Selfish Faith


There it was, right between posts selling old lawn furniture and telling me how I wouldn’t believe what happened next: a mind-bomb that I didn’t see coming. Right next to each other in my Facebook newsfeed were two posts. The first was one of those inspirational quotes showing a healthy, happy, financially secure woman with words to the effect of “my God can do anything” in fancy script. The second was a sobering reminder of the plight of thousands of Syrian refugees. It featured a picture of a mother and child in rags walking through the desert past a vast tent city. I might have given them both little thought, if that hadn’t been so perfectly juxtaposed.

The absurdity of the contrast hit me right between the eyes. When I say, “My God can do anything,” I’m thinking about how He can help me get through a busy week without getting angry at my husband and son (especially since my next spa day is a month away, seriously!), or how He can provide a million dollars to build our church a new building with enough classrooms and bathrooms. At the very top of my faith game, I’m believing that He can sustain us when there’s an unexpected job loss, or that He can heal a loved one. My God can give me anything. 

But what about the mother who lives in a refugee camp, or a migrant worker camp, or in a city of shacks built from trash scrounged from the dump 100 yards away? She’s not trusting that God will help her get her next college degree, or that He will help her husband get a raise so that they can take their family on a Disney cruise. She’s trusting Him to help her find enough food to keep her baby from starving. If God is really feeling like blessing her, there will be enough food for her child to eat and not cry from hunger afterwards, and a real miracle would be if she had something to eat as well. She’s trusting Him to protect her family from those who would take advantage of them by stealing from, raping, or enslaving them. If her God can do anything, maybe one of these days He will make a way for her family to live in a real home, with no more fear of hunger or of what their fellow men might do to them. But for right now, she’ll be satisfied with daily bread. Her God must do everything, because she can do nothing. 

A part of me wants to rail against our selfishness as comfortable American Christians. How dare we even pray for a pay raise when others are praying to survive? How selfish is it to ask God to bless us with tropical vacations and newer cars? Certainly, we should be more thoughtful about why we are asking for what we are asking God for. We can ask Him for things we don’t necesarily need, but we should be very cautious about gauging God’s blessing in our life by nonessentials. 

This is not to say that we, who mostly live in (or at least come from) the “first world” and the middle and upper class, do not have real problems or need real faith. I’ve been blessed to see friends cling to God in incredibly difficult and painful situations, and He has surely carried them through. Nor is it to say that one of the posts I saw this morning was more true than the other. I happen to know that both posters have great love for the Lord and for people, and they both trust Him to use them to express His love for others.

What those posts were was a much needed reminder for me of two things. First, that I am already blessed with so much, and should be so much more thankful for mundane things like leftovers, a car that runs, and 24/7 access to medical care. Second, that my problems need to be put in perspective. Even if my husband were to lose his job and we had to leave our little town that we love for him to find work, there is almost no chance that we would end up living in a tent or starving to death. Even if I worry about my children, there is virtually no chance that they are going to be trafficked or kidnapped for use in global terrorism. Even if my worst fears came true, my God would be able to make something beautiful from my ashes, to be glorified in my sorrow, and to restore my joy.

So it seems to me that much of our faith in God’s abilities is selfish, whether we are a displaced refugee trusting Him for our most basic needs, or a happy homemaker trusting Him for a little bit extra. We believe that God can do anything for us. And that’s okay, because God is personal with us, and so our personal fears, needs, and desires are important to Him. But if we have this great faith that God can really, truly do anything, shouldn’t we be a lot more generous with our prayers? This is where I was convicted this morning. I pray for myself and my family a lot. I pray for my church family and other friends whenever they ask. I occasionally pray for something I see on the news or on social media. If I’m honest, though, I don’t spend all that much time praying for people like the Syrian refugees, the victims of the Nepal earthquake, or the riots that seem to be regularly breaking out across the US. If I really believe that God can make something beautiful out of these situations, shouldn’t I be fervently asking Him to do so? Of course I should. You should too.

Let’s do it, because our God can do anything. 



Happy Friday!

I just wanted to leave you with a quick thought for this weekend.

Yesterday, I saw a flyer for one of our local churches, advertising its mid-week meeting for the Hispanic community.

It was called “Refugio de Amor”.

Refuge of Love

Is your church a refuge of love? Can broken people come there to find shelter, or is it just a country club with a prayer service?

