Saturday, February 18, 2017

My View of Muslims

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the finer points and details of current and/or future United States government policy on immigration and refugee resettlement.  Neither is it to discuss exhaustively the differences between Christianity and Islam.  I'd like to tell you my story.

Since 2004 my wife Julie and I have had relationships with a large number of refugees resettled from Somalia (after years living in camps in Kenya) who are Muslim.  Julie's experience far outweighs mine but in my limited interactions I have come to love them.  It's not that I  initially had overt hatred or prejudice toward them but I didn't know how to relate to them, and the change in my heart and mind did not come overnight.  

Obviously in the beginning I knew our new friends were Muslims but didn't know much about Islam, so I began some reading and study. I found there is a wide variety of belief and practice among Muslims, much like you find in Christianity. There's no doubt there are Islamic extremists of different degrees around the world, and one should never assume that all people of one religion are like-minded in every way.  In either case - Islam or Christianity - there is a danger in painting everyone with the same brush. However, through spending time with the Somali Bantu and getting to know them, it became clear that our new friends did not come to America to institute Sharia law, they came for refuge from a war torn country for survival and opportunity.  

Getting involved with the Somali Bantu was a totally new experience for me.  I was far out of my comfort zone, and still am. Language barriers and cultural difference can sometimes be both comical and uncomfortable.  In our early days we helped them with simple things to acclimate them to their adopted country. Kitchen appliances and vacuum cleaners were totally new to them.  Learning English, looking for work, finding healthcare ... there were so many things for which they needed guidance. In spending time with them we heard their stories from life, both young and old.  Some of the stories were horrible and  nearly beyond our comprehension as white middle-class Americans.  They weren't 60 Minutes reports or the wide screen edition of Black Hawk Down, they were flesh and blood accounts. I was able to see them as more than some abstract "Muslims", I could see their    humanity. 

With time we were called friends, and one man who was only a few years younger than me actually said that Julie and I were like parents to him.  A few baby names were chosen on our behalf so there is actually a young boy in New York now named Bill Hussein!  Our friends learned to trust us (and we them).  We've rejoiced with them over births at the hospital, walked through legal issues with them and accompanied them to their swearing in ceremonies as US Citizens, among many other things.  However, like most relationships things have not always been fun or easy, but as friends we have attempted to help the best we can when needed and sometimes just spent time with them (like "regular" friends do).  

It grieves me when I hear or read derogatory blanket statements made about Muslims, refugees and immigrants.  Perhaps the statements are made by people whose viewpoints are shaped by fear of what they don't know or understand.  Do you have such fears?  If so, I'd encourage you to get to know a refugee, Muslim or immigrant and take the time to discover that they too are human beings with similar feelings and goals as you and I.

However, acknowledging our similarities is only half the story.  As a follower of Jesus,  I'm to be a peacemaker,  an ambassador of reconciliation,  a witness to the truth of the gospel,  the good news that those who were once far off can be brought near to God.  The Scriptures tell us that God has ransomed a people for Himself from every tribe and language and nation.  Not just some, but all, even the ones that you or I may not be so comfortable with.  If God so loved the world, can we do any less?

A special thank you to my wife Julie for assistance in writing and editing this post

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Celebrating Christmas

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
Matthew 1:21

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord'"
Luke 2:11

"for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel."
Luke 2:30-32

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."
John 1:14

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."
Galatians 4:4-5

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed."
Isaiah 53:5

This is the story of Christmas.  A reason for thankfulness and joy. Jesus was born to die that we might be reconciled to God. 

Somehow the season has become cluttered with Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, and the Elf on the Shelf, among other things . Many hours and dollars are spent shopping for gifts. These things can obscure the real story of Christmas. Jesus has become a part of the holiday rather than the rightful focus.

