"For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.'" (Isaiah 30:15)

This morning I ran. I run on most mornings, but this morning was different. It was snowing. The flakes were light and fine. They chilled my face, but provided an insulation to the world around me. The noises that usually come in the morning–birds chirping, cars moving, dogs barking–were all hushed. This kind of peace and quiet, though not foreign, is not easily experienced in our world today.

We don't live in quite times. Something is always demanding our attention. Spouses, kids, church, work, and friends (all good things) all want a piece of our time. Then there is social networking. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and the like might put off a semblance of quiet as you gaze uninterrupted into your little screen, but these too are screaming in your face for more of you.

Stillness is not something we're good at any more, but it's certainly something we should labor to recover.

Quietness is a value seen throughout the bible. It's in quietness where God meets us. Furthermore, quietness is the result of a healthy relationship with God.

"And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." (Isaiah 32:17-18).

Jesus is the only one who can do this for us. He is the only man who experienced the quiet that is spoken of in Isaiah, because he is the only perfectly righteous man. But the good news is that by faith, we get Christ's righteousness! This means quietness for us too.

If you haven't done so already, take some time to be quiet today. Think on these verses in Isaiah. Speak the gospel truth to your heart that this quietness, peace, and security is yours too in Christ.

Learning To Trust In The God Of All Comfort

A couple nights ago, the Times News held a community forum about the CSI Refugee Program. I thought it was well done, very informative, and helpful. There's been a lot of really poor and false information circulating (you can't believe everything you read on the internet you know), so the wealth of well resourced information was a breath of fresh air.

As I've reflected on the event with family, friends, and church family, the one thing that continues to stand out is people's desire for comfort and safety. Repeatedly, people are presenting their  concerns about the "safety of our citizens." (Never mind the safety of the rest of humanity across the globe!) What's more, is that people aren't only requesting safety, but they're requesting a 100% guarantee on that safety. And then the logic that follows is, "if the government can't 100% guarantee safety from terrorists disguised as refugees, then why let them in?"

I don't know about you, but I've never felt that my safety is guaranteed. Never.

At any moment my life, or the life of someone in my family, could be thrown into perilous danger that I will have no power to protect them from. This doesn't mean that I'm not proactive in providing safety where I can (my house has locks, and my car has airbags), but at the end of the day, there is no guarantee. Not in this life anyways. 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who omforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; emphasis mine). 

Paul is saying that our comfort is not, and cannot, be found anywhere in this world. In this world we will face affliction (Paul lists a few in 2 Corinthians 11), and our only hope of getting through that is if our comfort is found in the God of all comfort.

This guarantee of comfort is not for all though. It's only for those whose eternal hope is in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul says, "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (2 Corinthians 1:5). Jesus left perfect comfort and endured the ultimate form of suffering on the cross. Not only was this through his physical death, but also in his separation from the Father. It's this reality that enabled Paul (and Christians throughout the centuries) to love all humanity from every tribe, tongue, and nation regardless of personal danger to ones own self. It's this truth that continues to motivate followers of Jesus to do the same today. 

My comfort and safety is not based on the level of security I'm provided by my government, the locks on my door, or the airbags in my care, but on the reality of the finished work of Jesus which truly does give me a 100% safety guarantee!

I believe the Department of Homeland Security is doing what they can to keep Americans safe. Are they going to do this perfectly? No. But we should never hold them to a standard that only Jesus can fulfill.     


What Is Your Voice Saying About The Refugee?

Over the last several months, a strong opposition has arisen in Twin Falls against refugees and the CSI Refugee Program. As I've watched, listened, and interacted with people on both sides of the argument, I've found myself perplexed, and in many cases, appalled at what's being said. I'm astonished that people want to shut down something that has brought refuge to those who had none and diversity to a city that otherwise had very little. What I've found to be most disturbing, however is not the opposition itself but that the primary dissenting voices are from within the church.* Now, I know that not all opposing voices are Christian voices. I also know that not all Christians, churches, or religious people in Twin Falls share the same sentiment as those who are being most vocal about their desire to stop refugees from coming into this city. But as a follower of Jesus and a pastor in Twin Falls, my concern is with how the church has taken center stage in this debate, even making statewide news, and how what's being seen and heard has done more to be offensive and dishonoring to the name of Jesus than it has done to be helpful.

The refugees coming to Twin Falls (no matter where they are from) are people to fight for, not against. It's because of who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he has sent us to do, that we must believe this.

Who is the refugee?

