A good friend of mine was a refugee.
Whitney and I intentionally made friends with our neighbors in San Jose that were Iranian refugees.
My church is right now discussing how to adopt a refugee family.
All of that being said, I'm not so sure most people talking about refugees right now know much about receiving a refugee in this country, here's why...
A teacher at Alma Heights Christian School in Pacifica, CA, reached out to me to talk to the high schoolers. I was super blessed by her invitation, and felt God prompt me to accept it followed by His preparing me to deliver a message. This is what I shared:
Pretty new to talking to students about my faith. Some were clearly engaged, while others were just as clearly sleeping. I trust God for any impact. Sowing seeds, letting someone else water, knowing God Himself is responsible for growth.
I was super encouraged that one student came up to me after the talk, after the room had cleared, to say he felt like I was speaking directly to him. He said he was nervous to come talk to me, but he just had to since he felt so clearly that I was speaking directly to him. He told me why he felt that way, and it was clear that the Holy Spirit had moved in that room. We exchanged info and I encouraged him and instructed him as best I could.
After I left, I got a message on Twitter then text messages from students--this is what they said:
can I ask for your opinion on homosexuality? do you think its wrong? last year i accepted who i was and i knew i was attracted to boys since i was little... i believe i was born like this and it wasn't my choice.
Your whole message resonated with me. i'm going through a rough patch with someone i've been dating. i feel like God has placed you in my life because i don't know what to do. How do you listen to God and hear his voice?
Suddenly my offer to be a brother in Christ to these students became very real. Amazingly, I felt very equipped to respond to the inquires I got, not because of my own wisdom, but because I was literally sitting with brothers in Christ when I got the questions, and was able to talk through them to confirm what I was thinking.
One improvement I will make when I talk to groups in the future is I will provide a handout or visual that includes my contact info, as well as a few trusted local resources if I know of any.
When you're walking with the King of Kings, you never know when a life is going to be changed in an instant.
I had an interesting conversation over the weekend among family. As we bantered around the issues of the day, the Golden Rule was brought up as a lens through which we should examine them.
One hears this verse more these days, I thought; so to make sure it wasn't just me I did a Google news search and found that, yes, it's a hot topic. From maxims on how to run a business to the handling of the Syrian refugee crisis, the Golden Rule is getting a lot of air these days.
What strikes me most is that this "Golden Rule verse" is the tail end of Jesus' response to the the lawyers gathered around to trap him. Here's what Jesus said just before the Golden Rule:
Why does this so frequently get left out? This is in the Bible's "red writing" meaning Jesus himself spoke it. Not to mention that He says point blank that this first part is "the greatest commandment."
Why am I emphasizing this point? Here's why, because my life experience is that I cannot love myself, let alone my neighbor, apart from loving God.
If you knew how I treated myself before I submitted to God, before I decided to seek Him out fully, you would shudder. It was a path that by the world's standards was upstanding, I volunteered, held down a great job with increasing responsibility, took care of myself, didn't harm anyone too much, so far as anyone could tell. The deeper truth is much different!
I know for a fact I would be a lousy husband without God's commands because when I abandon them at times to "go it my own way" it goes south quickly. Left to my own devices I would not love Whitney well, I would be short with her, I wouldn't consider her fully, I wouldn't cherish her the way she deserves. I would miss out on the greatest expressions of love I have ever shown her, which are always born out of my time in prayer and in Scripture with God.
As a father, I would just be hanging on. I'd lack the energy to really engage, and I wouldn't spot the characteristics God has given my children for their own unique calling for this short stint on Earth. Even more, I wouldn't even have a sense about their calling because I only got that through my time with God. I'd punish them and squash their spirit instead of acting out of an abundance of love and grace mixed with discipline.
Not to mention the rest of the world, I would hardly care about them! Sure, I'd volunteer now and again, but would I LOVE others? Hardly! Love is such a strong word, especially when defined according to Biblical terms. I cared about other people in a shallow way before, but it was after I went after God and actually prayed that He would open up my heart to others that He began to love them. Now God puts people, my family, friends, neighbors, even strangers to mind for prayer and for me to minister in a way that brings me to tears. There is no comparison to the love I have for my neighbors compared to before I sought God.
Jesus, as He often did, is answering with a profoundly meaningful response missed by the casual reader of Scripture. The "greatest commandment" covers the first five of the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament, the so-called spiritual commands. The "golden rule" covers the last five commandments, or the civil commands. Jesus is bringing the Old Testament Ten Commandments to life in a new way here.
This one statement also brings together all of the commandments that all of the prophets of the Old Testament taught. Basically, Jesus is saying, if you love God you will keep the spiritual laws and in so doing you will keep the civil laws. He literally covered all of law from beginning to end in this one statement. It's such a crazy response to this bunch of lawyers that after this dismantling they decided not to ask him any more questions. Scripture literally says, "no one could say a word in reply."
So there it is--a love of God first in the fullest sense, with heart, soul, and mind--that is the lens through which we should look at the world.
