Love Your Wife After You’re Gone

I love my wife.

I met Dawn when I was 14.  By age 16, I was, to use a word from the old movie Bambi, hopelessly twitterpated.  We dated for 4 years, and we have now been married for over 40 years.

I love her, and I would do anything for her.

And I want to do some things for her now that will show my love for her after I’m dead.

I don’t know the future, of course, but there is a good chance that I will die before she does.  About 80% of married men will die before their wives.  Sadly, I’ve ministered to and helped many widows who were completely unprepared for life after their husband died, especially if he took care of the family finances.

Some of the men, frankly, had done a horrible job of preparing for their wives after their death.  They had structured their finances in such a way that much of the family income died when they died.  Or they had spent so much of their retirement while they were alive that there was little left when they were gone.  Or they had left their finances in such poor shape that even an accountant would have had a hard time putting together a plan.

Other men had done a good job with their finances, but a poor job of communicating details to their wives, so many widows had no clue about their basic financial issues.  How much was still owed (if anything) on the house?  Was there any life insurance, and, if so, how much?  Where did he keep the copies of paperwork such as wills, life insurance paperwork, and paid–and unpaid–bills?  How much money was in checking, savings, investments, and retirement accounts?  How were those accounts accessed?  How were the pensions set-up to deal with death?

One man I knew was relatively organized, and he kept all of his financial dealings on his computer . . . but no one knew his password.

I don’t want Dawn to have to deal with the tough issues I’ve seen other widows deal with.  I’ve planned my finances so that there should be adequate money after I’m gone.  I’ve taught my children that the most important thing to do after I’m gone is to take care of their mom.   And I have put together a notebook with all pertinent information that she will need to know.  She knows where it is, and copies of it are given each year to my two oldest daughters.  (My kids laughingly call it the “Dad’s Dead Notebook.”)  In the notebook, she will find these things, which I update at least once per year:

  • A “net worth” statement.  This shows the value of all of our assets (accounts, our home, our cars, our retirement accounts, etc.) and our liabilities (loans, credit cards, etc.)  A glance (it’s not that complicated since we have no debts other than our mortgage) and she knows our overall financial situation.

  • A list of all our accounts of all types.  This list gives all pertinent information.  For bank accounts, I give the type of account, name of the bank, account numbers, and how I access it–including passwords if I use it online.  I include all utility accounts, with a list of how each utility is paid and when auto-payments come out of our accounts.  I even include my social media accounts, so she can access and close them out.

  • A summary of wills, insurance, and retirements accounts.  My wife is, of course, the primary beneficiary of all that I own, so I want her to know who to call and what to do if I die.  The list also gives the location of the original paperwork.

  • A statement of my funeral wishes.  She won’t have to wonder what I want, who to talk to, what songs to sing.  She knows, for example, that I don’t want a viewing and that I do want to be cremated.  It’s flexible enough that she can still make decisions, but it’s specific enough that she knows that I don’t want any extra money spent.

  • A final love note.

 I love my wife.  And I want her to know that.

Even after I’m gone.

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The Christian and Civil Disobedience

Twice in my recent sermon series (Basic Christian Growth, based on the Book of Acts) and once in my Christmas series (when we got to the Magi), I made a comment that raised some eyebrows.  I said, “If there is a conflict between the law of the land and the command of God, we must choose to obey God.”   I based this on the clear teaching of the Bible.  The Apostles chose to disobey the Sanhedrin in Israel and the Magi chose to obey God instead of reporting back to King Herod as they had been instructed.

Apparently, many people started thinking about these things and asking me questions.  “When is it appropriate to disobey the law of your nation?”  “How do you justify it to yourself and others if you do so?”  “Is what is typically called ‘civil disobedience’ in American life appropriate for the Christian?  And, several made it personal, “Would you—Pastor Jack—ever commit an act of civil disobedience?”

It is a touchy subject for Americans, for we like to see ourselves as a Christian Nation and we have therefore equated obeying the law with obeying God.  And there is strong Biblical justification for doing so, for there are many passages such as this one from the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:1-2, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”  Peter said something very similar in 1 Peter 2:13-14, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

Clearly, the default position for believers is to obey the law of the land.  This is what God wants for us, and He has promised that He will bring judgment on those who disobey.

