Tuesday, October 4, 2016

i'm a grandpa!

alex, rosibel, and baby madison
before you read that title and draw another conclusion, let me explain :)

if you are familiar with us and our work in the village on buena vista, you probably know rosibel.  she has been like my own daughter for many years.  after losing her father when she was young, she has a lived a life that many would consider tragic.  but she made the best of things with an incredible grit and determination.  not to mention maintaining a joyful spirit and beautiful smile.

here's a couple stories i've written about her if you'd like to check them out. one from august 2012, and another from december 2010...

i will never forget the first time i heard God tell me to take special care of this girl.  it was 2010, and we were walking to a nearby village where rosibel's grandma lives.  as we quietly walked the long trail, she reached out to hold my hand.  she didn't say a word, just held my hand for the next 10-15 minutes as we walked.

i looked back at kerrie at one point (walking close behind us) and saw tears in her eyes.  we knew rosibel's story.  we knew she needed a daddy.

the last 6 years with rosibel have been special.  during that entire time, she has been together with alex, one of our rhinos (read a little about him here).  alex, aka "pastor", graduated from the rhinos in 2014.  all things considered, its been a really good relationship.  with alex being a rhino, and rosibel being like our own, we've had tons of opportunities to invest in their lives. 

when they told us they were expecting a baby, we were a little disappointed and a little happy.  in this culture, marriage doesn't always come before babies.  rephrase... marriage never comes before babies.

of course i agree that sex before marriage is wrong...  but there's more to it than that.  in extreme poverty, people don't officially get married because of the costs associated to it.  the expense is literally the only reason that weddings/marriages aren't common.  even the cost to go to the courthouse and register your marriage is too much for most couples to afford.

so people typically begin life together without taking the formal steps.  arguably not the right thing to do, but understandable at the same time.  unfortunately, in extreme poverty, things such as these don't get to fit in a nice, neat box.  

part of our job as missionaries is helping people get to the heart of the matter through a relationship with jesus, while not forcing our privileged way of doing everything.  so with regards to rosibel and alex, we walked them through seeking forgiveness for having sex before marriage, while staying positive and encouraging them regarding the beginning of their new family.

in one of those "counseling times", alex emotionally told me how thankful he is for his time in the boys academy.  he told me that being a rhino molded him into the man that he is.  he told me that the husband, soon-to-be father, and christian that he is... is all due to the years he was in the academy learning about jesus and life.  he said he learned how to be a husband and dad by watching the men here at the academy.  holding rosibel's hand, he promised me that he would take care of her always.
  
baby madison alexandra was born a few months ago.  when we went over to see her the day after she was born, rosibel handed her to me and said "diga hola a tu abuelito", which means "say hi to your grandpa."

my heart was overwhelmed.

God willing, baby madison (named after my oldest daughter) will grow up a lot different than rosibel did.  her dad - a rhino forever- will love her, protect her, and lead her to jesus.

and i'm sure she'll have the same grit and determination as her mom.  yes- baby madison has hope,  tremendous hope.  

and she has a proud gringo abuelo too.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

colin kaepernick, the presidential election, and the american christian

a few years ago, i had a conversation with a friend back in the states.  clearly upset, he told me how the country was in trouble... how religious liberties are being taken away, christians are being punished for making decisions based on their beliefs, laws founded on general christian principles are being overturned, and the government is aiming to monitor and regulate christians, churches and christian organizations.  things are headed in a terrible direction, he told me.

when i responded "maybe that's what we need", he looked at me like i was crazy.  i suggested that maybe a little bit of persecution could actually start a revival.  maybe some pain/suffering would help ignite the true Jesus followers, and even rid the church of the "lukewarms" who, in the long run, are actually hurting the faith by softening its message.  (rev 3:15-16)

i'd be lying if i told you my friend thought i had made a good point.  i think he politely said something like "yeah, maybe", and then changed the subject...

but similar thoughts have swirled in my heart for years.  sometimes i write about them in this blog, and sometimes in my personal journal.  currently, stuff like the chaos of the american presidential race, and a pro athlete refusing to sing the national anthem in protest against injustice, bring a lot of these thoughts to light again.

