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.

Community

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.

Flags

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

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.

Lamp Post

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

Prayer in the Midst of Politics

Alright folks, let’s cut to the chase.

Election Day is on November 8, and this is the day we exercise our right to vote and make our voice heard.  I don’t care if you’re jaded to politics or if you’re deeply passionate about politics.  I don’t care if you want to Make America Great Again or if you say “I’m With Her.”  It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, Independent, or part of the Pizza Party, you have the responsibility to vote.

If you’re like me, you’re probably sick and tired of all the political posts and arguments on social media and like me, you’ve thought at least 1,000 times a day to deactivate all your social media accounts until a month after Election Day.  You know through my posts on this blog that I hate politics with the passion of a thousand suns and I especially hate the fact that we have frivolous and petty arguments that lead to unfriending, unfollowing, and blocking our former friends and acquaintances.

We just want peace, not strife.  Unity, not division.

I want to share 1 Timothy 2:1-5 with you.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

The Apostle Paul writes this letter to Timothy around AD 62-64 in regards to instruction and conduct in the early Church.  This was during the reign of the Emperor Nero and before the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64.

In this passage, Paul urges the Church to pray and intercede and be thankful for all people, especially those in places of authority.  Read the first sentence in that verse.  Slowly.  Multiple times.  Meditate on it.

Regardless of who is and who will be the President, we as the Church need to pray and intercede and give thanks.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t like Obama, pray for him.  If you hate Trump or Clinton, it doesn’t matter; pray for them.  People in authority that you respect and/or dislike?  Pray for them.  No exceptions, no excuses.

When you pray, it takes your focus off the worldly and engages you with the heavenly.  This world is not your home, and your Heavenly Father is available 24/7; why not pray?  Feel hopeless? Pray.  Need someone to talk to? Pray.  The next time you want to blast someone or complain about politics, use that energy to pray.

Prayer leads to a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Think of it as a diagnostic; a prayerless life leads to an absence of peace, a life full of loveless shouting, ungodliness, and a lack of respect or dignity to yourself or towards others.  How is your life right now?  I’m going to be honest; my spiritual life isn’t that great, mainly because I haven’t been living a life of prayer.  As a result, I’ve been stressed out and I haven’t had much peace (be praying for me).

Praying for the authorities pleases God.  And guess what?  Prayer is the driving and aligning force of His will.  He desires all people to be saved and to come to truth.  God can open Heaven on the people and situations you pray and intercede for.  Plus, God is God; He can do whatever He pleases and will even work despite your disobedience.

Think about it.  What would happen if instead of fighting with each other and complaining on social media, we prayed and lived a peaceful life instead?  We could possibly see those in authority figures come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior!  Sounds crazy, right?  Imagine if Trump or Clinton or anyone else came to know Jesus!

Jesus is still saving and transforming people.  What are we doing to encourage or hinder that?

AD 64 was the Great Fire of Rome.  All fingers pointed to Nero, but he instead blamed it on the Christians, leading to intense persecutions and horrific martyrdoms.  And guess what?  The Church still grew as her people prayed and lived peacefully.  I would submit to you that they even prayed for Emperor Nero as they were persecuted.

If our religious liberties are taken away, we must know that God is still good and on His throne, that we should still pray for the authoritative figures in our lives.  But seriously, you act as if the next Presidential candidate is going to put an end to Christianity.  Have you forgotten who really is in charge here?  God is not tied to a political party. He doesn’t take sides; He’s here to take over.  He wants to be glorified in the things we say and do.

Church History tells of what happens when Christianity becomes non-persecuted and protected by the State.  But that may be a post for another day.

So here’s my challenge to you.  If you have burned someone with your words and actions, repent and seek forgiveness.  If you have been burned, know that there is healing through Jesus Christ.  And pray, pray, pray for those in authority of our nation instead of complaining and debating all the time.  Live a peaceful and quiet life, and be clothed in dignity and godliness.  Now go and pray.  Hang out with Jesus.

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. — Romans 13:1

Be still, and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! — Psalm 46:10

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. — 1 Corinthians 13:1

Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor. — Romans 12:10

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

Jon Pannell

The Otherworldly City

Hello reader!

I ask that you would pray for me as I am going through this semester.

The media has been talking about injustice and protest lately, and the stories seem to be dividing us more and more each day.  Also, the current election season is more bizarre than ever (the first presidential debate was like watching a train wreck.  Loaded with fireworks).  But of course you know that this is a tactic of Satan, to have us living and getting used to continual darkness.

Division is profitable, but to whom?  Think about that while I continue this discussion.

Church, I’ve reminded you in the past to be like Jesus.  Now, I want to tell you this:

You are a Christ follower first, American (or other nationality) second.

