Jon’s Soapbox Chronicles: On Immigration and Playing God

Social media has been and always will be a wildfire with people throwing gasoline at each other thinking it’s water.  Now everyone is on fire, the place is full of smoke, and people are slowly and surely starting to choke out.  I’m probably one of the guys watching the blaze, hopelessly looking to tame the fire with a squirt gun in hand.

It’s time to get on my soapbox again.  The hot topic of the past month or three (heck, even since Trump’s presidency) is the crackdown on illegal immigration.  I can’t seem to go five minutes on Facebook (30 seconds on Twitter) without hearing something about the topic.

This is what I know (try not to hold my ignorance against me):

  • Travel Ban: certain countries, especially the pre-dominant Muslim ones, have had their issuing visas frozen so the Department of Homeland Security can assess screening and vetting procedures
  • The Wall: A wall is being built along the Mexican border that someone is paying for.
  • DACA: Stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – Program started by Obama that protected “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrant children, from deportation so they can study, work, and live the American dream. Requires a 2-3 year renewal. DACA was supposed to have ended back in March.
  • Zero Tolerance: Those who have crossed the border illegally or through non-US approved entry points are being prosecuted as criminals.

I’m going to focus on the Zero Tolerance Policy for my soapbox.

According to the policy, if families are caught crossing illegally, children are separated and placed with HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) and the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement). They usually go to Customs and Border Protection facilities (the places with the cages you see in your social media posts – for no longer than three days), child immigrant shelters through the ORR (shelter facilities sponsored by nonprofits – fewer than 57 days, but some have been held for longer), and tent camps (one is in Texas, not a lot know what’s there).  During that time, the ORR tries to find family members, foster parents, or sponsors to take the children in.

The parents who committed any kind of crime, including crossing the border, is referred to the DoJ (Department of Justice), and at the end of the case, will be sent to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to see where they go from there.  Now, those being prosecuted as well as the children may seek asylum or other lawful protection.

Children are going through a lot while all of this happens.  They’re separated from their families, going through God knows what as they wait in these facilities.  They don’t know if they’re going to see their parents again, and they’re not certain of what’s going to happen to them.

Since then, Trump has signed an Executive Order, ending family separation and replacing that with detaining the entire family unit, unless keeping the family together would deem detrimental to the child.

By the way, you should take a look at our Immigration Court process.  It’s rather interesting.

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You preach, “This is Fake News.”  Stop it.  There may be few who are milking the cash cow by faking it, but it doesn’t mean that all of the children and families are faking it.

You preach, “This wouldn’t happen if they were to come in legally.”  That is true, and it’s a part of law, but what if immigrants are trying to flee from circumstances where their very lives are at stake, and America seems to be the safe haven?  Do you know how long it takes for someone to be naturalized?

(By the way, I don’t believe in open borders, but I wonder if the immigration process could be somehow simpler.)

Now, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (uscis.gov), there are several steps and a long wait before an immigrant becomes a US Citizen.  First, they must receive their Green Card, which enables them to live and work permanently in the United States.  Although they can live and work in the US, they are not official Citizens.

In order to get the Green Card, immigrants first must have a sponsor to petition for you and file the respective form (Alien Relative, Refugee Relative, Alien Entrepreneur, etc.).  Next, the immigrant must file the I-485 with the required documentation.  Processing of I-485, depending on workload, can take up to 8-10 months, according to current Fiscal Year.  If the application is approved and they get their Green Card, they must hold that status for at least 5 years, or 3 years if he or she is married to a US Citizen.

Then to be naturalized, the immigrant must be at least 18, be able to read, write, and speak basic English (not speak American), and be a person of good moral character.  Next is the 10 step naturalization process, and that involves filing the N-400 with required documentation, possibly attending a biometrics appointment, and being required to attend an interview with USCIS.  It takes up to 9-10 months for the approval process of the N-400.  If it’s approved, the immigrant must attend a naturalization ceremony (which could be on the same day as the USCIS interview), take the Oath of Allegiance to the US and complete the questionnaire on form N-445.  Voila! The immigrant is now a US Citizen.

You preach, “But these immigrants could be dangerous.” I get that too, but not every immigrant is a terrorist, gang member, drug smuggler, job stealer, lazy freeloader, or a combination of any and all of them.  Like I said before, they’re trying to find a new hope.

Can we treat them with kindness, respect, and dignity?  Why not treat them as human beings instead of animals or people with little worth?

You preach, “This happened through the Obama, and previous, Administrations.”  Okay, and?  If it was initiated by a previous Administration, the current Administration should have the power to end or revise it.  Stop the self-righteous indignation against people you don’t like and call your representatives.  It still doesn’t make separating children any better.

You preach, “If they want to get into America, they must conform to American law.  It’s biblical.”  

Just let me say this:

The Bible should never be used as a tool to fulfill and or justify your own personal agenda; that is never the Book’s intent.

We saw this with AG Sessions’ usage of Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (verses 1-2).