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my brother chad sent me an interesting article about the colin kaepernick story.  basically the author makes the argument that, as christians, our full allegiance should be to Jesus - and nothing else.  he points to the early church who submitted to state, prayed for its officials, and followed its laws...  but regularly pointed out the injustices and failures of government in light of the teachings of Jesus.  they understood that their allegiance - and hope - rested in Christ alone.

the article describes the book of revelation as "an aggressive critique of government, written by a pastor imprisoned for his lack of patriotism."  it goes on to say that "John boldly lambasts Rome for its immorality, greed, pride, excessive luxury, and addiction to military might that stained the world with blood to secure its interests."

in general, the author is asking for a deeper look not only into whether or not kaepernick's protest is productive, but if christians can actually learn something from it.  even though the argument that he is "disrespecting the country and what it stands for" is understandable, is protesting a serious injustice by not standing for the national anthem such a horrible thing to do?  maybe it's actually a christian thing to do.

kaepernick has stated numerous times that he is thankful for the military, and for his american
freedom.  even military officials and veterans who have met with him have said that he is being respectful in his approach.  i personally think he has made some big mistakes in the delivery of his message.

are there any trump supporters out there that admit donald makes (big) mistakes in his delivery, even though his position has merit?  if so, it may be wise to extend some grace to kaepernick, and consider the actual message instead of the style of the messenger.

which leads me to wonder...  for those who are most upset about all of this, what is the bigger issue  - that kaepernick is disrespecting the country by refusing to stand for the anthem, or that they don't see the recent acts of police brutality against blacks as a legitimate cause?

if the latter, i don't even know what to say other than... "seriously?"

if the former, i am a little more empathetic.  i understand the personal and emotional significance, especially for veterans and others who have loved ones serving in the military.  its easy - and understandable - to feel slighted when someone dishonors the flag in light of how many people have been killed or injured defending it.

however, for american christians, i am always amazed at how deeply infuriated we get about stuff like this, while remaining comparatively silent on scores of issues that are much more closely connected the heart of Jesus.  what about unreached people groups?  extreme poverty?  sex trafficking?  sexual immorality?  innocent families fleeing terrorists?  getting the bible to countries where christianity is illegal?  the orphan crisis in the world?    

it reminds me of a chick-fil-a story a few years back, when republican christians packed every chick-fil-a on the planet to support ceo dan cathy's comments in opposition to same sex marriage.  not that its a bad thing to support a restaurant (or product) that shares your beliefs - nothing wrong with that at all.  its the passionate outrage about these issues that seems misplaced.  again, comparatively speaking.

could you imagine how effectively we could address these bigger issues if people were as passionate about them as they are colin kaepernick not standing for the anthem?  ironically, some are so upset with him because of their cause that they won't give his cause any consideration whatsoever.

at the end of the day, its the attack on "rights and freedoms" that people get so worked-up about.  several people have explained that to me over the years when this type of conversation comes up - that the issue is one of rights.  but if we can think of ourselves as simply christians for a minute (not as americans), what exactly are our rights anyway?  what are we owed?  what are we guaranteed?  what are we promised?

its critically important that we identify as christians first, keeping in mind that God's word applies to all cultures and nationalities.

the assurances of scripture must take precedent over the assurances of state.

our devotion to Jesus must precede our devotion to america.

our allegiance to country must not even compare to our allegiance to God.

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a couple weeks ago, my friend mark passed along another article my way.  you can read the whole thing here, but again, i'll give a short summary.

basically, the author is making the case that the "patriotic gospel", like the prosperity gospel, is just another false gospel.  its a gospel that worships freedom and rights.  its a gospel that implies christians should have an easy existence, and their security should come from government.

i think the writer's points below warrant some good consideration:

The patriotic gospel is a gospel that pays lip service to a god that is in control, but heavy on emotions that say man is who protects us.