You are first a citizen of Heaven, then an American (or other nationality) citizen second.  Don’t let patriotism get in the way of your mission (the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20).  Smash that idol to pieces.

Turn with me to Matthew 5:14-16.  I pulled from this chapter in one of my previous posts:  The Salty Christian.  In that post, I said that we are salt.  We are to have a zesty, flavorful life, and even preserve and heal with the truth.  Now, I want to focus on Part Two:  We are light.

You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

You are the light of the world.

You read that right.  We, as Christ-followers, are light.  The day you received Christ meant the end of your life in darkness.  Let that sink in for a moment.  In a world where darkness is all around us, we are called to be the light.  Darkness is exposed by and flees from the light.  As a matter of fact, Miles McPherson said that the only thing faster than the light was the darkness running away from it.

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Most children are afraid of the dark; they sleep with nightlights, or they do what I do, which is cut off the lights and then run to the next room with light.  Light gives us a sense of comfort and security.  It shows us what’s in front of us or around us.

We as sons and daughters of the King of kings, this is our charge, to shine the light given to us into those dark places.  This is not an option; this is who we are!  We get the opportunity to show others the light we have by the Gospel!  For we were once citizens of darkness, but Christ broke through and shown us the light.

A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

A city set on a hill is noticeable to everyone in the surrounding areas.  We Christians, the Church, are that city.  We are seen and heard.  Are our actions prompting people to come and move in or do they stay away from the city?  Does our city flow with love, hate, or indifference?  How do the neighbors of this city interact with one another?  How do they respond in a crisis?  These answers reflect the city’s reputation.

Don’t fail this city.  (I just put in an Arrow reference because I can!)

city

Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket.

If I was in the woods with only my flashlight in the dead of night, I would first question my life choices leading me to that moment.  Also, I wouldn’t dare turn my light on, then cover it.  It would be a waste of both battery and time.  I need the light to guide me through the twists and turns of the forest.

In the same way are we to let our light shine around us.  I honestly think a lot of us are afraid to shine our light.  We don’t want to see what’s hiding in the darkness.  We are scared of people’s reactions to the light.  We also don’t want persecution on us as that would risk having our light snuffed out.

Think of it this way:  Why would you turn on a light, cover said light, then complain about why it’s so dark?  In the same way, why would you become a Christian, hide that fact, then complain about why there’s so much sin in the world and “waiting” for Jesus to come back?

A flame requires oxygen to survive.  Keep the flame under a concealed container and it will go out within seconds.  If we cover up our light, the darkness will still prevail and we will also burn out.

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Christians shouldn’t just be vocal, they must also be practical.  James said that faith without action is dead (James 2:14-26).  If you pray, go and do something about it.  Be examples of Christ in this world.  Don’t be jerks.

Shining your light also includes your behavior on social media.  Do people online see the love of Jesus, or do they only see drama, discontentment, resentment, division, etc.?  How do you respond to stories, posts, other people’s opinions?  In real life, how do you respond to rulings, protests, politics, differing beliefs and other people (whether as a customer or employee)?

Christ followers, people are observing your every move and listening to every word you speak (and I don’t mean the NSA).

Your good works bring glory to the Father.  This is what God wants, for the people He loves to love and glorify Him.

“What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” — Westminster Shorter Catechism

Church, be the city that glorifies God.  Shine your light.

Here is joy that cannot be shaken.  Our light can swallow up your darkness; but your darkness cannot now infect our light. — C. S. Lewis

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!

“I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” – Isaiah 45:3

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

– – Jon Pannell

Questions?  Comments?  Let’s talk about it.

On Candidates and Forgetfulness

Hello reader!

May the Lord shine His face upon you and those you know in 2016.  May He do something so mind blowing to you this year.

This past Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  This was also the day that Donald Trump came to speak at Liberty University’s Convocation.  If you’ve been living under a rock under all this time, let me fill you in.  D. J. Trump (shortening his name just because) is one of the Republican candidates running for the presidency.  He’s a very wealthy businessman who is…quite interesting.

He’s known by social and mainstream media to be a misogynistic, racist, xenophobe who has no filter and offends anyone and everyone he talks to with his words, even standing behind his idea to build a wall to seal off the Mexican border and to make Mexico pay for said wall.

DJTRUMP

“I should call my campaign ‘Playing the Trump Card…'”

The reaction by students and alumni were…quite interesting as well.

Some students decided to protest the Convocation, even making their presence known on social media (powerful tool, isn’t it?).  Others made fun of his use of “Two Corinthians,” while others expressed their shame of being Liberty students/alumni.

Convo

Liberty University Convocation.  Look at all those people!