The debate at hand begins with asking the question, who is the refugee? Countless times I've heard them referred to as "those people"–the term being thrown around in more of an animalistic way than a human one. And if the reference isn't, "those people," then it's, "those Muslims"–the indication being that because they're Muslim, they are to be discarded as less than human in some way. The Bible however, does not allow us to look at the refugee like this.

The Bible says, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). It is this image bearing quality that makes all humanity unique. People are the image bearers of God. Not trees. Not animals. People. This is the reality of all humanity regardless of ethnicity, social background, or religion. All of us, though very broken, are image bearers of God, and it is in this way that we are to see the refugee. If we don't view them as image bearers, then it becomes all too simple for us to leave them in harm's way to perish. And if we, Church, would have the heart of God, then we would not desire that any would be left in harm's way to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

On a simply human level, if we as a city and if we as the church in the city are given the privilege to provide refuge for those who have none, who are we to stop it? Furthermore, why would we?

Loving our new neighbors.

In the Gospels, Jesus was asked, "Which is the greatest commandment?" (Matthew 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25–28) He answered,

"The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29–31).

This is where Jesus' kingdom ethic becomes far too challenging and uncomfortable for many. Jesus is saying that the command which supersedes all others is that we are to "love God." He then seamlessly extended this love of God into the reality that an overflow of truly loving God will lead to loving our neighbors. Many of us want to ask, who is my neighbor? Jesus however, doesn't allow us to ask this question. In the Gospel of Luke, a Jewish lawyer asked Jesus this very question, and Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, teaching the lawyer the lesson that our neighbor (and thus the person we are to do good to) is not merely the person in close proximity to us and is not merely the person who shares the same or similar beliefs as us. Jesus' teaching was far more extreme. Our neighbor is every human being.

This means that the refugees coming into Twin Falls—no matter where they come from—are our new neighbors, and we who call ourselves followers of Jesus don't get to make the decision of whether we love them or not. We must. Rather than kicking them out or preventing them from coming in, we gladly welcome them with open arms. We listen to their stories. We serve them. We love them like humans—like image bearers of God.

Of course you might retort: "Muslims are dangerous." "They're our enemy." "They're terrorists." "They're a threat to our freedom." "They won't assimilate." "They won't leave their religion." And on and on and on.

Once again, listen to the words of Jesus:

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27–28).

Those are some hard words to squeeze around. Jesus is clear—love everyone regardless of what they do to you or say about you and to you. In fact, go beyond that, and be a blessing to them! Pray for them. Do good to them. Welcome them. Love them.

Why would we do this, you might ask?

Because of Jesus.

Because of Jesus

A little over 2,000 years ago, when Jesus was living on this earth, he was born into human history during a time of great oppression and terror. In fact, his first two years of life were spent in hiding because a wicked king wanted him dead. And if you don't remember the story, the way that wicked king tried to kill Jesus was to issue an order to kill all male children under the age of two, living in Bethlehem and the surrounding region.

Rome was the empire reigning over Israel. As a result, the Jewish people were constantly looking over their shoulders and living in fear, because they never knew when Caesar might blow a fuse and decide to kill thousands of Jews all at once. Now, the hope of Israel was in their anticipation of the Messiah (King) who would set them free from this oppression. When Jesus' public ministry began, word quickly traveled that he might just be this long awaited King who would finally free Israel and the Jewish people from the oppression. From our vantage point in history, we know that he was. Mark begins his gospel by telling us that he was writing about the Messiah (Mark 1:1).

The problem, however, is that Jesus wasn't the Messiah everyone was expecting. What everyone wanted was a Messiah who would come into Israel, rally his troops, overthrow the Roman government by force, and set up his kingdom right then and there. This is not what Jesus did. Instead, he loved the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts around him. Those whom everyone else was rejecting, Jesus was loving. Those whom everyone else was trying to get rid of, Jesus was telling, "Come. Follow me." He loved the Roman terrorists; he loved the “Gentile sinners;” he loved those called unclean, and he even spoke in a way that honored and loved the Roman emperor who would eventually allow his crucifixion. Jesus, more than anyone else in human history, provided (and still provides) refuge for the refugee!

Jesus didn't enter human history to create a holy huddle of people who were afraid of anyone who looked a little bit different or had a different cultural and religious background. Rather, Jesus came to create a people for himself from all the nations of the world. "Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?" (Mark 11:17). In other words, Jesus came to cast out fear and enable the nations,—all ethnic groups from all over the world—to live together in such a way that had never before been experienced. That way would be under his Kingship and authority.