This year, as always, we will buy a tree and Julie will do a great job decorating it. I love the smell of a real tree and the beauty of one tastefully lit and ornamented. We will watch White Christmas and Holiday Inn.  Julie will bake some really awesome desserts. But over the last few years we have reconsidered how we spend our time, energy, and money during the Christmas season and we've made some changes. Last year was the most relaxed,  enjoyable Christmas season I can remember.  It wasn't simply the act of eliminating things, but that the changes allowed my mind and heart to give more thought to and meditation on the birth of Jesus. Time spent with family was more about people and less about things. 

What will your Christmas look like this year?  This is where I could go on a lengthy rant about all that is wrong about how Christmas is celebrated these days, and I would be justified in doing so.
But I would ask you to simply and quietly reflect on the Scriptures above and close with one more:

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon is shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6

Now that is something to celebrate.  Every day of the year.

Monday, May 18, 2015

My "Generation"

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.
                                              "Ohio" by Neil Young

On May 4, 1970 four students were killed and nine wounded by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio during a protest against the Vietnam War.  The war was already a hotly debated topic and the incident further polarized public opinion. I was nine years old at the time and didn't understand what the war was about or why we were a part of it. I only wondered if America's involvement would drag on until I was old enough to face the military draft. The previous decade had already been a time of upheaval and uncertainty in America  and the 1970s apparently would provide more of the same. 

I was born October 5, 1960. By the time I was 14 years old our nation had witnessed the following events:  President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and civil rights activists Medgar Evers, Malcolm X,  and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. The Beatles came to  the U.S. and the British Invasion began.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.  Men walked on the moon. Woodstock brought attention to peace and music.  Entertainers Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and Cass Elliott had untimely deaths. Music artists Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died of drug related causes and Sam Cook was murdered.  The 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowed 18 year olds to vote.  The advertising of cigarettes was banned from television and radio. The attempted assassination of Alabama governor George Wallace left him in a wheelchair.  Vice President Spiro T. Agnew  resigned  due to criminal charges. President Richard Nixon made a historic visit to China and later resigned due to the Watergate scandal.   Actress Sharon Tate and six others were murdered by Charles Manson and his "family".   The Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade ruled that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion.  Skylab was launched as the United State's first space station.  Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record.  That is just a sampling. 
These were the formative years of my generation.  Of course a "generation" can't be precisely defined and any time period you might choose would have it's own memorable happenings and changes.
What are some of yours?  How do you think about them now? 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Am I Old?

When I was a kid the year 2000 seemed a lifetime away.  I would be 40 years old and I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be grown up.  Forty seemed old to me. Well, I'm almost 15 years past that now. Turning 40 was no big deal for me and 50 wasn't either.  The only extraordinary thing about turning 55 will be some senior discounts I'll be able to take advantage of.  

Am I old?  A very vocal young man in West Nashville who didn't care for my driving recently called me an old fart and also informed me that I was a dumbass.  The truth is that he didn't understand the concept of right-of-way.  I was more entertained than offended by his insults.  Age has never been a point of worry for me and I don't feel old, but over the past year I've been much more aware that I am in fact getting older.

Am I grown up?  Sometimes I'm not sure what that even means.  I've found that responsibilities change with time.  For example, since last fall my wife Julie and I have helped my aunt in Kentucky through hospitalization, rehabilitation, and now into assisted living.  Some things are very different.  At times it has been unpleasant and stressful.  Comfort zones are a moving target.  This is life.

As I've become more reflective about my life I've realized that it has been made up of thousands of choices and moments that have been woven together like a tapestry.  It is not like anything I would have expected at various points in time.  I'd like to share some of my choices and moments with you through this blog in future posts.  There is one thread running through the tapestry of my life that holds everything together: the faithfulness of God. It's best expressed by David in Psalm 37:25:  "I have been young, and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Life and Death, Heaven and Hell

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
Psalm 116:15
"As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their wicked ways and live."
                                                                                                   Ezekiel 33:11