What will you do this week to make yourself and your faith community a refuge of love for those who need shelter for their souls?

Where will you go for refuge in your own trials?

Copyright 2013 Jessica Weeks


Meditate on Psalm 46 this weekend:

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Somebody’s Baby

Hello again. Last time I wrote, I talked just a little about how having a son has been changing my life. Today I want to share a profound way that my son has changed my perspective.


To start, I have a confession to make, and this is something I’m really not proud of. So here goes. Sometimes when I’m out and about and I encounter a person who is somehow ‘odd’, I get a little uncomfortable. I know intellectually that there is no reason to be, but it’s an occasional gut reaction. And, sadly, I imagine that I’m not the only one who reacts this way.


There’s something about our human nature that reacts poorly to those we perceive as different. It’s the basis for all prejudice, be it racism, sexism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination. To an extent, our snap judgments help us quickly process the myriad of inputs we experience as we go about our lives, so they are useful. But when it comes to people, we need to use our metacognition – our ability to think about our thinking – to reach the truth, not just first impressions.


As I said, I have often found myself confronting these first impressions, and my usual rebuttal to myself is to go through the litany of “You don’t know them or what their condition really is; they’re just as important and valuable as everyone else.” Which is completely true. The problem was, I was addressing a gut reaction with a mental process. Sometimes that works, but often we need an emotional response to an emotional problem. We need something to strongly affect our core in such a way that it changes not only the way we think about things, but also the way we feel about them.


That is exactly what happened to me when my son was born. I remember one of my first forays into the outside world after he was born, I encountered one of the regulars at the store I was visiting, a person who, on first impressions, can make me feel a little uncomfortable, even though I know that I have no reason to be. This time, though, a new thought went through my mind: “He is somebody’s baby.” Just that. Just imagining, for a second, that at one time, he was a tiny, precious newborn, no different from his peers; someone small and helpless and sweet, and just as perfect as every other baby. Someone who was the absolute center of his or her parents’ heart. The moment I realized that, it completely changed the way I look at people. It spread not just to those who make me uncomfortable on first glance, but also to the people who irritate me, the people I am quick to judge.


And then something truly miraculous happened in my heart. I began thinking more and more about this idea of a parent’s love for a baby. I thought about how much I love my son, a love that I couldn’t even begin to imagine before he was born. As I was thinking about it, I realized that God loves my son far more than I love him. That realization has helped me so much in trusting God to care for my son. And then I realized that God loved all those people, the ones I struggle with judging and loving, as much as He loves my son. That was an amazing realization, because it dawned on me that God’s love for humanity is so much more than a kind, general benevolence. I love my son with an indescribably fierce and all-consuming love, and yet God loves him, and by extension everyone, infinitely more than that, because He is infinitely more capable of loving than I am. Wow – that changes the way I look at people when I begin to understand the way God sees them. Mind officially blown.


But then God decided to take the smoldering shreds of my mind and completely destroy my old ways of thinking about one person in particular. The one person I had the most difficulty forgiving, the one I was the quickest and harshest to judge. Myself. It was like God spoke clearly to me and said, “You know how much you love that little baby you’re holding right now? You know how deep, and fierce, and strong that love is, how you are constantly telling him that there is nothing that can change your love for him, that you love him no matter who or what he decides to be? Now, do you remember how you just figured out that my love for everyone is infinitely greater than that? Do you realize that you are one of those people? I love YOU infinitely more than you love your son. You, One-Who-Fails-Daily. And I sent my Son, whom I love even more than you love your son, to die for you. Even though you can’t begin to deserve it, even on your best days.


Very rarely do you get such clear spiritual breakthroughs, and to have three of them cascading all at once left me speechless. To change how I see my community, my child, and then myself, to begin to really appreciate the value God has placed on each of us, to have even a fractional understanding of how great a price He paid to redeem us – this changes everything.


My hope and prayer for you is that you begin to see how treasured you are, and that you look at those around you with a new appreciation of their worth. May God blow your mind too!