Who wrote Romans? Paul to the Roman church.

When? During the reign of Emperor Nero.  You know, the guy who fiddled when Rome burned and then blamed it on the Christians and their way of life.  Yet Paul tells the church to be subject to Roman authority.  Crazy, isn’t it?  He says later in the passage to also pay taxes, revenue, respect, and honor to those they owe; it’s an outward sign of inward submission to God, the ultimate authority.  (On a side note: Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you should just up and disrespect all authority).

Sessions’ interpretation of Romans 13 says that immigrants illegally crossing the border are disobeying God, His nation, and His authority and therefore incurring His judgment.  What he has conveniently forgotten, however, is the next part of Chapter 13:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (verses 8-10).

Love without condition.  Having compassion and empathy.  And who is your neighbor?  Anyone who is hurting (The Parable of the Good Samaritan).  You can’t choose who you unconditionally love.  Jesus unconditionally loved us; we should probably do the same.

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I believe the heart of the problem, and the second part of my soapbox, is that we’re either trying to play the role of God or we’re worshipping the wrong god, and that leads to serious ramifications in how we treat those around us.  This deity power struggle has happened ever since the beginning of time when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Remember, God said eating of the tree would result in death, but the serpent said eating the fruit would make them become godlike (Genesis 3).

To Adam and Eve, what God gave them, everything under the sun and moon and closeness with Him, was not enough.

Sin.  It causes the weakening of relationship, the introduction of death, the destruction of trust, the ripping of innocence, and the belittling of the Imago Dei (the Image of God in which we are created).  And sin and its capabilities are in every heart.  We see throughout the Bible what happens when we try to become a god, worship the wrong god, or when we worship ourselves; it usually never ends well.  We steal, kill, destroy, enslave, injure, hate, blackmail, and violate one another to either fulfill our own agendas or our “god’s” desires.

Sin Quote

These gods are manmade and take multiple forms.  They are silent, blind, deaf, and lifeless, and those who worship them become exactly like them (Psalm 135:15-18), yet the more we give, the more they take and demand.  We don’t speak out against injustice because our “idol” feasts on injustices.  We don’t see the tears, the struggle, and the frustration of those around us because the “idol” has us looking the other way.  We don’t hear the cries, the screams, and the protests because the “idol” drowns it out with entertainment and the status quo.  Eventually, we will become lifeless.

When we worship our “gods,” people around us are seen as “less than” and subjects made to cater and bow to every whim and desire.  People become commodities, bargaining chips, chess pieces, expendable and replaceable pawns.  To them, people are only good for one thing; their bodies.  They don’t care about their minds, souls, stories, and spirits.

So when we mock, tease, and taunt immigrants, we’re saying that they don’t have any value or any worth, except to waste space.

Let scoffers scoff but let the willing consider the evidence: Madness has descended on our culture in a blinding fog.  Pure madness. Unreasonableness. Irreconcilability. Callousness. The devil has come to make animals of image bearers. This he does by convincing us we’re gods. – Tweet, Beth Moore

I submit to you that we are worshipping America, though it pains me to say.

We worship the Constitution, our rights, and our country, sometimes, at the expense of people’s rights and welfare. I mentioned in my first Soapbox Chronicle that there’s nothing wrong with loving our country (patriotism); it becomes dangerous when we worship it (nationalism).  Isn’t it funny that when you worship America, people end up getting hurt in the process?

Do we care for the homeless and poor, regardless of whether they’re veterans, citizens, or immigrants?  Are we looking out for the needs of others above ourselves?  What, or who, are our laws and statutes truly benefiting?

The curse of sin in our world has broken us, emptied us, made us shells of who we were meant to be, yet we try to fill that void with things that supposedly give us worth, which most will turn to grasping power, control, and money at the expense of those around us.  The things we are capable of doing for more money, more control, and more power…and right now, you’re probably thinking of those injustices.

What are we worshipping when we want to make America first, but sacrificing people in the process?  What are we worshipping when we go to the nations, but turn a blind eye to our domestic neighbors?  What are we worshipping when we do unspeakable things, up to and including murder?  What are we worshipping when we turn against those who are trying to make better lives for themselves and their families?

What we fight for, or defend against, show what God (or gods) we serve.

I’m getting off my soapbox.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:11-14).

Until next time, remain hidden in the shadow of His wings,

 

– Jon Pannell

 

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Jon’s Soapbox Chronicles: On the War on Christmas and Being Offended

Christmas; my most favorite holiday of all time.  The time from Black Friday to Christmas is magical to me – yes, I believe the Christmas season starts after Thanksgiving, not after Halloween or earlier like some of you crazy people.

Houses are strung with white and colored lights, living rooms are graced with real or fake trees covered in garland and ornaments, and the atmosphere becomes warmer with cheer.  My nighttime drives consist of being captivated by gardens of light and decoration; it reminds me of times when my mom would drive my brother and me home at night to see the lights.  This holiday season always brings me a sense of childlike awe and wonder.

