365 Days

The next presidential election is 365 days away. It looks like the race to the White House in 2020 is going to be one of the ugliest displays of American politics my generation has ever seen. How the candidates speak of each other and to each other reminds me of the social skills of middle school children.

Middle school students are old enough to express their opinions, but unfortunately many of them are too immature to communicate their values. So, instead of debating differing ideas, they resort to arguing over opinions. The argument always lowers itself to the tactics that require the least amount of intelligence: name-calling, lying, exaggerations, twisted facts and even hand gestures. Eventually, egos start writing checks they will never be able to cash.

In a weird, but sad kind of way, I have always found the circus of presidential politics to be entertaining. I remember the debates of previous elections being heated, argumentative and tense, but also civil. In 2016, the tone changed. At least that is how I remember it.

Today the process is not entertaining. It’s dirty. It’s juvenile. Partisan politics override the issues. Personalities focus on dismantling the credibility of opponents. Spin makes the truth almost impossible to know. The real human need for leadership and cooperation gets lost in the fray. All candidates and our current president now behave this way. Not one distinguishes their values as being different when it comes to how they pursue being elected.

That, my friend, speaks to character. I am straining to find a candidate from any political party who is displaying good character in the process of the pursuit of the office.

What is good character? What does it look like?

Generally speaking, good character is when a person displays integrity, honesty, compassion, loyalty, humility, fortitude, and courage. Good character will make a sacrifice for the good of others and not call attention to it. A person of good character inspires others to have good character. The Bible says, “Character produces hope.” Based upon what I have seen from the personalities involved, I have a difficult time finding good character.

I realize this sounds judgmental, but I don’t mean for it to sound that way. I am no judge of the people seeking the office or the person sitting in it. I am simply forming an opinion based on what has been reported to me, the comments I have heard in debates, and personal research of the personalities involved.

I’m thankful the election is not today. Not because of any particular stance the candidates have made, but because I don’t see any of them displaying good character in the process. None of them have yet to inspire others to have good character. None of them offer hope through their behavior.

Where does this leave me?

The madness creates an opportunity for me to trust: not the president, the candidates or even the process. No it gives me an opportunity to wholeheartedly trust the character of God. When it comes to civil leaders, Christians are quick to point to Romans 13:1…

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.

People really like this verse when the person they support wins the election, but what about when the opposing candidate wins? How could God place a person who lacks character in the most powerful position in the world? News flash: God does not dole out authority based on a person’s character. If He did, there would be no bad leaders, bosses, coaches, pastors, teachers, or parents—ever! He gives authority to those whom will best fulfill His plan of redemption. Think of the government and religious leaders who had authority when Jesus was nailed to the cross. Why did God give them their authority? To fulfill His plan.

I know. It is hard to accept this, but that is why it is called trust. Over the next 365 days you will be tempted to doubt, fear, rage, despise and despair. Don’t give in. Trust the character of God.

Backroads

473 Words – Approximate Reading Time 3 Minutes

Cherry and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage this month. We decided to get away for a week. We planned a trip to Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Yesterday we pulled out.

We live in a GPS world, so we just started following the directions as they came from Google Maps. It seemed simple enough, but eventually we stopped for gas. Here is where things took a turn.

I have a discount card for Flying J or Pilot gas stations. The nearest one was ten miles from the interstate. We were in PA, which has outrageous gas prices, and the 5-cent per gallon discount seemed like a deal we could not afford to pass up. We exited the interstate and drove the 10 miles to save a whopping dollar.

Once the tank was full we turned on the GPS thinking we would go back the way we came, but Google Maps was now recommending a new route that was 5 minutes faster than going back to the interstate. Awesome! We could reach our destination 5 minutes faster.

I know you are thinking our spontaneous new journey included massive delays or ended somewhere in KY, but you are wrong. Google Maps took us on a scenic route using backroads through small towns named Fort Necessity, Lost River, Gromania, and Mathias. As we took this unscheduled adventure something began to happen.