Nevertheless, there are numerous examples of civil disobedience in the Bible.  And there are enough of them for us to take notice and modify our thinking about obeying the law of the land:

  • The Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1 (Shiphrah and Puah) refused to kill baby boys as they had been instructed by the Pharaoh.

  • Rahab refused to obey the King of Jericho and turn in the Hebrew spies; instead she hid them and helped them escape. (Joshua 2)

  • A prophet named Obadiah hid 100 of the Lord’s prophets from Jezebel, in direct disobedience to the Queen. (I Kings 18)

  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar and bow down before a false God. (Daniel 3)

  • Daniel was told he couldn’t pray to God; he did so. (Daniel 6)

  • Jesus, of course, was crucified because He defied Roman and Jewish law.

  • And the entire New Testament was, at least in part, a declaration of the believer’s right to obey God rather than man and to preach Jesus even if it led to imprisonment, beatings, or death. (See Acts 4:18-20 and Acts 5:29, in which Peter declared, “We must obey God rather than human beings.”

The “default” position of the believer is to obey the law of the land, but there is a clear exception to that position.  When there is a conflict between God’s law and man’s law, we must choose to obey God’s law rather than man’s law.  It may bring penalties and even death and we willingly take that risk, but our ultimate allegiance is to God.

That exception, however, is not to be taken lightly.  We cannot claim—apart from clear Biblical support—that God led us to disobey a law of the land.  We cannot take verses out of context to support our right to disobey a law of the land we do not like.  It is not enough to claim some vague spiritual sense of direction from God that is not supported by Scripture.  If we are going to choose to disobey a law of the land, we need clear and overwhelming Biblical support to do so.

Martin Luther King, Jr., thought deeply about this issue.  In his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, he described civil disobedience in terms of “unjust laws.” He says that there are both “just” laws and “unjust laws.”  An unjust law “is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” of God.  We are obligated both morally and legally to obey just laws, but we have a moral responsibility to resist and even disobey unjust laws when they violate God’s law.

That’s why Shiphrah, Puah, Rahab, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel, Obadiah, the Magi, Jesus, Paul, Peter, and hundreds of believers could disobey the law of their land.  They chose to obey higher and more important laws—God’s laws.

That’s why William Tyndale could honor God by translating the Bible into English at great personal risk in defiance of the King.  That’s why Harriett Tubman could defy the law of the land and lead slaves to freedom.  That’s why Corrie Ten Boom could choose to hide Jews during the holocaust.  That’s why Rosa Parks could choose to sit in front of the bus.  And that’s why millions of believers meet to worship Jesus in countries where it is illegal to do so.

We are called to obey the law of the land.  But when there is a clear conflict between the law of the land and God’s law, our greatest responsibility and ultimate allegiance is to God’s law.

Why is this important?

It’s important for us to know because we are not a perfect “Christian nation.”  Our laws will not always be in line with God’s laws.  And, to tell the truth, our laws have never been perfectly in line with God’s laws.  We’ve had laws that allowed slavery.  We’ve had laws that protected and promoted racism even after slavery was abolished.  We’ve had laws that discriminate unfairly against women.  We have laws that protect the right to abortion.  And we’ve had otherwise “just” laws that were enforced “unjustly” against minorities or to protect the rich.

We’re now beginning to see laws (or court decisions) that limit religious freedom in various ways, and our fear is that our right to evangelize and promote our faith may be curtailed, just as it was in the days of the Apostles.  We will resist these laws, and even break them if necessary.

I’m not a crusader.  You’re not likely to see me marching in the streets or bringing signs to rallies.  Though I’ve been tempted, I’m not likely to run for public office to change the laws.  God’s called me to be a pastor, not (at least not yet) a politician.

But I want to make one thing perfectly clear.  My first allegiance will be to God and His laws.  So I will worship Him.  And I will accept His call to love people—all people.  I will stand up for the unborn, help the homeless, care for the aliens in our land, visit the criminals, and seek justice for those who have had it denied.  I will preach Jesus and follow Him.  I will take a stand against sin, but I will love the sinner and err—if I must err—on the side of grace

At the same time, I will love the USA and I gladly pledge allegiance to our country.  I will obey her laws, respect her leaders, pay my taxes, vote faithfully, and pray for my country.

But my first allegiance is to Jesus. If I have to commit an act of “civil disobedience” in order to follow Him, I will do so and accept whatever penalty comes my way.