Christmas is a time of good tidings, joy, love, peace, friends, hot chocolate and apple cider, cold nights, ugly sweaters, and most importantly, baby Jesus, the Savior of the world.  But for some of you, you believe that it’s a metaphorical time of war, hence today’s soapbox, this whole thing on the “War on Christmas.”

Christmas has been politicized and commercialized, but hardly revered or respected.  Christmas is about Jesus, the perfect spotless Lamb and Son of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He came to this world, born of a virgin, under the Law to redeem those under the Law (Galatians 4:4-5).  He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  This is one of the greatest moments in the history of the world!

Prophecies spoken about His birth in the Old Testament have been fulfilled.  Shepherds came to see Him.  The Wise Men brought Him gifts that would declare him King (gold), Priest (frankincense), and Sacrifice (myrrh).  He came to bring salvation to a desperately broken world.  His coming would lead to the disciples, the miracles, the prophecies, His death and resurrection, and His Church.

But those thoughts seem to make their residence on the back burner.

You are fighting a needless war; this so-called war on Christmas.  You’re ready to pick up pitchforks, Bibles, and keyboards whenever you hear someone on the news say that atheists, agnostics, etc., want to remove nativity scenes as well as the phrase “Merry Christmas” because they don’t want religion forced on them.

You become offended when companies don’t say Merry Christmas on their ads or products (remember Starbucks’ Red Cups?), but instead insist on other phrases like “Happy Holidays” or the archaic “Season’s Greetings.”  You follow a list shown on some website or broadcasted by some news company and vow never to shop at the stores that say anything other than Merry Christmas unless they get their act together.

You praise people in the political sphere when they publicly mention the Christmas story (**cough cough** Donald Trump and Franklin Graham **cough cough**) or any other thing about Jesus and you want to make them heroes.  Sometimes you are convinced that Jesus = Republican Party, but I think I’m going to save that for another day.

Your Christmas spirit is…well…a humbug.  You let Satan steal your joy way too easily.  Instead of showing kindness, you show vitriol.  Instead of sweetness, you’re salty (and not in the biblical sense).  You feel that everyone who doesn’t say Merry Christmas is in Satan’s army and must be vanquished.  “To arms!” you shout from your seat as you attempt to fight at this perceived injustice, playing the persecution card.

Have we forgotten that those we see as our enemies, those whom we see as “Grinches” and “Scrooges” are also made in the image of God?  That they are broken and also in need of a Savior, just like you?  Instead of fighting evil with evil, we should combat evil with good.  Is the fruit of the Spirit evident in your life, especially around this holiday season?  Do others see your Spirit-filled love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control?

I want to touch on offense.  Today, everyone has a reason to be offended; it’s almost like a status symbol.  When someone tells us something we disagree with, we get offended.  When someone hurts us with their words or actions, we get offended.  We feel that we, the offended, are entitled to sulk, cry, scream, complain, whine, and hold on to hurt, even if it’s frivolous.  Offense doesn’t discriminate, folks.

By the way, the people you call “snowflakes?” They’re also created in the image of God; He loves them as well.  Are you getting offended over their being offended?  Doesn’t that make you one too?  God loves you, too.

You can’t control being offended, but you can control how you handle it.  The worst way you can handle offense is being petty and passive-aggressive.  These attitudes are venomous.  Instead of confronting the person or belief head on, you hope they get the hint as you make your snide comments and try to get others on your team.  You slowly drift away from them.  May I remind you that divisions and factions are not of God (Galatians 5:20)?

A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle – Proverbs 18:19

A strong city is fortified thanks to its surrounding wall and security; no one’s entering that city regardless of your credentials or relationship to the city’s keeper.  When a person is offended, they become like that strong city; they will deny you access to the complex inner parts of their lives, even potentially hurting you in the process.  This is what happens when you offend someone or when someone offends you.  Offense can kill a relationship before it even begins.  It can dry up a relationship before it deepens.

City II

Offense either forces you into isolation or gets you to live in an echo chamber, where common anger and resentment reside as others agree exactly with you on everything.  Isolation and echo chambers will make you do stupid things.

How have you handled yourself this Christmas season?  Were you offended because someone took offense to someone saying Merry Christmas?  Did you feel offended when someone tried to push their perceived godless agenda on you?  Did you consider them an enemy?  Did you close off any hope of a friendship or relationship with them?  Did you become that strong city?  Were you passive-aggressive?

Look, people will disagree with you.  That’s life.  When you take it as an attack against your heart, that’s where the trouble begins.

If you have been hurt, chances are they either hurt you with intent, or they did not know they hurt you.  Either way, bring it to them.  Face them.  Dialogue with them.  Try to listen and understand each other.  They may have acted out on their wounds or offenses.  I may go deeper on this on another post.

Christmas is a time where we can come together and worship the Savior and introduce others to Him, not to challenge political correctness and getting trapped in commercialism.