After an amazing outpouring of love and encouragement via every means imagineable over the past week, I reflected on the stark difference in my relationships before and after I prayed to God to give me friends and mentors.
You might also be interested in this guide I put together last year outlining the practical steps I took to go from few friends to more than I ever imagined.
This video resonates with me, this is an approach I buy into, less "come" more "go," and "go" doesn't have to be Africa, in fact, for most people, it's where the live, work, and play. It's the places where people already like and trust them.
"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stoneand give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." Ezekiel 36:26-27
I was traveling on the East Coast, and I took a bite into a Chik-fil-A sandwich. They aren't so prevelant in San Jose yet. I posted a picture of said sandwich, to which a reply was soon posted that I was supporting a hate group.
When I read the message, I had an immediate sense that a serious division was being dropped between myself and this dear brother. I prayed right away. I was in a good place at that time, in the Word, feeling full of peace and love. And so I called this brother, no answer. I left a message. There was nothing to hide, even though I simply like Chik-fil-A's chicken sandwiches, I am full aware of the positions both for and against their Christian stance.
Days go by, no return call. I call again. Still nothing. The weight of division growing wider caused me distress. I decided to pray and fast over it. I enlisted others to pray with me over it. One night, while praying with a friend, the friend pointed out that it was not be who had division in my heart, but rather this brother who did. So we shifted our prayer for the brothers heart, that God would work in it and soften it toward me.
Within 48 hours, I received a call from this brother. It was on Mother's Day, I will never forget it. As I received it, I looked up to the sky through the trees and at the son, and I said that you Jesus. On the phone, this brother said to me that he wants to talk to me when the time is right, but more importantly that he loves me, and that he knows I am a good guy. He was reminded of this because he ran into a guy while playing softball who, after putting "two and two together" realized he knows me, and who then gave this brother of mine unsolicited words about how I am a good guy. These words were received and they rekindled a love for me, and that is why he was calling.
As I heard this story over the phone, tears came to my eyes. I just kept saying in my thoughts, "praise you God, praise you!" To see a prayer work so clearly, so dramatically, so fast, it is amazing to behold! Only God can change hearts like this, without any human interaction between us in the meantime. Where the Enemy (Satan) seeks to divide and destroy, God is all powerful for redeem.
To top it off, this brother of mine concluded by saying that it was too long since he'd seen me, and that he would book a flight for a visit within a week, which he soon did. This was an amazing turn of events, and I was delighted. Though, mixed with my delight was a growing concern around this conversation I would have with this brother. I knew that he had a firm belief that Chik-fil-A and their Christian stance, specifically in favor of the traditional family, was wrong. And I know he knows that I share the same Christian values, so what would become of our conversation?
Upon his visit a few weeks later, we had a delightful time. There was no early confrontation, and through much prayer and fasting before his arrival, I felt well prepared to talk about anything, especially Jesus! We took a day trip to Sonoma to visit wine country. A great day, but as we left, my dear brother did not stop imbibing on wine. In fact, he opened a bottle in the backseat of the car, and against protests, kept drinking. Soon he was becoming confrontational, angry even. He began to come at me "swinging" for my beliefs.
The situation became very uncomfortable. I did not want to even speak or rationalize with someone who was drunk. And yet, the tirade had to stop. I raised my voice, "Let me tell you why you are here," I said. I reminded him how a month or so ago he would not return my calls, how he was angry at me because of my post about Chik-fil-A. He said he remembered this. I told him how it distressed me so that I prayed and fasted for several weeks. He was silent. Then I recalled how he ran into someone, quite randomly, who exclaimed my character so that he had a change of heart, and called me, which led him to take the trip to visit. I said, "Can't you see, God loves you, he brought you here!" As I said these words, my dear brother broke down in tears, he accepted the love of God in that moment, I believe, and he even repeated the words, "God does love me, he does." It was a tender moment, we both cried.
I wish I could tell you that the division was eliminated entirely on that night, it was not. After all, drunkenness and shame were still present. The next day, there was a sheepish sense and my brother wanted to avoid me, I think. However, there was no reason for it--that would just be allowing victory to the enemy. And so I sat next to him, put my arm around him, I told him I love him, that we can always talk and even when we do not agree, we will still love each other in words and in action. He apologized for his behavior, and I immediately forgave him. I said we must forget about it, and was determined to move on and have a fun day, after all, it was my birthday!
In conclusion, what I learned most about this trial is that God heard my prayer and fasting brought a brother to me, He changed a heart, put someone in my brothers path to remind him. I also learned that in this case, that far more than words or a carefully constructed argument, it was my life itself that likely spoke to my brother. It was how my wife made such a big deal over my birthday with thoughtful gifts and homemade recipes. It was how we visited an early morning prayer group and the guys were so welcoming. It was how we played golf and a friend stopped to pray before we tee'd off and my pals were fighting over who could pay for lunch. It is the authentic overwhelming love of Jesus, expressed in relationships and community, that draws someone to God.