He accomplished this by dying a brutal sinner’s death by crucifixion. Though he was sinless, he died on a cross, was buried, and rose three days later. In so doing, he defeated Satan, sin, death, and Hell, and now in light of this resurrection, Jesus calls his followers to do the same. He calls us to love all humanity unto death, even if it means our physical death (See Mark 8:34–38).

So why, Church, do we love the refugee?

We love the refugee because we have first been loved by God in and through the person and work of Jesus. We bless the refugee because Jesus has been a blessing to us. We serve the refugee because Jesus has served us. We give refuge to the refugee because Jesus is our Refuge! And yes, we do all of this knowing that our physical death might one day be the result. But what does it matter? We are believers in and followers of the One who conquered death. Therefore, we have nothing to fear. We know that we will one day inherit a kingdom that is imperishable, and loving the refugee now is a small glimpse of that day.

Your Kingdom Come

Our role, Church, is to pray that God would build his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 5:10). We are to pray that God would build his kingdom here in Twin Falls as it is in heaven. If our prayer is that the refugees would leave, then we greatly misunderstand the gospel and what it means to be a citizen of God's kingdom. If our prayer is to shut down the refugee program, then we greatly misunderstand what it means to welcome the stranger and "to learn to do good; seek justice, (and) correct oppression" (Isaiah 1:17). If our prayers are to do anything but be a blessing to all nations, then we defame the name of Jesus.

One day, God's kingdom will be established here on earth (Revelation 21:3), and on that day, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be singing songs of praise to the one true God. The memories of terror, war, racism and other atrocities will be gone. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4). My prayer is that we would believe that Jesus died for the restoration of all things, and that we would get a small glimpse of his kingdom in Twin Falls, Idaho now. My prayer is that our churches would be filled with people from all over the world. That our seats would be filled with all ethnicities, social backgrounds, and economic statuses. And finally, that the world would look upon us with a perplexing gaze and wonder who it is that has caused such a sight, who it is that has enabled such love, and in the end, that Jesus would be seen and made known, to the glory of God.

In the midst of such a time as this, it is imperative that we, the church, not lose our first identity as followers of Christ and mistake patriotic allegiances as synonymous with an allegiance to King Jesus. The nations are being brought to our neighborhoods. It's not time for us to fold in fear, or fight in terror, but to be a blessing. Let's not miss our chance.

Christ Is All!

*When I say "church" in this article, I am referring to the church as those who claim to be followers of Jesus as a whole. This article is not in reference to any specific local church.

To Be Fully Known

If we’re honest with ourselves, and one another, we hide a lot. For many, our greatest fear is becoming known––not simply by name, but by the very secrets we'd rather keep hidden. 

We live in a world that tells us we’re to appear a certain way, and that if we appear that certain way, we’ll be accepted and successful. Because of this, we strive after a facade. We smile when we shake hands, telling everyone that “life is good,” when really, it’s depressing, and we know deep down in our hearts that the facade isn’t going to hold up any longer. We won’t stop trying to hold it up though, because the last thing we want is for people to know what’s truly going on.

“What if they know I’m depressed and contemplating suicide?"

“What if they know I’m addicted to pornography?"

“What if they know my wife has left me?"

“What if they know I’m out of a job?"

“What if they know I medicate with too many drinks every night?"

On and on the list of “what ifs” could go. We don’t want to live in these, but we’ll do just about anything to keep them hidden. We want to keep up our appearance. We want everyone to think everything is okay, and we certainly don’t want to burden other people with our problems.

To be truly known is terrifying. There is nothing more vulnerable than allowing others to see that which is invisible on the surface.

At the same time though, there is a tension. There is something in us that wants to be known.  Something in us says that we shouldn’t have to hide, and that if we could simply let the facade crumble, the weight we feel on our shoulders would be lifted off as well.

The reason we feel like we’re not supposed to be in hiding, is because we’re not. The bible tells us that God created us in his image (Genesis 1:26-27), and being created in his image, we were created to live out in the open with him, and with one another. The bible says that when God created woman, she was placed before the man and they were both “naked and unashamed” (Genesis 2:25). This nakedness is not just physical and sexual. This nakedness is a beautiful picture of what it means to be truly known. The man and the woman were naked and unashamed before one another and their creator. There was nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of, and no facade. Everything was exposed all the time. And it was good.