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. – Proverbs 10:12

That’s how you break an offense, by loving one another as Christ loved and gave Himself for you.  Passive-aggressiveness is not love.  Strife is not love.  Pettiness is definitely not love.  Love tears down the walls.  Love covers a multitude of sins.  Do that, and see how your Christmas, as well as the rest of your life, will change.  If you have been offended, forgive and let it go.  Really search your mind and heart and confront the person who has hurt you and love them.

(If you have been offended through abuse, that’s going to take a lot of healing and finding trusted friends and counseling.  Take it a day at a time.)

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Courtesy of Radio Free Babylon.  Coffee with Jesus.

Christ came to earth for you.

He came to earth for your friends.

He came to earth for atheists.

He came to earth for thieves, idolaters, liars, adulterers, the immoral.

He came to earth for Hillary Clinton and those darn liberals and Democrats.

He came to earth for Donald Trump and those darn conservatives and Republicans.

He came to earth for those who wouldn’t even think of living for Him.

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. – the angel Gabriel to Mary; Luke 1:31-33

I’m stepping off my soapbox.  Until next time, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and remain hidden in the shadow of His wings.

 

– Jon Pannell

Jon’s Soapbox Chronicles – On #TakeAKnee, Protesting, and Empathy

First and foremost, I love America and I am blessed to live in this nation.  I like American History, the American flag, the American songs.  The 4th of July is my 2nd favorite holiday, only to be beaten by Christmas.  Is America perfect?  Nope.

I hope you’ll understand where I’m coming from, beloved reader.  Unity and healing are my passions.  We can’t keep needlessly battling each other while we die from our own festering wounds.

I’m going to address 2 elephants in the room; the topics we are aware of but don’t want to talk about.  They are racial injustice and nationalism.

Racial injustice combines two words: racism and injustice.  Racism is the belief rooted in hatred that says one is superior or inferior to another because of skin color.  Injustice is dishonesty, unfairness, and partiality.  Therefore, Racial Injustice consists of acts of dishonesty or unfairness done to someone or a group of people based on their skin color, those acts ranging anywhere from lying to murder.

I also need to address nationalism.  There’s a difference between patriotism and nationalism.  Patriotism is a love for one’s country.  You can be proud to be an American; there’s nothing wrong with that.  Nationalism, on the other hand, is patriotism’s evil brother.  Nationalism is patriotism unhinged and extremified.  Nationalism says one nation is supreme over others; everyone else must kneel and pay homage or face the consequences.

So you have racial supremacy and national supremacy. Yikes.

Sunday, September 24 was another chill day, until the NFL. While I do enjoy football from time to time (Go Dolphins!), I seem to keep coming across the same narrative: players kneel, sit, stand arm-in-arm, or not even come out of the locker room during the national anthem as a sign of protest.

(By the way, NFL didn’t require players to be present on the field when the national anthem played until 2009.  That’s not the point, however.)

Disgust and disappointment become anger and rage as social media becomes another verbal wildfire, with gasoline being poured on every side.  You’d think we would have a break from this kind of stuff, right?  But we come back to the divisive issue of race relations, and we all know that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

(Also, just know that a group or an individual out there is trying to profit from the racial divide for their own reasons.  Be aware of that.)

I read another blog about the same issue and the author said he felt like he was in the middle of a dodgeball game with his friends and family on both sides of the court, pelting each other all while trying to convince him to join their side.  I feel the same way.  I have people I love on both sides arguing passionately, slamming each other on the way and if I joined, I may be a great help, but I’d also feel incredibly guilty.

The anger seems justified on a surface level.  “How dare you disrespect the red, white, and blue?” they scream and type. “People died for this nation and you’re spitting on that!”  “You’re not grateful to live in this great country!” “You shouldn’t protest this way!” “The NFL should fire you!” “Why are you so whiny?” “If you don’t like living here, move!”

I mean, it is in the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.

Freedom of speech and peaceable assembly is protected, so why the backlash? I submit to you that it’s because of nationalism.  When someone reveals an issue with America, the person is seen as a threat to our “perfect” nation and must be shouted down or dealt with; when and only when the First Amendment applies to our own standards.  I remember reading somewhere that when we see an argument against our core beliefs, it can register as physical pain and we will defend ourselves or we will try to explain it away.

Kaepernick and Co. nonviolently protesting during the national anthem was neither out of disrespect for America or her flag, nor was it out of contempt for veterans and those serving our country.  They’re doing it because they have seen America and Injustice sleeping in the same bed.  I submit to you that they also love America but they see her in need of healing.  Pointing out flaws in love and doing something about it leads to healing, which is a painful process.  But, we are experts at hiding our pain while inflicting it on others.

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What is the big why of protesting?  Why are people like Kaepernick and Co. not willing to stand and salute for the anthem?  Why is #TakeAKnee trending?  What is the purpose of their actions?

(Christians, I know you mean well when you say that everyone should take both knees in prayer.  There is a time and a place for everything. While it sounds great, you’re not helping.)

