Categories
General

Becoming Children of God

14681857_10153978067372944_4684387197893552403_n

A friend of mine recently told me that he had a conversation with someone online who told him that it was possible to become a child of God.  He was very interested in this idea and asked me what I thought about it.  I explained that, with the girls that we had adopted, I felt that we had just a little bit of understanding of how God brings us into his family.

Since that conversation, he and some of his friends moved to a new place to live, so my wife and I went to visit and I took a few thoughts along with me to share about this idea of being children of God.

The first of those thoughts comes from John 1 where John says this about Jesus:

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 1:9-13

John starts out by stating that the created didn’t recognize its own Creator.  The one who made everything, who even came in the form of a human being to help us understand Him better, wouldn’t be understood by us.  We wouldn’t receive him and accept him for who he was and is.

But there were a small number of people who did see, understand, and believed, and it was those people who are children of God.

I think my friend thought that we meant this in some physical way.  That somehow we were saying that God was a physical father.  But of course that isn’t what John is saying here.  We are all simply everyday humans.  We all walk around and do normal things just as anyone else would.

The difference is that we see who Jesus is.  We commit our lives to him, and we follow.  We do our best to love him and obey him.  And because we do this, because we put our faith in him, God gives us a spiritually legal right to be called His children.  We are spiritually adopted and brought into God’s family with all of the rights of a child to a Father.

 

Categories
General

Wind and Waves

Boat with 125 Syrian refugees arrives in Italy

I’m not sure why I hadn’t realized how much of a personal connection that this story would have for my friends.

This particular week, we were reading in Mark 4 where Jesus and his disciples, who had already been standing in a boat to teach all of the people that had gathered around, had decided to leave the crowds and go to the other side of the lake.  Jesus had been tired, so he had gone to sleep, but as they were sailing, a storm came up and the water started to quickly come into the boat as the waves crashed over the side.  Not knowing what to do, the disciples woke Jesus up, thinking that he was aloof to their situation.  Jesus wakes up, tells the storm and the seas to be calm, and it happens!  Of course, the disciples are amazed, even terrified, and they ask each other who this is that even the wind and waves obey him?

As we were discussing this story, one of my friends explained that this was similar to what had happened as their boat had set out onto the sea from the coast of Libya.  He said that they were in a small boat, but that the traffickers had packed 150 people onto it.  They had been out to sea for two days when a storm had come up.  The people were already weak after their time in the boat, but through the night as the storm battered and tossed their little boat, they lost more than half of the people who had been journeying with them.  They all thought that they were going to die and everyone was calling out to God that He would save them.

The storm finally calmed, but it left their boat broken and their spirits depleted as they had lost one person after the next.  Their supplies were gone and they remained at sea for another two days without food or water, something they had already been rationing among themselves, even before the storm.  Now they were drifting and people were dying around them.  In all, when they were finally rescued, only 15 people remained alive in the boat.

There were no words that I could use to adequately respond to this story.  How can we even begin to understand seeing 90% of the people that you have started a journey with die before your eyes?  The only thing that I could manage to say is that God must have a plan for their lives.

This is what we believe and are hoping for.  I can’t explain why all of those people in the boat would lose their lives, but our hope is that God will use these remaining friends of ours to bring hope and blessing, with lives that fully follow Jesus, to make God known to people here and across the face of the earth.  God has brought them to this place, has blessed them and spared their lives, and now has a plan to use them just as He has used us, and in even greater ways.  May God make it so, and soon!

Categories
General

Getting things done in Catania

A balanced perspective is necessary to get some things done in Catania.

Categories
General

Answering the Trump Ban on Refugees

europe-refugee-crisis-father-and-baby-caritas-greece_opt_fullstory_large

Facebook has been on fire about Trump’s recent ban on refugees.  Some people love the idea of keeping refugees out, especially those from Muslim countries.  Some people can’t believe this is happening in America.

For those that are appalled by this action, is any of this really that surprising?  I mean, come on.  As a regular ol’ American, how many refugees do any of us really know?  Or asked another way, how many Muslims do most of us coming from a Christian background actually know.  Sure, maybe you work with someone from a Muslim background, but do you really know them?  I would dare say that the answer, for most people, is that we actually know few to none.

I can say this because this is my story as well.  I now live in Catania, Italy and am around refugees from a Muslim background very frequently.  I know from experience that an extremely high percentage of the people that I come into contact with are just regular people.  They just want to not be caught in violence, or have a better life in some way.  In many ways, I enjoy hanging out with these people from a refugee and Muslim background as much, if not more, than many others that I am connected with.

