Friday, December 02, 2016

An open letter to the author of the hate letter sent to our local mosque

The Lansing State Journal reported today on the photo-copied note you sent to mosques throughout the U.S., including a mosque right here in East Lansing, Michigan. I'm guessing you have another ream of them all stamped and ready to deliver. (Did you use an American flag stamp?) But for the benefit of others who might not have read your tripe, I will post it here.


I don't know who you fancy yourself to be, but let me tell you who you are not.

You're not a Christian
Let's begin with that. "Christian" as a label has become so loaded with cultural meaning that many followers of Jesus won't even use the word. But let's be clear: Christian means someone who follows Jesus. Despite what you might think, you do not. Anyone who espouses hate cannot claim to follow the way of Christ. The Apostle John knew Jesus well. He walked, talked, ate, and ministered with Jesus during a three-year ministry intensive. Here's what John wrote about Jesus:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:7-12)
In fact, Jesus said, "They will know we are Christians by our love." Based on that definition, you don't make the cut. So please don't intone, "God Bless the USA" and claim to be a Christian. You're only making the rest of us look bad.

You're not a patriotic American
I'm guessing you think that you are. You probably have a USA bumper sticker on the back of your American made truck. You sport a flag belt buckle on your Wranglers and have a "Don't Tread on Me" flag hanging from your front porch. But you're not a patriot. Dress up a bigot in patriotic gear and you still have a bigot. Patriots don't write venom like you did. Patriots write:
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
Patriots - great patriots - like Dwight Eisenhower would tell the aforementioned "author" and anyone else who worships the President-Elect,
Never let yourself be persuaded that any one Great Man, any one leader, is necessary to the salvation of America. When America consists of one leader and 158 million followers, it will no longer be America.
Mike Gonzalez, a Senior Fellow at The Kathryn and Shelby Coulomb Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy wrote in his article on patriotic assimilation,
Thomas Paine, in the influential 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, likewise observed: “This new World hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.” George Washington repeated the sentiment 12 years later almost verbatim when he wrote, “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” He also listed the traits Americans needed: The new country would welcome those who were “determined to be sober, industrious and virtuous members of society.” 
Patriots do not fear immigrants. They foster them to become Americans.

Like someone did your ancestors.

You're not brave
You're a coward. A handwritten letter? An unsigned letter? I can picture you hunkered down at a Kinko's furtively glancing about, wondering when CIA operatives were going to high rope down from the black helicopters. You're a wimp. A feckless, milksop, namby-pamby weakling. Strong words? Yes, but keep in mind that I'm not calling for any ethnic cleansing.

If you think you can bring your hatred to East Lansing, you'd better come with more than your nameless scrawling. If you're going to attack our neighbors - whatever race or religion - you're going to have to go through the rest of us.

We stand together in Lansing, Michigan. And your hatred isn't welcome.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Two myths about Christians and depression

I'm wearing my Charlotte Strong shirt today to honor Ian Hartley, a young man who lost his battle with depression earlier this year. I presided at Ian's funeral surrounded by over 700 his family and friends. The reminders of Ian's fight - and the reason we need to continue his fight - are all around me. Every time I drive past Charlotte. Whenever I see a soccer ball. In the song of an Oriole.

It was Ian's death, partly, that motivated me to preach on mental illness this month at South Lansing Christian Church.

I began the series by debunking two myths about Christians and mental illness.

Myth #1: God’s followers don’t struggle with depression, anxiety or any other form of mental illness.

I know that's just not the case for two reasons. First, the Bible addresses depression and anxiety.
Psalm 43:5 (HCSB)Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. 
1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The fact that God's word talks about depression and anxiety is powerful evidence that God's people can, and do, struggle with mental illness.

Not only that, but some of the heroes of the faith struggled with depression and anxiety. Who wrote the three verses I just mentioned? King David, and the Apostles Peter and Paul. And they're not alone. The Prophet Elijah was so depressed that he wanted to die. King Solomon had a seemingly perfect life, but he was trapped in a nihilistic spiral of meaninglessness. And Job, whom the scriptures describer as "upright and blameless," became so depressed that he despaired the day of his birth.

If you're a Christ follower who has struggled with depression, anxiety or another mental illness the simple fact is this: you're not alone. Other believers have struggled, too.

Myth #2: Depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness are evidence of spiritual weakness.

Some of the great Christians of our more recent history struggled with depression and anxiety.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the greatest preacher in nineteenth century Europe. He preached to a congregation of 10,000 people every week in London. Yet there were times that he was so debilitated by depression that he could barely function.