The past week or so has been a time of extreme contrast for me,  an emotional rollercoaster of joy, sadness, celebration, and grief.  It began Thursday night, December 12, as my wife Julie and I attended Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God" concert at the Ryman Auditorium.  It has become a holiday tradition for us and it's always a tremendous blessing to celebrate in music and song the coming of Jesus into the world to save us from our sin.  I love listening to the recording, but it is much more powerful when heard live, particularly the songs  "So Long Moses" and "Behold the Lamb of God".
The next day I got the news that Bob Mowery, former pastor of Park Avenue Baptist Church, had gone to be with the Lord at the age of 87. "Brother Bob", as everyone called him, was my pastor for the first 21 years of my life, but his ministry and influence reached far beyond that time.  His memorial service was scheduled for Tuesday, December 17, which happened to also be the date of our 30th wedding anniversary.
The memorial service was a warm and sweet celebration of his life. I've never known anyone who exhibited more of what I would call a Christ-like life than Brother Bob.  The fruit and power of the Holy Spirit was evident in his preaching, his pastoring, his leadership, and his "private" life. His time in this world was certainly a testimony to how God can use a life for His glory in so many ways.  Although Brother Bob will be missed by family and by so many people who were affected by him, we can all rejoice for him, knowing that he is now in the presence of Jesus who he loved and served for so many years - a life lived humbly to the glory of God, a blessing and an exhortation to us all.
After the graveside service Julie and I stopped by our house and I surprised her with a poem I had written to her for our anniversary. I know all of you are totally shocked that I could write anything poetic, but I do occasionally have the ability to do that with some degree of effectiveness.  In that poem I reflected on the grace of God and His blessing in giving Julie to me.  Another emotional moment in a day already filled with a mixture of joy and grief.  We then got a phone call from our son Benjamin, who let us know that he had successfully defended the proposal for his doctoral dissertation. Another reason to celebrate.
And the day was not finished. We went to dinner at Maggiano's.  If you've ever been you know how awesome it is. If you've never been there, go.  When we got in the car to leave after dinner Julie got a text message. It informed us that a friend of ours had died that afternoon, totally unexpected at the age of 52.  We didn't even know he had recently been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
The worst part is that as far as we know this friend was not a believer in  Jesus.  The remainder of our evening was spent mostly in a stunned silence. Earlier in the day we had celebrated, knowing that Brother Bob was now in the presence of God, free from this world, from sin, from sorrow. Just a few hours later, I was faced with the thought that a man I knew and cared for, someone I had hoped would somehow, someday come to faith in Jesus, was now suffering eternal torment.
If you are recoiling in horror or find that statement distasteful, I can understand your reaction. But how you and I feel doesn't change the truth of it. The Scriptures are clear. Funny how truth and theology can seem so clear until it affects us in some inconvenient way. This would be a good time to be a Universalist. My friend is forever separated from God. Nothing can change that. Over the next few days I began to process my thoughts and emotions about it , and I still am. 

So here are my thoughts at this point:

I find comfort in the fact that God loves my friend much more than I ever could, and that His grief is far beyond mine.  I know from reading the Bible that He is not rubbing His hands and laughing with delight when unbelieving people die.

The Scriptures have been even more precious to me this week. The promises seem surer, the instructions clearer, the exhortations more urgent, the rebukes more pointed, the comforts sweeter and deeper.  The Word has fed my soul as it has revealed more the heart of God to me.

What I do does matter. And what I don't do does matter. Prayer also matters.  I'll blog more about these subjects another day. Right now I'll simply say that many times God uses people to accomplish his purposes.  I've had to deal with guilty thoughts, wondering whether or not the outcome with my friend would be different if I had done or said certain things.  I know that God is the one who saves, and I'm not going to lay blame on myself, but I also want to be more intentional about living and speaking the gospel to those who are brought into my life. I'm both convicted and encouraged by the life testimony of Brother Bob in this area.

These days have drawn me closer to God.  Sometimes you need a wake up call.  And now I'm awake. 


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Who is Bernie Carbo?

Bernie Carbo.  Do you know who he is?  Unless you were watching major league baseball in the 1970's or are a student of the game you probably have never heard his name.  Bernie Carbo played as an outfielder and designated hitter for six different teams from 1969 to 1980.  After his first full season with the Cincinnati Reds he was selected Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News in 1970. He slumped in the next two seasons and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, then in 1973 was traded to the Boston Red Sox.