For some reason we never turned on the radio. We did talk, but not continuously. Mostly, we just rode enjoying the scenery with our windows down. As I drove my mind wandered to all kinds thoughts, but eventually I just ran out of things to ponder. As my mind finally grew quiet, clarity and perspective began to invade.

I noticed Cherry as she sat there beside me with her legs pulled up in the seat. The air whipping through the truck had messed her hair up. It was swirling around into her face and she kept brushing it aside. She was gorgeous. I realized how wonderful she is, how amazing it is to be with someone and not say anything and still feel so connected.

As we continued to roll through towns no one has ever heard of, I began to recall God’s faithfulness to me. I realized in that moment: He is good to me. I know this, but on those backroads I began to realize His goodness is not just a cerebral fact I claim to be true. I could feel it in my soul.

The backroads through PA, MD, and VA became a place of worship. There was no singing, no formal praying, no words at all. It was happening in me as the goodness of God embraced me. I soaked up the moment.

It was the best dollar I ever saved. May you have your own backroad adventure.

8 Books with Benefits

804 Words–Approximate Reading Time 3 minutes

I used to hate reading. I don’t know why. My best guess is that for the first 22 years of my life I was told what to read, and honestly, I didn’t like much of it. Every English teacher and professor in high school and college had their favorite authors and novels. They made their favorites my required reading. I can only recall one book I was required to read that I liked: The Pearl by John Steinbeck. The only reason I remember it is because I convinced my girlfriend at the time to read it to me. I think that was the reason I liked it.

I have changed. I truly enjoy reading, but something peculiar is now happening. People ask me on a regular basis what I am reading. I guess it comes with the territory of being a public figure.

Studies have shown there are some pretty cool benefits to reading:

  • It sparks mental activity. My brain starts moving when I read.
  • It reduces stress. I begin thinking about something other than my problems.
  • It creates an opportunity to learn. I discover I really don’t know it all.
  • It expands the vocabulary vault. I find new ways to say the same things.
  • It slows memory loss. I remember why I came into the room.
  • It promotes problem solving. I learn from someone else’s mistakes or challenges.
  • It extends the attention span. I pay attention to my wife longer.
  • It helps when writing. My Facebook posts and Tweets are less ignorant.
  • It promotes slowing down. I can be still and not get bored.
  • It can be free entertainment. I don’t have to spend a fortune because library books are free.

The motivation behind this blog is to share with you some of the books I have read. Below is a list of good reads. I’m not a professor and this is not required reading. My hope in suggesting them is that they may they bring one or more of the benefits listed above to you.

The Bible by God – I read a portion of this book everyday. Every 15-18 months I will read through the Bible and begin again. I read a different a translation or paraphrase each time I start over. My favorite translations are the NIV, NLT, NIrV and The New Testament in Modern English translated by J.B. Phillips. The best paraphrases are The Living Bible and The Message. Reading the Bible will change your life.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – A heartwarming story of a family that overcomes the struggles of a child with a facial deformity. The book was made into a movie and it was good; but the book is better.

Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis by Stephan Bauman and Matthew Soerens – An eye-opening explanation detailing the process a person must go through to become a refugee invited to the United States. I never understood the difference between a refugee and immigrant until I read this book. Nor did I understand the global crisis and the reasonable response to make a difference.

A Life Intercepted: A Novel by Charles Martin – Charles Martin is my favorite fiction writer. This book mixes high school football, sexual accusations, a love story and a fatherless child all into one story. The author is a Believer, but his stories are not sappy Christian tales. They are edgy stories filled with characters that stick to their values even when the cost is high.