Carlos Whittaker is a blogger, musician and worship leader who struggles with panic and anxiety and, what he calls, “it’s ugly cousin, depression.” There are times when he arrives at church to lead worship and he has to sit in his car and do breathing exercise before he can get out and walk into the church building. 

A recent study detailed that one in four pastors have struggled with mental illness.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are no more a sign of a weak spiritual life than kidney disease or nearsightedness. They are a reminder that we live in a fallen world that longs for God’s restoration and redemption.

Here's the fact about mental illness: it is no respecter of persons. All of us are susceptible and will, at one point or another, personally experience a mental illness or know someone who has.

If you're someone who struggles with depression, anxiety or some other form of mental illness know this: you're not alone. There are resources and people who are here for you. (You can find a list of mental health professionals that our church recommends here.)


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Four post-election survival strategies

It's going to be okay.

The votes are all counted; half of America is reeling, half of America is somewhere between feeling mildly validated and euphoric.

I’ve already heard from two different women with two very different perspectives on the election. The first, a Clinton voter, told me, “I feel like I'm going to cry and throw up at the same time. I need some help coping with this.”

A second, who voted for Trump told me,
We’re not bigots; we’re not racists. I don’t approve of the way Trump speaks about women or the way he reportedly treats them. What I am is tired. I am tired of being dismissed by people in government buildings on the east coast and people in studios on the west coast. I am tired of the code-speak, "white, uneducated, rural voters," when what the elites really mean is "stupid rednecks." We’re the salt of the earth, but the ruling elites of both parties have dismissed the ‘flyover states’ as people who have lost our saltiness and as good for nothing other than being trampled under foot.
Whether you’re ecstatic, terrified, or somewhere in between here are four strategies from which we can all benefit:

1. Reconnect with time-tested words.  Social media is emotional jet fuel. It promotes sharing before thinking and applies heat and friction to already frayed emotions. If you’ve never unplugged from social media, now would be a good time to do so and to reconnect with ancient words. I suggest the Bible. It has outlasted monarchies and political dynasties. The Psalms are older than popes or kings. People were being comforted by Jesus’ words fourteen centuries before there was a United States. Returning again to time-tested words like those might be what is needed for these states to once again be united. Let words like, “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10) wash over you and cleanse you of anxiety.

2. Embrace love. Are you fearful? You’re not alone. The Dow Jones futures dropped 750 points overnight. Silicon Valley investors are calling for California to secede from the union. The website for Canadian immigration was so flooded last night that it crashed. The only antidote for fear is love. One of Jesus followers, John, wrote, “perfect love expels all fear.” (1 John 4:18) If you’re feeling afraid, let God love you, and practice loving others. Christians ought to be the least fearful people on the planet because we are called to be the most loving people on the planet. Love your children; love your parents. Practice love in the workplace; model love in your home. “We love each other because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

3. Do good. Concern about our government’s pursuit (or lack of pursuit) of good ought to propel us to do good ourselves. Are you worried that there are difficult times ahead for immigrants? Volunteer with St. Vincent Catholic Charities Refugee Services program. Do you fear that corporate America now has a blank check to pursue greed and inequality? Be intentional about shopping local. Concerned about cuts in education? Volunteer at an under-resourced school. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) The only way evil – I am not speaking of people, but of ideology – has ever been defeated is by good people doing something.

4. Practice "microfocus." I can’t control what happens in the White House, but I can contribute to what happens in my house. My individual efforts will never have an effect on Wall Street, but I can have an impact on Main Street. Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree that we should all take personal responsibility for our choices. So I choose to change what I can and not sweat what I can’t. I choose to love my brother and not despise the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:34) I choose optimism and hope. I reject the catastrophic thinking to which I am so predisposed. I will not be overcome by the circumstances in which I find myself; rather, I choose to change the person over whom I have the most direct control: me.

It’s going to be okay.

Breath.

The sun will come up tomorrow.

As I wrote yesterday, God is still on His throne.

We’re not as fragile as we think.

It’s going to be okay.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The day after the election

I voted this morning and, for the first time in my life, I went to the polls as an undecided voter. After I cast my ballot, the election official offered me an "I Voted" sticker. I refused. Frankly, I am not proud of the vote I cast. I am not pleased with either major candidate.

This election was the worst in my lifetime: a woman who is corrupt on a heretofore unforeseen scale; a man whose vulgarity eclipses any candidate in my memory and perhaps in American history; and a bruised and bloodied electorate that limped to the polls with this one thought in mind: is this over yet?

But what about tomorrow? What about November 9?