It’s a gospel that suggests living out and sharing your faith is dependent on having the freedom to do so.
It’s a gospel that looks to the government, rather than the church or the home, to do the heavy lifting on matters of faith.
It’s a gospel that suggests without conservative Supreme Court justices, or without guns, or without a strong military that life will be unbearable for Christians.
It’s a gospel that suggests one’s greatest source of identity and value can be found in one’s nationality.
It’s a gospel that laments the loss of prayer in schools, rather than the lack of prayer at home.
It’s a gospel that dreads a future in which Christians are persecuted for sharing their faith, but puts no real emphasis on sharing it now.
It’s a gospel that says it’s better to silence opponents than minister to them.
It’s a gospel that looks to Fox News for truth, rather than the Bible.
It’s a gospel that calls for blood when someone “disrespects” the national anthem.
It’s a gospel that says persecution is having to hear someone say “happy holidays.”
It’s a gospel that says eating at Chick-fil-A counts as living out your faith.
Friends, it’s simply a false gospel.
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my conversation several years ago was with a friend who was worried about christians in america losing their rights.  i think thousands if not millions of american christians feel the same way.  and for sure, things are happening that validate their reasoning.

but we must not forget that, as christians, suffering is essential to everything we believe!  in fact, i would go as far to say that suffering makes the christian faith relevant.

maybe that's a big statement, but i think its true.  absent of suffering, christianity would be, in large part, irrelevant.

our faith becomes most relevant when it is rejected and persecuted against.  when christianity is safe, comfortable, protected, and made easy, it becomes inconsequential and ineffective.

christians were never promised safety and security.  we were never promised freedom and rights.  we were never promised a comfortable or privileged life.

what we were promised, was hatred!  we were promised persecution, trials and conflict.  we were called to suffer.

in matthew chapter 10, Jesus says we are like sheep sent out among wolves!  he says men will deliver us over to the courts...  we will be hated for His sake (but the ones who endure will be saved)...  he says do not fear them who can only kill the body, but fear he who can kill the body and the soul in hell.

and thats not even the toughest part!  it goes on...

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

one response to Jesus' teaching in matthew 10 is to turn away, and call it nonsense.  fair enough.  but an unacceptable response is to claim to be a christian, and then live in such a way that denies it.

many american christians purposefully avoid, and fight hard to protect against, the very things Jesus called us to embrace!  and we justify it because of the freedoms and rights come with being american.

i understand the conundrum.  i get the fact that as american citizens we expect american laws to be upheld.  as american citizens we defend those rights, and thats ok.  but waaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy before we identify as americans, we MUST identify as christians.

our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the lord Jesus Christ.  (philippians 3:20)

...you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.  (ephesians 2:19)

we must reject a soft, american-version of christianity that whines and complains every time our "rights" are violated.  while we may have rights as americans, we certainly don't have any as christians.  and we are christians first and foremost.

the good news?  for those of us who are willing to give up our rights and freedoms for Christ's sake, we are also promised:  joy, peace, grace, forgiveness, unconditional love, and eternal life.

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as an american, i am thankful for a country that provides freedoms that are unmatched anywhere in the world.  i realize that such privilege is extremely uncommon, which makes the USA a very special place.  and i certainly honor those who have given their lives protecting our wonderful nation.

you see, it's possible to be both a patriotic american and a passionate follower of Jesus.  its the prioritization of the two the matters.  remember, Jesus said our love for him should make our love for our own kids look like hate!  considering how much i love my kids, it seems impossible for me to even grasp what my love for jesus should look like.

that's exactly how i think of allegiance to my country compared to allegiance to my King.  much more than i am an american, i am a follower of Jesus Christ.  and no matter where on the map i was born, i know that as a christian i am owed nothing.  i am willing to lose my life (my rights, my freedoms, and my pursuit of happiness) for His sake.

i do believe that more persecution towards christians in america is coming.  but instead of crying foul when our "rights" are violated, as christians, we should consider it an honor.

for blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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THE MESSAGE, 1 PETER:4 12-13 Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.
14-16 If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name!
17-19 It’s judgment time for God’s own family. We’re first in line. If it starts with us, think what it’s going to be like for those who refuse God’s Message!
If good people barely make it,
What’s in store for the bad?
So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’ll keep on doing it.

more on the topic