Abusive Relationships

The words of a prominent Southern Baptist leader (made several years ago but brought to public attention in the last few weeks) has caused a firestorm of anger, accusations, debate, and defense.  The leader essentially said that in the case of physical abuse, a woman should rely upon prayer and the help of the church and stay in the relationship.

He was wrong.

I believe in marriage and the family.  I believe in prayer.  And I believe that the church can and should help strengthen marriages.

But I also strongly believe that a woman should get out of a physically abusive relationship immediately.  And she should stay out until her spouse has sought and received real help.  I’m not counseling divorce.  I’m saying that a woman in an abusive relationship needs to protect herself.  There will be time later to talk about reconciliation, but she shouldn’t be reconciled until there is real evidence and an established pattern of change.

An apology is not enough.  Tears and deep regret are not enough.  Promises are not enough.

The truth is that in a huge majority of cases–even when apologies, tears, and promises are offered–the pattern repeats itself and the abuse becomes a cycle.  And usually the cycle grows worse each time around.

Women, my advice is simple.  Get out of an abusive relationship until help from outside the family is sought and received.  It’s good that you want to believe his apology.  It’s appropriate to believe his tears are real.  It’s loving to believe his promises.  But an abuser needs to do more than apologize, cry, and promise to be different.

Men, my advice to you is also simple.  I know that your apologies are sincere, your tears are real, your shame is genuine, and your promises are heartfelt.   But you need outside help.  Start with your pastor.  Go to the classes and counselors he suggests.  Join a men’s group.  Make deep and honest changes–before you try to talk your wife into coming back.

My prayer is always for reconciliation.  But no woman should feel that she has to stay in an abusive relationship.  It’s not the right thing.  It’s not the Christian thing.  It’s not a helpful thing.

My advice to this Christian leader at the heart of this firestorm is also simple.  Rethink your words and your advice.  Repent of your remarks.  You’ve backed down somewhat from your original statements, but you didn’t go far enough.  No woman should feel like her church is leading her to stay in an abusive relationship.  And as a leader, you need to make that abundantly clear.

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Pro-Life From The Womb To The Tomb

You can call me a pro-lifer, as long as you 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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Things I’d Like to See . . . Respect

I believe in respect.

Unfortunately, I don’t see much of it anymore.  American culture seems to run on disrespect.  Politicians show complete disrespect to other politicians.  Crowds at ballgames disrespect the players, the referees, the coaches, and fans of the other team. And disrespect aimed at teachers, police officers, retail clerks, waiters, the flag, and drivers is rampant.  We have become a disrespectful society.

I’d like to make a strong call for a return of respect and civility, especially in Christian circles.

I know all of the standard excuses for not offering respect.  “You have to earn my respect” is a common refrain.  I’m often told, “He isn’t worthy of my respect.”  And in a silly justification that makes adults sound like preschoolers, I often hear, “He disrespected me, so I don’t have to show him respect.”  That’s the same argument of “he started it” that drives parents crazy when it comes from their children.  And it’s less justified among adults than it is among children.

I’m calling for respectful behavior whether or not it is earned, and especially when it is unearned.  As believers, we are not responsible for the behavior of others.  We are responsible for our own behavior.  And respectful behavior is part of the character of the Christian.  Peter told the church,  “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”   (1 Peter 2:17, NIV)  And he wrote this in an era in which the emperor was unworthy of respect.  His point is not to respect those who have earned it, but to offer respect to all people–to be respectful in all situations and not to just act respectfully in certain situations.

Now that I’ve introduced the topic, let me be specific about what I want to see in a return to respect and civility:

  • I want politicians to STOP calling other politicians names. I want an end to Twitter wars between governmental leaders.  Disagreement is to be expected; disrespectful behavior is not.

  • In a similar fashion, I want to see respect shown by all people for all political leaders.  Right now, conservatives show respect to conservatives and call liberals disgusting names.  Liberals show respect to liberals and call conservatives disgusting names.  Respect doesn’t require agreement and shouldn’t be offered just to those agree with you.  Political discussion today now sounds more like the name-calling and spitting contests that occur between kindergartners when there are no adults in the room.  And that description may be unfair to kindergartners. 

  • I want to see police officers shown respect.  I’m not saying that all police officers are always right, but they deserve our respect because of the job they have been hired to do.

  • I want to see sports figures, coaches, and referees shown respect.  I am deeply disgusted when I’m in an arena or ballpark and the entire crowd is shouting an obscenity–in unison.  It’s repugnant and barbaric behavior.  We have forgotten that our opponent in a contest is not our sworn enemy.  And the referees charged with running the game will often be wrong, but they still deserve respect.