When Abraham Lincoln was elected America's sixteenth President, the Jackson Mississippian called he and the Vice-President elect, "... bigoted, unscrupulous and cold-blooded enemies of the peace and equality..." The New Orleans Courier decried Lincoln supporters as "hordes of fanatics and
negrophilists," and predicted,
The crisis now impending upon the whole country is a necessary consequence of the abnormal condition into which our dearest and most sacred institutions have been plunged by the success of our avowedly unrelenting enemies. . . .
The unmistakable fact stares us in the face that we are now in a state of danger unparalleled in the annals of our history …
Guess what? The day after the election, on November 7, 1860 God was still on His throne.

A hundred years later John F. Kennedy was narrowly elected the first Catholic President of the United
States. The next day the Chicago Tribune editorialized, “We are disappointed, of course, and so, too, are just short of half of the men and women who went to the polls on Tuesday. But they were outvoted and now they accept the verdict. So do we.”

On November 9, 1960 God was still on his throne.

On election day in 1988 many thought little of George H.W. Bush and his running mate, Dan Quayle. John Kerry, himself a future Presidential candidate actually said, "The Secret Service is under orders that if Bush is shot, to shoot Quayle."

On November 9, 1988 God was still on his throne.

A decade after George W. Bush emerged from his contested election with Al Gore, the Daily Beast wrote,
The obvious problem with making Bush president was the fact of the Bush presidency, a catastrophe in so many directions at once that presidential historians argue today about whether Bush was the worst president in American history or merely the worst since Grant, Buchanan, or Johnson (Andrew, not Lyndon).
God was on his throne the day after the nation's ballots were cast, and they day after the Florida's were certified. He remained on his throne ten years later for the Daily Beast's post-mortem.

Following President Obama's reelection in 2012, the histrionic Glenn Beck urged Americans to "buy guns, ammo, and stock up on farmland because this President will destroy America."

But on November 7, 2012, God was still on his throne.

And he will be tomorrow, too.

So tomorrow, the day after we hear either, "Madam President," or "President Trump," – words that half the country celebrates and half the country dreads – let's commit to these two honorable and immutable truths: We can trust God and we need to pray for the new President.
"Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!" (Psalm 43:5)
"I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Olympic gold

I was able to watch all of the US gold medal moments during the Rio Olympics back to back thanks to the NBC Sports app. It is an interesting perspective because I know when the event begins that each athlete has already won. Nevertheless, I find myself captivated by their performances. Regardless of the event, watching the competitors battle through adversity and pain, facing each challenge as they come – it’s compelling.

I feel the same way watching people from my church. They’re winners, too. They’ve already been adopted by Heavenly Father, and their names are written in the Lambs Book of Life. But that doesn’t mean they never struggle. They get knocked down. Their shining moments are sometimes few and far between.

They may not have gold medals hanging from their necks, but they’re going to be walking streets of gold. That is what God promised, and it’s what Christ secured when he defeated death and sin on the cross. And so, every believer can say along with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”

Friday, March 04, 2016

Archie Bunker and the Politics of Donald Trump

Back when our television took a minute to "warm up" my folks and I gathered around the set each night to watch reruns of Carrol O’Conner and Jean Stapleton’s hit show All in the Family. My dad cracked up whenever Archie insulted his son-in-law, Meathead. As a UAW factory worker Pop connected to Archie. I related to Edith in whom I saw my grandmother, a nervous housewife flitting about trying to keep peace between her husband and the kids.

The show began the same way each week: Archie and Edith sitting at the family piano singing the theme song before a live studio audience:
Boy the way Glenn Miller Played
Songs that made the Hit Parade
Guys like us we had it made
Those were the days 
And you knew who you were then
Girls were girls and men were men
Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again
Didn't need no Welfare states
Everybody pulled his weight
Gee our old Lasalle ran great
Those were the days
Watching the GOP debate tonight it hit me: Donald Trump’s demographic is the Archie Bunker vote. Folks who had what my late friend Rod Cameron called “a crawdad mentality - gazing longingly at the past while backing reluctantly into the future.” Fear is the root emotion for “guys like us” who “had it made.”

I get it. I understand.

I don’t like change all that much either. Even a lot of the good ones.

When I was a kid we’d get one, maybe two phone calls a day. We shared a party line with our three neighbors. If nobody was home you tried again later. These days I can’t get away from my iPhone. I was out of the office two days this week and returned to 133 unread emails, most of which were the modern-day equivalent of the JC Penney catalog and Ed McMahon telling me that I might already be a winner.