I love our country, and I will follow our laws in every respect—except when they violate God’s laws.

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My Response to Sex Abuse in the Church

The Houston Chronicle published an investigative report last week detailing reports of sex abuse in Southern Baptist Churches.  It was an honest article detailing the awful trauma that comes with sex abuse, especially when it occurs in the church.  It was a horrible reminder that sex abuse is not just a Roman Catholic issue.  It is an issue that every church and every denomination must understand, deal with effectively, and take immediate and effective action to make sure that it doesn’t happen in their church.  No one can honestly say “it won’t happen here” but we must all say “we will do everything possible to make sure it doesn’t happen here.”

Before sharing what we do to make sure it won’t happen in our church, let me offer a few words to those who have been hurt by sex abuse.  It is a horrible crime with tragic results, and we will do everything we can to listen to you honestly, help you, love you, offer healing, and put behind bars those who have committed a crime.  We promise not to ignore your cries for help or to put the reputation of our church ahead of what has happened to you.

And if it happens in our church—or if we hear an accusation of sex abuse—we have already decided to immediately call in the proper authorities.  Quite simply, we are not trained to do investigations, so our response is to immediately report the accusation to our local police department.  Too many times, well-meaning but improperly-trained church leaders have tried to find out the truth and have failed.  In other cases, well-meaning church leaders have been unable to overcome their built-in bias.  And in a few tragic cases, less-than-well-meaning church leaders have made the decision that protecting the reputation of their church is more important than dealing appropriately with the abuse.

Our decision—made ahead of time—is that we will get outside help from trained investigators and cooperate fully with them if we hear of any illegal activity.

More importantly, though, we are doing everything we can to make sure that sex abuse does not happen in our church.  As a result, we have taken these steps:

  • We hold a training session every year for all of our workers who work with children.

  • We run a background check on every staff member in our church and every volunteer that works in our nursery, preschool, children, and teen ministries. No one is allowed to work with children in any capacity until they have passed a background check.

  • We insist that two approved and unrelated workers are always present when working with children. No one ever has the chance to supervise children when they are the only worker present.

  • We have windows in all of our classrooms so that parents can observe everything that is happening.

  • We do not allow private texting or social media messaging between any of our workers and a child or teen. We use only group messages that include another approved worker.

  • When we are counseling adults, we try to arrange it so that men counsel men and women counsel women. When this is not possible, we always counsel with the door open and another staff member in the vicinity.

  • We do not allow staff members of the opposite sex to travel or ride together unless there are at least three people in the vehicle. And we do not tolerate any sexual or flirtatious talk between our staff members.

The bottom line is that we want our church to be what it should be—a safe place for everyone.  We don’t want our children hurt in any way.  We don’t want our members to feel put-down or pressured.  We don’t want the reputation of our church—or of God’s work—to be tarnished in any way.

Sometimes, our guidelines hinder us or slow us down, but that’s okay.  Sometimes our guidelines mean we need additional workers, but that’s okay.  Sometimes, our guidelines mean that we don’t have enough workers to conduct a ministry that we want to do, and that’s okay also.

The safety and well-being of our members, guests, and their families are of great importance to us.  And we pray—and have adopted guidelines accordingly—so that no abuse will ever occur in our ministry.

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The Good News and Bad News About Abortion

The recent decision by the State of New York to pass an “abortion-until-birth” law has refueled our public abortion debate.  But rather than focus on the specifics of that abhorrent new law, perhaps this is a good time to back up and look at the bigger fight against abortion.

There’s both good news and bad news in the ongoing fight against abortion.

Before I give you the good-and-the-bad, let me state my position succinctly.  I believe that human life is created in the image of God, beginning at conception.  As believers in God, we are called to protect human life whenever possible, including the unborn.  Once conception occurs, there is an independent human life that warrants our love and our protection.

I understand the standard pro-choice arguments.  Obviously, I know that pregnancy impacts a female more than a male.  Many, therefore, see abortion as fundamentally a women’s right issue, but this ignores the fact that there is another life involved.  I also know that pregnancy is risky and that sometimes the life of the mother is at risk.  (My short answer is to save both lives when possible.  In the very few cases where that’s not possible, tough decisions must be made.)  I know that there are highly traumatic cases such as rape, and the easy answer—but not the right one—is to abort.

