Where Is God?

I first saw the question online last week – “where was God during Hurricane Harvey?”

I can’t take credit for the great answer I saw from someone (I don’t remember who wrote the blog, or I would give them credit) – God was present in His people, who were rescuing the stranded, bringing relief supplies to those in need, and coming in to the midst of the chaos following the hurricane to help however they could.

We are the Body of Christ in this world, and…

  • Wherever there is darkness, we go to bring the light;
  • Wherever there is pain, we go to bring healing;
  • Wherever there are captives, we go to set them free;
  • Wherever there is turmoil, we go to bring peace;
  • Wherever there is hunger and thirst, we go to bring food and drink;
  • Wherever there is spiritual hunger and thirst, we go to bring the Bread of Life and the Living Water; and
  • Wherever there is boredom and lack of purpose, we go to bring salt.

When the world asks “where was God when…” the answer must always be that God is present in His people, who do His work. God is present in His people, who are salt and light; God is present in His people, who love their neighbors and their enemies; God is present in His people, whose God-given vision can bring solutions to impossible situations; God is present in His people, whose self-sacrifice and service to others is like that of Jesus, who came not be served but to serve others.

You see, when a storm hits, it’s not an “act of God.” It’s not God’s wrath being poured out on the earth. A storm is a storm. It’s a result of weather patterns in a sinful, fallen world.

Where is God in the storm?

God is present in the refreshing rain, not in the torrential flooding.

God is present in the air we breathe, but not in the tornadic winds.

God is present in the deep blue sea, but not in the chaos of the storm surge.

God’s power is displayed in the might of a weather pattern, but God is not present in the destruction that is brought by the storm.

God is present, most of all, within us, His people.

Let us live our lives as God’s representatives in these difficult times, as Paul instructed us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a (NIV)

Reflecting on America Today

For anyone who is on social media in any way or who watches the news, the past week has been more of what we experienced last weekend.  Pictures of people in Charlottesville marching, protesting, even fighting; pictures of KKK members and Nazi-flag wavers; calls to renounce racism, calls to unity, calls to repudiate or impeach our current President, and calls to even renounce and repudiate any historical figures who were involved in slavery and to tear down monuments to them, including the Jefferson Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and Mt. Rushmore.

Meanwhile, on Saturday morning, I woke up to the news that 6 police officers, including 2 Pennsylvania State Troopers, had been shot the night before.  2 of them, in Florida, had been killed.  While there were small mentions of these shootings in the news media, there was hardly anything in my Twitter or Facebook newsfeeds about these shootings – no denouncing the shootings, no calls for rallies to support the police and their families, no outcry against yet another example of violence against the men and women who risk their lives every time they show up at work.

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I’ve wrestled with these issues and related thoughts all weekend.  I wasn’t sure what to write today; I didn’t know how to even approach this.  How can I call out what needs to be called out, encourage people in such problematic situations, and squeeze all of it into a blog?

There are no simple answers, and I have nowhere close to the wisdom and education that many others who are writing and commenting on all of these items may have.  All I can do is offer some thoughts…and so, I will do that, at the risk of angering and offending some people.

  • Hatred and racism are evil.  This is not debatable.  To hate anyone and claim to be doing it in the name of God is to lie.  God is love.  As followers of Jesus, we must stand up for one another, love one another, protect one another, honor one another, and publicly stand together against racism and hatred.
  • We must stop judging one another.  In the current climate in America, we are judged by how vociferously we denounce racism.  Christians are calling other Christians names because they don’t condemn racism strongly enough, or because they condemn racism but don’t agree with tearing down Confederate monuments.  Anyone who tries to point out the communist influences on and violent tendencies of Antifa is shouted down by the left as a racist.  Anyone who wants Confederate monuments torn down is shouted down by the right as a historical revisionist.  There has to be a place for calm discussion about truth in these matters.
  • We must love one another, despite our differences.  Holding a differing opinion does not make you my enemy.  I cannot control how you think or act, but I can control my actions and attitudes.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you must love people who are different from you.  You must love people who consider themselves to be your enemies.  You must love people who think differently than you and who believe differently than you.  In fact, you must love everyone.  Jesus taught this and demonstrated this.  It is not an optional part of the Christian life.
  • Life matters.  Black lives matter.  Police lives matter.  UNBORN LIVES MATTER.  Let’s get this straight.  Let’s stop selectively protesting and start protecting life.  It makes sense that we protest what connects to us.  It makes sense that African-Americans who have suffered injustice would rally around Black Lives Matter.  It makes sense to me to notice when police officers are shot and no one says anything, because I am a Pennsylvania State Police chaplain.  (And I recognize that I need to repent of not noticing other injustices, other violent acts, other suffering.)  We naturally notice what is important to us, what matters to us.  But we are called to something much higher than that.  We are called to love one another, and to love our enemies.  We serve the Word, Who was in the beginning and Who created all things – the One to whom all lives, even unborn lives, matter.  Let’s fight FOR all lives, not fight one another over which lives matter.
  • Slavery is evil.  It was evil 150+ years ago in America and in the Confederacy; it is evil today.  Let’s be honest about that.  But maybe let’s focus on doing something about the plague of human trafficking today, rather than just arguing about the aftermath of the Civil War in 1865.  Slavery was abolished in America. It was a horrific, evil institution.  It’s effects lingered, and in some ways, still linger.  We cannot in any way honor or elevate or excuse it.  But we cannot focus on the past to the extent that we ignore the present, and the present reality is that human trafficking is a huge issue in America right now.  The US Justice Department estimates that up to 17500 people per year are trafficked into the US.  That doesn’t even include the number of US citizens who are trafficked into the sex trade.  That is something that should ignite our anger and wrath as followers of Jesus.  That is something that should move us to rise up and take action.
  • People are people.  The color of your skin doesn’t matter.  The real issues are issues of the heart.  If you are a follower of Jesus, your calling is to allow Him to transform your heart to be more and more like His.  And as that happens, it is also your calling to point others, who do not know, towards Him – to cooperate with Him to build His Kingdom.  That is my calling.  That is your calling.