My great-great-great grandfather Joseph Weller moved to DeKalb County, Indiana in 1862. Most of the Wellers are still there. My grandfather lived (and died) on the same farm that his grandfather lived and died on. My wife and I moved eleven times in our first ten years of marriage. Now we live in Michigan. My sister lives in Africa. When she moved there we had to communicate by airmail on onion-skin paper. My daughter lives in Australia, and we speak face-to-face on Skype for free.

My high school had one black student, a guy who was rumored to have some beef with his basketball coach in Ft. Wayne. He transferred to Garrett High and started every game. Turned out his dad was my dad's boss at the plant; the whole school loved the kid. Still, our town was so white that our idea of diversity was crop rotation. Diversity is celebrated these days, as it should be. When I was at the grocery earlier tonight (buying lactose free “milk”) I overheard conversations in three different languages.

I knew one guy in high school that I thought might be gay. These days sexual identity isn’t just mainstreamed. For social conservatives it feels like it’s the whole river. All over America county clerks are striking the words “bride” and “groom” from marriage licenses. When I was a kid Bruce was on a cereal box; now Kait is, well, everywhere, it seems. Some church officials cover up sexual immorality and others wonder if they’ll be required to endorse it through forced same-sex weddings.

I’m guessing the rest of Charles Strouse’s lyrics to Those Were the Days were too politically incorrect, for even Archie:
People seemed to be content
$50 payed the rent
Freaks were in a circus tent
Those were the days 
Take a little Sunday spin
Tonight I'll watch the Dodgers win
Have yourself a dandy day that cost you under a fin 
Hair was short and skirts were long
Kate Smith really sung the song
I don't know just what went wrong
Those were the days!

Freaks . . . short hair . . . long skirts . . . judgmental words from folks who "don’t know just what went wrong." But Trump is counting on his electorate's uneasy feeling that something is wrong.

So when The Donald shouts, “I’m going to make America great again!”, what I suspect a lot of his supporters are hearing is that he is going to remove whichever of Archie Bunker’s pebbles have become lodged in their loafers.

I’m guessing that Trump knows even he can’t turn the clock back. Truthfully, I don’t think that matters to him. But he is counting on being able to get elected by promising that he can.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Surprised by God . . . again!

God still has the capacity to surprise me. I don't know why. His capacity to astonish me is certainly nothing new.

But the way I saw God show up this last week is too exciting to keep to myself.

At last month’s elders’ meeting our mission team proposed that our church become ministry partners with Sidd and Sangheetha, two former South Lansing Christian Church members who returned home last year to India. They were a huge part of our church, with Sidd serving as a deacon and Sangs being involved in our women’s small groups. I was sad to see them leave, but was inspired for their chief reason for returning to India.

Their families are not Christians, and Sidd and Sangs wanted to share the gospel with them. Thats all you need to know about them to know how much they love God and want to serve Him.

As they've followed God's leading, He has moved in the hearts of their siblings and parents. We continue to pray for them as the Holy Spirit convicts them that Jesus is the Christ.

In addition to reaching their families, Sangs has also become active in reaching out to battered women. Domestic violence is common where they live, and Sangs has had lots of opportunities to share Jesus with women who are in really bad situations. With this in mind, our mission team has been trying to figure out a way to financially partner with them.

It is there – at the intersection of need and resource – that I saw God at work.

I happened to have lunch with a group of ministers last week and connected with an old friend who works for a mission agency that is has ministries in India. As I told him about Sidd and Sangs he asked what city they are in. When I told him he said, “Frank, I have been looking for someone that I can partner with in their city. In order for our mission to expand there we have to have a local representative. Give me their email so I can contact them.” Now, I don’t know if it will all work out for that partnership to develop, but isn’t it just like God to orchestrate something like that?

But God wasn’t finished amazing me! As you know, we gathered Sunday to pray for the persecuted church. I specifically mentioned Sidd and Sangs and the work that they do. Wally asked you to pray for them during our prayer time. Afterward Jeff Badgero, the father of Brenda Glinke, approached me. Jeff asked where Sidd and Sangs live and I told him.

“I’ve been there twice,” he said, “In fact, I was there for five weeks last year and know dozens of Christians in their city. Give me their email and I will connect with them.”

There are no coincidences in the Kingdom of God, only divine connections. That is what God did yesterday, and I just wanted you to know.

With that in mind, what divine connection is God going to make for you this week? Maybe he has someone he wants you to invite to church. Maybe there is a struggling couple that could use a night away from their kids to reconnect. Maybe God is going to put you in the worst checkout lane ever so you can be a bright light of hope to a cashier that is in a dark place.

Its funny what happens when God shows up where you don’t expect Him.

You start to find yourself looking for him a little more frequently.

And it turns out He is pretty easy to find.