But that wasn’t always the case.  I can’t say that I really *knew* too many Muslim people when I lived in America.  I can’t say that I spent a lot of time with refugees while there.  In fact, the majority of my experience with people from a Muslim background while I lived in America was what the media told me, and what the media told me was that buildings were blowing up and falling down, that people were being shot, that wars were happening and many good people were dying trying to fight back against the militant Islamic people.

Our brains quickly generalize.  We easily think that all Muslims come from a militant background and are the same, no matter who you are talking about.

Most of us know that isn’t true, but as long as we don’t personally have any examples to the contrary, we aren’t able to actually make a dent in the fear that leads to situations like refugees being cut off from America.

So I’m directly speaking to the people who are appalled by what they are seeing in the politics in America.  If you truly do not like what you are seeing, you have an opportunity to begin making a difference.  You can start the process of changing what you do not like.  Not by posting your opinions on Facebook.  Not by sharing the next news article.  In my opinion, none of those things make any difference at all.  It isn’t about making your voice heard, it is about taking action.  If you are so offended, here are some ideas:

  • Figure out where there are refugees in the area, especially those that come from a Muslim background.
  • Deliberately go and meet them.  Spend time with them.  Get to know them.  Share your life with them.
  • Take someone else with you and teach them to do the same thing.

If you want to actually make a difference, you have to lead the way.  You must act, and it will be personal.  If you do that, and take some other people and teach them to do the same thing, you will make a difference.  That is how you will affect the politics that you are seeing now.  You can make a change for the future.  I believe this is the way forward that will make a difference.

Categories
General

Obeying Jesus’s Commands – Be Reconciled

reconciliation-coventry-statue-closeup

Pride is one of the most powerful forces in the world.  When we come into conflict with one another, pride becomes quickly noticeable within ourselves, even when we don’t want to admit it.  We feel that we are justified in our actions, and even if we are having a difficult time coming up with good reasons for the justification, we will work on it in our own heads until we come up with a good way to justify it.

That is why it becomes so difficult to reconcile with one another.  Frequently, the situaiton itself is long gone and over with, and in the grand scheme of things happening around us may have been pretty trivial from the beginning.  But it is our pride that prevents us from moving forward to reconciling with that other person and prevents repairing and reestablishing our relationship with them.

When that happens, we tend to just move on with our lives, preferring to just allow that other person, if they want to somehow reconcile with us, to come back to us.  We feel we can just go on in our relationship with others and continue our relationship with God without a problem.

I think this is the type of situation that Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

Matthew 5:23-24

Just before this, Jesus had said, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”  So Jesus is clearly putting a high priority on reconcilitation with this brother or sister.  He is saying that we must repair and mend that relationship before we are to continue on.  In fact, that is more important to coming to the altar of God.  He says that we should leave the gift for God in front of the altar and first be reconciled, and then come back.

How would our lives change if we did this?  How would the lives and the community of those around us change if we did this?  What if, instead of broken relationships all around us, we lived in a world where reconciliation was the norm?

As it turns out, we have the power to make that change, both in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us in our community.

Categories
General

Obeying Jesus’s Commands – Shine

pexels-photo-11519

As someone from the Midwestern part of the United States, this command at first seems counterintuitive to me.  One of the things that I think Americans generally, and Midwesterners in particular, deem offensive is someone who is a boasts about themselves, who not only does good things, but then goes on to tell other people what they have done.

Jesus had gone to Galilee, was healing people, and he was beginning to become known around the area.  At this time, as he was standing on the side of a mountain, his disciples came up to him and sat down and Jesus began teaching them.

Fairly early in the course of the teaching, Jesus tells them that, as his disciples, they are the light of the world and that they should let their light shine for the world.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

My natural inclination is to go the other direction and, instead of allowing a light to shine, to still want to do something good but to be completely anonymous and hide the deeds.  So, this command feels a little strange to me.

I think I begin to reconcile this though by looking at what Jesus has been doing up to the point that he begins teaching.  What we see is that he has already been performing many different types of miracles, healing people and curing them of all sorts of different types of sicknesses.  These are things that only God can do.  Only God can provide the type of power required to miraculously and instantaneously heal someone from the disease that they have.

