Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving: A Season of Mobilization, part 4

[be sure and read the previous posts HERE]

What can be done? At the very least we can lift up our voices to others and we can lift up our voices to God. We MUST begin to pray for solutions.

We may not know what to do, but our eyes can be upon the LORD. We are called to pray for governors and those in authority, that
they do right. We are called to pray for rain like Elijah prayed. We are called to act to help people in famine like Joseph did. We are called to bless our enemies and pray for them. We are called to pray for the Church, that she rise up and become a blessing to the nations.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat of Judah is in a tight spot. The enemies of Judah are aligning against her. The king is afraid, so he calls the people to seek the LORD in prayer. In 2 Chronicles 20:6-12 we read one of the most beautiful and effective prayers in Scripture. Jehoshaphat ends his prayer with these words: “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

It’s time to celebrate Thanksgiving in a new way: “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.”

What will YOU appear before the LORD with this Thanksgiving?

This season, let’s mobilize.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving: A Season of Mobilization, part 3

[be sure and read the previous posts HERE]

In Isaiah 59:14-16, we are told of a day when justice was turned back, when righteousness stood far away, when truth stumbled in the public squares, when uprightness couldn’t enter a town, and God was amazed that there was no one to His Own Arm worked deliverance! Is today that day! God is sovereign... we are responsible. We need God’s Own Arm to work deliverance...but WE must do all in our power to usher in justice and righteousness and truth and uprightness!

Jesus, obviously, had the oppressed, distressed and downcast on His heart as well.

In Matthew 25:31-40 we read: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit
on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me.’

A season of Harvest Preparation gives us the opportunity to practice these words. We MUST find a way!
In John 17:21 Jesus prayed that we might be one. We are called to love one another. We are called to pray for one another. We are called to suffer with one another...

1n 1 Corinthians 12:26 the apostle Paul writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together.”

There is a rare condition called anhidrosis, or CIPA, a genetic disorder that makes people unable to feel pain. It is a very dangerous condition. Pain serves an important function to preserve health...and life. If we don’t feel pain, we could die of internal injuries and not even know we are hurt.

I wonder, does the contemporary church have spiritual anhidrosis? Are we able to feel the pain of the Body? If I hit my thumb with a hammer, my whole body knows it...and it springs into action to DO something about it. My other hand reaches for anti-bacterial ointment, or a band-aid...or my legs take me to a car where I drive to the Emergency Room.

Part of the Body is suffering in the Horn of Africa.

Do we feel the pain?

Are we doing something about it?

If we don’t feel the pain, something is wrong. Very wrong.

Is it out of sight, out of mind? Are we so self-absorbed, we are unaware unless it impacts us?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke, Irish philosopher and politician

As I continue to process the recent events at my Alma Mater, I have been struck by the many comments related to the belief that more should have been done. If THAT isn't the master understatement! The Penn State Graduate Assistant who witnessed the sexual abuse of a child should have stepped in. And Penn State coach Joe Paterno should have done more as well...even according to his own words, in hindsight. Everyone is stepping up saying that if it was them, they would have said/done more. Good.

However, it sure is easy to SAY we would have acted differently...after all, we weren't in the situation. Again, as I've said in another blog: it's easy to SAY I wouldn't have denied I knew Christ (like Peter did) as He was being abused; it's easy to SAY I would have spoken up if I was in Adam's shoes in the Garden and told the serpent to "beat it" and encouraged my wife to not eat the fruit.'s easy to SAY I would have entered the shower and rescued that child from his alleged abuser. Talk is cheap. How do we forge a character that does the right thing at the right time? We need to be prepared in advance!

I was sent an editorial that ran several years ago, written by a dear sister in Christ in our church family. We would all do well to read it with the Penn State scandal in mind.

"My heart aches for the young generation who watches the suicide of a teen without considering responsibility to rescue. Upon reading the Nov 22, 2008 article by Rasha Madkour, AP “Teen Commits Suicide before Web Audience,” I immediately gathered my teenage sons and spoke to them, urging courage into their lives to step forward when something seems wrong. I committed to be there to help them seek the help that is needed. I assured them that if they see something happening, they ARE involved. Aren’t we all? I took a good hard look at the Levite, the priest and the Samaritan in “The Good Samaritan” of the Bible. I revisited the behavior of on-lookers in New Bedford, MA at Big Dan’s Tavern that birthed the “Duty-To-Rescue” laws. Do I wait for someone else to act? Did Oskar Schindler or Mother Teresa wait for “someone else?” Was it easy for Dr. Martin Luther King to be the “someone else?”