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin – DO NOT SEE THE MOVIE! The only thing the book and the movie have in common is the title and the plane crash. The male character in the book is a man’s man. He is nothing like the character in the movie. If you like rugged adventure, suspense, survival and sexual tension mixed with integrity, you will like this read.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel by Mark Sullivan – The book is a novel based on the real events of a 17-year-old boy in Italy during World War II. He became a top spy for the Allies. A fascinating story filled with war, love, loss, heroism, courage and strength. One of the best non-fiction stories I have ever read.

Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas – The book consists of seven short autobiographies of men who shaped the world. I could tell you who the men are, but you would assume you already know their stories. Trust me. You don’t.

Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz – The author wrote this book long before he announced his 2020 candidacy to become president of the United States. It is the story of Starbucks and how it overcame decline and closure. I don’t drink coffee, but this book is fascinating.

Boredom Backfires

1318 Words – Approximate Reading time 5 minutes

I was bored and scanning through my Facebook page when I came across this post.

HOW I FEEL ABOUT TRUMP:
You’ve been on vacation for two weeks, you come home, and your basement is infested with raccoons.. Hundreds of rabid, messy, mean raccoons have overtaken your basement.. You want them gone immediately!.. You call the city and 4 different exterminators, but nobody can handle the job.. But there is this one guy, and he guarantees to get rid of them, so you hire him.. You don’t care if the guy smells, you don’t care if the guy swears, you don’t care if he’s an alcoholic, you don’t care how many times he’s been married, you don’t care if he has a plumber’s crack, you simply want those raccoons gone!.. You want your problem fixed!.. He’s the guy.. He’s the best!
Here’s why we want Trump: Yes, he’s a bit of a jerk; Yes, he’s an egomaniac; but we don’t care!.. The country is a mess because politicians suck, the Republicans and Democrats can be two-faced and gutless, and illegals are everywhere.. We want it all fixed!.. We don’t care that Trump is crude, we don’t care that he insults people, we don’t care that he has changed positions, we don’t care that he’s been married 3 times, we don’t care that he fights with Megyn Kelly and Rosie O’Donnell, we don’t care that he doesn’t know the name of some Muslim terrorist.. This country became weak and bankrupt, our enemies were making fun of us, we are being invaded by illegals, we are becoming a nation of victims where every Tom, Ricardo, and Hasid is a special group with special rights to a point where we don’t even recognize the country we were born and raised in; “AND WE JUST WANT IT FIXED”.. And Trump is the only guy who seems to understand what the people want..
We’re sick of politicians, sick of the Democratic Party, sick of the Republican Party, and sick of illegals!.. We just want this thing fixed.. Trump may not be a Saint, but we didn’t vote for a Pope.. We voted for a man who doesn’t have lobbyist money holding him back, a man who doesn’t have political correctness restraining him.. We all know that he has been very successful, he’s a good negotiator, he has built a lot of things, and he’s also NOT a politician, NOT a cowardly politician.!.. And he says he’ll fix it.. And we believe him because he is too much of an egotist to be proven wrong, or looked at and called a liar.. Also, we don’t care if the guy has bad hair.. We just want those raccoons gone, out of our house, NOW!!!
You are welcome to copy/paste/share this.. Thousands of people who haven’t voted in 25 years seem to be getting involved.. And the more people get this message, the more that will understand why Trump was elected..The raccoons have got to go!!!

Needless to say, my boredom was over. Now, I was sad and even a little mad. My heart was even more troubled by the “likes,” “thumbs up,” and “smiley” emojis being tallied at the bottom of the post. At first I thought about responding with a quick shoot-from-the-hip public post, but something didn’t feel right about emotionally vomiting and letting everyone read it.

I know the person who posted this. I consider him to be more than an acquaintance. He is a person I respect in my community (and BTW…I still respect him). A quick, emotional response is not what was needed. I took a day to pray and think. Below is the private response I sent through Instant Message.

I recently read your post “How I Feel About Trump.” I wanted to share my thoughts with you discreetly that is why I am messaging you my ideas instead of posting them publicly. I do not want to inadvertently offend or embarrass you. I have no desire to be engaged in a social media dispute…especially with someone I respect and admire.