As human beings (and especially as believers), we must do everything we can to protect, nurture, and love all human life.

The mom.

The dad.

And the baby.

With that premise stated, let me give you the good news and the bad news about abortion.

The good news is that the number of abortions in the United States of America has decreased dramatically since we hit a peak of well over 1.5 million abortions in 1990.  Not all states report abortions, so it’s hard to get exact numbers, but both pro-choice and anti-abortionists agree that abortions have dropped by about 50%, despite the fact that laws, public opinion, and drugs have made it easier to get an abortion.  We can celebrate the fact that we’re making progress.

The bad news is that current political and demographic trends indicate that widespread support for abortion rights may well increase in the future.  It’s hard to pin down firm statistics on such a hotly-debated topic, but from 57-66% of Americans support keeping abortion legal.  Those numbers are even higher among teens and young adults.  Unless there is a major shift in public opinion on this issue, abortion will be supported by an increasingly larger number of Americans.

So what can those of us who are opposed to abortion do?

  • Fight abortion first on a personal level rather than just a political level. We must continue to lovingly teach, preach, and share our belief in the uniqueness of human life.  We may-or-may-not be able to change our laws, but we can influence and help those young ladies in our families, our neighborhoods, and our churches.

  • Offer real love—and not just a sermon—to those who are contemplating abortion. They need to know that a family, a friend, or a church will stand by them and help them do what is right, whether that includes keeping the baby or putting it up for adoption.

  • Offer real love rather than judgment to those who have become pregnant outside-of-marriage. The belief that “I’m going to be hated and judged in my family and my church” has led many young ladies to turn to those outside of the church for comfort and advice.  It’s no surprise that they will often be counseled to get an abortion when they seek advice outside of their family and church.

  • Make sure that birth control is widely and easily available. I know this is controversial among some groups (such as Roman Catholics.)  I’d much rather a young lady and a young man wait until marriage to consummate their relationship and I will continue to teach, preach, and encourage this lifestyle, but our culture has become so sex-crazed and sexuality is so public, that this is no longer the norm.  Limiting the number of pregnancies via birth control will limit the number of abortions.

  • Support laws and organizations that promote adoption and make it easier and cheaper for babies to be adopted. The adoption of a baby is a healthy abortion alternative, but private adoptions typically cost from $25,000 – $50,000 and take a great deal of time.  More babies could be adopted (and kept out of the foster care system) if it were easier, faster, and cheaper.  The longer a child is in the foster system, the less likely it will be adopted.

  • Support Pregnancy Centers and clinics (with your finances, volunteer hours, and prayers) that offer abortion alternatives and that help young mothers cope with their pregnancies. Providing love, medical care, parenting classes, material assistance, and adoption-help go a long way to give pregnant teens and young adults the confidence and skills they need to cope with a pregnancy and the decisions that follow that pregnancy.

  • Pray for a spiritual and moral awakening in America. If American hearts are changed and we once again value all human life then abortions will decrease even without the need for laws or court decisions.

  • And lastly, support laws and politicians that agree with us on this issue. I put it last because I believe that abortion is more a moral and spiritual issue than a political one.  Furthermore, laws against abortion may not do much to lower abortion rates.  Many people (rightfully, I’m afraid) believe that restricting abortion rights may cause a huge increase in unsafe and unhealthy “underground” abortions.  We can accomplish more through prayer, teaching, and love than we can by legislative or judicial action.   Still, though, I still seek leaders with the character and courage to stand up for the unborn.

There’s good news on abortion, and we can celebrate that fact.  There’s also bad news on abortion, which reminds us that we have much work still to do.  Keep praying.  Keep loving.  Keep teaching.  Keep writing.  And keep preaching.

We have a long way to go before we change the hearts and attitudes of Americans.

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Pro-Life From The Womb To The Tomb (Reposted)

I originally published this last year.  I republish it this week in honor of Sanctity of Life Sunday, which is celebrated on January 20 of this year.

I am a pro-lifer, but I want you to understand that being pro-life is much more than being against abortion.

I agree with “Choose Life,” as long as you understand that it is much more than an anti-abortion slogan.

I have a deep respect for all human life, from the womb to the tomb.  I want to love, help, and care for all human beings, of any age, ethnicity, situation, background, and faith.  It is a deeply held conviction that human life is special, unique, and almost sacred.  This deep respect and love for human beings is based upon the Bible teaching that all human beings are made in the image of God.