Protesting says there is something wrong and it needs to be fixed.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi both believed in nonviolent and peaceful protesting.  Good protesting is a cry of a people that wakes the public to the injustice keeping them captive without using violence.  The problem is that people who are used to sleeping see it as more of an annoyance and an inconvenience.  No one likes to be woken up in the middle of a very good dream after all.  It’s like the old cartoons where someone is trying to sleep but he keeps dealing with yowling and singing cats.  It almost makes you want to throw a boot at them.

Kaepernick and Co. know this.  They are trying to get your attention to the racial tensions and violence in America, the “land of the free.”  They know that being peaceful is the best way; violence ruins a protest’s cause.

But you don’t see that.  What you see is a bunch of disgruntled, unappreciative, overpaid, attention-seeking “Americans” who supposedly hate our nation. Your nationalism is showing, and it’s blinding you to reality.  Therefore, you make commitments to boycotting the NFL and doing your best to urge others to do the same.

You’re worshipping America again.

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Guys, ISIS hates our nation.  North Korea hates our nation.  Iran hates our nation.  I don’t know if Russia likes us or not.  We still need to pay China back.  I’m pretty sure people in our nation hate us too and love to see us divided.  They are our main concerns, not people like Kaepernick and Co.

What you’re really telling these protestors is that racism is normal and part of the American life to non-whites, or that racial injustice is a figment of their imagination.  You’re really telling them that their lives don’t matter.  You’re really telling them that they make you uncomfortable.  You’re treating them the same way people treat those with a mental illness; telling them to stop being so dramatic and getting over their “imagined” problems.  You’re really telling them that people like Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile deserved to die because they looked like a threat and/or had a criminal rap sheet.

I really don’t think you care at all about racial injustice because you’re not at the receiving end of it.  Instead, you become experts, judges, juries, and executioners.  I’m not apologizing for my firm tone here.  As I say to my friends on lighter occasions, “I’m 1000% done.”

Understand that my words are out of love and frustration.  A lot of us black people are upstanding citizens, even community pillars.  A lot of us are kind and successful.  We’re not looking for special treatment.  We’re not all lazy, incompetent, mumble-rapping, sex-crazed, criminal record holding, entitled people on welfare (everything most Americans, and conservatives, are offended by).  We’re not looking for war or violence.

I don’t want to have to tell my future family to “be safe” or to fear for my life. I want my future family to grow and thrive out here in America.

We want someone to listen to us.  We want to be understood.  We want you to know our pain.

Honestly, we are great at sympathy, but we suck at empathy.  Sympathy is just feeling sorry for someone and their situation, and then moving on with their lives.  Empathy is more than that; it involves feeling what the other person is feeling and it moves them to get their hands dirty to help them in their time of need. Empathy is from a Greek word meaning “to suffer with.”

Before Jesus started the Parable of the Good Samaritan, someone asked Him what was the greatest commandment.  Jesus responded by saying to love God with everything and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Then the guy asks, “Who is my neighbor?”  In other words, “Jesus, tell me who my neighbor is so I can dismiss everyone else.  Whom can I selectively love?”

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a guy walked down a road and was attacked by robbers and left for dead.  Both a Levite and a Priest walk by, but they, not wanting to get their hands dirty for their own reasons, pass by the other way.  But a Samaritan sees him, and has compassion on him.  He felt the guy’s pain, he suffered with him, and he also did something about it.  The Samaritan bandaged him up, treated him and put him up in an inn, paying for all costs as he recovered.

We best discover empathy when we are in person, face-to-face with the hurting; when we encounter our neighbors.  Let them speak and tell you their stories.  Don’t dismiss what they’re going through.  Put yourself in their shoes and feel what they feel.  And finally, find a way to do something about it.  You may disagree, but at least you’re listening.

Listen much, touch gently, and speak when needed – Words can be encouraging, but really what we desire is your concern and to know that you love us. – A student on the events at Virginia Tech

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. – Paraphrase from my Discipleship Ministry class

Racism has lasted for what seems like an eternity.  Slavery has lasted for generations, but came to an official close with the end of the Civil War and the events of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Underground Railroad, Juneteenth, and the 13th-15th Amendments.  Racial oppression continued with the Black Codes, Plessy v. Ferguson, and the Jim Crow era.  Though there has been widespread racial integration, there are still people out there who are convinced of the idea of white supremacy and it’s constantly being passed down to this day.  It’s sad, honestly.

(Also, can everyone – black, white, all people – please drop the n-word?)

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Folks, don’t let nationalism cloud your judgment or empathy.  Don’t let it blind you to the people around you.  Nationalism, like any worshipped idol, will require a sacrifice and a price.  The more you give, the more it takes and never gives back.

And as for Kaepernick and Co., they’re going to keep fighting for what they believe in and no one is going to stop them!  Racism and racial injustice will not win!

I long to see the ethnic walls shattered and that we would unconditionally love one another regardless of race!