I like parts of the analogy. It communicates the angst I feel about politics in America. However, even though you have titled this post “How I Feel About Trump,” the analogy also reveals how you feel about immigrants. It is this I would like to speak about.

The analogy compares immigrants to raccoons. Raccoons are nasty animals that no one would want living in their home. Immigrants are people. Before I go any further let me clearly state: I am against illegal immigration and I am for protected borders. I am seeking ways to respect the law and show compassion.

Because immigrants are people and not animals there are some things I would like to suggest. First, people are made in the image of God. Therefore, how we treat them is extremely important. One day we will all stand before our Creator. He is going to hold us accountable for how we treated people–not animals. People are a priority to Him because people are made in His image. How we treat each other is a representation of how we treat Him. I’ve been around you enough to know the analogy does not clearly represent how you feel about people. You are a civil servant. For years you have helped people without knowing their status as a citizen. When you respond to a crisis and see someone in need of help, you see a person not an animal.

Because immigrants are people, it means they have a soul, which means they will live forever. Eternity is not going to be a place just for Americans. Heaven will be a place filled with all races. That means, the very people we mistreat here might be our neighbor there. We will have eternity to realize God values all people equally. Life on earth is practice for life in eternity. To leave this truth out of immigration policies puts us on a path of hatred for others. 

Last, not every immigrant is an illegal. There are actually three types of foreigners among us: refugees, immigrants and undocumented immigrants. The raccoons in the analogy are referring to undocumented immigrants, but refugees and immigrants look just like an undocumented person. How can we possible know when we see a foreigner if they are here legally or not? You know I adopted two boys from Colombia. One of them has a strong Spanish accent. He will always have this accent and it will always make him stand out.

I know the raccoons in the analogy do not represent adopted children from foreign countries, but foreign-born children will always look and/or sound like an immigrant. If our discussion of immigration does not take into consideration the different types of foreigners among us, then we lump all foreigners together as raccoons that need to be removed. I truly believe this is not what you were trying to communicate in the analogy, but that is part of the problem with comparing immigrants to raccoons. It devalues all immigrants and suggests that they should all be removed.

I hope you don’t think I am preaching at you. I do not mean to come across that way. Immigration and our response to immigrants are truly important—eternally important. Let me say again: I am against illegal immigration and I am for a protected border. I’m just against devaluing and dehumanizing immigrants.

The analogy does not cause me to have disrespect or anger towards you. I just disagree with its underlying premise and wanted to communicate that. I truly appreciate the way you serve our community. If I have offended you, please forgive me. It was not my intention.

I would be glad to have coffee with you or buy you lunch one day. Let me know if that interests you.

 

 

Foreigners Are Us

620 Words – Approximate Reading Time 3 Minutes

Have you noticed the hype to discover your family genealogy? Ancestry DNA, MyHeritage and 23andME all exist to help people discover their heritage. It is vogue to know one’s ethnic roots and to discover if royalty, courage or villainy is flowing in the veins.

I’ve never done a DNA test, but I know people who mailed half-a-teaspoon of spit to a lab. They were genuinely excited to discover their ancestors were not from North America. It roused their imagination and sparked their gratitude learning that their great, great, great relative took the risk and adventure to come to America.

Discovering where one comes from seems to shrink the size of the world. One doesn’t feel so far from the rivers of Europe, the plains of Africa, the mountains of Asia or the jungles of South America when realizing he or she came from that part of the world. It leaves one feeling connected to the global community.

As for the people I’ve talked to, no one’s ancestors are from North America. They all came from different parts of the world. It’s probably true for most of us. Nearly all American’s heritages come from foreigners who journeyed to this land of opportunity (the exception being Native American Indians). That means most of us have a refugee, immigrant or illegal immigrant in our family tree.

