Monday, November 30, 2015

A story of tears...

For years, one of my most common prayers has been that God would allow me to see the world through His eyes... to know His heart.  One song that I wrote is all about this... "Show me Your heart that I might see the world through Your eyes."

But sometimes it's painful.  Very painful.

Because the closer I get to the Father's heart, the easier it is to feel the pain inflicted on those around me... those in my family... even on people I do not know personally.  To feel His heartbeat is to feel pain when it is inflicted on "the least of these," for He said if it's done to them, it's done to Him.  To bear His name is to feel your heart constrict in horror when that pain is inflicted in His name.

I certainly can't claim that this prayer means that I see things perfectly, because I don't think that'll happen until I reach heaven. I know this prayer has changed me, though, from the Katie I used to be.

I beg your patience while I tell a story.

Once upon a time I was part of an extremely large housing development. It was large enough to have many distinct neighborhoods within it.

This development was not full, and every year about 1,070 new people were officially admitted.  Plenty more came as visitors and sometimes people wandered in, but those applying to live there and build homes had to agree to abide by the development's rules.  You know how that goes. A development will let a slob visit, but they sure won't let one live there permanently.

There were very few shortcuts in the process, even for the 70 people per year who were in emergency situations.

Well, as the development committee was considering the 1,070 that were admitted every year, they came across a particular group of 10 that they had to consider.

Only 10 out of 1,070 who were entering already.

Five of these 10 were children - some orphans and children of widows.  Most already had family inside the development... family who had actually filled out the paperwork because they wanted to let them come live with them. Accepting those seemed a no-brainer, though the committee still went through the 29 official steps required for each person.

Two of them were elderly people whose homes had been destroyed in vandalism. They also had friends and relatives inside the development who were willing to help them get a new start.

I do not know who the last person was, but again, the 29 official steps were being carefully followed.

But then the neighborhood watch raised an alarm about this particular group of 10 people.

Some people in my neighborhood quietly stood back, waiting to see if it was a false alarm, waiting to see if the 29 official steps were really being followed for safety's sake, etc. This seemed like wisdom to me.

Some used the opportunity to voice concerns about other groups of people who needed similar kinds of help. This was understandable... there are many types of people needing help in many different ways.

Some, however, began to loudly call for the rejection of these 10. I think maybe these people did not realize that this would mean people in other neighborhoods would be forbidden from opening their own homes to their orphaned nieces and nephews...  forbidden from letting their parents and widowed sisters into their own homes. I understood their concerns, yet it grieved me that they did not ask who the 10 were or where they would stay before they called for their rejection.

Still others in my neighborhood called for their rejection because one of the children might become a gang member. There were indeed gangs in some of the development's neighborhoods, although these gang members tended to come into the development among the daily visitors. Perhaps this was understandable, though my heart still broke on behalf of the thousands who had to listen to people say that they did not want to let them help their own family and friends.

Others in my neighborhood began speaking of these widows and orphans and elderly people as though they were already gang members. It was very hard for me to see these calls coming from my own neighborhood, some from people who represented me.  I wondered, though, if maybe they had not taken the time to ask who the 10 were.

Why did my normally kind and loving neighbors do these things? 

It might have had something to do with a shooting that happened in a different development, run by a different committee with much more relaxed rules, a long ways away.  It was a shooting that wasn't all that different than some that had already happened in my development, though the shootings in my development were typically carried out by people of my own race, my own political party, and sometimes even people who claimed my own religion.

By now, you probably realize what this parable is referencing.  The development is my country, the 1,070 are the immigrants who our country accepts every year, the 70 are refugees from around the world who are already accepted every year, and the 10 are the Syrian refugees... only 0.6% of what we already take in on a yearly basis from around the world.

The numbers are accurate if you multiply them by 1,000.

Of course, this is only my view... the story as it unfolded to me. 

I realize fully that my viewpoint might not be fully accurate and definitely isn't shared by everyone, but here's why I share it... why I think even those who do not share my viewpoint might be interested.

I was raised as both a Christian and a Republican, so that's where I'm going to speak from, when I say...

Both Christian groups and Republican groups know that we are considered by many to be hateful.  Sometimes we consider ourselves simply misunderstood, and other times we think other things about such accusations.

I am receiving a deeper understanding 
of why we get a reputation for being hateful.

I wish to beg those of us who bear Christ's name to consider a little more before we speak. This is what I'm calling on myself to do.

I think we need to realize when "standing for what we believe" or "voicing our opinion" amounts to telling others things like, "No, we do not want you to be able to open your own home to your brother or sister's family who is running for their lives."

Or when it amounts to, "We honestly don't care about the safety of your nieces and nephews; our own safety is more important."

This is why we are called hateful and selfish and hypocrites.

I've done it in the past a lot, and I still find myself falling into it sometimes. But God is teaching me to more often keep my mouth shut and listen... listen particularly to those who disagree with me and ask God to show me what He thinks and sees... to admit that what I think and see might be missing a little something... or maybe missing a lot.