  • I want to see ballplayers and crowds show proper respect to our nation, our leaders, our ideals, our national anthem, and to the flag.  I know there are real issues that need to be addressed.  I know that people have a right to protest and share their opinions.  And I want to hear (and I even agree with some of) those opinions.  But if you want your protest to be heard respectfully, you need to first offer proper respect.

  • I want to be able to have political and even religious discussion on social media without name-calling and falsehood.  In today’s world, because of the widespread lack of respect for the opinions of others, it’s almost impossible.  I often keep my mouth shut, not because I’m ashamed of my opinions, but because it starts a war of words that I want nothing to do with.

When I lead Children’s Camps, I give the children 3 basic rules for a good camp.  Rule number 1 is “Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there!”  Rule #2 is “Respect all nouns!”  That includes the camp, the counselors, the other kids, the camp pastor and musicians, the vehicles we travel in, and anyone else we meet.  And rule #3 is simple, “Have Fun!”

Those are pretty comprehensive rules for anyone at anytime.  And rule number 2, “Respect all nouns” is deeply needed in the Christian community of today.

Respect.  Civility.  Dignity.  Courtesy.

They are almost forgotten American characteristics.  But they should never be forgotten by the true follow of Christ.

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Things I’d Like To See . . . Arizona Version

I love Arizona.

I’m not a native, but I’m close. My family moved here when I was 2.  I’ve lived in Arizona for 54 of my 59 years. And I’ve never really wanted to live anywhere else.

But that doesn’t mean I love everything about Arizona. There are many things I’d love to see change. Some of these are political. Others are non-partisan in nature. Some of them are personal.

What would I like to see?

  • I’d like to see teacher pay increase dramatically.  I believe in education, and my children have been privileged to have some excellent teachers, but they are severely underpaid. Starting teacher pay needs to be increased about $10,000 per year. Immediately.  I’m personally willing to have my taxes increased to make sure this happens—as long as it goes to teacher pay. If this doesn’t happen, we will fail to attract the quality of families and jobs we will need.

  • I’d like to see a freeway all-the-way from Phoenix to Las Vegas.

  • At the same time, though, I’d like to see a less car-dependent state, with more good options for mass transit, biking, and even walking. I’d like an easy way to go from my home in Avondale to downtown Phoenix on mass transit.

  • I’d like to see revitalization of places like Maryvale and South Phoenix.

  • I’d like to see more independents in the State House and Senate.  And I’d like to see more ethnic diversity in all levels of government.

  • I’d like for those who don’t belong to a political party to have the right to vote in presidential primaries.

  • I’d like to see the Diamondbacks, Suns, and Cardinals all make the playoffs in the same year.  (I can dream, can’t I?) And as long as I’m dreaming, I’d like to see it happen when Larry Fitzgerald is still playing.

  • I’d like to see UA or ASU win a national championship in football and/or basketball.  And I’d like to see GCU become a national powerhouse in basketball.

  • I’d like to see more affordable college education and job training opportunities.

  • I’d like to see walking trails and recreational corridors following the canals and rivers in the Phoenix area.

  • I’d like to see more prosperity in the inner city areas and on the reservations.

  • I’d like to see Arizona do more to conserve water and energy and to keep our air clean and for us to become a world-leader in these areas.  We need to recognize that we live in a desert with extreme temperatures and very little water. We need to learn to live accordingly and to show others how it can be done.

  • I’d like us to see us do more to recognize and even celebrate our Spanish and Native American heritage and culture.

  • I’d like to see more Caucasian Arizonans (like me) learn to speak Spanish instead of complaining about Spanish speakers.

  • I’d like to see more quality jobs in the west valley and in our small towns.

  • I’d like to see more churches feed and house the homeless.  We can do it more effectively and more compassionately than can government.

  • I’d like to see us treasure our natural areas and wilderness areas even-more-than-we-do and keep them clean.

  • I’d like to see us thin our forests effectively to reduce the chance of catastrophic fires.

  • I’d like us to find a better way to deal with mental illness and drug addiction. Many end up in jail or on the streets; neither is a good solution.

  • I’d like more shade in the summer time!

I love Arizona, but there are many things we can do better. My prayer is that a combination of good government, good policies, strong churches, and solid families can help bring these things about!