Tuesday’s Truth – If You Can Only Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All

Hello everyone! Just a short bit of a public service announcement this week. In this latest season of my life, I have become so aware of the trials and sufferings of those around me. I’m not talking about starving children in Africa or politically oppressed people in Asia, or impoverished South Americans. I’m talking about the people in our families, churches, and neighborhoods who are dealing with pain and difficulty right now. The middle-aged man who is suddenly and unexpectedly a widower,  the couple struggling with debt and unemployment, the parents caring for a chronically, critically ill child, the small-business owner wondering how many months they can stay open or afford to employ others, or the parents who lose a child to an illness or an unexpected accident.


I’ve addressed the issues of trials, suffering, God’s plans and the like in past posts. I’m not here to go over all of that again. What I want to address today is how we respond to those in our lives who are experiencing pain and struggle. So many times our first reaction when someone shares a trial or tragedy with us is to try to make them feel better. We say things like, “God is in control,” “Everything will work out,” “God’s going to do a miracle,” “They’re in a better place,” “There’s a purpose in this,” “Just lean on Him,” or many similar things. Many times, these things are completely true. God is in control, He does have a plan, and there is a purpose in our pain. But stop and really think about it. Does saying any of those things really make someone feel better? Is it even really possible to make someone feel better when they’re really going through something life-alteringly painful? I don’t think it is. The only one who can truly comfort someone in those types of situations is God, and He works directly on the heart and spirit of the sufferer, not through their ears.


It is possible for us to do something, however. We can offer support in many ways that opens the door to God’s comfort and healing. Sometimes there are practical things that we can do to care for those who are hurting. The old saying is very true: “Actions speak louder than words.” In fact, one of the best things we can do for our suffering friends and loved ones is just keep our mouths shut. I can’t say I’m always good at that. I mean, I write this blog every week because I like communicating and expressing the things I’m learning and discovering about God. I never got in trouble in school for my papers being too short, but for them being too long. I can over-communicate very easily. Once in a while, though, I get it right. I remember one situation where I took my own advice, and I can look back and see how much more effective it was than if I had tried to pull out all my “great wisdom”.


A friend had suffered an incredibly tragic loss. I’m pretty sure one of the first things I said on the phone was, “I don’t have any words.” Just things like “I’m so sorry,” and “I’ll be there as soon as I can”. And when I did get there to support her, I ended up (not by my own brilliance, I confess) just letting her tell me the whole story, with all the good memories, and all the painful details. We laughed a few times, cried a lot, and actually had a very beautiful time together. Did I make her suffering go away? No, there was nothing I could do to fix it. Did I say something profound that put everything in perspective? No, there’s not a lot of perspective when you suffer an immense loss. I would have loved to have taken a measure of her pain away, but all I could do was help her carry it for a few days. Over the next several months I followed the same course and spent time listening on the phone when she would get overwhelmed with the grief. Again, there was nothing I could do to make it better, but I could still offer support. Probably the most surprising thing to me was how I was changed and affected throughout the process. I saw God’s faithfulness, my friend’s trust in Him and her growth, and the miracle of God’s healing in spite of overwhelming emotional injury. If I had tried to spout wisdom, make things better, and run my own mouth, I would have missed the opportunity to be blessed and learn from God’s work in someone else’s life.


So as you come across the pained and hurting in your own life, shut down the urge to try to fix things with your words, go against your natural instincts, and just keep quiet. Support, care for, and uphold the sufferer, but do it through caring actions and loving listening. You may be surprised at what God will do in your life too.

Tuesday’s Truth – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Welcome back! Today I want to share with you another that was inspired by my reading about the ancient kings of Judah and Israel. I have to say, when I go back and dig through the Old Testament, I am often quite surprised by the level of treachery, violence, and corruption that existed in those days. If these were action movies instead of the Bible, I’d probably steer clear of them. I guess it is true, like Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun. I find it interesting that God did not sugar-coat the history of His people. Many times in the accounts of the kings we are given this basic formula: King X did A and B which were good in the sight of the Lord, but he also did C, and so he did not obey God completely. Sometimes it’s just a plain, “King X did evil in the sight of the Lord and turned the people from Him.” Wow. Not how I would want to be remember for the next 3,000 years. I also find it interesting which events were included in the accounts of the kings, as some of them seem obviously important, while others feel more obscure. Each day, I’m excited to see what will happen next.