In 1975 the Red Sox played Cincinnati in the World Series.  The Boston roster of course had some big names: Carl Yastrzemski,  Fred Lynn, Jim Rice,  Rico Petrocelli,  Luis Tiant. Game Six of that series is remembered for Carlton Fisk's incredible 12th inning home run at Fenway Park that gave Boston the victory and forced a seventh game.  It's regarded as one of the greatest moments in World Series history.  I watched it live on TV. If you've never seen it you can view it here.

What many people don't know and what many people who even saw the game have forgotten is that Bernie Carbo came in as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of that game and hit a three-run home run that tied the score at 6-6. Without that hit, Fisk would never have had the chance to become a hero.  So Carbo's greatest moment was overshadowed by a greater moment by a teammate. Carbo ended his career after 12 seasons,  having played 1010 games with a batting average of .264,  96 home runs, and 358 RBI in 2733 at bats.  Hardly impressive statistics for a major league baseball player - but he had a role to play, he played it, and his team benefited from it.

We who are believers in and followers of Jesus Christ each have a role to play in the Kingdom of God.  1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Ephesians 4:4-16 tell us the following about the Church:

We are the Body of Christ.
We are one body made up of many parts.
Each part is different and needed.
We each have different gifts and abilities.
We rejoice with each other.
We suffer with each other.
We should care for one another.
We should be unified.

You need the Church. The Church needs you.  You may be one who hits a home run few remember,  you may hit the home run that will be talked about for years, you may be a baserunner when a home run is hit, you may be in the dugout cheering on your teammate, but we are all contributors in some way.  Hebrews 10:23-25 says "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Monday, June 3, 2013

I'm Into Leather

Yes, I'm into leather. Bibles, that is. Don't worry, you'll never see me wearing leather pants.  There's something about the way a well-made leather Bible feels to the touch, the way it smells, the craftsmanship and beauty.  As a child I was enamored with two Bibles my father had but my favorite was a Cambridge New Testament with Psalms. Deluxe Morocco Leather, so smooth,  and I loved the stitching on the binding,  way the paper felt,  and how the print looked in the King James Version.   As much as I admired these Bibles I knew my dad used them all and I never felt like I should  ask him if I could have one of them. 

On December 9, 1969, a Tuesday night as I recall, my dad sat down with me on our living room sofa after supper and started asking me questions about sin, Jesus, and salvation.  I was nine years old and having grown up in a Bible preaching, evangelistic church I was beginning to more clearly see my need  of the gospel.  There was conviction of sin in my heart, but my young mind couldn't separate the act of faith from the action of "walking down the aisle",  and I remained paralyzed in the pew due to my fear of getting up and going down in front of all those people.  My dad took me to the third  chapter of the Gospel of John and explained to me what being born again was all about.  I repented and believed the gospel, and that Sunday walked down that aisle with a minimum of fear.  The next Sunday night I was baptized.   Not long after that on a Saturday my dad gave me his New Testament with an inscription to me inside and told me it was now mine.

I treasured that book and took good care of it, but as I became a teenager and moved on through high school my heart and mind moved away in rebellion from the words of the book.  God brought me to a place of repentance at 19 years old and the Bible came alive to me in brand new way.  You can read more about that here: God and a Gremlin . The New Testament that had been more of a trophy became my food and a tool for God to use to change me.  I began marking passages that spoke most clearly  to me or that I was memorizing.  Now the book was special to me for more than material reasons. 
I still have that New Testament, as evidenced by these pictures, and it's in great shape, a testimony to the quality of the materials and construction of it.  I grew up on the King James Version, and although I primarily read other translations now,  I still enjoy reading it from time to time.  Over the years I've come to understand that the contents of the book are much more important than the cover, but I have to say that a good leather cover is like icing on the cake.  My dad passed away when I was 31 and I now have his other Bibles. I have also have several leather Bibles of my own,  various versions, which I'm sure I'll soon blog about.  And maybe one day I'll get a Cambridge Bible, but this New Testament will always have a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart.