Tuesday, October 18, 2016
One of the most contentious issues in this year's Presidential election has been the topic of immigration and, more specifically, the plight of the millions of political refugees around the world. Even here on the streets of Southern California, refugees from around the world can be seen. They are simply ubiquitous - from our own back doors to, as the song goes, "the shores of Tripoli". Tomorrow night's debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump will surely hone in on the issue of immigration, more than any other issue of the night.
In this blogpost, I should begin by saying that I do not intend to wade into the myriad of issues and rancor involved in the immigration debate. The binary debates happening at the highest political levels in this discussion do not give proper credence to the complexity of the topic, and they tend to gloss over the vast challenges involved on all sides of this issue. However, I did want to offer a quick Biblical perspective on the issue of immigration and refugees. Recently, I made a pretty startling discovery: almost every major figure, character, name, and person in our entire Christian faith history was at one time a political refugee and an immigrant.
This last week I preached on the story of Ruth and Naomi. The story begins, of course, with two people, Naomi and Elimalech, who, because of a famine in the land of Judah, have to become political refugees, and have to flee to the land of Moab. Once there, as refugees, their life moves on, and somehow comes back together again as their two sons, Mahlon and Kilian, marry to "foreign women"named Ruth and Orpah. After all the men in the family die, suddenly, Ruth and Naomi once again become immigrants and political refugees to return back to the Holy Land. Ruth, in a moment of clarity and compassion, says it best;
Your People Will Be My People
But this is just one example. Consider the plethora of other examples of key Biblical figures who were refugees or immigrants at one time or another:
* Abraham and Sarah - immigrants from Ur to Haran, and then again through Egypt
* Jacob - a refugee from his own household, as he fled his brother's wrath
* Jacob and family - become refugees from Holy land back to Egypt because of famine
* Moses and the Israelites - a mass exodus of refugees from Egypt in the wilderness
* The Entire Israelite nation - refugees during the reign of Babylon, Persia, and Assyria
* Jesus and his family - refugees from Herod and the mass extermination of little boys
* Paul - in a sense, Paul's entire ministry was a refugee ministry, all around the Roman empire
And I am sure you can think of many more examples...
An important aspect of refugees, of course, is not just that they are people who, because of political or other kinds of oppression, had to flee one country and go to the next. It is also significant that the places that these refugees went, accepted them and welcomed them - for the most part.
Can you imagine, for example if Naomi and Elimalech and their tribe had not been accepted by the Moabites when they fled to that country because of famine in their own? What if they had been shunned, or worse, killed? Ruth is the ancestor of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. There might have been no Jesus without Ruth, and without the acceptance of the Hebrew refugees into their culture. And if the Moabites had not accepted Naomi and Elimalech, would we have a Biblical narrative at all?
The Egyptians, through the centuries, have tended to be welcoming of outsiders, although a case can also be made for the Egyptians not accepting refugees. Egypt, for the most part, welcomed Joseph of the Old Testament (though he was initially a slave). Joseph became governor over all of Egypt. A refugee became President. Can you imagine the United States doing that?
Egypt welcomed Abraham and Sarah (though Sarah was given to Pharaoh for carnal purposes). Egypt did accept Jesus and Mary and Joseph when they fled from Herod (perhaps because of their gifts of passage from the Magi - gold, frankincense and myrrh).
It cannot be understated how complex the current debate about immigration and refugee status remains in our country and around the world. Some countries who have accepted refugees have not taken the next necessary step to consider or think about how they will care for people who are so poor and abject in so many ways. Some countries who have rejected refugees have not looked deep into their hearts to remember that most of them, were also descendants of refugees or immigrants at one time another.
Suffice it to say that this election's main issue will be remembered as a debate about personal indiscretions and immigration. Because of this, perhaps we should not forget the words of Ruth, as she adopted a person from a people group who she was very different from - as she adopted a refugee into her own heart...
Your People Will Be My People
All For Now,
Monday, October 10, 2016
For the past several months, I have been commuting between our home in Oxnard to my place of work in Goleta (about 40 minutes to an hour depending on traffic, each way). Every morning, I set out around 7:45, then drop both girls off at school in Ventura, then I proceed up the coast on highway 101 to Goleta, which is located just north of Santa Barbara. Then, every afternoon, I pack up my care and woe, throw it all in my briefcase, and I drive back to Oxnard (again, around 40 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic). When people hear about my commute each day they often comment that,; "you poor thing", "it is such a pain to commute such a distance," or "what a drag to have to drive that far between work and home". When people say this, I always smile and say, "No, the drive is one of the best parts of my day." It is my...
Lake of Peace
While studying the life of Jesus recently, I realized that one of the challenging factors of his life was that whenever Jesus was on land, he was working. Whenever He was near a city, large or small, or even out in the country, He was always inundated with people and work to do. The Gospels regularly site the number of times Jesus was, "surrounded by crowds", and "everywhere Jesus went, people wanted Jesus to heal them", and "from that time on, Jesus was never alone". Jesus' life was a non-stop ministry of teaching, healing, performing miracles, eating at people's houses, and ministering to the lost. Even when Jesus was attempting to "get away and rest" there were people waiting for him, like the time that 5,000 people were waiting to be healed by him at the south of the sea of Galilee.
Strikingly, the only peaceful time in Jesus' life, was, actually in the middle of the lake of Galilee. In fact, the only citation that we know of for sure when Jesus was sleeping was during his cross-lake trip, in the middle of a storm. The Sea of Galilee was about 21 kilometers (which is the same distance as a half-marathon). Assuming that a boat can row about as fast as the average runner can run, it would take about 2 hours to cross the lake (give or take a minute or two because of traffic - joke). Those two hours on the cross-lake trip were Jesus' chance for rest, calm, peace, contemplation and sleep. For Jesus, the sea of Galilee was Jesus'...
Lake of Peace
So, here's my question for you this week - what is your Lake of Peace? a Lake of Peace is a thing that we must do as a part of our everyday chores, routines, work that is sometimes thought of as a burden or a strain, but which can actually be considered to be a blessing if you think about it in different terms. For some people, their commute between work and home is their Lake of Peace. The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, had to walk from his house to his church each Sunday morning. In Danish Kirk is the word for "church" and "ga" is the word for walk (it can also be translated as cemetery). So, Kierkegaard's name - "church walk" is also what he did each day "a church walk". But for Kierkegaard, the walk was his;
Lake of Peace
I know of others who have to drive children from school, to practice, to dance lessons to birthday parties to home. Their Lake of Peace is driving their kids from here to there to everywhere. I have a friend who works as a CPA (Certified Public Accountant). Sometimes the work of an accountant is stressful and challenging, but usually, it is quite mundane and "brainless" addition. For her, the Lake of Peace is filling out IRS forms. She can do it without much thought and without much difficulty. She is at peace when she does it.
What is your Lake of Peace?
All For Now,
Monday, October 3, 2016
Ever since I can remember watching television news programs - I can remember watching David Gergen. (Yes, it is true, I was a nerd growing up - did I mention I was also Debate Club President?). David Gergen, you may already know, worked as a Special Assistant or Director of Communications for four United States Presidents - Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. He currently serves as a professor at the "Center For Public Leadership" at Harvard University. As a kid, I watched Gergen for the first time on the weekly television conversation/debate between "Gergen and Shields" (David Gergen and Mark Shields), on the McNeil Lehrer Newshour on PBS.
Recently, Gergen was asked by CNN's Anderson Cooper, to comment on the Presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He was queried about what personal and character qualities make up the soul and constitution of a good United States President. Without weighing in on one specific candidate in particular, but speaking in general terms, this is what Gergen said; "The best Presidents are not the smartest people in the world, they are people who live their lives from...
A Well Anchored Place
The phrase, "A Well Anchored Place" has been resonating in my mind and heart for a few days now. I love the ring of it. Each word in this phrase connotes a sense of strength and calm:
Well...A thing that is good, and strong, not great and flashy.
Anchor...A large object that is tied to a boat that keeps it from moving
Place...A specific area of focus, as in, "We have a place to live"
I also love the mechanics of the concept of "A Well Anchored Place". Think about an anchor on a boat. On the largest cruise ships or oil tankers an anchor can be as large as a house. Most anchors on large boats weigh thousands of tons. They are so heavy they must be lifted with automatic cranks and hydraulics. However, any large boat captain will tell you that the size of an anchor does not matter as much as where a boat is anchored. Sand is never a good place to anchor a boat. Small pebbles can be equally challenging as a place to moor the anchor of a boat. The best place, to anchor a boat, of course, is a pile of huge boulders or rocks. An anchor placed under a boulder, no matter the size of the anchor, can keep even the largest ship from floating away.
Think of that - the size of the anchor does not matter as much as the place of the anchor.
A Well Anchored Place
What Gergen was getting to in his comment about he American Presidency, of course, is that great leaders need to attach their lives to "A Well Anchored Place". Gergen went on to say that, "Great Presidents are people who can have fun in the day to day, be at ease with themselves and their position." The do not deliberate or plod through basic decision making processes. They know that whatever happens to them and the country the ship of state and the ship of their lives will not be blown away. They live from...
A Well Anchored Place
As Christ followers, we also believe that we must live our lives from...
A Well Anchored Place
The anchor of our lives might be thought of as our heart, or our deepest belief, or our faith. Our anchor is the most sure thing about us. And we must anchor that faith on something equally as strong, equally as sure. Christ followers believe that that - Place - is upon or under the bedrock boulder of Jesus Christ.
Many years ago, I heard a sermon by the great preacher Earl Palmer (of First Pres. Berkeley and later University Pres. in Seattle). In this sermon Earl talked about the large Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco in 1989. That earthquake caused major damage to freeway systems, houses, businesses and sky scrapers. The interesting thing is that the cause of the damage was not necessarily due to the flimsiness of the anchors (the construction of the houses, roads, buildings), but rather, the fact that the structures were not anchored appropriately. After the huge San Francisco earthquake of 1906, buildings were made more sturdy and steady. Fewer structures were built out of wood. More structures were built out of reinforced concrete. The anchors were fine. The problem was where the structures were anchored. The houses were not attached to the foundations in the way necessary to keep them from getting destroyed. The houses and buildings needed...
A Well Anchored Place
Such places, according to David Gergen, and Earl Palmer, can prevent destruction and chaos, for Presidents and common citizens, and people of faith, even in the midst of the largest storms.
Do you have...
A Well Anchored Place? Jesus Christ is that place.
All For Now,
Monday, September 26, 2016
Not too long ago, a book came out, by author A.J. Jacobs (pictured above), editor and writer for Esquire Magazine entitled - The Year of Living Biblically. The book, as the title suggests, chronicles Mr. Jacobs' year-long quest to live his life exactly according to Biblical laws and precepts. Born and raised a secular Jew, and who now self-identifies as an "agnostic" - Jacobs decided to see what it would be like and what would be involved in trying to live his life not only by the major tenets of the Bible (the Ten Commandments), but also to live by the myriad of small tenets found in the book of Leviticus and other priestly writings.
The examples of how Jacobs lives his life for one entire year, taking direction only from the Bible, are at the same time both hilarious and poignant. For example, Jacobs decides that he will not lie or gossip or slander for an entire year, but runs into trouble with this, because as a journalist he, in his own words, "I pretty much lie and gossip and slander" for a living. He tries to wear clothes that do not have multiple kinds of material - so he essential wears white for a year - even wearing a full "Jesus-like" robe to work. He grows out his beard. He hangs out with Hasidic Jews. He tries to not lie ever, but finds that this begins to interfere with his marriage, as small-white lies are the seedbed of every good relationship ("you look wonderful today honey...").
Perhaps the most comical example of Jacobs' attempt to live his life by entirely Biblical precepts is when he is in a park one day, and he encounters an older man who he learns has been in an affair - who has committed adultery. The older man says, "you probably are going to have to stone me now." Jacobs, having saved up rocks in his pocket for just such an occasion proceeds to throw stones at the man, only to have them thrown back at him.
In terms of insight and life-change, Jacobs says that what he found fascinating was that as he was living his life on the "outside" by Biblical precepts, he noticed that slowly but surely he began to live his life on the "inside" in a slightly different way. The outer activities began to impact, in a significant way, the inner life. And so, not cussing, trying to love his neighbor, playing a "10 stringed harp", actually began to change his life in positive ways. At the end of his - "year of living Biblically", Jacobs eventually joined a synagogue. He hastens to add, not because he believed in God, but because he found the community of believers to be helpful for him personally.