Listening is loving. Becoming educated before we open our mouths is loving.

We are being told that we will allow in only 10,000 out of ten million Syrians who have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed. That means we're being asked to allow in only 1 out of every thousand. Even if it does rise to 65,000, that's still less than 7 out of every thousand.

These 10,000 are just a tiny, tiny percentage of the 1,700,000 immigrants and refugees that our country already absorbs every year.  Different people might have different opinions about various types of immigrants and refugees and whether or not our country should continue its heritage of welcoming people, but that is a different issue.

10,000 is a very small number. 
Only about 0.6% of what we took in last year.
Only 0.1% of all Syrian refugees.

We're the 3rd largest country with the 3rd largest population in the world, and we're being asked to take in only 0.1% of them.

These 10,000 people are mostly women, children, and elderly. 10,000 who mostly have family and friends already here.  That's why they want to come here.

How many of us place high importance on the location of friends and relatives when we move to a new home? 

Would that change if we were forced to choose a new place to live because our previous home, workplace, and city looked like this?

What if some of them don't already have family here? Well... I strongly suspect that Americans of Syrian heritage in our country would understand very clearly a parable that began with the question, "Who is my neighbor?"  Some churches do... and I think maybe all of us should be willing to consider their viewpoint and experiences so far.

We don't have to agree to everything our president says in order to let Syrians already in our country help their family and friends. Our government sets a priority on letting refugees join family they already have living here, so they can have the help they need to become productive members of society.  I have six immigrants from six different countries in my family, not counting my great grandparents and more distant family.  They have built businesses, hired born-here Americans, saved lives, become veterans, etc.

We don't have to stop helping groups of people we care about just because other people are given the chance to help people they care about. My pastor spoke an excellent message yesterday about staying focused on what God has called us to do.  That also means allowing other people to do what God has called them to do.

If we are concerned about 1.7 million immigrants and refugees coming in each year from around the world, then by all means, we can research the many different ways they come, which are "vetted" and which are not, how they are handled, whether they help or hurt the economy, and other such things so that we can intelligently write to our politicians about it.  We all have the right and responsibility to do that.  Terrorists have so far found it much easier to get into our country by means other than the refugee process, so those of us concerned about that can certainly write our politicians and try to get involved in improving the processes that terrorists have used to get into the country.

But as for me, right now...

I weep for the 5,000 children and 2,500 elderly who were hearing loud and clear, "We don't want to let anyone in our country reach a helping hand to you in the most practical of ways."

I weep for the widows and orphans and elderly who were hearing on every television that half of the states in this country do not want to let them join their family here.

I weep for the men who are trying to provide for their wives and children in a place of safety... someplace where their sons will not be press-ganged into the army that already slaughtered their brothers and cousins and razed their homes and businesses.  My great grandparents were of this group 100 years ago, leaving Germany for the United States, and trying to make a life in a country where having a name like Rudolf Melichar was viewed with the same amount of suspicion that those with the name Mohamed are viewed with today. If my great-grandparents had not been allowed to come, then my grandfather would have been pressed into the German army rather than becoming the American WWII veteran that he was. He also probably would not have found salvation in the 1970s.

I weep for the 1,800,000 Muslims already here in the US who are being told by millions of Facebook posts that they should not be allowed to help their friends and relatives. Personally, I think those 1,800,000 should be allowed to try to help their own.  There are still another 317,000,000 of us in this country who can continue trying to address other kinds of needs in our nation.

I weep for the Syrian Christians who are too afraid to even ask for refugee status, unaware that greater numbers of them would be helped if they could only be found.

I weep for the veterans who have been ignored by their family, their neighbors, and their government.

I weep for the homeless teenagers here in the US who have grown up so lost and ignored and abandoned that they do not even know how to conduct themselves in the way necessary to hold down a job... and the Christians who hear their rudeness write them off with comments about "what this world is coming to."

I weep for the Muslims families in Africa who have had watched Christian armies slaughter their families and destroy their homes in the Central African Republic and other African nations.  Did you know that the same terrorists lists with ISIS on them also have the Lord's Resistance Army on them? This group which also called themselves the Holy Spirit Movement celebrated Christmas a few years back by attacking a concert venue, holding hundreds of people hostage, murdering 143 of them, and then going through town slaughtering as many as they could. Sound familiar? Except this was in Congo, not France. And this was a Christian army, not a Muslim one.

If there is a terrorist among the refugees of any religion who make it here, I weep for him and I pray that here, in this country, he will meet the Jesus who offers what terror can never provided. Other former terrorists have found Jesus, because that's just how powerful and amazing my God is!

I weep for the many in similar situations around the world who receive the same message... that someone else is more important.  As my pastor said yesterday, many of us are called to minister in different areas and to different people. Many of us are called to share our resources in different ways.  The problem is the number of times when, in our passion for one group of people, we inadvertently tell others that they don't matter.