Therefore, my love for humanity and individuals is not limited to the unborn, to American citizens, to whites, to English speakers, or to Christians.  I try to live in such a way that my love and respect for human beings is not limited by any factor or situation.  It’s a human thing based on a God thing.

Therefore, let me point out some specifics of what I mean when I say I am “pro-life” and what I believe it should mean to every Christian:

  • I believe that life begins at conception and that it should be valued from that moment. I will let others argue the definitions and the legalities; but I do believe that from the moment of conception, there are two lives at stake—the mom and the baby.  It’s not just a women’s right issue.  There is another human life and that life also has value.  So when I speak against abortion, I am not speaking against a women’s right to choose what to do with her own body.  I am standing up for the rights of another human being.

  • But I believe that pro-lifers need to do much more than just speak against abortion. We need to work hard with mothers and fathers to give them the health, the nutrition, and the skills they need to be good parents.  That is why our Pregnancy Center spends the bulk of its time and resources on counseling women, teaching parenting skills, and providing clothing, diapers, and other necessary items to families.  We do share our pro-life opinions, but we focus our energy on helping anyone who shows up regardless of their situation, opinion, or decision.

  • I believe that pro-lifers need to take a strong stand for children—especially hurting children. We should work hard to stop child abuse.  We should work hard to provide adoptive families and foster parents.  We should work hard to strengthen families and to teach strong marriage and parenting relationships.  We should work hard to support quality public and private schools staffed with quality (and decently paid) teachers and staffers.  We should work hard to make sure that the children in these schools are safe and protected from danger.  And we should pay whatever taxes are necessary to support our schools.

  • I believe that pro-lifers need to work hard (as Jesus did) to help those who are underprivileged, poor, homeless, sick, and disabled. That’s why our church offers free medical care, free brown-bag lunches, and a free homeless shelter.  We do it because we value human life for those in our congregation and those who are not; for those who agree with us and those who do not.  We call on other churches to do the same.  It is a great thing to worship and love God, but real worship and real love for God will show itself by loving those whom God has created.

  • I believe that pro-lifers need to treat all people with respect. When we evangelize—and we do—we will do so without putting down others who disagree with us.  We believe strongly in God, in Jesus, and in the Bible, but we will still treat those who disagree with us respectfully, regardless of their faith, their skin-color, their language, their nationality, or their morality.

  • I believe that pro-lifers need to work hard for those in America and beyond our borders. We are called to care for hurting people wherever they may be and regardless of their citizenship.  We believe what our Declaration of Independence so eloquently states, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   The rights come from God and so they are not limited to those who hold American citizenship or who live underneath the freedoms granted to us by our constitution.  This includes aliens within our borders, refugees who are fleeing tyranny and war, and citizens of other countries faced with hunger, homelessness, and hardships.  That’s why our church builds homes and sends food to Dominica.  That’s why we partner with and support Disaster Relief Teams.  That’s why we partner with an organization that helps refugees.  We wish we could do more, but our love for God demands that we at least do something

  • It is because I am pro-life and I want to treat all people fairly that I support the right of Dreamers to have permanent status and even citizenship in our country. They were brought to our country by a family member when they were young; it was not their decision.  To deport them now that they are adults goes against my understanding of fairness and justice for all.  There are, I know, other immigration policies and border security issues that need to be debated and decided, but my pro-life understanding demands that I treat all people fairly and respectfully.

  • It is because I am pro-life that I believe people should have some control over their death. If someone wants to die at home rather than in a hospital, I support that right.  If someone decides that treatment is no longer necessary or desirable, they have the right to make that decision.  I don’t condone active euthanasia (life is too sacred to take it unnecessarily), but since death is a natural part of life, I don’t feel the need to prolong life just because we can.

I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.  I believe in God and I believe that human life has been created in the image of God. Therefore, all human life is to be protected, respected, and loved.  And if my faith in God is real, it will lead me to love and respect people.

All people.

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Public Respect

In a recent blog, I challenged President Trump to take the high road in his choice of language and to respect his opponents.  It’s only fair, especially in light of remarks of the last few days, that I call upon Democrats to do the same.  But as a pastor, my primary concern is that Christians take the high road in the way we talk about politics.