Part Two is coming and will be more about nationalism and the Church.

A people who will not acknowledge the sins of their nation are doomed to turn a blind eye to injustice.  A people who cannot separate the identity of their nation from the sins of their nation are doomed to undermine the good of their nation. – Caitlin Bassett

Until next time, I’m stepping off my soapbox.  Remain hidden in the shadow of His wings,

 

– Jon Pannell

P.S. – Let’s talk if you disagree.  Let’s not scream at each other or prove another wrong.

The Hero and the Fatal Flaw

“You don’t have to be a superhero.  It’s not your job to take care of everyone.  Don’t do things just because you think you have to.  We like you regardless of what you do.”

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*More on that quote later. And no, I’m not playing the “Jesus is the TRUE superhero” card*

I love superheroes.  These guys and girls with superpowers, weapons, gadgets, fighting skills and probably loads of money have incredible backstories that shape their identity.  They’re known for saving the day when catastrophe strikes, seeking justice, and rescuing those in distress.  They keep the world safe from the forces of evil and are placed on pedestals for the world to see, honor, and hold in awe.

Everyone wants to be the next Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or Captain America.  We walk around with their shirts, act out their mannerisms, buy their action figures and watch their movies.  They dream of kicking evil in the face, and who can blame them?

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There is a lot of fame, glory, honor, and appreciation that comes out of saving the day. But the sacrifice…oh, the sacrifices made for this to be a possibility.

I submit to you that behind every “perfect” image of a superhero are shards of their former selves, breaking away by the second.  Every mission and external conflict takes an internal toll, bringing them to an eventual funeral and burial of their real selves.

Is it because they are more loved for what they do than who they are?

I was Super-Jon for a while; my own superhero and the eager go-to guy. If there was something that needed to be done, I would do it.  I cared for the people around me and wanted to make sure they were happy. I was too dependable.

I frequently saved the day, but my real self would fade every time I donned the cape and mask.  I was too willing to drop what I was doing to save whoever was flashing the distress signal; how could I say “No?”  I hated the gift given to me.  The past two years were filled with obligations and a LOT of stress:  Church, work, plays, assignments, projects; all created a mountain that became increasingly impossible to scale by the day.

Fellow reader, this may resonate with you.  Maybe you’re the guy who says yes to everything because you think saying no might ruin your image or your relationships with others.  Or you’re the girl who fears missing out and feels obligated to be involved in everything.  You fear becoming irrelevant.  Everyone around you is happy and content, but you are a complete mess.

Nobody thought of bringing a headache pill to the party?

You look at your closet, where your costume hangs, and ask yourself if it’s worth it anymore.  You’ve already given up so much; what else remains?  What would people think if you retired or needed to take time off?  You want to be appreciated, and maybe you are. But ask yourself, Is this building up or destroying my health?

Let me tell you something:  You don’t have to be the superhero all the time.

But I’m being like Jesus and serving everyone around me,” you say.  But Jesus also stepped away and took time to rest and pray.

But I can’t have any off days. I’m always needed,” you fight back.  Keep telling yourself that as you continue running your mind, spirit, and body into the ground.

But won’t I be selfish?” you ask out of concern. Selfishness is being inconsiderate of others; looking out for number one.  It’s having the resources, but unwilling to help.  How can you help if you don’t have the resources?

Here’s an unpopular thought.  Your health and sanity are more important than saving the day.  When you’re stressed out and overwhelmed by life, you may need to slow down and take it a day, even a moment, at a time.  Your mind and body will issue distress signals when you’re doing too much; will you heed or ignore them?

You can’t make others happy while making yourself miserable.

We save the day as superheroes, but who’s going to save us when we’re in distress?  What happens when saving the world becomes a burden?  What happens when we experience burnout?

Burnout is real, folks.  People walk away from church, ministry, and even faith because they keep pouring themselves out past empty.  They become isolated, making themselves prime targets for the enemy.  They are more prone into falling in sin and are judged more harshly when they do.

You see, every hero has a hidden weapon, and it packs quite a punch.  It’s simply the word “No.”  One word, two letters.  Simple, yet highly effective.

Some of you fear the word “No.” I understand that.  You’re afraid that saying “No” means rejection from your peers.  The arch-nemesis of every superhero is the fear of man, who constantly assaults us with his telepathic attack on our love for others and our willingness to serve them.  People are our fatal flaw.

However, you don’t have to be a jerk and say no to everything.  Being a hero is an extraordinary gift, but you need to use discernment in what you say yes to.  After all, you can’t split yourself into multiple people.  When you say “no” to someone; most of the time they understand and move on.  Others may whine and/or complain, but they’ll eventually get over it.

**By the way, if someone is trying to guilt trip or manipulate you into saying yes, it’s a sure sign that someone only wants you for what you do for them.  Do some reevaluating**

Now, for the quote at the beginning of this post.  I was stressing over some decisions I needed to make.  I told a good friend about the struggle of always wanting to save the day.  That was her response to me; I would even have her periodically remind me of this.  It put my situations into focus once again.

