fully – How do I pray for someone to lead another person to Christ knowing full well that it means their death?

The simple, yet oh so very complicated answer is because He is worth it all.

What is Secret Church?

Pray for the Horn