As Jesus was healing people, he was demonstrating the power of the Kingdom of God.  He is showing that he himself is the King of that Kingdom, as he is the one who has and is demonstrating that power.  Like any king, Jesus has the ability to designate and delegate that power, but here, he is simply helping the disciples to understand the nature of their identity.  Eventually, he will ask them to act in the same way that he has acted by demonstrating the power and giving them the authority and ability to heal others just as he has, but for now, he wants them to know that they are the hope and light of the world.

Of course, this isn’t just about healing people.  This is about the way that they will live their lives.  Everything that they do will be seen, and it is what others see that will help determine the extent to which others will give glory to God.

And that is what this is all about in the first place, and is truly the explanation.  Jesus is assuming that the glory that is received when the light is shone is not intended for this disciple who is being told to shine the light.  Instead, he says that it is God who will receive the glory for their actions.  Others will look and see these ordinary people, people who come from everyday types of backgrounds, who are living lives of hope, lives of power inside of the Kingdom of God, lives that actually give life to others, and they will rightly recognize that this has nothing to do with that individual person but have everything to do with what God is doing in them and through them.  And when they see this, they will glorify God, not the person who is shining the light that they have been given.

So what does that mean for us?  Do we just walk around and trying to just find opportunities to do good deeds?  To look for ways to shine the light?

I think that is certainly part of the equation, but personally, I’ve tried this and doing it exclusively, and I think that it falls short.  Instead, I think that you have to be intentional.  You have to plan and execute.  And you have to speak and tell the stories of God as well.  Otherwise, at least in my experience, we have days that turn to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years that do not have the impact that we really hope for.  The light shone can be very small, and therefore the glory that God receives is similar.  We must be intentional in the deeds that we act out, speak of the stories where we saw God acting, and give Him the glory for what He has done!

Categories
General

Obeying Jesus’s Commands – Follow

follow_the_leader_71982747

The commands of Jesus have a way of reverberating through the centuries, even those that he gave to some fishermen as he was walking along the seashore.

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”

Given other things that Jesus told his disciples to do, including making other disciples, I tend to believe that, while he was just speaking to a few fishermen at the time, he certainly didn’t mean that this command was restricted to them.  Instead, I think that this was command that was intended for every one of us.

One of the great things about this command is that it is functionally not very difficult.  In fact, pretty straight forward:  Follow.  OK.

But it isn’t easy.  It assumes that you either don’t have anything else happening and all of the time in the world on your hands, or that you are willing to prioritize someone else’s agenda ahead of your own.  And there is the rub.  Most people really do have other ideas, other plans, other things that they have imagined for their lives.

But now we have this guy who seems to think that he has a better idea about how I should be spending my time – spending my life – better than I do.  Now the bar is quite a bit higher.  Now we’re not kidding around, this is serious, and I had better be pretty darned sure that this is what I want to do.

This is a decision that we are all faced with.  What does it mean for each of us to follow this command?  Only you can decide as you have that conversation with Jesus.  He isn’t here physically, but I believe that he intends to lead each of us just like he was going to lead these fishermen and others that he would call to follow him, and like them, we each have to decide how we will respond.  In this situation, we see these fishermen put down their nets, walk away, and start to follow Jesus.  That is an amazing response!  I wonder if they are the exception or the rule.  Did Jesus call a bunch more who didn’t immediately follow?  We don’t know, but I would have to imagine that is the case.

If you’re being analytical about this choice, the ultimate question becomes, “Is it worth it?”, and I suppose the answer depends on what you’re after.  Jesus promises life, and to give it to us to the full.  Do you have that already?

He also promised the fishermen to teach them to fish for people.  Following Jesus has something to do with other people, with catching them as Jesus would, given that he is the one doing the teaching!

So this is what Jesus is offering as our leader.  This and so much more that I won’t mention here.  But it means that we have to set aside our plans and follow.  Not only once, but ongoing.  This certainly isn’t easy, but to the extent that I understand and have experience in obeying this command and following Jesus, I can tell you that I think it is worth it!

Categories
General

21 Years and Counting

bty

Today is our 21st wedding anniversary!  This last year has been filled with some amazing joys and some significant challenges for us.  I think we would both say that it has, at times, put our resolve for our marriage to the test, but we’re still standing.  Somewhat jokingly, we said last night that survival can sometimes be considered success, but we have been committed to getting through the challenges for the purpose of living our lives together, both for the good of ourselves, our family, and to God’s glory.

Here is to many more years of our crazy life together!

Categories
General

Obeying Jesus’s Commands – Repentance

60935

At the end of his time on earth, Jesus told the eleven disciples who were left that they were to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that he has commanded.