Knowing our heritage does not guarantee a better self-image. The past never defines a person. It only explains them. However, knowing our ancestors and honoring their struggles to build a better life should enhance our sensitivity to the hurdles modern refugees, immigrants and illegal immigrants face today.

Followers of Christ should have awareness and a kindred spirit to the unique struggles of foreigners because that is how the Bible describes us in this world. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gave this warning: Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. Followers of Christ are foreigners on this planet and it is to shape how they live.

Increasingly, foreigners in America are looked upon with distrust. Their intentions are assumed questionable. Their language is different. Their values are different. They look different, dress different, worship different and behave different. So, at the least they are perceived suspicious; at the worst they are assumed dangerous.

Unfortunately, a vast number of Christians have forgotten the suspicion secular society has for them and have embraced suspicion for the refugee and immigrant. Isn’t it ironic? The very angst some Christians have for the foreigner in America is the intolerance secular society has for them.

It is spiritually dangerous to neglect, mistreat or shun a person because of a political or biblical principle. Let me give an example. Biblically and politically I am pro-life, but that does not give me permission to neglect, mistreat or shun the person God places in my path who does not hold my value on this issue. My political and biblical value of life does not give me a pass to be mean or hateful to a pro-choice person. The same holds true with immigration.

The Bible clearly teaches to follow the laws of government, and in America every person has the freedom to hold whatever political view that best aligns with their values. I do not condone illegal immigration nor will I encourage the local church to be a sanctuary church that harbors, conceals or shields illegal immigrants. These principles align with my biblical and political values. But there are other biblical teachings that influence my response to the refugee, immigrant and illegal immigrant in my part of the world. Let’s talk about that next time.

Foreigners Among Us:Part 2

685 Words – Approximate Reading Time 3 Minutes

Few people use the word “foreigner.” I just Googled the word and the first two pages of results are all songs and information about the 80’s rock band that bears that name. Which, by the way, is one of the best hair bands of the 80’s! Honestly, when I hear the word “foreigner,” I think of the song “Cold As Ice” and start mentally rocking reliving the age of parachute pants and cassette tapes. But I digress.

On the third page of Google results I found the actual definition of the word: a person who comes from another country. The only place this word is used with any regularity is in the Bible. Over 100 times (104 to be exact) the Bible gives specific instruction on how to treat the foreigner or speaks to the unique struggles a foreigner endures.

Foreigners are in our cities, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and headlines. However, when they come up in conversations, they are called immigrants. That one word…immigrant…is packed with meaning, but it is not big enough to define a foreigner.

In America there are three types of foreigners: the refugee, the immigrant and the illegal immigrant. Refugees and immigrants are in the United States legally. Illegal immigrants are here…well…illegally. Undocumented. It is unfair to form opinions about immigration unless all three types of foreigners are being considered.

It is interesting that when God speaks about immigration in the Bible He chose to use the word foreigner, a broad word which covers the refugee, immigrant and illegal immigrant. One verse says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself,…”

“Treated as your native-born” Is this verse saying there should be no borders? Is it implying the foreigner should get all the privileges an American citizen receives? Is it commanding Jesus followers to not be concerned about the social, economic and safety ramifications of unchecked immigrants entering the United States? No.

When national media reports about caravans of people marching from Honduras to California, Arizona and Texas, citizens are forced to think about immigration on a macro-level. Ohio Joe, Nebraska Sue and Wyoming Richard begin to view and form opinions of immigration and its impact on the United States as a whole. What if God’s instruction is meant for a local response? Should a person’s opinion of a national challenge shape their treatment of a local foreigner?

I do not condone illegal immigration, but does that give me permission to mistreat, neglect or hold ill will towards my neighbor or co-worker who is a foreigner (the refugee, immigrant or the illegal immigrant)? As a follower of Jesus, I must strive to treat people as God instructs. In this case, treat them like I would any other citizen. Or better yet, love them like I love myself.

I am not a national leader. I haven’t been given the wisdom to apply God’s instruction at a national level.

