Shadow’s Warning

A chill went through his body and a disturbing sense of dread that something was not right.

Andrew, young man in his sophomore year of college, who grew up in an atheist home setting, had made it his life’s goal to be an Olympic gold-medal diver. He spent every waking moment training individually and with the college team toward that goal. Peter, one of his teammates and a friend, who trained just as diligently as he did, was an outspoken yet respectful Christ-follower.

Sunday was a mandatory non-training day to give their bodies a chance to rest and rebuild. They were used to rising early for training during the week so it was natural on Sundays they would meet up at the college coffee to chill. Andrew always thought it just a little weird that Peter was so adept at turning a discussion often toward Christianity. Andrew listened politely. He had to admit that what Peter shared from the bible made sense, sometimes. He even debated with his friend but that is as far as he wanted to go. Several times he was almost persuaded to ask Christ into his life. Almost. But ‘first things first’ were his motto. His focus was on getting to the Olympic stand and having that gold medal hanging around his neck.

One night, intending on going to the library for some research, he found the library closed. He stood for a moment wondering what to do next. Always thinking about training, he headed for the pool. He had gotten into the habit that semester of always carrying his trunks in his backpack. He got to the pool and found the door open but the lights were off, He did not know where the switch box was located. However, as the pool had large skylights and there was a full moon overhead, even though it was a little dark, there was enough light to practice by. He dug his swim trucks out of his backpack, changed and climbed up the 10-meter diving board. Stepping onto the board Andrew walked to the end. Looking down at his feet he turned around to position his feet on the board correctly for his first dive.

As he shifted his feet and weight of his body, his mind was running through some of the coaching tips he had gotten earlier that day. Lifting his head and straightened his body for the dive, he raised his arms straight out from his body sideways before bringing them together in front of him. Suddenly he froze. There on the wall was his shadow from the moon and it looked like a man on a cross. A chill went through his body and a disturbing sense of dread that something was not right. Suddenly it all sort of made sense what Peter had been sharing with him for months. He could not put off Jesus calling him. He took a step forward on the board away from the edge and knelt down. He prayed a simple prayer and somehow that sense of dread left him. As he stood up he heard a door closing at the end of the pool. Then he heard a rattling of keys and the next thing he was bathed in a flood of light as the lights came on. Now he could see the maintenance man by the electrical panel. Then he saw something else that put a chill into his heart. Looking down he saw that the pool had been drained of water.

Christians, The Golden Rule Applies To Syrian Refugees Too

A re-post 

In Culture by Frank Powell                                                  November 18, 2015

I’m going to be honest. Today, my heart breaks. Yes, my heart is broken for the families and victims in Paris. Yes, my heart hurts for the thousands of Syrian refugees displaced around the world. But the weight pressing heavily on me is the attitude of many American Christians.

Since terrorists attacked Paris, several states have closed their doors to Syrian refugees. Ironically (or not) most of these states are in the Bible Belt.

While I do not support the actions of these states, I’m also not writing to them. Governments operate under a particular set of parameters. Among those is the safety of their people. If government officials believe accepting Syrian refugees puts their particular state at risk, that’s their decision. Do I agree? No. Does it influence my response? No.

I’m also not talking to atheists, agnostics, animists, or any other “ist.” If you don’t know and love Jesus Christ, I’m not talking to you. It’s not that I don’t care about you. It’s just that I understand. If you don’t claim Jesus as lord, I see where you would applaud governments for protecting your safety. If you post articles to help others see why accepting Syrian refugees is, in essence, pulling the metaphorical trigger for ISIS, I get it. I don’t agree with you. But I totally get it.

Today, I am talking specifically to Christians. Since the Paris attacks, I have read statements ranging from logical to completely ludicrous. So, let’s start by assuming the worst.

If America open its borders to Syrian refugees, some of those entering might be bad guys. And not just any bad guys. Brain-washed, American-hating, bad guys. Like Joker in The Dark Knight on steroids. They will now be walking on American soil, plotting to wipe out massive amounts of people. This would certainly be the beginning of the end for America. Do we really want to accept a few refugees at the expense of everything we know and love?”

To me, this is a far-fetched scenario. Others might disagree. It doesn’t matter. Even if this scenario were true, the rules of the game wouldn’t change. Christians don’t make decisions using the world’s ideals. Our worldview is shaped by a man named Jesus.

And I believe Jesus has a simple word for Christians when it comes to Syrian refugees.