Beloved, know that you are liked, loved, and appreciated for who you are and not just for what you do.  If your health is at stake, you need to say “no” and step back.

Also, you need to rest.  I cannot stress this enough.  Rest with Jesus.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. — Matthew 11:28-30 (emphasis mine)

Are you exhausted and carrying a burden?  Come to Jesus and He will give you rest.

Are you overworked, stressed, and/or anxious?  Come to Jesus and He will give you rest.

Are you paralyzed by the demands on your time? Come to Jesus and He will give you rest.

That is a promise, and God fulfills His promises.  Don’t ignore the warning signs.  Pull back on your superhero duties and come to Jesus.  He is not a taskmaster, nor will He condemn you if you need to step back.  Walk with Him, hang out with Him, learn from Him, and you will be restored.

If we go so long without resting and staying plugged into Jesus (cliché, I know, but track with me), we will burn out.  We’re human, not gods.

But we think we can keep pushing.  One of my close friends calls it “giving out of a deficit.” What is there left to give to others when you are past empty?  It’s like trying to get a car to run when it’s out of gas.  It is important to push yourself, but only when you have enough in your tank.

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When you come to Jesus with your burdens, pains, problems, and burnout, He will give you rest; no ifs, ands, or buts about it! Don’t try to explain your way out of resting.  Like I said before, what Jesus said is a promise; He is faithful, He will do it (1 Thess. 5:24 — He who promises to sanctify you is also faithful in giving you rest).

Friend, superhero, here’s my encouragement and challenge to you. Say no, come to Jesus, and He will give you rest.  It’s that simple.  Grab a friend, therapist, pastor, somebody if you need to.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, for he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:6-7

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe – Proverbs 29:25

I’ve heard it said this way.  Your “no” now can lead to a greater “yes” in the future.

Until next time, remain hidden in the shadow of His wings,

 

Jon Pannell

A Rainy Evening in Narnia

Hey all!

I’m thrilled to announce that I officially have my Master’s from Seminary!  It was a tough journey, but I made it, but not without the support and prayers of great friends, a great church, and a great family.

I was a part of another play.  This time it was C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, a classic tale and battle between good and evil.

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If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a crash course:

The four Pevensie children stumble upon a wardrobe in the professor’s house that leads to the land of Narnia.  They encounter creatures of every sort such as talking beavers, fauns, and werewolves.  They meet the great lion Aslan and the terrible White Witch who makes it always winter in Narnia, but never Christmas.  A large battle eventually ensues and Aslan is victorious.

I was going to talk about my role in this production as the Centaur, but there is a situation that happened that I want to bring to attention.

Edmund and Centaur

I got you, Edmund.  The White Witch won’t come after you while I’m around.

We performed this show outdoors for one weekend, so we prayed and prayed for good weather.  We only got rained out for one practice.  Everything was going according to plan, even with one day predicting a forecast of rain, but it didn’t arrive.  The final performance was the “problem.”  While we were setting up, we heard thunder and saw clouds starting to roll in.  The rain came despite our prayers.  Those who were waiting had to return to their vehicles until the rain let up.

We waited in the Green Room for a while hoping for the rain to stop, but it showed no sign in breaking.  We decided to move the show to a small, quaint chapel on the end of the property.  We braved the rain and moved our props and costumes there.

More “problems” arose.

  • The chapel was small and could only fit a fraction of the intended audience. Some people ended up leaving because there was no room.
  • The “stage” of the chapel was probably 1/8 of the space of our original stage.
  • There was no air conditioning in the chapel. It was stuffy and hot.
  • Due to the small space, we had to work with minimal props and some of the scene details were cut.

I’m going to get a little transparent with you guys.  I did not think it was going to work.  How could we put on this show with these sudden changes and uncertainties? What was God thinking? Why would He allow this?  Why didn’t He answer our (my) prayers (the funny part was that it stopped raining as we started the show.  It didn’t rain for the rest of the evening).

But guess what?  The show was a success!

God revealed to me another piece of my heart, the part that likes to blame God whenever an inconvenience comes my way, usually stemming from moments when a plan I’m involved in suddenly explodes and falls flat in front of my face.

But what if a prayer goes unanswered or what if He said “No” because He has a bigger plan in mind?

See, as God’s children, we are to grow and walk in love as we imitate the Father (Eph. 5:1).  God grows, disciplines, and shapes us into His image as we go through the continuous process of holiness; sometimes meaning that He says “No” to the things we want.  Yeah, it hurts in the current moment, but think of the everlasting joy that happens as a result!

The shake-up on the final performance brought out people’s gifts and talents; others may have seen or used their gift or talent for the first time.  The Stage Manager and her assistant formulated a plan and prop list for the limited stage.  The Director helped guide us to what we needed to do. Fellow cast members pulled together to improvise and change up fight and dance choreography.