One thought that did occur to me, as I have been musing about this book is that in some ways, Jacobs, though well-meaning and good-intentioned in his pursuit of Biblical living, has sadly missed the entire point of the Bible. The Bible was not meant to be lived or read as a book of rules, codes, laws, edicts and tenets for good living. The Bible is not an ancient example of Benjamin Franklin's "Farmer's Almanac". The Bible/faith is not a set of moralistic teachings.
Essentially, Christianity is based on one single and all important concept - a relationship with God (for Christians - that is Jesus). Without the relationship, there really is no point to the precepts and teachings and laws and rules. The teachings of God don't make sense, and are silly when viewed as simply a set of codes. While I don't mean to beat up on Mr. Jacobs, who has at least tried to live his life Biblically (a practice that more of us Christians, including myself, should try to do more consistently), he may have missed the forest through the trees. The "forest", to continue the analogy, of Christianity is the relationship with God, the "trees" are the ethics, laws and edicts of the faith.
What I have been intrigued about, however, is the question of whether living the edicts of the faith can actually eventually lead to a relationship with God. I wonder whether it is possible to develop a discipline for God (the laws), even before one develops a relationship with God (faith). To use another analogy, is it possible to fall in love with a girl by first studying the biological make-up of a human being? Is it possible to learn to speak a language by only learning the grammar of the language? Is it possible to sing a song by only knowing the notes in whatever random order they may occur?
I am not sure about this, but I hate to say that I doubt it. The disciples of the faith are in many ways on a totally separate track from the relationship of the faith. The rules of the faith can be acquired through basic attention and discipline (AKA the Pharisees). The relationship of the faith can only be acquired through a leap and a risk-taken. As Kierkegaard said, "Faith is like being suspended over 10,000 leagues of ocean."
But, now that my blogpost is written, I will go back to playing my 10 stringed harp, and eating my breakfast of locusts and wild honey...to contemplate this question more deeply
All For Now,
Monday, September 19, 2016
Last night was the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards. I must admit that between holding a baby, flipping back and forth between football and looking for funny out-takes of Jimmy Kimmel who was this year's host, I was only half watching the annual awards show this year. One fact did emerge from last night's show that I have been contemplating - that is - that there were 409 scripted television series last year - more than ever before in the history of TV. And there are more platforms for these scripted shows than ever before (HBO, Starz, Showtime, ABC, NBC....).
One of the newest platforms for scripted television series is Netflix. Netflix has not only begun provide content of other media outlets, but they have begun to produce content ("House of Cards" is the most famous). The CEO and co-founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings, was recently musing on how much content was out there when it comes to movies and content. He said, "The really hard part about putting out media content today is that because of the internet and so many other media outlets, you aren't just competing with one or two other shows, you are competing with every series, show, movie, and cinematic offering that has ever been produced." So, for example, if you are looking for a show to watch on a Saturday night, it isn't just "House of Cards" and "VEEP" that is available. You are competing with, "Gone With the Wind", "Star Wars", "ET", "Citizen Cane" and "Cheers". In today's media world, the world is our oyster, and all options are open to us any night of the week.
As a pastor who preaches regularly in the modern media world, I have found the same is true of preaching. When you are preaching each week in a local congregation, you are not just being compared to the preacher down the street, or around the corner at First Baptist or Grace Lutheran, you are being compared to every preacher that has ever preached!
Recently, as I was standing at the back door of church at Goleta Presbyterian, where I now regularly preach, a man came up to me and said, "I really liked what you said in your sermon Graham about 'God Being With Us' - it reminds me of a sermon I heard on Tuesday from Peter Marshall about 'God With Us'". "Oh, thank you," I said, "were you a member of Peter Marshall's church in Washington DC back in the 1940's?" "No," said my friend, " heard him this past Tuesday on the Web.
Another woman came up to me after this to say that she disagreed with a point in my message from the week before, that Joyce Meyers had recently preached and had offered the opposite view from me on a particular subject. "Oh, Ok, thank you for that," I said, "I love Joyce Meyers. Did you see Joyce Meyers in Anaheim when she was speaking here?" "No," she said, "I listened to her on the way to your church this morning, I heard her right before you."
It goes without saying that we live in a world that is literally boundary-less when it comes to public media offerings. And that media has opened up whole new inroads for church-goers who want to hear a compelling message on Sunday. And I get it, each week, my wife Star and I attend Holy Trinity Brompton in London (Nicky Gumbel) on the Web.