Above all, we are created to love and called to love.  I fail so often and so epically at that, but God is gracious and forgiving.

As we ask God to help us love in a nation that feels like it is tearing itself apart, let’s remind ourselves of what Paul tells us love is:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  (1 For. 13:4-8, NIV)

May it be said of us that in the midst of a trying time for our nation, we were known for our love, and that we loved well.

It’s Time to Stand Together

Over the past few days, our nation – and the world – have watched as Charlottesville, VA has become the center of a storm of controversy and racist hatred.

It all began back in May when the city decided to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and to rename parks within the city that had been named after Confederate leaders.

That is a huge issue.  It’s an issue of heritage to many Southern followers of Jesus; it’s an issue of racism and hatred from the perspective of many African-American followers of Jesus.  I’ve seen impassioned posts by people who love Jesus, explaining why it’s so important to keep those monuments in place and why it’s so important to not re-write or hide that part of our history.

I’ve also seen impassioned posts by people who love Jesus who are grieved over the racism and subjugation of people that those symbols represent.

I cannot speak for African-American followers of Jesus.  I haven’t walked in their shoes, experienced their lives, had to deal with the issues that are part of their lives.

But I can speak as a Caucasian follower of Jesus.

I am a political conservative.  I believe in personal responsibility, the free-market system, limited government, lower taxes, and so on.

But I love my African-American brothers and sisters.  And it is my responsibility to not just love them by mouthing platitudes or offering excuses or ignoring their pain, but to speak out on their behalf, to stand with them, to fight against injustice.

It is time for us stand up as followers of Jesus.

When we have let our arguments against political positions, our excuses against accusations of white privilege, and our concern for our own rights trump our willingness to stand alongside our brothers and sisters, we have become blind to our own self-interest and lack of love.

When it takes seeing KKK members and Nazis to actually get our attention and cause us to wonder if maybe things have gone a little too far, there is a huge problem.

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We don’t have to agree on everything politically.  We can disagree agreeably, with love and honor.  We can be conservatives and liberals, and espouse different paths to different political goals.

But we cannot stand idly by and say nothing when white racists march in the streets, wearing hoods and waving swastikas.

We DO have to love one another.  It’s not an option for those of us who follow Jesus.  In fact, Jesus specifically said that others would know we belong to Him because of the way we love one another.  It’s time for us to actually do that.  It’s time for Caucasian followers of Jesus to stand up and be vocal about the fact that racism is not ok.  It’s time to sit down with our African-American brothers and sisters and actually listen to them without making excuses, without arguing, and without trying to force them to hear us.  It’s time for them to know that regardless of our political preferences or policy preferences, we prefer them as our brothers and sisters.  It’s time for them to know we have their backs as fellow followers of Jesus.

How will we ever love our enemies if we cannot even love our own brothers and sisters in Christ?

I am part of a denomination (the C&MA) that exists to reach those who have never heard the name of Jesus.

How sinful would it be to spend our lives, our time, our money, and our resources to cross the seas to minister to people in other cultures if we are not willing to reach across racial and culture lines in our own nation to love our own brothers and sisters in Christ?  How wrong is it to stand silently by and say nothing while white hatred groups parade in the streets, claiming to do so in the name of God?

“Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:9-10, NIV).

Here are some questions I’m struggling with right now.  Maybe they are questions we should all struggle with right now.  Maybe they are questions we should ask Jesus to help us answer:

  • How do I sincerely love my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, not just pay lip-service to them?
  • How do I hate what is evil in our culture right now?
  • How do I cling to what is good in our culture right now?
  • How do I actively devote myself to my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ?
  • How do I honor my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ above myself?
  • When I stand before Jesus one day, will I be proud or ashamed of how I loved those who are different from me but are part of the same Body as me?

May God move us to stand with all who are part of the same Body, baptized by the same Spirit, saved by faith in the same Lord.