Only when sin entered the world did the man and woman believe they needed to hide (Genesis 2:8). Not only did they hide, they covered themselves with fig leaves, and the comfort that existed before sin, was now hidden behind the scratchy discomforts of religion. The facade was on, and shame was the most present reality.

The bible offers us good news though. It is that God has not left us to be like this. He does not want us to remain in hiding, he does not want us to remain covered. He wants us to be vulnerable again, naked and unashamed. Because of this, he sent Jesus into the world. Jesus would come and live life with no shame, because his only concern was in what his Father’s opinion of him was, and in this, he did only what his Father told him to do. Jesus alone would live a life without sin, and in perfect openness before his Father and the world. However, his life would end in shame. He was hung on a cross––naked and as a spectacle before the world. There was no more shameful way for a person to die. It was at that cross though that Jesus would take our shame upon himself, and defeat the sin that makes the reality so present.

After three days, Jesus rose from the grave, and won the victory over Satan, sin, death, and Hell. In doing this, Jesus has made the way for us to be reconciled back to God, and back to one another. Because of the the cross, we can again live naked and unashamed. Because of the cross, we can be, and are, fully known. 

Galatians 4:9 says, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

What God has done, he has done so that we no longer have to turn back to hiding. For those whose faith is in Jesus, God now sees us only as he sees Jesus––perfect, holy, and clean. Naked and unashamed. In Christ, the facade can come down. You have nothing to hide. You are fully known!

Don't Forget Who You Were

"You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt." (Exodus:23:9)

It's interesting how perspective can change a perspective. Often, when I think of my past experiences––where I came from, who I once was––it helps me to have a greater appreciation for where I, by the grace of God, am now. It also allows me to have a greater understanding for others. 

This is what God is getting at in Exodus 23. Laws are being doled out like candy on Halloween night to the nation of Israel, who has just been set free from slavery in Egypt. God, in his infinite wisdom, knows that the temptation for Israel will be to think they are something special because they've been set free. If their hearts and minds go in this direction, it would hinder the way they view people who are not Israelites. It's in light of this, that God reminds them, "You were sojourners..." 

It's a reminder to me that I am not a privileged person. I, though born and raised in "the land of the free," have no greater privilege than the person who just immigrated here a week ago (speaking from a purely human standpoint).  

God, when he looks on humanity, sees people who are made in his image. He doesn't care what the color of their skin is, what country they are from, or the language they speak. He simply sees people.    

Jesus, when he came to live on this earth, came with the purpose of dying on a cross––for the world. That is, Jesus came for the purpose of dying so that people from all nations, and with all sorts of backgrounds, would be able to experience the freedom he alone can give, and which not a single human deserves. 

Don't forget who you were. Jesus came to reverse the order, the way in which a fallen world views humanity. Because of Jesus, we no longer look at people in regards to anything other than who they are, or might become, in Christ.

I too was a sojourner, a man lost and wandering around hoping to be given freedom and acceptance by the only one who can give it. That freedom came, not because I found it, but because God, in his grace, pursued me through his Son, Jesus.   

What The Super Bowl And The Grammy's Are Teaching Us

Over the past two weeks, millions have watched the Super Bowl and the Grammy's. In so doing, millions have been presented a very clear message. More than ever before, I believe these two massive events are teaching us something about our nation and the world, that we need to pay attention to.

I don't know if you noticed it, but both of these events, usually marked as care-free parties where anything goes, took on very different tones this year. The tone of the care-free party was absent, and replaced with the tone of reality. It was a tone that couldn't be missed, and forced us to watch in ways we haven't in the past. The usually light-hearted and hilarious commercials of the Super Bowl were replaced with heavy, heart-wrenching messages of parenting, gender equality, and race. The Grammy's usually wild in their entertainment, were mostly clean and driven by the same focus as the Super Bowl. The overall tone was one of a crying hope for change. It was a cry for domestic violence to stop. A cry for sexual crimes to come to an end. A plea for racism to be vanquished. A longing for equality to be achieved. 

While you may not always agree with all the "rich and famous" have to say (I certainly don't), there are some observations we can make and things we can learn. Below is just a small sample of what I've picked up in the message of these two events. 

People Are Hurting

The first thing I've observed, is that people are hurting. Now this might sound like a no-brainer, but it's not. We live in a country where the idea of the American Dream is alive and well, and at its root, the American Dream tells us that we're supposed to be living lives of liberty, and happiness. This dream is supposed to be life-giving, but its reality is non-existent. Don't get me wrong, many have it very good, but deep inside, when the doors are shut and the blinds of the beautiful mansions are closed, pain rages. People are being assaulted, de-humanized, and having all of life stripped away from them. Pain is the far greater reality.