Everyone matters... and so I weep for a world that frequently hears the "you don't matter" messages more loudly than "you matter, and a Savior died for you."

And finally, I also grieve for the millions around the world who watched members of my political party and religion in disbelief, for I have been hoping and praying that those millions would hear and see a different message... that a lot of us represent a God who loves the world enough to give His Son in order to save them...

...a God who chose to save the world by allowing religious zealots acting in His name to turn Jesus over to a terrorist regime for torture and death.

Yes, sometimes it is very painful to love.

And yet, when God lets me feel His heartbeat, I also feel the joy that somehow abounds even while I grieve. 

I feel the love that is pulsing and calling for people of all nations to believe that He really does love them enough to willingly walk into one court run by misled religious zealots and another court that would be called terrorist today, knowing that He was headed to a death worse than beheading.

I feel the forgiveness that prayed, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing."  A forgiveness that is extended to me when I realize that I too did not know what I was doing. That happens a lot.

He points out the stories of how Muslims are dreaming of Jesus and coming to salvation in record numbers, finding a peace and a joy that they never had before.

He moves on antagonistic regimes to allow shoeboxes carrying the gospel and more practical gifts to reach children that will hear of Jesus for the first time.

He does all things well. And I love Him. And I rejoice because I can trust that He holds this crazy, twisted, confused world in His hands.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fear vs. Love

I'm going to share something that I think a lot of people may find a little radical. I beg your grace if this is against your beliefs. It comes from love, though, and it's part of my heart, so I'm going to share. //

The terrorists activities in Paris last week have set fire to all sorts of emotions around the world. (At least for 1st world nations for whom this kind of violence is not normal.) //

Terrorists use fear to advance their agenda.  They have no fear of death. In fact they embrace it.  But they use the fear of death that most of the world has to advance their agenda.

Are there any other groups of people in this world who also have no fear of death?
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Yet a lot of us struggle with the fear of death.

I think it's natural to struggle with it, but I also believe that we discover the reality of the "gain" that Paul is talking about the more we know the God who said He is love, for His Word also says:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.

Many people right now are calling for a halt to any refugees coming because of the attacks... because of the fear that a terrorist might be among these people who themselves have been terrorized. 

(There may be other reasons for wanting to keep any refugees from coming, and I do not feel qualified to address those. Nor am I addressing the government's perspective which may have valid reasons for being different than an individual.  I am only thinking about the fear in individuals... the fear that letting refugees in might let terrorists in.)

That fear is very understandable. It's natural to not want your loved ones to not get blown up.

And yet as a Christian, I think of a parable Jesus told:
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’

37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?
38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
He goes on to say:
41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’

44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not [e]take care of You?’

45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
He didn't specify whether these least brothers of His were terrorists or Muslims or Christians or Jews or atheists.

I come from an international family. I have first-generation immigrants in my family, family members from almost every continent on earth (no Australians yet) and speaking multiple languages (including Arabic). I also have a very dear cousin who lives in a suburb of Paris and works near the Eiffel Tower. I can't help thinking of her precious little ones.

Maybe that has influenced my perspective. But on the other hand, perhaps the Bible has influenced my perspective.

Let's say the fearful are right.  Say that we invite Christian and Muslim refugees into our towns and cities, and one of them is a terrorist who blows himself up next to us while we're in the grocery store.

Are there any verses where God said "Depart!" to those who were killed by terrorists?

I can't find any.  Although the Bible says this:
For one will hardly die for a righteous man; [a]though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
And this:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it..
It seems to me that God calls His people to something greater than safety. (Again, I am speaking of individual Christians. God does call people to jobs that focus on keeping others safe, and I believe God blesses their efforts to do their jobs well.)

For the record, the same verses also apply to helping American homeless, and hungry Veterans, and many others who need help and frequently aren't getting it.

I don't know what is coming in our future.  We might very well have to learn to live with fear in a way that we have not for several generations.

My aunt stated it so eloquently:
[People] are afraid and angry. I understand that. I'm afraid too for my cherished daughter who works in Paris near the Eiffel Tower. But she believes in supporting a better life for people fleeing oppression. And I agree with her. I can live with fear and love.

God also told his people:
"You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

What choices will Christians make in the months and years ahead?

Can we dare to love in the face of terror?

Can we, like Christ, love people "even while they are yet sinners."

As for me... I'm thinking about that day when I stand before God.  I'd rather Him welcome me because I was killed by a terrorist than hear Him tell me to depart because I would not help people who needed it.  Especially when many of them are running from those same terrorists.

This is what heroes are made of... those who pause in their efforts to gain safety themselves, in order to turn around and lend a helping hand to those who are behind them.

This is love.

From Ann Voskamp if you need more encouragement from a more eloquent writer than I:

Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion