Something Greater than 9/11

photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc
photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

It happens every year when the anniversary of 9/11 rolls around. I find myself wishing that those violent and horrific terrorist attacks had never happened—not only for the lives lost but because of the negative changes that have come to our world as a result of that fateful day.

It’s not that the world was necessarily a nice place before September 11, 2001, but it has definitely been even less pleasant since. Overall, from my perspective, people are less friendly, more calloused, and more fearful. I know it makes me sound old, but there are definitely times when I wish that we could return to the days of yesteryear.

photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc
photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc

Still, I have come to the conclusion that nothing good ever comes from fretting over the negative changes in our world. Nothing. Those who fail to adapt to change will soon find themselves mired in misery. A friend recently told me about a study that found the one common theme between people who lived to a ripe old age was their ability to adapt to change. I haven’t taken the time to verify the study, but it makes sense. Trying to hold on to what once was has a tendency to sap the vitality from even the most vibrant of people.

Isn’t it ironic that the one group of people—Christians—who should be most adept at adjusting to change is usually the first to resist anything of the sort. In part, this is because we’ve seen such a moral decline in our culture over the past 50 years. Still, something deeper is at work. We often resist change due to our shortsightedness; we don’t realize that, in most cases, change equals opportunity.

Consider, for example, the sense of anxiety and security that so many people feel in our day. Can there be a better opportunity to point them toward our Rock, the One who provides peace and security in even the worst circumstances? What about the fact that so many people are unchurched? At least these folks aren’t beset by the religiosity that has plagued the church for so long.

photo credit: faungg's photo via photopin cc
photo credit: faungg’s photo via photopin cc

Greater still, overshadowing every negative change in our world is the reality that the kingdom of God is advancing on this earth, that the time of Christ is drawing near, that each passing day brings us closer to the full revelation of our eternal hope.

There’s something exciting happening that is easily missed by the casual observer. The kingdoms of man are crumbling while the kingdom of God draws near. The kingdom of God! It’s that one and only government that can produce a truly peace-filled society. This is not a time to shrink back in fear, or to fret over things that have been lost. This is a time to lift up our heads and open our eyes to the ripening harvest around us.

If I could rewind the clock and somehow stop the events of 9/11 from happening, I most certainly would. But I can’t. Thus, I am working to accepting the realities of this world while pursuing the greater reality of God’s kingdom. For the person who loves God and seeks good, change equals opportunity. Let’s not allow it to slip through our fingers!

The Boston Marathon Attack: Another Wakeup Call?

photo credit: hahatango via flickr cc

I don’t think that there is such a thing as a pleasant sounding alarm. Even elevator music has an obnoxious feel if it serves to wake me from my slumber, forcing me to face the difficulties that may lie ahead. The wear marks on any snooze button stand as evidence of this reality. How we give that snooze button a workout as we repeatedly slip in and out of slumber!

Worse than a pleasant sounding wake up call, is one that may seem to be disturbing in its own right. For example, a loud funeral dirge in the morning will not contribute to anybody’s happiness. A rude awakening can be considered the worst kind.

I am of the opinion that the church in the U.S. has been asleep for many years now. Collectively speaking, our primary concern has been more about our own comfort and happiness than about the necessary advance of God’s kingdom. Horrendous events such as happened at the Boston Marathon seem to provide rude, but only temporary, awakenings from our slumber. After an onslaught of social media calls for prayer, we will seek a return to the status quo as quickly as we can.

Looking back on the tragedy of  9/11, many Christian leaders felt that it would be a defining moment for the U.S. church as people flocked to houses of worship. Less than a year later, however, life was pretty much back to normal, albeit a little less comfortable. The overall levels of anxiety and depression have probably increased since that time, but not enough to compel us to any type of meaningful action.

photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc
photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc

What we fail to accept is the fact that bombings such as the one at the Boston Marathon take place on a regular basis across the globe. And in many cases, medical care for the victims is grossly inadequate. Are the lives of these people any less valuable in the eyes of God simply because they are somewhere over there?  Yet, for reasons both just and self-centered, we mostly choose to turn a blind eye to what happens outside of our sphere.

The problem with our isolationist mindset is that evil is never content to stay in its home territory. Evil is active and alive; it will never rest until it achieves total domination. The church’s slumber will give evil free permission to advance, and when she finally awakens, the threat will be upon her very doorstep.

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If I see this correctly, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil will only increase in number in the coming years. Already, we are becoming fearful and hardened—far from the qualities of a free society or a vibrant church. Our answers, however, lie not in fear, mistrust, or bitterness, but in faith and love. This isn’t rocket science. Momentary changes mean nothing. By necessity, active faith and passionate love must become a way of life for those who profess the name of Christ. May we pray with all of our broken hearts for those affected by the Boston marathon–and may we continue to pray (and labor) for the kingdom of God to be realized all over the world.

How You Can Help to Prevent Mass Shootings

Sandy Hook Shooting
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It has been several days since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and I am still struggling to process the reality of such a horrible event. Other mass shootings in recent years have scarred communities, but this one has left deep and lasting scars for our entire nation. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had a similar effect, but there is something different this time around. Those killings were the work of religious extremists operating from halfway across the globe. What happened in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14, 2012 was the product of our own societal dysfunction. That a young man would maliciously murder twenty first-grade students, jolts suburban and rural America with the realization of what inner-city dwellers have known for quite some time:  something is terribly wrong in our beloved nation.

Of course, an intense battle will be fought over gun control. Some will contend that guns should be banned. Those in opposition will argue that law abiding citizens who carry weapons will actually help to make our streets safer. Both sides will support their arguments with various statistics and anecdotal stories. The battle over gun control, however, provides a convenient diversion from deeper, more difficult issues that must be addressed. To say that guns are at the core of the problem is to grossly over-simplify the issue, while avoiding any sense of personal responsibility for the collective citizenry of our nation.

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The bottom line is that we have become a nation of self-centered consumers. And while I would never say that such a description applies to every person in the U.S., I do believe that it is quite accurate in a general sense. Even issues such as the misappropriation of pharmaceutical drugs or the prevalence of violent movies and video games are closely tied to greed.

Our freedom that was purchased in blood has now become our demise, for freedom only works when the people of a nation collectively seek the greater good. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians was both true and prophetic:

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15 (NASB)

Today, even the Church is driven by a consumer mentality. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders cater to this destructive mindset because they believe it is the only way to get people into their churches and to fund their ministries. Our American gospel is all about what God can do for us, while the true nature of the Christian faith remains relatively untouched.

Money App
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God, it appears, has become an app that we can access in time of need. We have a salvation app, a provision app, a comfort app, and, at this time of the year, a Baby Jesus app. The sovereign King of the Universe, however, will not cater to our self-centered terms. If we want to relate to God, we must fully subscribe to His entire operating system—one that calls us to seek Him with all of our hearts as a way of life. If we would flock to our churches to seek His presence and drop to our knees in prayer with the same intensity of emotion before a national tragedy, there probably would not be the need to do so afterward.

Violence in America began to seriously escalate in the 1960’s. What brought it on? I am convinced that the roots can be found to have materialized just after World War II with our collective pursuit of the American Dream. While our nation held to a form of religion, at that point money became our national god. We honored Jesus with our lips, but the real god of our hearts was materialism. Psalm 16:4 tells us that, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (ESV). Is this not an accurate representation of our grief over the Sandy Hook shootings? The violence of our day is, at least in part, the fruit of over half a century of materialistic idolatry on the part of an entire nation.

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On a practical level, our incessant quest for more stuff, combined with the rise of secularism and the gradual rejection of the Christian faith, has precipitated the horrible decay of the nuclear family—the building block upon which a healthy society functions. More specifically still, the growing absence of loving, faithful fathers has led to an identity vacuum in the hearts of our nation’s children. Show me a culture lacking in a healthy sense of identity and I will show you a nation of young men immersed in a climate of violence.

As I consider these things, I can’t help but think of the ancient nation of Israel as they found themselves exiled in Babylon—an exile brought upon by their own idolatry. But the God who they had rejected and ignored spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah with a message of kindness and hope.

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NASB)

No matter how far we have fallen, no matter how things may appear, and no matter how dark and foreboding the future may look, we can all help to turn the tide of violence in our culture by seeking God with all of our hearts, by putting material possessions in their proper place, and by genuinely loving those around us. Can there be a better season of the year to get our priorities right than at Christmas?

My Wife Taught a Muslim How to Drive!

If my wife were running for president, the 30-second attack ad would probably show a black and white image of rioting Muslims burning a U.S. flag superimposed over a photo of how Debi looks when I forget to take out the garbage. A stern voice would then say, “Debi Santos taught a Muslim how to drive. Debi Santos hates America. Don’t vote for Debi Santos.”

Photo by Dane – CC BY 2.0

Because we have so little firsthand information about anything, we tend to live in a world of stereotypes. What we think we know is often based on a series of images constructed by water cooler gossip, media reports, political ads and carefully crafted public relations campaigns. All too often these images are completely inaccurate.

During our years in college ministry, Debi and I took an interest in hosting international students. It was an excellent opportunity for us to express the love of Christ by meeting with internationals once or twice a month. Our lives were enriched by these relationships.

Fatin was a Muslim teacher from Jordan pursuing a higher degree in English so that she could teach at the university-level back home. Added to the burden of higher education in a distant land, was her need to care for two small children while her husband remained in Jordan for work. With the common bond of motherhood, Debi and Fatin became immediate friends. Recognizing her need for transportation, my wife also offered to teach Fatin how to drive. This all took place not long after 9/11, which presented additional but not insurmountable challenges.