People Care

The second thing I've observed, is that people care. People genuinely care and have a desire to see things in this world truly change. And many are willing to do something about it. I'm often personally convicted that I don't care as much. My reality is often too comfortable. We could say that people don't care, or we could pick apart the way that people show how they care, but this is too simple. People, regardless of motives and methods, genuinely want to see a new reality in this world.

People Are Confused

The third thing I've observed, is that people are confused. I myself couldn't help but be a little confused when watching the Grammy's. One minute I was watching a music award show that was passionately pushing the need for sexual crimes and domestic violence to come to an end. Coupled with this were emotional songs and poems with powerful lyrics that would create a desire in just about anyone to see these horrific crimes stop. But in the next moment, I was confronted with the preview to a movie (Fifty Shades of Grey) that promotes some of the most horrific, dehumanizing, sexually offensive, and violent content that will be presented on a theatre screen this year. This doesn't make sense. The message is confusing. 

People Are Afraid

The fourth thing I've observed, is that people are afraid. It's as if reality is really beginning to sink in and people are thinking to themselves, "if something doesn't change, things could get really bad." People are afraid of what will happen if things don't change quickly. What will happen to their loved ones, their closest friends, their co-workers, themselves? 

People Are Looking For A Hero

The final observation I want to list here (there are many more I could make), is that people are looking for a hero. Our hope is that someone or something will set things right, that someone will take a big enough stand, and provide a large enough influence, and rally the troops (the world) to bring about real and lasting change.

The problem is that this hero is not among us. Not a single one of us has the power to change the world, and even in our most valiant efforts of pulling together, we will continually fail. The dark clouds may disappear for a while in the form of small victories, but eventually, the storms always role back in. 

The Hero Has Already Come

So, is all lost? Are we without hope? Should we just throw our hands in the air and say, "to Hell with it!" 

I don't think so.

The bible teaches that our hero has already come in the person and work of Jesus. He came into this world and took the stand against sin (the human problem) that we have not, and made a way for us to be reconciled back to God––the ultimate hope and desire of humanity. Jesus is the only one who has ever lived perfectly. Jesus came to put an end to domestic violence. He came to put an end to sexual exploitation and all the other crimes that go along with it. He came to bring hope for peace, and he has initiated this reality with the presence of his kingdom here on earth. He came to change not just moral standards, but hearts. 

Because of Jesus, there are glimpses of the way we long for things to be one day, and because of Jesus, there is hope that one day things will be fully as we want them to be––as God wants them to be. 

Jesus bore the injustice of all humanity upon himself on the cross. In so doing, he leaves us with that hopeful day when all nations, all peoples, all tribes, and all tongues, will be with united with him as one. He leaves us with hope!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. - Romans 15:13     

Jesus is our Refuge

Cities Of Refuge

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 19:9-13), there is a passage that talks about cities of refuge. These cities were places where people who had accidentally killed someone could go. At first glimpse the passage is a little comical. I'm not sure exactly how often these accidental killings occurred? The Deuteronomy passage is especially interesting. It gives a specific instance, like if you're out with your friend chopping wood, and the head of the axe flies off and hits your friend in the head and kills them, you then are a person who can flee to one of these cities of refuge. 

Last night my church was given the opportunity to party with refugees from Iraq. We had a big BBQ, played games, and made some good friends. It was a sweet time of laughter and fun. It's impossible to put yourself in the shoes of these refugees. Their country is torn apart by war. And yet, being with them for hours, learning their stories and playing with their kids, it's hard to understand why. It doesn't seem fitting that such a happy and hospitable group of people would need to flee their country to another for refuge. But they have. 

My Need For A City Of Refuge

My new refugee friends have got me thinking a lot about my need for refuge. You see, every single human being is in need of a city of refuge–a place to run because of their sin torn lives. We've all sinned against the holy and perfect God who created us, and because of this sin, we deserve death. 

But God is unbelievably merciful and he has given us a refuge. 

Jesus Is Our Refuge

That refuge is a person and his name is Jesus. The New Testament tells us that Jesus became our city of refuge for us by going outside of the city, hanging on a cross, and dying the sinners death that we deserve. Because of this, he is the one we run to. He is our ultimate refuge.

I'm thankful for my Lord and Savior who I can run to for refuge. I've made a mess of my life. It's been torn apart by sin. But he died for me. He is the one we must run to. The one we must follow.