One morning recently, I was reading about a king of Israel named Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14:23-29) Now, the first king of Israel after Judah and Israel split was also named Jeroboam, and he was one bad dude. He’s the guy all the other kings are compared to. In fact, often, their reigns are summed up, “He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight and followed the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had caused Israel to commit.” The Jeroboam we’re talking about today was not this first king, but a later namesake. The first Jeroboam was not a person I’d want to be named after. And yet, here we are, a couple hundred years later, and we have another Jeroboam. In the second verse about him, we see that same description just mentioned. He was an evil king. Not just a morally ambivalent king. Not a king with a mixed record. He was bad to the bone.


Here’s the interesting thing. God pulled out one main accomplishment from Jeroboam’s reign to include in the Bible. 2 Kings tells us that Jeroboam’s main feat during his 41 years as king was to restore many of the borders of Israel. This was important because during the reigns of the last few kings before him, Israel had been almost constantly under attack by her neighbors. The passage from 2 Kings 14 tells us that God saw the trouble that the Israelites were experiencing, and that they had no friends or allies to help them, so He stepped in and gave Jeroboam the ability to rebuild and refortify the borders of Israel. At first that doesn’t seem too surprising, since God often had saved His people from their enemies. If we think, though, a little more about the situation, we can see that this was really quite an extraordinary thing for God to do.


For one thing, the Israelites had been incredibly disobedient and unfaithful. In past times their faith and obedience had wavered (these were the people God had called “stiff-necked” back in Exodus), but never before had they been so completely dismissive of God. They ceased to obey His rules for worshipping Him, they began worshipping many of the false gods from neighboring lands, they killed His prophets when they didn’t approve of the message, and so on and so on. The people of Israel weren’t a bit backslidden, so to speak, they were in full-out rebellion against God. This was true from the king all the way down to the lowest classes of people. These were not a people who deserved, or even sought, God’s deliverance. And yet, God had compassion on them and rescued them from their troubles.


The second thing I find interesting about this situation is God’s choice of deliverer for His people. In most of the other cases where God delivers His people from something, the person He chooses to do His work is someone faithful and obedient to Him. He chose Noah to save animals and people from the Flood, Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, Joshua to lead them out of wandering and conquer their enemies, Gideon to deliver them from the Midianite raiders, and David to conquer the Philistines. And yet here we have Jeroboam, a notably bad guy, tasked with protecting and defending God’s people and their land. Why did God choose to use Jeroboam, rather than raising up a righteous hero? I don’t know. The Bible doesn’t  give us a lot of information here. I don’t even really have  a speculation. But what I do see is the truth that God sometimes uses truly bad things to make something good happen.


Here are just a few other examples of how God used bad people or situations to make good things happen for His people (which today includes all of us who believe in Him, not just the people of Israel):

  • God used the treachery of Joseph’s brothers (selling him into slavery in Egypt) to bring Joseph to power so that millions of people could be saved from starvation through his clever handling of food supplies before and during the massive famine that came over the Middle East.  (Genesis 50:20)
  • God used the captivity of His people by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to allow Daniel to become a powerful advisor who spread the knowledge of God among the most powerful men of the day. (Read the whole book of Daniel – it’s fascinating!)
  • God used Cyrus, the ruler of the Persians, and arguably one of the  most ruthless kings of his era, to initiate and help fund the rebuilding of the walls and temple of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed 70 years earlier. (Ezra 1:1-4)


If you were to search through the Scriptures, I know you would find many more examples. As Paul said in his letter to the Roman church, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)


Do we always see the good that God is going to bring about from the beginning? Surely not. When his brothers threw him in a pit, when they sold him to slave traders, when he was unjustly imprisoned, did Joseph know he would be a savior of many? Not in the least. When young Daniel was rounded up with his friends, separated from his family, forced to adapt to a new culture and a new language, did he know that he would counsel some of the most powerful men in all of history, or that God would use him to proclaim prophecies that are still being studied, thousands of years later? No, he couldn’t have even imagined it.


We live in a world where bad people and bad situations are abundant. We could spend all our time asking why God allows these people and things to exist, to continue. The philosophical and theological debates would be (and certainly are) endless, without any conclusion that satisfies everyone. The truth is, we don’t really know why God allowed evil to ever exist, and why He now allows it to continue. My feeling is that the reasons and relationships are far too complex for us to understand, even if God were to reveal them directly to us. I wish there were no evil. That is what makes Heaven such a wonderful concept – a place completely without evil must be unimaginably wonderful.  But such is not our situation here, no matter what you conclude about the nature, origin, or continued workings of evil. However, we have a clear promise and precedent in the Bible that God is bigger than the evil people and evil events of the world. He doesn’t just protect His people from evil, He doesn’t just teach us valuable lessons through the evil and painful things that happen to us, but He actually uses what we see as evil, bad, and unredeemable to do good for us in ways that we could not have anticipated or imagined.