The issue that recently caught my eye was a newly elected Democratic Representative using extreme expletives to describe the President.  This is highly inappropriate, and I would expect Democratic leadership to publicly rebuke her.  The only response I have heard so far is something that I would equate to a kindergartener saying “He started it.”  (The representative has since apologized, but not for her words, only for being a “distraction.”)  We don’t accept that type of behavior from a preschooler.  We must not accept it from elected officials.

This week, I heard a Republican leader in Arizona calling voters an inappropriate name because a Democratic Senator was elected.  Putting down voters is not good behavior. I’m not a politician, but I don’t even think it’s good politics.

Both sides are now calling out the other side for immoral speech.  It is hypocritical to call out the other side for immoral speech while applauding it or tolerating it on your side.  Jesus taught us to take care of our own sin before we call out someone else for theirs, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Is either political party going to raise the bar and begin to use respectful language?

Probably not.

So, Christians, we need to show them how it is done.  We can be deeply involved in politics without stooping to the ungodly behavior of many of today’s politicians.  So let me try and give some practical suggestions for believers in their political speech:

  • Be respectful in all your own personal political speech.  You can be bold, direct, and clear in stating your own opinion without putting opponents down and calling them names.

  • Refuse to use God’s name in vane or to use profanity when discussing politics.

  • Be willing to rebuke those in your own party who are disrespectful.

  • Refuse to applaud disrespectful behavior even when it comes from a politician you supported.

  • Refuse to break a personal relationship because you disagree politically.

  • Refuse to post or repost disrespectful speech, profanity, or lies on social media.  (And since there are so many lies going around social media, refuse to repost or retweet anything that you have not personally verified as true.)

  • Support leaders who can present their ideas in an honest, intelligent, and respectful manner.

I encourage believers to get involved in politics.  I encourage believers to run for office.  I encourage believers to clearly and even forcefully state their carefully reasoned positions.

But do it the right way, the Jesus way.

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Helping Refugees

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week (December 26-27), we accepted into our care 94 refugees from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras.  Over half of them were children.  We fed them.  We gave them places to sleep for a night or two.  We gave them backpacks, clothes, towels, jackets, hygiene items, and other essentials.  We made bus arrangements for them, and then transported them to the Phoenix Bus Station.  From there, they traveled on to a friend or family member as far away as Chicago or Florida.

Our agreement to help was not a political statement; it was an act of love to people in need.

I know that in our church (and especially because we are a bilingual congregation), we have people of all political persuasions when it comes to border policy, immigration, and asylum issues.  I’m leaving that discussion for another time and place.  The people we helped had been processed by ICE and were ready to be released.  ICE had only two options: Release them to a church or release them on the streets.

We chose to accept them in the name of Christ and love them and help them.

We do this to all people, regardless of their skin color, nationality, faith, background, language, or immigration status.  It is what we mean when we say we love people.  It’s not just a statement or a motto; it’s a reality that often comes with an obligation to offer time, housing, food, clothing, and attention.  That’s the nature of love.

I couldn’t personally show them as much love as I wanted, because I couldn’t speak their language.  But I gathered a few stories through translators.  This is Juana’s story:

I’m 22 years old and I traveled here with my 6 month old daughter Liliana.  I’m from Guatemala.  I came to the United States because there is a lot of violence in my town right now.  The gangs are fighting with each other and innocent people are often hurt and killed.  I’ve been extorted for the last several months.  I’ve paid 1000 quetzals (equivalent to about $130, a huge amount in Guatemala) so that no one will hurt me or my daughter.  I knew the extortion would continue.  The police were powerless to help me.  I decided to try and come to the United States where I hope to work and be safe.

The stories are touching and the need is great.

Before I close, I want to thank our members for their response.  We had more volunteers than we knew what to do with.  And people outside of our congregation showed up in a big way.  High School Spanish teachers came to translate.  Hickman Farms donated breakfast (and cooked it) one morning.  The Fire Department gave us car seats.  Avondale City Council members volunteered.  Our State Representative (Diego Espinoza) showed up, translated, and even cooked omelets.  Gathering Humanity, a non-profit group that works with refugees provided cots, clothes, backpacks, and more.  A volunteer from Duncan Farms made repeated trips with groups to the bus station.  A Phoenix Synagogue brought us blankets.  The Arizona Disaster Relief Team of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention set up a shower trailer and gave us cash.  It was truly much more than just a church effort.