In some ways having so many options seems to have the tendency to dull our senses and our ears and hearts by the weight of sheer overload. In some ways the plethora of media options and preaching samples opens up huge new inroads of possibility.
All For Now,
Monday, September 12, 2016
On this, the evening after the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a more serious topic of global magnitude. Namely, how we can move forward as a nation and a world given the continued threat and uprising of violent extremists (known to some as "jihadists") and all things terroristic and destructive. Here's the good news and the really bad news. The good news and the bad news is that we, in the West, can really not, to any substantial degree, do anything about it. We cannot negotiate terrorism into submission, we cannot mitigate terrorism into submission, we cannot bomb terrorism into submission. These problems, namely located in the Middle East, predate America by many thousands of years. The answers and the solutions must arise from the same places from whence the conflicts emerge. We must discover once again,
The Power Of A Village
Tom Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times, recently reflected on this very dynamic, and his experiences of being in the Middle East during the Intifada and of speaking with leaders of both Muslim and extremist Islamic countries. While he was on assignment in the Middle East during the 9/11 attacks, a wise leader told Tom Friedman that there was effectively nothing that America could do to stop these calamities. He said that the only way these problems could be solved is if the countries and the cultures that were producing these terrorists would have the courage to dig down deep and to confront the terrorists themselves. In short, "the village would have to rise up and confront these challenges of the village." That, there is:
The Power of A Village
Having reflected on Tom Friedman's brilliant thoughts for the past 24 hours, I have to concur. If two people, who you do not know, earnestly want to have a fight with one another, there is pretty much nothing that you can do to stop them from having a fight. And, if an individual emerges from a community that is fighting within itself, that wants to do harm to others, there is nothing that can be done to stop that person. But, on the other hand, if there is someone in a group who is causing problems, but the group decides that that person will not be allowed to cause problems any longer, the group can always rise up, and sequester that individual. It's:
The Power of A Village
On a much smaller scale from global terrorism, I will never forget a situation my father once told me about in one of the churches he served in his ministry. I will not mention the church specifically, or the exact situation, but I will say that the main perpetrator of the problems in that church was a person named Ivan. For the purposes of this blog post, we will call him "Ivan the Terrible". Ivan was against everything that my Dad was trying to do in this church. Children's Ministries, good management, healthy structures, Ivan was against all of it. Ivan was against everything - period! If there was a new idea, Ivan was against it. One day, so the story goes, there was an "All Church Work Day". The whole church were assembled on a Saturday afternoon to work on the church grounds. Ivan came on that day not to plant flowers, but to plant negativity. Ivan moved from one group to the next saying negative things. Dad intuitively knew that many of these negative comments were about him. But he didn't know what to do about it.
But then, all of a sudden, an incredible thing happened. A handful of eight of the most wise and sagacious members of the church all walked up to Ivan. They circled him, and the spoke to him. The appearance of this conversation across the entire church yard was serious. No one will know for sure what exactly was said during that meeting - but one thing was certain. After the group conference of "The Village Leaders", Ivan got in his car and he peeled out of the church parking lot, and he drove himself home. Ivan was never negative again. Why? Because Ivan heard the voice of God and decided to turn his heart towards holiness? No. Because of:
The Power of the Village
One of the things I have noticed as a father of two young daughters (4 and 8) is that I have a choice between either being a "referee father" or an "encouraging coach father". If I play the role of the referee, I will be sitting in my office and hear the girls playing and one person will do something mean to the other person and I will have to constantly say; "Hey, don't do that, that's not ok, be nice..." But, on the other hand, if I play the role of the "encouraging coach father", when I hear them playing well and getting along, I say, "Hey, you guys are playing so great together, I'm so impressed." What I mean by this is that "The Village" (even the village of two youngsters in my nuclear family) has an ability to regulate itself, and to modify its own behavior much better than I can do. It's:
The Power of the Village
Sadly, it won't be until the communities that produce the terrorists in the world can rise up, and like the church work day that I experienced as a youth, circle around the bully of "Ivan the Terrible" and decide that that behavior is not acceptable, and must be brought to heal, that terrorism will really find an end in this world. In the mean time we can all build our own healthy villages that play among ourselves with health and love and life.
All For Now,