So that creates a question…what did Jesus command?  What was his expectation of the things that those newly made disciples were to do?

Jesus was in the wilderness, having been baptized by John and tempted by Satan but not sinning.  Now, Matthew says that he begins to preach and starts with his first command:

Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

I think it is interesting that this is the exact same thing that John the Baptist was also saying.  In fact that was John’s primary message, to call people to repentance, and now Jesus is saying it as well, so clearly there is some importance to it.

So what are we talking about here?  What does it mean to repent and follow this command?

If we look back to story of what John was doing in calling people to repentance in Matthew 3, we see that the people would go out to him and confess their sins.  My guess is that they don’t really know John that well, so it seems a little bit strange to me that they would do this, but in any case, this is what was happening.  They were telling of the things that they had done wrong and how they had ignored God and His commandments.

As Matthew is telling the story of John, there is a contrast drawn between the people who were going out to confess their sins and be baptized and the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees.  John ends up calling them a brood of vipers and tells them that they should produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  It seems that these leaders would require religious actions but wouldn’t humble themselves to be repentant for their own sins, preferring instead to believe and require more religious acts in an attempt to gain approval with God.

But now both John and Jesus are saying that what God really wants is repentance.  He wants us to turn away from our sins.  To not be proud before God but to tell Him that we are sorry for what we have done, ask God for forgiveness, and start living a new, changed life that leaves behind those things that we have repented of.

So, if we are to teach others the commands of Christ, I think what we can learn here is that the place to start is to teach them repentance.  This is the place that both John and Jesus started and will be the place where God will start with each of us.  If we come to Him with a repentant heart, then God can forgive us and mold us into the people He wants us to become.  If not, He will not force you to become a different person and will likely just allow you to continue on as you are for as long as you prefer.

Categories
General

Four Soils – Weeds of Affluence

buckhornRecently, a friend of mine decided that he wanted to follow Jesus, but he had a serious roadblock arise in that his only remaining family member, who happened to be the person who raised him since he was a small boy, told him that if he were to decide to follow through with his plans to be baptized, he would disown him as family and he should not call him again.

As you can imagine, this sent my friend into a bit of a tailspin.  This was very difficult for him to hear.  I don’t think he realized how significant of a division that his decision to follow Jesus could cause.

That night, as he was telling me of this situation, we had planned to read the words of Jesus about the four soils.  This story is found in full in Matthew 13:1-23, but in summary, Jesus told a parable of a farmer who sowed seeds, which fell on four different types of soil:

  1. A path that had been walked over, creating hard ground that the seed couldn’t penetrate into.
  2. Rocky soil where the seed couldn’t penetrate and create a root into the ground.
  3. Soil that had many thorns and weeds in it.
  4. Good soil that was ready to receive the seed and grow a large harvest.

In the case of my friend, the story remains to be seen but seems to be going in a good direction.  And we are praying for his family member, that their heart will be softened to accept my friend and the decision that he has made.

Of course, with my friend, we were concerned that the seed had fallen onto soil that had the thorns and weeds, which in this case would be the family relationships.  In other words, would the strain of this relationship cause my friend to not follow Jesus?  We would need to see whether that was the case, or if his heart actually was good soil so that a great harvest, not only of his life but also many others, could be achieved.

At the same time, I have other friends who have been around churches for quite a while, and I have heard some of them profess their faith in Christ, but now they are questioning why, exactly, they need God at all.  They have said that they have been able to figure out solutions to all of their problems on their own based on their own resources and intelligence.

These are also some significant and powerful weeds.  It is pretty ironic, but I think that it is very possible to become so lulled into apathy by the blessing that we have been given, no matter how small or large, that we can forget where that blessing actually comes from.  God is the one who gives us everything that we have.  To believe that you have generated all of your own solutions, blessings, monies, etc., is really to have a misunderstanding of your life, your abilities, and your capabilities.  Of course, every life is different, but there will likely come a time during your life when you will need to decide who is actually delivering that blessing.  You?  Or God?  And at that time, it will become clear that all of this affluence, while it has been an amazing blessing to you, has actually become like the weeds on the story of Jesus, crowding out seed that God has been trying to sow in your life.

So my hope is that we will all learn this now, learn that it is God who gives us what we have and that it will all one day be gone, so now we need to decide how we will use these blessings.  To follow Him and produce the crop that the good soil will produce?  Or to simply enjoy the blessings for ourselves, solely living our lives the way that we would like and turning away from what God is doing in us?  We each need to decide.