I wish that I could say that this truth explains away all the pain and suffering in the world. I can’t. Evil actions cause pain. Joseph, Daniel, the Israelites – they all suffered real pain from their situations. If you have experienced something terrible in your life, there is no denying the pain you have felt. Evil, even when God uses it for good, is still evil. I can’t promise that you won’t experience pain, or that you will quickly see the ways that God intends to bring good out of your bad situation. Joseph, Daniel, and the Israelites waited decades to see God’s provision through their sufferings. The fact is, you may not even see the results in your lifetime. I don’t know how God is going to work in your individual situation. What I do know is that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that if He used bad for good 3,000 years ago, He’s still using bad for good now, and He will continue to do so in the future. Such a promise cannot erase the pain and suffering we will all experience, but it can give us a hope to cling to, a rope to help pull us up out of the depths and into a  more brightly lit faith.


Keep holding on!

Tuesday’s Truth – Building Small

Hello again!

Look at me – two weeks in a row!  This week let’s look at some truth about the work we do for God. We’re told to do everything we do as if we’re doing it for God. (Colossians 3:23) Often, that leads to us comparing our work to what others are doing, and we start to lie to ourselves that our work or service is not as worthwhile as someone else’s. We think teaching Sunday school is nothing compared to running a clinic in a developing country. Or that homeschooling our children can’t hold a candle to writing Bible studies used across the globe. I know that I have fallen into this trap many times. It’s such a natural thing to compare ourselves with others, even though God looks at us each individually. (Psalm 139:1-3)

Just a few weeks ago in my ladies’ Bible study group, we were discussing this very idea. We were reading about how God has called and equipped each one of us for specific tasks. (2 Corinthians 3:5) He hasn’t done that just for the people in big, powerful, well-known positions. He’s done it for you, stay at home mom, and for you, corporate accountant, and you, middle school teacher. He has called and equipped you for your job, for your volunteer service, and for your relationships. (Ephesians 2:10) Each one is important in His grand plan. One of the women in my group, whom I would say had certainly done some big things for God, related how she never really felt like she was given a calling or anointing for God’s work, even though she worked for Him faithfully. She felt this way because she had faced so many struggles, and had often seen little results. I felt so sad that she was discouraged, but I realized that many of us feel that way.

Sometimes we don’t see the results because we are trying to do good works outside of doing the works God has planned for us. But I think that more often, we simply fail to see the results because we are looking for the wrong thing. We have lied to ourselves by thinking that only “big” results count. If it doesn’t win an award or show up on the news, it’s not a big deal. But here’s the truth: everything we do counts, and everything we do for God has a result.(Luke 16:10) If we limit ourselves to only doing things we think will have big results, we are cheating ourselves and others out of God’s blessings.

An analogy here would be great works of art and architecture. Often, the great master painters would have their students and apprentices help them with parts of large paintings. These students would paint the scenery, the clothing, the “accessories”, if you will. What would those great classics be without those details? Not nearly as beautiful, that’s for sure. And yet, how many of those students are remembered by name today? Do we visit museums to see “the wonderful palm tree painted by Fransico in 1487”? No. And yet that palm tree is a crucial part of the painting as a whole. Likewise, think of the great cathedrals and castles built hundreds of years ago. Master stonecutters shaped each block of stone just perfectly so that the whole building would fit together in beauty and strength. Glaziers made, cut, and arranged pieces of glass to make gorgeous and instructive windows. But here’s the quiz: can you name a famous stone mason or glazier of the 18th century? No? Why not? What about a famous architect? Probably yes, and if you can’t think of one off the top of your head, a quick trip to the internet search will find you several. Those stonecutters and glaziers aren’t’ remembered for their work, and we don’t ooh and aah over every stone in the great cathedrals of Europe, and yet each one is a critical part of the whole.