 

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Things I’d Like To See . . . Washington Version

I follow politics rather closely, but, as a Pastor, I don’t endorse candidates from the pulpit or in my official position as Pastor.  Nevertheless, I think and pray about political and governmental issues a lot.  (And I’ve even been known to rant–regularly, actually–but only at home and with close friends.)  Since I want to reach both Republicans and Democrats with the gospel, I don’t publicly identify with either.  I want to be known more for my faith than my politics.

Nevertheless, there are some things I’d like to see in Washington that are non-partisan in nature.  Here are a few of them:

  • I’d like to see a change in the current “attack” style of politics, starting at the top. That will require less verbal attacking of the president and by the president, and it will need to trickle down to the Senate, the House, and the news media.  I believe that it is possible to show respect even when we strongly disagree, and I’d like to see more of that in Washington, the news media, and especially among believers.

  • I’d like to see more working together “across the aisle.”  I personally believe, though others will disagree with me, that there are both Democrats and Republicans with integrity who have good ideas and should be heard.

  • I’d like to see us pass a budget every year without the need for temporary short-term extensions.  Having a “crisis” every month with one party or the other threatening to shut down the government is no way to govern.

  • I’d like to see us cut government spending now that we’ve cut taxes.

  • I’d like to see Washington deal openly, honestly, quickly, and fairly with those accused of sexual harassment and immorality regardless of their party affiliation or their position in the government.

  • I’d like to see Washington deal with the many tough issues that our country faces.  I hear the standard arguments from both sides but rarely do I see a decent bill or even a suggestion on how to deal with climate change, immigration, Social Security stability, infrastructure needs, energy production and use, racial inequalities, a way-too-high murder rate, widespread drug use and overdose, and the many other issues our country faces. I expect our leaders to have the courage to deal with the tough issues, even if the best answers tend to be unpopular.

  • I’d like to see some real and definitive conclusion to the many ongoing investigations and probes, and I’d like these conclusions to be based on real facts rather than politics.  Right now, Democrats attack and investigate Trump and Republicans attack and investigate Clinton with each party defending their own.  If there is guilt–regardless of party–prove it and deal with the consequences.  If there is no guilt, let’s move on to more important issues.

  • I’d like for Washington to find a fair way to treat Dreamers and give them a path to citizenship.  I understand there are broader immigration issues that we disagree on, but most Americans agree that those who came here as children should not be forced out of our country.  We can still debate the bigger immigration issues we face without being unfair to those who are here through no fault of their own.

  • I’d like for Washington to find a fair but temporary way to help people in need without designing a system that encourages lifelong welfare.  We can be both tough and compassionate–but some of our policies need to change to encourage work-instead-of-welfare, job creation and job skills training, and personal accountability and responsibility.

So when I pray for our country and our leaders–and I do so often–these are some of the things I pray for!

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A Cake and a Court

There is an interesting case before the Supreme Court right now that is of great interest to believers.  And despite what you may have heard from both sides, it’s not an easy decision for the court.

The case is relatively straightforward.  A Colorado baker refused to design a cake for a gay couple.  He would have gladly sold them anything off the shelf.  He didn’t refuse to do business with them, but he did refuse to design a cake celebrating their wedding.  Here are his words:

“I’m happy to sell a cake to anyone, whatever his or her sexual identity. People should be free to make their own moral choices. I don’t have to agree with them. But I am responsible for my own choices. And it was that responsibility that led me to decline when two gentlemen came into my shop and invited me to create a wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony.  Designing a wedding cake is a very different thing from, say, baking a brownie. When people commission such a cake, they’re requesting something that’s designed to express something about the event and about the couple.  What I design is not just a tower of flour and sugar, but a message tailored to a specific couple and a specific event — a message telling all who see it that this event is a wedding and that it is an occasion for celebration.  In this case, I couldn’t. What a cake celebrating this event would communicate was a message that contradicts my deepest religious convictions, and as an artist, that’s just not something I’m able to do, so I politely declined.”

Colorado, however, considered their actions discrimination, since they were a public bakery and Colorado law doesn’t allow discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.  The case has made it all the way to the Supreme Court.  Essentially, the case pits the rights of business owners to exercise their religious freedom against the rights of a state to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

Religious freedom is a bedrock value of our country and our constitution.  At the same time, we all want to live in a country where discrimination has been eliminated.  So I encourage you to understand both sides of the argument before you decide which is right.

On the one hand, all believers can understand the point-of-view of the baker.  He is saying that it goes against his strongly held religious beliefs to contribute his talents to a wedding that he doesn’t agree with.  He asked the court a good question, “If a consumer tried to hire an ad agency to promote the KKK, would the ad agency have the right, based on their religious and moral values, to say no?  Does the court have to agree with my moral and religious values in order to say that I have a right to refuse?”