This happened all while I was freaking out.  That was convicting, yet encouraging.

Take this lesson from me, friends. When you are inconvenienced or when God says no to your prayer, don’t blame or run from Him.  Instead, take a look around and ask God to be glorified in and through you and the people with you.  Ask Him to reveal your heart to you and watch as He opens your eyes to what He is doing in your life and in the lives of others.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen — Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis mine)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. — Romans 8:28

Until next time, remain hidden in the shadow of His wings and long live the true King!

— Jon Pannell

The Struggle and the Blessing

I just had a very wild first half of Spring semester.  I just finished and passed my online class while still going through two residential classes; I am also working part time and I was a part of a local community theatre’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. To say I was stressed out is a little bit of an understatement, but it was an adventure.

Spring Break has just ended and our production finished its run.  I breathe a sigh of relief, even though being a part of the performance was a huge blast (more on that in another blog).

I was cast as Napthali in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, one of Joseph’s 11 brothers.  I wore that name with pride.  Looking into the Scripture, Napthali is the sixth of Jacob’s children.  Rachel speaks of him:

With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed. – Genesis 30:8

I would spend a lot of time giving you background on the story, but I trust you are reading your Bible.  Background scripture is Genesis 29-30.

Napthali is understood to mean wrestling, strife, or fight.  When I look back over the past two years of my life, I have been going through a lot of wrestling, though not physically.  I had been battling stress, self-worth, anxious thoughts, worry, “conflicting” theology and how God and I viewed each other.  Priorities were competing with my life: God, work, school, friends, productions, and other things were all vying for my devotion.  Yes, I put God as one of the things competing for me; that’s not a mistake.

I’ve struggled spiritually, but God is forever gracious and patient with me.

God has a tendency of adding pressure in our lives and allows us to struggle; not so He can take pleasure in seeing us flail and fall, but to show us that we are imperfect beings, that He is jealous for us and that He wants us to turn to Him in these moments.  He knows, and He has the best solution.  After all, He is God.

Beloved reader, God blesses us in the struggle.  We cannot fight on our own power; we will fail every time unless we call on Him.  Fights begin and continue until someone is victorious.  If you’re fighting against the world, cling to God.  Seek His face and direction.  If you lose the fight, get back up, breathe, and come back another day.

Jacob would later wrestle with God; he would not let go until God blessed him, which He did (Gen. 32: 22-32).  I submit to you that it’s perfectly fine to wrestle with God; just don’t give up the fight as He wants to bless you.  When you give up the fight and walk away, you miss out on what God has in store for you and a deepening of your relationship with Him.

May we in the same way cling to God as we wrestle with Him and the world around us, never letting go until He blesses us.  Fight, but ultimately submit to God; remember, He is for you, not against you.

The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still. – Exodus 14:14

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” – Hebrews 12:3-6

Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. – James 4:7

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings.

– Jon Pannell

Disclaimer:  God blesses us and provides what we need, not what we want.  If we are contending and fighting for the wrong things or with the wrong motives, He will say no.

To Christmas Sunday, or not to Christmas Sunday?

Alright folks, it’s almost Christmas.  You guys are shopping, doing Christmas parties and wearing ugly sweaters; I won’t keep you for long for this post.

A few days ago, a person I follow, Jon Acuff (@JonAcuff), tweeted:

Shoutout to churches cancelling services this Sunday. We pastor’s kids often leave faith because the church stole our Christmas every year.

A lot of people, myself included, found a lot of humor and appreciation in his tweet.  But others didn’t and lit him up like a Christmas tree.  The 6-7 Year Debate as begun again:  Should churches have services on Christmas Day?  It’s shocking to see how Christians strongly defend having church on Christmas Sunday to the point of arguing against those who don’t.

People tweeted against Acuff, calling him an idolater and offering to pray for his salvation.  I saw an article’s comment section (Pro Tip:  Never go to the comments section. Ever.  Avoid it like sin) saying that churches that don’t do Christmas Sunday should not be called Christians.

I get it.  Christmas is a time for family and friends and most importantly,  for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  What message are we sending to people when we say we are celebrating one of Heaven and Earth’s greatest moments but at the same time trashing other Christians and churches for not having Christmas Sunday services?

I advise that we check our hearts.  We act like not having church on Sunday is going to rob us of Jesus for that week.  Think about that for a second.  Is this the state of our Christian faith and our hearts, that getting Jesus once a week for a few hours is sufficient?  I think not.

So family, go and celebrate our Savior’s birth, whether you have a Christmas Sunday service or not.  You won’t get any judgmental looks or words from me.

Until next time, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with who he is pleased!” — Luke 2:8-14

Dear Christians, whenever atheists say we’re unloving, this is why.  We do this to each other.  We’ve become the people Christ fought against most, the self-righteous religious who have all of the rules but none of the grace.  Why do people who don’t know my Lord show me more forgiveness than those that do? — Jon Acuff

Stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

– Jon Pannell