Chances are that you are not going to become a household name for teaching the 2-year-olds on Sunday mornings, for raising your children, for teaching 8th-grade math, for keeping immaculate books, or for being a good friend. But those things matter. Love shown matters. Listening and comforting matter. Integrity matters. Compassion matters. Honesty matters. Generosity matters.  Faithfulness matters.

I’ll leave you with this thought. No one really remembers or talks about Nikola and Drana Bojaxhiu, Macedonians of Albanian descent. They were simply faithful Christians and parents who did what they knew God would want them to by raising their children and showing compassion to the poor of their city. They modeled Christ-like love and kindness in front of their daughter Agnes, and she learned her lesson well. After finishing her schooling in Macedonia, Agnes felt called by God to enter a life of service to Him. She joined a religious order in Ireland, and from there went to India, where she taught in schools, and eventually moved on to working with the poorest outcast Indians in the slums of Calcutta (Kolkata). She served in India for over 50 years, reaching not just the poor, but people across the globe with the love of Christ. You probably know Agnes better as Mother Teresa. Did her parents know what their daughter would become? They could not have. But they did know what kind of person they wanted to raise her to be, and they were faithful to that calling. What they did as parents and Christians did not seem big at the time they were doing it, but if they had not been faithful, millions would have missed out on the impact that their daughter was to have.

So be encouraged, friends. The great things in life are built out of small things. Keep building!

Can We? Part 3

Welcome back, friends. I’ve been out of commission for a few weeks with a minor surgery and then a stomach bug, and I’m very glad to be back on track. As we are in the last week before the election, I have just a few more thoughts I want to share with you. Today I’m going to ask my final questions about things we need to stop doing. Next time, I’m going to ask some positive questions about what we can do to make our country better, no matter what side of the political fence we stand on. As always, I realize that I run the risk of offending just about everyone with my questions, but I feel that if we hope to improve the condition of America in any way, we must ask ourselves these questions.

Can We Stop Legislating Morality?

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ll be upfront and say that I adhere to a pretty conservative Judeo-Christian moral code. I have strong beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil. It disappoints me when others don’t live by the same set of morals, because I feel that they are God’s laws, not just man-made rules. However, no matter how much I want people to obey those laws, I recognize, and I am convinced that God also recognizes, the right of man to choose not to follow a moral code.

Now, when it comes to society and government, it is necessary that there be laws which all members of society must obey. It’s the only way to protect the individual members and to ensure the functioning of the society as a whole. These laws generally encompass those things that directly harm others, such as murder, assault, theft, or fraud. The problem we run into is that whenever deeply religious people, be they Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, or anything else, become part of the government, they bring with them a desire to have everyone follow their moral code. Because they are in a position to affect legislation, they feel that it is their responsibility to make laws that will ensure people follow their code or face the consequences. That’s the downside to living in a country with many accepted religions.

The real problem with trying to legislate morality is that we have a non-religious government. While our founding fathers certainly acknowledged the importance of God in the formation and maintenance of our nation, they were careful to never specify a religion or denomination to guide us. And really, this makes sense. I, as a Christian, should not be required to follow laws that are unique to Islam or Hinduism. And a Buddhist should not be forced to follow rules that are unique to my religion. The things that are commonly held among all, those make sensible laws. The unique and peculiar regulations, though, should be reserved for each religious person to follow individually.

Sadly, I find that it seems to be predominantly Christian politicians and voters that want everyone to play by their rules. We want to regulate people’s sex lives, how they entertain themselves, and what substances they use. We feel like it is our responsibility to keep people from sinning. In fact, we feel that we can obtain God’s blessing on America (or turn away His wrath) by making laws against the things we think displease him. But history does not prove that to be true. Think of prohibition. Many well-meaning Christians sought prohibition, because drunkness and the things it led to were against God’s laws. And yet, when alcohol became an illegal substance, drinking actually increased. Years ago in America, adultery was against the law. And yes thousands, if not millions, of men and women continued to be unfaithful to their spouses. Laws don’t make people good, they only provide for punishment.

Think about this though, if you really want to change America: what would happen if instead of trying to legislate morality, we tried to change people’s beliefs and values through kindness, compassion, and generosity? If we believe that adultery and pornography are sinful and against God’s laws, why don’t we put more effort into building strong young men and healthy marriages rather than fighting against sex in the media?  If we believe that abortion is wrong, why don’t we devote more of our time, money and energy to caring for at-risk mothers rather than lobbying old white men to make new laws? If we believe that polluting the environment is wrong, why don’t we put more money and power behind research, processing, and education that will provide cleaner energy, better recycling and healthier people?