I’m not sure what the future holds.  We may do this again next week.  It is who we are when we say we Love God, Love People, and Follow Jesus!

 

 

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An Open Letter to President Trump

Dear Mr. President;

One of the things I teach as a pastor, a father, a grandfather, and a volunteer basketball coach is that we need to respect our national leaders.  I believe that this is Biblical, moral, and a necessary ingredient of a healthy democracy.  As a result, I teach both Republicans and Democrats to respect you because of the office you hold as the President, and I have taught them to do so whether they voted for you or not and whether they agree with you or not.

This is not a new teaching for me.  I taught the exact same thing when President Obama was in office.  I will continue to teach that we offer respect to Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, Judges, other leaders, and all people.  I will teach these things to my congregation, my children, my grandchildren, and my community as long as I am able, regardless of the political situation.

Respectfully, however, I feel compelled to tell you that you are making my job much tougher.

Your continued disrespect for others in your choice of words leads to diminished respect in all avenues of American life.  Words used by you recently (like “horseface” and “Pocahontas”) are merely the latest in a long line of insults that you seem to enjoy and that escalates a growing level of disrespect across American culture.

I am not claiming that this disrespect started with you.  I am very much aware that many Americans refuse to give you the respect a President deserves, so I will continue to teach respectful behavior to the best of my ability.

I’m asking you, though, to set a much-needed example of respect.

Remember the words of Jesus to “turn the other cheek” when disrespect is offered to you.  Remember also the words of the Apostle Paul, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”  A stronger example of respect coming from the oval office would make it much easier for all Americans to live respectfully.

You are the president, my president.  I will continue to respect you because of the office you hold.  And you have my continued prayers that you will lead our nation with great wisdom and ability.  But I also respectfully request that you live by a higher standard of decency and that you offer others a higher level of respect.

I’m not asking you to do so for political purposes.  It may or may not lead to higher popularity, more votes at reelection time, or a better chance at getting the results you want.

I’m asking you to do this because it is the right thing to do.

Respectfully submitted,

Pastor Jack Marslender

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To Boycott. Or Not.

I have been besieged with requests to boycott the NFL.  And to buy burgers at In-N-Out.  (Except that other people have asked me to stop buying burgers there.)  I’ve been told that I need to support Chick-Fil-A, while others are offended if I do.  I’ve been told that I need to avoid Starbucks.  I’ve been asked to burn my Nikes.  Today, I even received a request to boycott Willie Nelson music because he’s singing at a fundraiser for a democratic politician.

The requests, boycotts, and demands are based—in every case—on the politics of the business, the business owner, or the entertainer.

I don’t want to offend you, but I typically ignore these requests.

I don’t make business decisions based on the political status of the business.  I recognize that many people agree with my politics.  And many do not.  I’m okay with that, so I won’t make business decisions based on politics.  And neither will I be offended if you decide to do so.

One of the things I love about America is that we have freedom.  The freedom to take a stand.  The freedom to state our opinion.  The freedom to affiliate.  The freedom to do business with those we choose.

And so my choice is simple.  I won’t boycott you or ignore you or stop doing business with you based on your politics.  My political disagreement with you doesn’t mean that I must separate myself from you or your business.

If I decide to drink coffee, I will choose it based on taste, price, and convenience.  (That means, usually, that I make it at home.)  If I decide to buy a burger, I will choose a burger place with good food, good service, good prices, and a good atmosphere.  I don’t care if the business owner gave money to the Republicans or the Democrats.  I will buy chicken based on the same factors.

I will watch sports or listen to music when I find it enjoyable and when I have the time.  I won’t watch or listen (or refuse) because a politician asks me to do so.  I know that there are good people on all sides of every political viewpoint in every business, sports league, and musical genre.

If I bought shoes, I bought them because I liked them, I could afford them, and they do what I need them to do.  I’m not going to burn an otherwise good pair of shoes because of an advertisement.  It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the fact that I’m too cheap to burn money.

Understand, I won’t judge you if you do boycott.  Please don’t judge me if I don’t.

That’s enough writing.  I’m going to buy an In-N-Out Burger AND some Chick-Fil-A nuggets and sit down with a hot cup of coffee.  And I’m going to put on my Nike shoes, my Adidas shirt, and my Reebok socks and listen to Willie Nelson while watching the Oakland Raiders.