I completely understand his argument and the point of his questions.

On the other hand, the state is saying that they have a right to enforce anti-discrimination laws.  And they asked a good question, “If a restaurant said that it was against their religious and moral beliefs to serve black people, couldn’t we enforce our anti-discrimination laws and force them to do so or else shut them down?  And since the courts have ruled that gay marriages are legal and that homosexuals are a protected class, can’t we enforce our anti-discrimination laws against the baker?”  (Set aside the argument, for now, about whether sexual identity should be a protected class.  The courts have ruled, at least in Colorado, that it is a protected class.)

Colorado asked some good questions, but I think that they are missing an important distinction, and it’s my hope that our Supreme Court will be wise enough to see it.

There is a significant difference between selling a cake and being forced to use your artistic talents to design a cake that promotes something you don’t agree with.  A  Christian baker should sell anything in his bakery or in his design book to anyone that comes in off of the street.  If a gay couple comes in and says “I want that cake in your design book that has two rings on it,” and the baker refuses to sell it to them, he is guilty of discrimination.  But if the same couple comes in and says, “I want you to design a cake that celebrates a man marrying a man,” the baker should have the right to refuse based on freedom of religion.

Here’s the bottom line for me if I’m a Christian baker:  I want to treat all people with respect and equality, so I will sell them whatever I can whether I agree with them or not.  But I don’t want to put my talents into promoting a value that I am morally opposed to, so I want the right to say “No thank you” when necessary.

It’s a fine distinction, but an important one, and one that the court should understand.  If the court decides appropriately, it can honor our country’s strong stand on religious freedom. At the same time, it can still express a strong and necessary anti-discrimination message.

I’m praying that our court can see this distinction, and make a wise decision.

 

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Why Change Our Name?

Several weeks ago, I shared on a Sunday morning that we are considering a name change. Nothing has yet been decided, but we want to answer some of the many questions we have received.  Why are we considering changing our name?  What else would change?  How does a church change its name?  Does a name change really matter? 

I want to answer your questions honestly, so feel free to send me your questions or your suggestions:

Why would we consider changing our name?  The word “Southern” has changed connotations over the years.  To a growing percentage of our community, it communicates racism or it says that we are a “white church.”  That is not who we are and we don’t want to be known for that.  We are becoming and we want to be a multi-ethnic church.  Secondarily, our name First Southern Baptist Church of Avondale is long and unwieldy.  A shorter name, without the word “Southern” would help gain name recognition.

Do you really think it would help?  Yes.  Several of our members have told me of their experiences while inviting others to our church.  As soon as they get to the word “Southern” they can sense and even see a change in attitude.  This has happened to me numerous times, but I’m definitely not the only one.

Would we still be affiliated with the SBC?  Yes, a name change does not change our affiliations.  We would still be a SBC church and would show that on our signage, webpage, and other literature.

What else would change?  Changing our name doesn’t change our doctrine or who we are in any significant way.  Our name matters, especially in communicating who we are, but it doesn’t change us.

It seems like we’ve made a lot of changes.  Why?  The honest truth is that the world has changed tremendously, even in the 18 years I’ve been here as pastor, and we must make some changes to continue to reach people.  When I came, I communicated primarily via land-based phone lines, first-class mail, and bulk-mailed newsletters.  Now, I use email, webpages, texting, and video projectors.  (I didn’t even have a cell phone until I came here, and my first one didn’t send texts!) We had only one worship service, and few–if any–community ministries.  We’ve been forced to change, and many of the changes have helped us do God’s Work more effectively and efficiently.

How do we change our name?  The church votes in a business meeting to change a name.  It will be well-communicated to our members when we are ready to do so. Afterwards, we will change our corporation papers, signage, and literature.

Is this just your idea or do others agree with you?  Actually, we have already taken the idea both to our deacons and our church council; both groups are in agreement that we change our name.

Isn’t it expensive?  There is some corporate paperwork that takes time but that costs little.  Our signs will need to be changed, but they fade over time and need to be updated every few years anyway.  And since we print up our own bulletins, and publish our own webpage, that cost is minimal.

What will our new name be?  We don’t yet have a suggestion.  It won’t be Pigeon Rest Baptist Church (a tongue-in-cheek suggestion from someone noticing the pigeons in our neighborhood.)  It won’t be The Right Church (another tongue-in-cheek suggestion from someone who says their friends are always trying to find the right church.)  But we’re not yet sure what it will be.