As humans, there is an innate ownership of one another that we carry in our hearts. We all felt it after 9/11. Involvement is messy and inconvenient, sometimes sacrificial. Have we done the same thing these viewers did to the Miami college student who committed suicide… signed off from fellow humans, assuring ourselves that someone else - authority, government, agencies –will rescue...? Possibly the young man, Abraham Biggs, would be alive today receiving the help he so desperately needed if more web-viewers had stepped forward and chosen to become their brother’s keeper."

Well said!

We need to meet with each other, eyeball to eyeball, and commit to each other and to abuse victims and say now, before the situation arises: "No matter what the cost; no matter who is involved; no matter the awkwardness or tension that may arise; I WILL speak up! I WILL act!"

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Apostle Paul Attends Penn State

When the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a group of Christ-followers in Rome, he made a point of telling them: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Paul would say the same thing today if he visited Penn State...or your home!

What has allegedly transpired at Penn State can be faced in one of two ways: we can be overcome by evil; OR, we can work toward overcoming evil with good! How do we overcome the evil of child sexual abuse?

On a website called I found a section called “7 Steps to Protecting Our Children from Sexual Abuse.”

Step 1: Learn the Facts and Understand the Risks
It is estimated that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18! In almost 90% of the cases, the child AND the child’s family know and trust the abuser! “People who abuse children LOOK and ACT just like everyone else.”

Step 2: Minimize the Opportunity
“If you eliminate or reduce one-adult/one-child situations, you’ll dramatically lower the risk of sexual abuse for children.” It is estimated that more than 80% of abuse takes place in situations where one child is left alone with one person. Think about THAT!!

Step 3: Talk about it.
Most abused children do NOT talk about their abuse. Learn WHY children are afraid to talk. Learn HOW children communicate. Know WHAT can break down the barriers of talking openly. “One survey showed that fewer than 30% of parents ever discussed sexual abuse with their children.”

Step 4: Stay Alert.
Do NOT expect obvious signs when a child is being sexually abused. LEARN the signs! Emotional or behavioral signs are often more common than the physical signs.

Step 5: Make a Plan
“Learn WHERE to go, WHOM to call and HOW to react.”
As hard as this sounds…try not to PANIC or OVER-react. Offer support. Seek professional counsel and guidance. REPORT or take action in ALL cases of suspected abuse (see

Step 6: Act on Suspicions
“Very few reported incidents are false.” Err on the side of caution. “By acting on suspicions of child abuse, you will save not only one child, but perhaps countless others.” Make use of Child Abuse Helplines: Darkness to Light—1-866-FOR-LIGHT; Childhelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD; National Children’s Alliance at or 1-800-239-9950.

“Volunteer and financially support organizations that fight the tragedy of child sexual abuse.”

As we read on the website: “A child’s safety is an ADULT’s job…we make children wear seat belts. We walk them across busy streets. We store toxic household cleaners out of reach. Why then, would we leave the job of preventing child sexual abuse solely to children?”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

YOU are the man!

After King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and tried to cover it up, the prophet Nathan came to him and told him a story about a rich shepherd who stole a poor shepherd's one sole lamb. David was irate over the actions of the rich shepherd and immediately called for swift and firm justice. And then Nathan revealed to David that he himself was that very man. We can all become so angry and self-righteous over another's sin and be guilty ourselves of the same sin yet fail to see it.

I am appalled at what is unfolding at my alma mater, Penn State, in the very town where I was raised. I am so angry and disgusted by the alleged actions of a past assistant coach. And if Joe Paterno knew what had happened and didn't do enough, I am disappointed in him as well AND I actually believe, as much as I respect the man, that the Board of Trustees was right in firing him.

I am ALSO appalled at the moral and spiritual blindness of many, of those weighing in on the issue. I am not at all appalled that people are irate and disgusted over what has allegedly transpired...I am shocked at the spiritual and moral blindness I sense as people point fingers WITHOUT considering how they are guilty of similar transgressions. What has happened at Penn State ought to humble every single one of us...we are free to voice our anger and disgust, but we MUST look within our own hearts as well.Hear me: I am not in any way throwing a rescue rope to Paterno...I am simply asking all of us to look within our own hearts.