We put so much effort, money, and passion into changing laws, but we don’t put nearly as much into changing hearts and minds. Yet that is where America will truly be changed – in the heart of each individual citizen, not in the halls of Congress or the chambers of the Supreme Court. Granted, we could make a case for outlawing any of the things I used as examples. They all have the potential to cause great harm to individuals and to society. Don’t think that I am advocating lawlessness or anarchy. But we, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians (or profess any other deeply-held faith) ought to be more concerned with the influence we have over the hearts and lives of individuals than with the influence we may have in places of political power. We need good laws, but we need good people even more.

Can We Stop Seeing Immigrants as the Enemy?

Immigration – it’s the first step of the so-called American Dream. You can’t build a better life in America until you are actually there. It’s why the Statue of Liberty is known around the world as a beacon of hope. The culture we consider “American” today is a product of the mixing of immigrants from around the globe (and if we’re being very technical here, even Native Americans were once immigrants, so there would be no America without immigration). Without immigrants from England and France, we would not have become a nation. Without immigrants from Africa (both slave and free), Italy, Ireland, Poland, China, and Japan, our nation would not have grown. Without immigrants from Mexico, South America, India, Thailand, Morocco, and Vietnam, we would not have the richness of diversity which we enjoy today. Our food, art, and language would be homogeneous and boring. I can’t imagine an America without ethnic diversity.

Perhaps that is because I grew up in what is generally regarded as the most ethnically diverse county in America. I was surrounded by people from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Korea, China, India, Iran, Bangladesh, Uganda, Ethiopia, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and beyond. My life was enriched by this diversity. I learned more about history from talking firsthand with those who had escaped the Communist regimes of Southeast Asia than I ever did from a textbook. I learned to respect people regardless of their current circumstances as I interacted with those who had been doctors, teachers, and scientists in their home countries but now worked in shops or did landscaping and housekeeping because the privilege of living in America was worth the sacrifice of their careers and respect. I learned to look out at the world and not in on myself, to accept the differences in people, and to not judge someone by their accent, fashion choices, or cultural quirks.

But I see an undercurrent in America, reaching back to our very beginnings and stretching through to the present, an idea that there is an “Us” and a “Them”, and that the “Them” is the enemy of everything we stand for. They don’t speak our language. They don’t go to our churches. They don’t follow our traditions. They won’t put money in the bank. They just want free healthcare and education. They are taking our jobs. They’re a drain on our resources. They are threatening our way of life. Throughout America’s history, there has always been a “Them”. The Irish and the Jews in the eastern states, the Chinese and Japanese in the west. The African immigrants, former slaves and their descendants in the south. Today it seems to mostly be immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. There is always someone we don’t want in our neighborhoods, someone we don’t quite trust. It is almost as if we require a common cultural enemy in order for our identity to remain valid.

Now before I get all kinds of comments saying, “It’s not that I don’t like people from other countries, it’s just an economic thing,” I’d like to make two statements. One, for many of you, it is that you don’t like people from other countries. Or more specifically, they make you uncomfortable. Maybe you don’t think they’re bad people, but you would prefer if they stayed home. And yet, when you take a vacation to a foreign country, you think everyone should cater to you by speaking English and having  a McDonalds on the corner. Check your logical integrity, please. Two, I understand that there are significant economic ramifications for unlimited immigration. My point here has nothing to do with official immigration policy, but rather the attitude of the average American citizen towards the average immigrant (legal or illegal). Just as your ancestors and mine came to America seeking a better future and life for themselves and their families, the vast majority of those who are coming into our country today are simply looking for a better a chance. They’re not here to take over our culture or to leech off the government. They have made great sacrifices to be here, and they want the opportunity to be productive, contributing members of society.

Maybe this is a hot-button issue for me because I have so enjoyed ethnic diversity, and because I have traveled to so many different countries and experienced their cultures. In Mexico particularly, I have held babies who are destined to grow up in a shack made of cast off trash without water or electricity, I have given food and clothing to children who spend their days collecting anything of value from the city dumps, and I have sat and talked with the mothers who just hope that their children – by some miracle – won’t have to work as migrant harvesters the way they do. In none of these people did I see a sense of greed or the desire to take advantage of the “wealthy Americans”. Rather, I saw people with a tightly woven community, transcendent joy, and strong values. In my own opinion, we could do with a lot more of that here in the U.S.