Don’t judge me.

 And I won’t judge you.

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Before I Vote for You . . .

Some find it easy to choose their candidate and make their vote.  I don’t.

Maybe it’s because, as a Christian, I have unusually high expectations for leaders, and we aren’t always offered high quality candidates.  Maybe it’s because I’m disgusted with our two-party system, for I don’t identify completely with either party.  And maybe it’s because I’m not looking at the same things that others look for.  Honestly, I often find myself disagreeing even with other believers on who to vote for.

Or maybe it’s just supposed to be hard.

I’m only one person with one vote, so I don’t expect a candidate to cater to me.  Nevertheless, if you want my vote, this is what is important to me:

  • The most important thing I look for is character.  Do you have personal and public integrity?  Are you honest and do you tell the truth?  Are you a person with high moral standards?  Can I trust you to do what you say you will do?  Do you do your homework so that when you speak, you have the facts?  Are you willing to tell me where you stand and what you believe on the hard issues?  Can you run on your integrity rather than participate in the name-calling and mud-slinging that are common in today’s politics?  Can you resist bribes and pressure from others?  When you’ve been wrong, can you admit it?

  • One way I examine your character is to look at your personal and business life.  I don’t need all the details, but have you released enough information about yourself that I understand your family, your values, your morality, and your finances?  I’m not looking for perfection.  I’m willing to vote for people who have made mistakes and who have done dumb things, but I want you to admit it and move on rather than hide it or lie about it.

  • I want to see integrity in your voting record.  Did you vote the way you promised, or at least give an honest reason on why you changed your mind?  Does your voting record show that you’re not a clone of another politician or your party?  Are you more interested in doing the right thing for your country than in pleasing your political party?  Are you a strong enough person to resist the inevitable pressure to conform?

That’s where I start.  Character is the most important issue, and I will not vote for you if you don’t meet my character test.

If there are no candidates in a race with that kind of integrity, I’m completely willing to leave that portion of the ballot blank.  I want candidates and political parties to nominate men and women of character.

There have been multiple times in recent years in which I didn’t vote in a particular race.  I’ve been challenged by friends—and I understand what they’re saying—who tell me I’m letting others decide for me. But that’s not how I look at it.  You have to earn my vote with your integrity.

I may still choose to vote for you if I disagree with you on issues—but I do want to know your stance.  (I won’t bore you in this blog with my own stances.  I keep most of my political opinions—but not my moral opinions—out-of-the-pulpit and church publications, but if you ask me in person, you might get an earful!)  I do expect candidates to openly share their stance on abortion, religious liberty, immigration, the border, the budget, Dreamers, the environment, gun control, the military, racism, public education, wages, crime, health care, terrorism, the safety of our schools and public areas, government regulation, and a whole host of other issues.

And I want to know more than simple platitudes.  Before the primary election, Dawn and I (who recently moved and are in a new legislative district) researched the official web pages of a host of candidates.  Every candidate said they loved their country and they supported the constitution, local businesses, faith, family, and morality.  That sounds nice . . . but I needed to know more.  (I also emailed their campaigns for more details on specific issues.  The only response I received was of the “I thank you for your support and please send in your much-needed contribution” type.)

If you can’t tell me where you stand on the issues, I can’t vote for you.

I’d also like to hear what you plan on doing about some long-term issues that most politicians avoid.  How are you going to deal with the long-term stability of Social Security?  How will you deal with growing racial tension?  How do you plan on dealing with Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria and other international issues?  How will you deal with our serious environmental issues?  We have a very large—and growing—prison population.  Is there anything we can do to reduce this population and still reduce the crime rate?  Healthcare costs continue to rise more rapidly than the overall cost-of-living.  Do you have a plan to deal with this before many Americans are priced out of the healthcare system?  Our education system needs to be improved if we are going to keep up with other nations.  Do you have a plan?

I know ahead of time that I won’t agree with you on every issue, but I do want to know that you’ve put some time and energy into solving the issues we face.  And I want to see something much more intelligent and nuanced than you can give me in a 30-second soundbite or in a one paragraph webpage.

What am I saying?

It’s simple.

I probably won’t agree with you on every issue, but I won’t vote for you until you’ve earned my respect.

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