I think about Peter. He stood silently by and watched the Son of God be abused by the Romans. Actually, he was worse than silent. He positively denied he even knew the Man. I think about Adam. He stood silently by and watched the serpent tempt his wife and then positively rebelled against the command of God...and that's why we face the kind of world we face today. Outside of Scripture, I think about a nation, Germany, which had citizens, many of whom were silent and did nothing in the face of one of the greatest atrocities performed upon human beings (I say "one of the greatest atrocities" because what Stalin did in Russia was numerically even worse.)

I think about my own often have I been guilty of the sin of silence...or of doing nothing...or at least of not doing enough. I think about the fact that every day of my life I have been entrusted with the Good News of the Gospel...the ONLY message of hope for a broken world, the ONLY message of LIGHT for people lost in a dark world, the ONLY message of eternal life for all doomed for eternal torment and abuse apart from Christ...And. I. Am. Often. Silent.

Do we have a right to be angry over what has happened to these children? You bet! We better be angry at sin and our hearts better break for those children and their families. Do we have a right to be angry if it is indeed true that Paterno should have done more? You bet we do! But I sure hope we don't express our anger before we express our prayers for the children. And I sure hope we actually DO something about sexual abuse in our world and not just express anger about what has happened at Penn State.

But we better be just as angry and heart-broken and humbled over our own sins of omission and sins of silence and sins of not doing enough in our daily lives.

After all, as Nathan would say: YOU. Are. The. Man...or Woman.

Thanksgiving: A Season of Mobilization, Part 2

[be sure and read the previous posts HERE]

I think we should add a preparation time called Harvest before Thanksgiving, just like we have preparation times called Advent and Lent before Christmas and Easter, respectively. I think we should prepare our hearts to celebrate Thanksgiving by considering “going before the Lord” with an offering of praise and faith. We, too, can add to our Thanksgiving festival by making sure we don’t “appear before the Lord empty-handed.” Everyone in the Old Testament could participate in this Festival. If you were able, you could bring a lamb; if you were too poor, you could bring a bird. People were to bring what they were able; it wasn’t the size of the gift but the condition of the heart before the Lord. So...if you’ve stuck with me so far, how can we begin this new holiday/Holy Day tradition of preparing for Thanksgiving through a season of Harvest?

Well, since Thanksgiving involves expressing gratitude for God’s gracious provision in our lives, especially the provision of crops and food in general, why not celebrate Harvest each year by focusing on a spot in the world where crops, food and other provision is not as plentiful as it is for us? I would suggest that this year’s Harvest Season be engaged in by considering Somalia and the Horn of Africa. One of the greatest droughts in decades has destroyed crops and prevented harvest. In addition, the drought has turned into a full-fledge famine because of religious and political turmoil in the area.

Tens of thousands have died in recent months. Experts believe the drought could continue through first quarter of 2012, and possibly until August of ’12! It is estimated that up to 750,000 could die in coming months. During the summer months of 2011 it is estimated that over 29,000 children under the age of 5 have perished due to starvation. We are told that another 640,000 children are malnourished suggesting the death toll could dramatically increase. I’ll never forget watching the movie, “Hotel Rwanda.” When I saw the film I was outraged. I was shocked. I was embarrassed...I had noticed just a little of what was going on from watching the news, but I was embarrassed that I had no clue as to what was really happening. The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000 Tutsi’s by the Hutu population.

Well, my own face is red...again. It is only through some dear friends at ONE that I was made more fully aware of
all that is happening in Somalia. It is, admittedly, a VERY complicated situation. There are certainly issues of governance, transparency and accountability regarding local leadership, but also centuries of back story we are only beginning to comprehend. There are also long-term problems that are agricultural: developing drought-resistant seed, proper fertilizers and early warning systems for coming droughts. There are short-term problems like increasing awareness and providing safe passage and delivery of aid to where it’s most desperately needed. There is also a need to ensure that aid is not “hijacked” and then sold at prices the desperately needy and impoverished can’t afford.

Recently, on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Bono spoke to this horribly complex situation: “It’s hard to believe that
this is the 21st century and you know, we mustn’t let the complexity of the situation absolve us from responsibility to act. That’s really the message...when you hear stories...of women leaving the dead children on the road to come beg for food; [women having] to choose between children...’Inward’ I have to leave this one (he looks the weakest or she looks the weakest), I’ll take this one.’