Photo by Keoni Cabrai – CC BY 2.0

I too, had the opportunity to interact with Fatin and her beautiful children, to meet a few of her Muslim friends and to eventually share dinner with the entire family during one of her husband’s visits. Through the years I have met several other Muslims and most have been sincere, warm and friendly; putting a great deal of value on family and friendship—much more than we see in most Christian circles in the U.S.

Several of us in campus ministry later shared office space with students involved with the Muslim Student Association. That experience, for the most part, was negative. The young men were cold and distant—we could not help but wonder if they were involved in some type of terrorist activity. Regardless, we did our best to treat them with respect.

Another significant interaction with a Muslim student took place pre-9/11. He was a very sincere young man with a humble heart and a genuine desire to seek truth. Eventually, and with no pressure from our group, he converted from Islam to Christianity. But things didn’t go so well after that. His father, a high ranking government official, removed him from college in the U.S. and essentially put the young man under house arrest for a season. In spite of repeated efforts on our part, we never heard from him again.

Why do I share this wide range of experiences? In order to show that just as there are significant differences between Christianity and Islam, so there are between Muslims. However, the bottom line is that as Christians, love is our highest call. Would Jesus call it sin to share genuine friendship with those who might be considered our theological enemies? I think not.

As a Bible-believing Christian, I am no religious pluralist. I believe in the supreme uniqueness of Jesus Christ and reject the ideas that all religions are the same and that all paths lead to God. Having said this, I am embarrassed and ashamed by some of the things I see being done and said in the name of Christ.

Photo courtesy of U.S. State Department – Public Domain

When I consider the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other Americans in Libya this week, I find myself deeply disturbed on several fronts. The loss of life is tragic. That they were attacked in a country that the U.S. helped to liberate is highly troublesome. That even one professing Christian may have somehow had a hand in promoting the deplorable film (Innocence of Muslims) that served to unnecessarily heighten tensions between us and them is beyond foolish.

The Apostle Paul and his associates once sparked a riot with their evangelistic efforts in Ephesus. The town clerk finally quieted the crowd by making this amazing statement about those Christian evangelists: For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess” (Acts 19:37). Paul and his friends apparently lived out the Biblical mandate given by Peter to honor all people (1 Peter 2:17).

If persecution happens because we are faithful to the Gospel, then so be it. Jesus promised as much. But to express any type of contempt or disrespect toward those of other belief systems is to do horrible disservice to humanity, the Gospel and ultimately the God we profess to cherish.

If the Spirit of the living God truly dwells within us, we can do better, much better.

We Can’t Go Back!

On September 10, 2001 the world didn’t necessarily seem like such a great place, but in retrospect I guess it wasn’t really all that bad. On that day the twin towers still stood as symbols of American strength and supremacy. How things have changed since that time! / CC BY 2.0

How I wish that 9/11 had never happened! I know other factors are involved, but it seems as though the crisis of that terrible day triggered a chain reaction of so many painful and distasteful events.

Humans have this natural tendency to glamorize the past. “Those were the days!” And while the past may have certainly been better in many ways, the glory of Christ’s kingdom will be found only in the future. To continue to reach back, desperately trying to hold onto or recover what once was, will only serve to blind us to what can be.

There is something about human nature that needs to be in control. We want things the way we want them. This conflicts deeply with allowing God to have His way in our lives—unless of course we assume that God thinks exactly the way we do. / CC BY 2.0

I mean, wouldn’t God want things to return to a pre-9/11 state? Or maybe He’d want to go back further to the 1950’s? How about the 1800’s? Perhaps even the days when Christ walked this earth?

It all sounds rather foolish when you take the time to think it through. Without question, the best option is to keep moving forward, looking toward a Day that far surpasses anything the past has ever known.

The longer I walk this earth the more I come to realize how little it has to offer. In contrast, the kingdom of God is so much more meaningful than I once thought. The Daniel passage from my last post carries such a sense of anticipation!

 “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will raise up an everlasting kingdom that will not be destroyed—a kingdom that will not be left to another people. It will break in pieces and bring about the demise of even the greatest of human empires. Not a trace of them will remain. But God’s kingdom will become a large mountain that fills the entire earth, standing supreme forever and ever.”

But aren’t global issues becoming increasingly ugly and more complex? Absolutely! It is the unavoidable nature of our times. But God’s grace always rises to meet the need, no matter how dire. According to kingdom dynamics, the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity.

Lesser man-made kingdoms are being supplanted and replaced by the greater. If our eyes are riveted on what once was, we’ll miss the incredible good that God has planned for today.

We can’t go back! Much better to let go of what was and press on to an everlasting hope, than to be stuck in the past, complaining about how far our nation has strayed from its roots.