But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9
The phone rang, it was late, I heard one of my parents get up to answer it in the hallway just outside my bedroom door. Then rustling around and footsteps down the stairs. Back to bed, though I didn't really sleep, already eery. Then more ringing, I hopped up and answered, I heard my Dad say come to the hospital. Got Daren out of his bed, into the car, driving and praying, not sure what's going on, hypotheticals in the mind.
Arrive, park, into the building, somehow it seems we know right where to go, people have looks in their eyes like they know something we don't, the hall opens into a lobby, our parents are sobbing, immediately we are awash in sorrow. Not sure what's going on, told it's not good, she doesn't look good, a decision to pull her off support will have to be made, let's go in to see her.
Tubes, machines, swollen, black, blue, a sight i will never forget, make your way to the side of the bed, hold her hands boys, they are so swollen, as soon as we do, she dies.
Everyone crying, doctors, nurses, parents, me. A blur of tears. A blur of everything. Eventually, we exit the building, into the parking lot, the sun is coming up, traffic is building, cool air, the Earth is still spinning, it feels odd that it is.
Drive home...ringing, many phone calls, soon many flowers, it smells like a flourist. People visit, so many people, they bring food. They cry. They sit and talk and listen. So many cards in the mail.
Soon a funeral. A flood of tears, I learned to cry so hard. Damn, man, my sister, my big sister, she's not showing up anymore.
Days, a daze. Enough for me, I need to get back to something. I need to get back to college, my freshman year. How will I sleep? I can't sleep. I haven't slept for a week. I'm going to try...I lay down to sleep, and I do.
And then I'm awake. Oh my God! Hop out of bed, right next to me, there she is, my sister in full color! Immediate tears. I'm sobbing. I wrap my arms around here as tight as I can. Right away I ask over and over, "Are you okay?" She says nothing. I keep asking, she keeps saying nothing.
Then I lift my head and turn right to see her, to verify. I look right into her hair. It's glowing and flowing. Oh my God! She's wearing a red Gap hoodie, the same one she is known for wearing, we buried her in it. This is unreal...even as I type this, the words cannot express the sight, the feeling, the realness.
Then, she asks me one thing, "Where is Daren?" I tell her I don't know, and then, she's gone.
I jerk awake...sit up completely. I am completely shocked. What just happened. My sister is not in the room, but something is. There is a breeze...a poster hanging above my bed has a corner loose, it's waving in a breeze that otherwise does not exist. I wipe my face, which is soaked in tears.
On my God! I notice the time, just after five in the morning. Do I write this down, will I forget? I can't move for an hour. And yet eventually I return to sleep.
The next morning, I get up, shower, dress for school. I go down stairs to leave the house. I walk past the family room, and I see my brother Daren sleeping on the couch. It hits me like a wave...a sense of emotion and peace and understanding and so much more washes over me. Daren, my brother, is known for always sleeping in his bed. Many sleepovers growing up, Daren always retreats to his bed. Many guests visiting the house at this moment, they all insist we sleep in our beds. And yet, there is Daren sleeping on the couch, he's not in his bed, this is completely abnormal. "Where is Daren," the question Danielle asked me now makes complete sense to me.
I walk over to the whiteboard in the kitchen, and I write Danielle is okay, tears flowing from my face.
Off to school, walking on air, because I have an unexplainable sense that my sister, who had died one week earlier (and I would later confirm this vision was exactly one week to the minute after her death) was okay, she was in Heaven.
Another week goes by. This time, I'm out driving with friends. This is what we do to "get away," we drive around the back roads of Lebanon County, PA, not caring if we get lost, and it's not too hard to get lost because there aren't many landmarks when it's all fields and pitch black. We just drive, listen to tunes, shoot the breeze. So, I'm driving, one friend up front, another in the back, when I make a right hand turn, and then all of a sudden, it happens.
High above me, and yet visible to me even as I'm driving, my sister, again. She's glowing, she's white, she isn't really a figure anymore, but more of a presence in the clouds. She's clearly in another place, again, words don't work to describe this. And she says to me, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry this happened. Tell everyone I'm sorry. And then, she's gone. All this while I'm driving, and just when it ends, I look up to see a road marker and realize this all happened right when I had turned onto the same back country road where she was killed, just a mile down the road.
These two things that I saw, what happened to me in this story, this gave me the most incredible sense of peace I could ever have over my sisters death. Even more importantly, it gave me a 100% certainty that there is a Heaven. And later in life, I started to work backward from this belief in Heaven to analyze the reality of God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Even though I was raised going to church and learned the lessons, it never really sank in to a soul level, it didn't sink in until I later poured over it, questioned it, and experienced it in this way, and many other ways since. Now my faith is central to who I am, I know that even through the death of my sister, God is so good, and his plan is far greater than I can understand. I now believe that God works through visions like these all the time, and he does miracles far greater than we will ever understand. And so, my sister's death, while a terribly sad occurrence that changed my family forever in deep ways, is also part of the foundation of my faith, and in that way, it is among the biggest gifts I've ever received.