Our desire is to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We believe that a name change will help us do that.  That is our only motivation!

 

P.S. Speaking of names . . . I liked the title “Senior Pastor” when I was 41.  Now that I’m 59, it just makes me sound old!

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A Christian Approach to “Dreamers”

This blog was inspired by a friend and church member–and a fine human being–who is a DACA recipient.

You can call them “dreamers.”  I like that.

Or you can call them “DACA recipients,” though that sounds overly bureaucratic.

But let’s not call them aliens, which makes them sound weird and otherworldly. And let’s not call them illegals, which makes it sound like they’ve purposely committed a criminal act. They are in our country due to a choice made by their parents or other adult family members without their input and through no fault of their own.

So how about we just start by calling them human beings?  And expand that by adding that they are human beings in a tough situation?

And then we can, as Christians, look for a compassionate response to their need.

For they really are in a tough situation.  They came to our country young.  They’ve grown up as “Americans,” but without all of the rights of citizenship.  They’re paying a price for decisions others made.  Their status is uncertain.   Their options are limited.  Their future is not secure.

To leave them in their current situation doesn’t fit with my Christian understanding of compassion and justice.  And neither does deporting them.

Please understand that I’m not talking politics in this blog.  I’m not making a pro-or-anti statement about the Obama administration. I’m not making a pro-or-anti statement about the Trump administration. I’m not proposing a solution to the overall immigration situation in our country. I’m not speaking for-or-against a wall on our southern border in this blog.  And I’m not speaking as a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or a progressive.

I’m trying to separate my political thoughts on the larger situation and trying to come up with a Christian response to a particular group of people, popularly called “dreamers.”  I’m speaking as a Christian, and attempting to give a Christian response to a tough situation.

So with that lengthy introduction, here’s my Christian response:

It is not fair or just or compassionate to force a group of people to live in fear of being deported when they have not committed an illegal act.  It’s not fair or just to leave them with an uncertain future and a second class status.

My understanding of Christian compassion and justice means that we need to treat them with respect and dignity.  We need to allow them to stay in this country while Congress works on a solution.  And Congress and the President need to give them an honest path to citizenship in a reasonable length of time.

Make it tough if you want.  Put requirements on them.  Insist that they get an education or serve in the military, pay their taxes, learn a trade, get a job, and stay out of trouble.  The dreamers I’ve met and talked to are already doing those things and would be perfectly willing to meet reasonable standards.

If our country really does want to be just, fair, and compassionate there is no other real response.  If we really do believe in “liberty and justice for all,” here is our chance to show it.

It is the right thing to do.  It is the Christian thing to do.

And I encourage other Christians–regardless of their political persuasion–to stand with the dreamers and demand an appropriate, just, and compassionate response from our leaders.

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A Christian Perspective on Earth Day

Earth Day (April 22) isn’t normally considered a Christian holiday.

I think it should be.

The Bible starts off with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Unfortunately, the Christian world has spent way too much time and energy arguing the specifics of that creation, and too little time caring for it.

Did God create everything in a literal seven days? Or was each day symbolic of a much greater time period? Is the Earth a few thousand years old? Or did the universe come into being several billion years ago. Were Adam and Eve literal human beings made out of the dust of the Earth? Or did God guide evolution to create human beings?

I’m not going to answer those questions in this blog.  My point is that we spend so much time arguing the specifics, that we ignore the meaning of that first verse and the implications of it.

The meaning is obvious: God created our entire Universe and it is beautiful. It is His handiwork. From the far-flung galaxies to the desert mountains just beyond our valley, God is the Creator, the designer, and the one that brought it all into existence. And it is incredible.

The implication of that truth should also be obvious. If God created the Earth and put us here, we should take care of it. We should work hard to keep the air, land, and water clean. We should set aside natural areas for future generations to see and enjoy. We should protect the animals, the fish, and the plants that God made. We should clean up our trash and remove the pollutants we’ve put in the air, in the ocean, and on the land.  We should reduce our waste. We should slow down our use of natural resources so that future generations (meaning our grandchildren and their grandchildren) should still have plenty. We should support government and community solutions to clean up rivers and oceans, to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, to reduce waste, to recycle whatever we can, and to promote sustainable solutions for energy and the environment. We should minimize our footprint so that the handiwork of God can be more clearly seen.