Throughout the Bible, God commands His people to show kindness and generosity towards the foreigners in their midst. He never told them to worry about the economic implications of immigration. If Jesus spent so much time teaching about loving one another and caring for “the least of these”, shouldn’t we, if we claim to follow his teachings, show that love, compassion and care for all of our neighbors, regardless of their culture, language, or immigration status?

Can We Stop Putting Ourselves First?

Oh boy, this is the hardest one, and encompasses everything else. I am as guilty as anyone else of this. Much of our political culture in America is built on the concept of inalienable rights. Who doesn’t love having rights? The right to say whatever we want, worship whatever or whomever we want, arm ourselves however we want, work wherever we want, drive whatever we want, live wherever we want, marry whomever we want, have as many children as we want, etc. The problem is that we have become intoxicated by our rights. What started out as the simple rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have been so carefully specified that we are at the point where rights have begun conflicting with one another and we have begun to think that our personal rights supersede the responsibilities we have towards others.

Take these for examples. Our right to the fruits of our labor means we fight against taxes that pay for government programs we feel are either unnecessary or poorly run, but many (certainly not all, thank goodness!) that rail against high taxes and public welfare programs also have poor records when it comes to charitable giving to organizations that would presumably replace those welfare programs. The right to free speech is inviolable until someone says something that we find offensive. Then they should be off the air, hit with a fine, and their books banned. We don’t want gun control (“We’re not violent, really!”) but then we plaster our bumpers with stickers like these lovelies:

“Keep honking, I’m reloading”, “Pro Life, Pro God, Pro Gun” (as if the three are connected somehow), “Gun Control Means Using Both Hands”, and “I Don’t Call 911 [with picture of handgun]”. We cannot make rational arguments for the right to have our guns if we support our arguments with asinine slogans and belligerent attitudes.

The bottom line is that we fiercely fight to protect the rights we hold dear, and fiercely fight against rights that we feel would contradict our personal rights or beliefs. Perhaps we would be better off going back to the original three, and not restricting any unless they violate established laws of the nation. We must realize that we are not the center of universe, that our rights are not more valid than those of anyone else. We should quit seeking to flaunt our rights, and rather live in such a way that we put the comfort and well-being of others above our own. Saint Paul was pretty clear that this is the Christian way of looking at things (Phillipians 2:3-4), and the teachings of many other religions agree. You will find that the less you worry about holding onto your own rights and privileges, the more freedom and joy you will find.

So Get Out There and Vote!

Friends, I am not here to tell you which political party to support, which candidate to vote for, or where you should stand on the issues. Those are decisions that each of us must carefully make for ourselves. And I do mean carefully. Find the facts, use your brain, and make a choice. You don’t have to vote the way your parents did, the way your spouse or your pastor or your boss does. That is the beauty of this free country. You get to have your say, and the people who disagree get to have theirs. Of all the rights to cling to, this is certainly one to hold tight on.

Now, if you’re like me, you may at times be discouraged by the political process and by the individual candidates. To be honest, I’m not thrilled with my options this year. There are times when it’s tempting to say, “I can’t really get behind either candidate, so I won’t vote,” or, “My candidate isn’t going to win, so why bother?” I know, I’ve been there. I’ve thought, maybe I just won’t vote this year, but then I realize that if I don’t vote, I am basically saying that I don’t deserve or want the privilege of having a say in my government. I might as well be saying, “Just let someone else decide, it’s too much for me.”  I can imagine the founding fathers, the civil war soldiers, the heroes of WWI and WWII, all rolling over in their graves and saying, “Then why the HECK did we put our necks on the line to make sure you had a choice?” I don’t want to dishonor them or make their sacrifice worthless, and so I’m going to continue doing my homework right up till election day, and I’m going to go in to that voting booth and make a choice, even if it’s not the best of all possible choices, even if I think my side will lose.

I will go in thankful to be exercising a freedom that so many others are denied, and I will come out knowing that no matter who wins, no matter which laws are passed, my God is watching and caring, and that He will not be surprised when the final results are in.