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12

This one statement from Jesus summarizes everything. And this statement applies no matter how many hypothetical, “take down America” scenarios we conjure up. The foundational response for “How do we, as Christians, respond to the Syrian refugee crisis?” is “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”

There are no “Yeah, but …” Jesus didn’t attach stipulations or conditions to his statement.

What if followers of Jesus responded to every person through the filter of Matthew 7:12? What if we removed the red, white, and blue lens, and put on the Matthew 7:12 lens? Here’s what I believe would happen.

We would stop labeling people in ways that release us from helping them. 

A Matthew 7:12 lens would see Syrian refugees as men and women created in God’s image. They would be people desperate to feel the tangible love of God. We wouldn’t label them as potential terrorists but as helpless, homeless, displaced people desperate for healing and hope.

Labeling is an ancient sin. One of Satan’s oldest tricks to isolate and dehumanize. One he used to convince a crowd of Jews to crucify a sinless man. The Syrian refugees aren’t terrorists. They’re men and women created in the image of God. Any attempt to see them outside of this reality is from Satan.

We would stop allowing security and comfort to override compassion and grace. 

A Matthew 7:12 lens would default to love and compassion. If you were a Syrian refugee, displaced from your homeland, without a permanent place to lay your head, having left loved ones to die, how would you want others to respond? You would beg them to drop their walls and build bridges. You would ask them to look past the potential of allowing some bad guys in. You would sacrifice everything because you were compelled by compassion. You would beg anyone who claims to follow Jesus to fall down on their knees and beg God to heal their land.

So, maybe we can’t house Syrian refugees. But a heart driven by compassion doesn’t look at the situation and say, “Well, our state has closed its doors. Nothing I can do.” A heart filled with God’s spirit would turn to prayer. Have you prayed for the Syrian refugees?

We would stop choosing the logical, sensical approach (fear) over the right approach (love).

Fear makes more sense than love. It’s a natural response to evil. But it’s not the right approach. At least, it’s not if you are a Christian. You see, fear is powerful. It drowns out love. You can live with fear or love, but not both. When it comes to ISIS, in particular, and evil, in general, we don’t need more courage. Courage doesn’t drive out fear. Suicide bombers are courageous. And they’re also driven by fear.

You can live with fear or love, but not with both.

Christians, our call isn’t to conjure up more bravery and courage. The only response to fear is love. The apostle John said,” Perfect love drives out fear.” It’s the only thing powerful enough to break the chains of darkness. It’s the only thing compelling enough to drive the son of God to the cross.

This love crosses boundaries, destroys walls, and accepts enemies. Welcoming refugees makes no sense. It jeopardizes our safety. It makes us vulnerable to attack. But we don’t allow logic to drive the train. God’s love doesn’t make sense. And because of this love, Christians have eternal life.

We would stop throwing money at crises as a means to clear our conscious. 

I read a statement this morning from Dr. Ben Carson, a Republican Presidential candidate. I love Dr. Carson. I’m not attacking his character. I’m simply using his statement (you can read it here) because Dr. Carson is a Christian, and his stance represents the default approach of many Christians to global tragedies. Here’s an excerpt.

“Today, I am asking Congress to stop the Obama Administration’s plans to bring in up to 45,000 Syrian refugees…We should do everything in our power to help these men, women, and children who have been forced to flee their country, but until we can sort out the bad guys, we must not be foolish.”

In other words, accepting Syrian refugees is dangerous. But let’s not stop helping them. Let’s send them supplies and funds. Let’s hold them at arm’s length and use our pocketbooks to clear our conscious. It’s the Christian American way.

But it’s not the Jesus way.

A Matthew 7:12 lens would see money as a shallow excuse for receiving real people with real pain. As Christians, we should open our arms to the world’s suffering. In the process, we might also expose ourselves to the world’s pain. But this is the model of Jesus, who exposed himself to our pain on the cross.

Giving money to help refugees or orphans is great. But Jesus would never throw money at someone to protect his safety and maintain his lifestyle. Christians shouldn’t either.

Jesus would never throw money at someone to protect his safety.

We would stop adding stipulations to the commands of Jesus to keep us from loving our enemies. 

Jesus said a lot of radical things. He told a parable that challenged Pharisees to love wretched Samaritans. He said lust was equivalent to adultery. But the most radical statement from Jesus was his command to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48).

A Matthew 7:12 lens would not say Jesus would retract his command to love our enemies if he were alive today. “I mean, Frank. Do you believe think Jesus wants us to love ISIS?”

I think Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for them. In doing this, we become true children of heaven. I’m not saying we allow ISIS a free pass into America. But we MUST pray for them.

This isn’t optional.

Praying for your enemies isn’t optional if you love Jesus.