This is outrageous!...And it’s not our intentions, it’s our’s our priorities that define us. This is a defining moment.”
What would it be like for YOU to have to choose which child you will feed and therefore which one you chose to let die?!
If we begin to put into practice the Harvest Season preparation for Thanksgiving, there are a couple extremes we must seek to avoid: the one extreme is sticking our heads in the sand and remaining ignorant; the other extreme is seeing so much evil and complication that we get overwhelmed and paralyzed; so discouraged and depressed that we are immobilized; so cynical that we consider any option as meaningless.

Hundreds of thousands with no voice in places of power need our voice. They need our voices to tell others who remain in ignorance about what is happening. They need our voices to keep telling our governing officials that something must be done. They need our voices to be lifted up to God that He Himself might intervene by His great mercy and grace. Imagine a child falling into a pit, crying out, but no one comes. Imagine a girl being abused sexually, wondering where help is, where daddy is, where God is. Imagine 640,000 Somali children facing starvation. How are these children any different?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Not-So Happy Valley

As a State College native, a Penn State grad and a pastor, I've been asked by many, many people over the past couple days about recent events in Happy Valley. Here's what I've said:

First: the safety and protection of children is more important than an institution or even an icon.

Second: we don't know all the facts...yet.

Third: If people knew more, even if it was JoePa, and they didn't do EVERYTHING possible to protect the children and warn their families, no matter how much good he's done, he was wrong. VERY wrong.

Fourth: as if we need reminding...there is only ONE Hero, His Name is Jesus; and there is only ONE Team, His Church. EVERYTHING else is just a small part of a Much Larger Story.

Fifth: we live in a broken world.

Sixth: pray for the victims and their families.

Seventh: fight against all forms of oppression and sexual abuse.

Eighth...and I'm sure I'll get flack for this...pray for the abusers and those who would engage in cover-up. We are all really big sinners and are ALL in need of a REALLY BIG SAVIOR! As offensive as it may seem to us, Christ came for even the chief among all sinners (among whom the Apostle Paul considered himself the worst).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thanksgiving: A Season of Mobilization

Many Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday. It may be debated whether it was started by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts with the help of Native Americans, or whether it started in Virginia or in Florida, but there is no question it began somewhere at sometime in North America because we celebrate it! Other important holidays, like Christmas and Easter for instance, are anticipated by the more traditional (or more serious) by times of preparation.

Advent is a time for preparing hearts to celebrate the Birth of Messiah, as well as a time of reflection preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. Lent is a time for preparing hearts to celebrate the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus. Lent often involves a time of fasting, a symbol of mourning over our own brokenness and sin that sent Jesus to the Cross. I wonder...what would we call a Preparation Season for Thanksgiving? Some have called it Harvest

I like that. Advent...Lent...Harvest. A time to prepare our hearts for... what? Thanksgiving

How much prep work does that take? Perhaps more than we may think. “Thanksgiving” was practiced by the Jews under the leadership of Moses long before the Europeans ever thought of the concept. The Jews celebrated the Feast of the Harvest or the Feast of Weeks in May/June every year. It was one of only THREE annual festivals celebrated by the people of God in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 16:16, Moses records, “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.”

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by, well, supposedly giving thanks...usually around a dinner table set with turkey, gravy, mashed-potatoes, sweet-potato casserole, corn, eggs, dressing (or stuffing if you’re a Yankee like me), cranberry sauce, cheese soufflĂ©, green beans...and who knows what else! let’s not forget... football. I know, it sounds so...trite. It is.

Notice that when the people of God in the Old Testament celebrated the Feast of Harvest (a time to thank God for the crops that were able to be planted by His grace, that grew by His tender mercies, that survived by His providence, that were harvested by His kindness), they didn’t just “return thanks” but would not dare “appear before the LORD empty- handed.” What does THAT mean?!
It means that when the people thanked God for the Harvest, when THEY celebrated Thanksgiving, things were different...more different than just celebrating at what we call Pentecost while we celebrate in November. Celebration involved participation. Gratitude involved engagement.

Thanksgiving involved mobilization.

The people of God were to go before the Lord at the Feast of Harvest/Weeks with a SACRIFICE. A SACRIFICE of Thanksgiving. A SACRIFICE of Praise. A SACRIFICE that was not only expressing gratitude for the Lord’s provision in the past; but also an offering of faith expressed by giving God hard-earned and desperately needed sustenance that revealed trust that God would provide in the future, so a gift could be given with all confidence and peace.
I think we should try that.