I don’t live a few miles north of the Mexican border. I have not been offered the grace needed to live there, follow Christ there or represent God in that context.

I live in northeast Ohio. I’ve been called and placed by God’s sovereignty to live in the city I call home. I’ve been given the wisdom and grace needed to follow His instruction in my context. What if that is the point of following Jesus?

The only people God has called to figure out immigration at a national level are the national leaders he has placed in national positions; and God will help them, especially when they ask. Everyone else is to take God’s instruction and apply it in his or her neighborhood with the grace He provides.

This does not mean the local Believer cannot have an opinion about national issues, but opinions should never override Biblical instruction. In fact, opinions about immigration should be shaped by Biblical principles. To approach the issue without faith in God and a willingness to obey Him is to approach it the wrong way.

Foreigners Among Us

691 Words-Approx. Reading Time 3 Minutes

Here is an ancient quote: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself…” The quote was first written over 3000 years ago. Guess who wrote it?

It wasn’t Muhammad or Buddha. Both of those men wrote ancient sayings, but they can’t claim ownership to this quote. It wasn’t Confucius. He was born almost fifteen hundred years after the quote went into print. Any ideas? You may have guessed it by now. It was Moses. And to be completely accurate, Moses only wrote it down because God told him.

It’s interesting, but many Christians today do not know these two verses are in the Bible. Probably because they are found in the Book of Leviticus, a part of Scripture that doesn’t get much publicity these days.

It’s an easy quote to understand. It doesn’t contain any tough theological words requiring deep, mystical interpretation. However, it does carry some pretty hefty social, economic and safety implications…especially in the 2018…in America.

Who is the “foreigner?” Three thousand years ago when Moses first penned the words it was a stranger who moved into the community and was not from anywhere local. Today, we call this person an immigrant. However, the title “immigrant” does not completely define all the foreigners among us. Let me explain.

War, genocide, ethnic cleansing, political purging, civil war, prejudice, and hate crimes are just some of the tragedies that can cause a person to flee their native country and seek a safer life in a new nation. This person is not called an immigrant. He or she is called a refugee. Refugees never choose to leave their native country. They never choose to walk away from family, careers and friends to start over in America. They are forced to leave and invited to the United States by the federal government.

Famine, poverty, unemployment, lack of educational opportunities and unethical governments are some reasons a person may choose to come to the United States. When hardship or lack of opportunity compels a person to leave their native country and come to America, it is a choice they are making. No one is forcing them to leave. The individual must still do the painful, scary thing of leaving family, friends and everything normal to go to a land with more opportunities. He or she applies for a visa, receives the visa and enters the United States legally. This person is an immigrant.

Refugees and immigrants aren’t the only foreigners among us. There is a third. They are called illegal immigrants. An illegal immigrant is a person who enters the United States without a federal invitation and without a visa. It could also be a person who once had a visa, but remained in the country after their visa expired. This “foreigner,” the illegal immigrant, is the one that gets most of the headlines. Unfortunately, most of the time, all three groups are simply called immigrants. Because of this, all three groups receive the negative press that is really intended for one.

So, who is the foreigner you see? Is he or she a refugee, immigrant, or illegal immigrant? When God spoke and Moses wrote what we now call Leviticus 19:33-34, was the Almighty taking into consideration the political and social challenges we are currently enduring?

Here is the rub: As a Christian today, am I expected to fulfill the instructions of this 3000-year-old quote? Maybe I get a pass on this instruction because it is old? Maybe I can ignore it because it does not take into consideration the economic challenges it creates? Maybe I can reject it because it doesn’t speak to the safety issues it creates for the nation I love?

The answers to these questions are not easy. God knows this. I’m sure the emotions that stir within me when I think about this Biblical instruction are the same emotions Moses’ first audience had. The world has changed, but people really haven’t.

What does God want me (us) to do? Let’s talk about it next time.

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