We would stop blaming political figures as a way to deflect our responsibility to feed orphans, homeless, and widows. 

A Matthew 7:12 lens wouldn’t deflect Christians’ responsibility onto the President, Congress, or anyone in between. In Matthew 25, Jesus instructed us to receive anyone who is hungry, thirsty, or lost. And doing this makes us righteous before God.

That’s real.

Homeless refugees shouldn’t be a catalyst for our political agenda. It’s not Obama’s fault. Even if he were catering to Muslims, the responsibility of Christians doesn’t change.

Look, I suck at living like Jesus most days. I try, but I’m not great at it. Like most Christians, I love to get side-tracked on real issues affecting real people by turning them into political or theological debates.

A Matthew 7:12 lens would challenge us to stop arguing over issues and start seeing real people. Hungry, thirsty, lost people. And, rather than blaming political figures, we should pray about and discuss ways to be Jesus to thousands of refugees.

______________

Christians, the fear mongering needs to stop. Governments will make their decisions. Those outside of Jesus will do the same. But we play the game with different rules. We don’t believe the lie that says more weapons, taller walls, or stronger militaries will overcome the evil in this world. Unapologetically, we fight with love. We believe the selfless, sacrificial love Jesus exemplified will destroy the evil and darkness in our world.

Love conquers evil and drowns out fear. Matthew 7:12 gives us the vision to see it.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

 

Down or Up

Have you ever stopped to think about why some folks are able to weather great loss and misfortune while others fall apart? I was thinking about this bit of wisdom found in Proverbs 24:16: “…for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” [NIV] The thought here is not about whether one falls into misfortune but what that person does when it happens. Life is not always easy. Life can come at us hard. What we trust in for help is what makes or breaks us. I have known people through the years that have had bad things happen to them. Years later, after the event they are still angry at God or themselves. They fail to see God’s providential care over them in the days and years afterward.

A certain hiker on a mountain path stumbles on a small rock and falls. He picks himself up and continues on, paying more attention to where he is going. Another hiker comes along later and stumbles on the same small rock and falls. He curses the rock and God for letting him fall. He will eventually pick himself up but he may turn around and go home to never hike again. It is too hard and the path is too unfair.

It is easy to talk boldly that we trust God when in church or around our Christian friends. However, our actions under fire will prove the truth. When temptations assail our brains, when disease press us down or even when violence enters our world and violates either us or our loved ones, how we emerge from the fiery of trials will either prove or disprove our words. If in fact we trust God even when the trial is unfair and makes no earthly sense, we will emerge experiencing God’s peace that passes understanding. The one who is unwilling to trust God in all circumstances will go into the furnace and not emerge. There he will stay because he refuses to look up and see God’s help. He thinks that there is no one to uphold him. The one, who refuses to look with eyes of faith, will fail to see Jesus walking beside him through the flames with His hand out.

We are never totally secure living in a world where both the just and the unjust are subject to worldly cares, losses or the insidious attacks of the man. There is always a choice. Those who place their lives in God’s hands never lose sight of God’s presence. They are the ones that seem to flourish in spite of their dire circumstances. Those opting to shun God and continue in impatience with life, fretting constantly and never understanding that no one can protect themselves against evil or have the strength to rise again when bad things happen in a fallen world.

The furnace of misfortune, disaster, human fickleness, grievous affliction and just plain misery, sorts out the ones who outwardly profess that God loves them but fail to walk that way, from those who have applied God’s love to their hearts and continue to live righteously in an evil world. John Gill writes in his Exposition on the Entire Bible: A just man, though he does not fall from his righteousness, which is an everlasting one, nor from the grace of God; yet he may fall into temptation, and by it he may fall into sin, as every just man does; “for there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sins not…” [Ecc 7:20]

The mark of a godly man whose walk matches his talk, is able to do so because he keeps receiving via prayer a fresh application of grace. In his hurt and grief, he seeks God through the Word and learns how to walk in integrity [talk equals walk] and gains wisdom outside of his natural ability. Sin wants to put us down and keep us down. Grace wants to revive us no matter how grievous the sin. Remember David entering into adultery and then murder of his trusted friend to cover his sin with his wife? God did not leave him in that furnace. David, being a godly man named, owned and repented of his sin. God restored him to fellowship but not without consequences. If David had chosen to hide his sin he would have had no escape and his story would end differently. David sought access to God’s pardoning grace and therefore God could bring healing to him. Had David chosen to shun God’s forgiveness God would have left him to his own devices to wallow in it. The problem is, sin left unattended to its own devices will lead to more sin and that will lead to more trouble and distress.