Maybe we should stop arguing whether-or-not mankind is having a negative impact on the Earth and the weather.  It has become obvious to any one that wants to take a hard look at the Earth that we have too much garbage in the ocean, too many pollutants in the soil, too much carbon and soot in the atmosphere, and too many chemicals in our air.

Why argue about how much of an impact it is having?

If it’s polluted, let’s purify it.  It it’s dirty, let’s clean it up.  If we made a mess, let’s restore it as best as we can to the way it was.

Does that sound like an environmentalist?

It should.

Because I am an environmentalist.

Not in the sense that I worship the Creation.  I don’t.  I worship the Creator.  And since it is HIS creation, I feel a strong sense of stewardship for the Earth and everything in it that God has created.

I am an environmentalist.  A Biblical Environmentalist.  Because God created our environment.

Happy Earth Day!

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What We’ve Learned About The Homeless

We began a homeless ministry in January, and we have housed from 2-10 people each night since then, using the existing facilities of 8 different churches.  This IHELP model (Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program) offers our homeless guests up to 90 days in a shelter, with showers, dinners, brown-bag-lunches-to-go, and transportation to the sites.  It is an incredible ministry.

It is also very challenging.  And we have learned a lot about ministering to the homeless:

  • The first thing we learned is that we still have a whole lot to learn about the homeless and about homeless ministry.  We are not experts, by any stretch of the imagination, just a group of churches with some incredible volunteers who want to help people.

  • We have learned that there are many homeless that we are unable to help.  Our ministry is not equipped to help people with serious mental health issues, with serious addictive issues, and with serious medical issues.  We cannot accept those with sex crimes in their past.  And we can’t offer shelter to families with children or pets.  But we can usually refer those we can’t help to someone who can.

  • The homeless people we have sheltered are homeless due to a variety of factors. The ones we have talked to list these reasons:

    • Drug (including alcohol) abuse.

    • Divorce or family breakups.

    • Job loss.

    • Mental illness.

    • Medical issues.  Sometimes, the medical issues led to job losses or financial strains. But in a surprising number of cases, we’ve had hospitals calling us when a patient is about to be released and has nowhere to go.

    • Moving without adequate resources or planning.  One couple who moved across country counted on immediately (within 24 hours) finding a job, an unrealistic expectation.

    • Broken relationships.  Many were staying with friends or family until the relationship soured.

    • Refreshingly, some people were honest enough to tell us that “stupidity” was the reason.  They spent all their money on frivolous things and then didn’t have money for rent.

  • Many of the people in our homeless ministry have been helped tremendously.  Our sample size is small, but we’ve already helped people get jobs, get their own apartments, get into subsidized housing, kick some bad addictions, renew family relationships, and make commitments to Christ. That’s why we do the ministry!

But there is an exasperating side to working with the homeless. We knew that this was true, but it is still frustrating:  Most homeless people don’t want to go to a shelter.  We’ve offered our shelter to hundreds; only dozens have accepted our offer. Some don’t want the rules and the restrictions that come with a shelter. Some want to continue their drinking, their drugs, or their panhandling.  Some have had bad experiences in shelters. And some are too proud to accept help.  Perhaps it is different in a harsher climate, but many people in our area choose to be homeless and are content to live on the street by handouts, panhandling, and government aid.

So I’ve had to rethink how I minister to homeless people.  Here are my personal guidelines:

  • I routinely offer homeless people a business card with information about how to enroll in our homeless ministry.  (You can get some in our church office.)  And I will give them a brown bag lunch.  And that’s all.  If they don’t want to accept the help we have to offer, I don’t feel guilty about walking away.

  • I NEVER pay for a motel room.  If they can’t sleep on a mat with people in a shared room, then I can’t help them.

  • I NEVER give cash.  I am a sucker for a hard-luck story.  People know that about me and even expect pastors to be that way.  So I may cry with someone, but I won’t give them cash.  I have decided that offering food and shelter is more than enough.

  • I NEVER give gift cards.  At one time, I offered fast-food gift cards to homeless or hungry people.  Now that I know there are businesses which will buy these cards for cash, I have decided not to give them away.  I will give them a brown bag lunch.  I’ve even offered to buy their lunches, but I won’t give cash or cards.

  • I no longer feel guilty about asking homeless people to leave our property.  I’m always courteous.  And I always tell them about our shelter.  But I don’t want homeless people who have refused our shelter to scare away people who come to worship with us.

Loving people is a challenge.  And I will always offer love.  And I thank God that we now have a way to show direct and tangible love to homeless people.

Unfortunately, not everyone will receive the love we have to offer.

 

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