Oh, I forgot to mention that some didn’t like Jerry, Jr.’s introduction of him, which paints D. J. Trump in a very different picture that the media.  People were wondering why would Jerry, Jr. give a very warm welcome to him (My opinion: he kind of has to).

The big question was:  Why would Liberty invite a “known racist” to speak at Convocation on MLK, Jr. Day?

Now, I don’t care if you support Trump or not.  This post isn’t about him.

Forgetfulness, I believe, is one of the most powerful and potent weapons in Satan’s arsenal.  You would have moments with God where it seems like you and He are like best friends.  Then you have those dark moments where it seems that God is absent and nowhere to be seen.  You rail against Him, shout at Him, become angry with Him.  The enemy pours more and more lies in your heart and mind, tempting you to walk away from Him, to resent Him.

The enemy uses forgetfulness in multiple ways.  He’ll have you forgetting His promises to you, His promises in His Word, the times where He has forgiven you, the times where He delivered or healed you.  He’ll have you forgetting your mission to make disciples, to love one another, and to love your enemies.

So many of us, myself included, are forgetful.  Take this past Monday, for example.  We forget that D. J. Trump is a human, just like us, created in the image of God, just like us.  We love to point out his flaws and even the flaws of others, but we forget to check ourselves AND forget to love and pray for them.

Think about it; instead of complaining about D. J. Trump, have you ever thought to pray for Him, that He would get rocked with the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ?  Or is he beyond help?

Let me tell you this, friend.  No one is beyond help.  Not him, not Bernie Sanders, not even Hillary Clinton.  The Gospel is for everyone.

MLK

Don’t let someone keep you from celebrating a legacy.

Satan had us forgetting that Trump is created in the image of God and needs Jesus just as much as, well, all of us.  And guess what?  He succeeded.  And another thing as his added prize:  We started to worship politics and our self-righteousness instead of Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong, there are reasons to protest and be concerned about certain people, places, and things, but if Jesus is not in your words and actions, then what are you trying to prove?  What kind of change are you trying to make without Him?

Some people are like brick walls, which can only be broken down with Jesus holding the sledgehammer (don’t run that with Scripture).

Peter wrote that the God of the universe has given us divine power through knowing Him, and this power helps us to live godly lives.  When He saved us, we become “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire,” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Christ followers and partakers of the divine nature, we must hold to these qualities and increase in them, so that we may be effective in our lives and have a closer relationship with God.  But, there’s a consequence if we don’t hold to those values.

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Satan, your nemesis, wants you to lack in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.  He wants you to question your identity in Christ, as well as make you ineffective and unfruitful.  You were blind, now you can see, but Satan wants to blur your vision so you can’t see clearly and eventually wind up fighting the wrong target(s).

He will stop at nothing for you to forget why you are following Christ and completing His mission.  He will turn your attention to vilifying and berating others instead of encouraging and loving them.  He will get you worshipping other things, politics included, instead of God.  He will get you to engage in questionable and sinful behavior instead of seeking after God.

But let this be an encouragement.  Whether it’s someone like D. J. Trump or your next door neighbor, treat them with a Christ-like love.  Treat them the way you want to be treated.  Pray for them like you would desire to be prayed for.  If you protest, remember to do it out of love and not to fulfill some kind of agenda.

Don’t let the enemy injure or kill you with forgetfulness.  Know who you are, whose you are, and what you are meant to do in this life.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life… – Philippians 2:14-16a

Don’t be like the Israelites, whom after escaping from Egypt, longed to go back, forgetting that they were once former slaves.

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

Jon Pannell

P. S. — Disagree with me? Let’s talk about it.

Pre-Gifted: The Gifts of the Wise Men

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy Solstice!  Season’s Greetings!  Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate-In-December!

I want to wish you an awesome holiday season full of joy, peace, and good tidings, and hopefully no fruitcake.  I don’t think anyone likes fruitcake.  But that’s beside the point.

Social media has become a place where the loudest argument wins, where we have the option to hide behind the safety and security of our screens and proceed to rip apart every statement that comes our way, even if it doesn’t concern us.  We react violently instead of responding gracefully.  We get offended by everything.  We would rather unfriend and unfollow someone instead of discussing our differences over food and coffee.

The truth?  It’s one huge distraction.

This month of December is a time where we are supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  This season is supposed to be a time of cheer and selflessness, Christmas caroling, Kevin saying, “Merry Christmas you filthy animal,” and Buddy the Elf shouting out “SANNTAAAA!”   But I hardly see that nowadays.

Buddy

Yep, I put that here because reasons.

Call me an idealist (ironically I’m an INFP), but we’re missing Jesus.

I was involved in this year’s Annual Virginia Christmas Spectacular by Thomas Road.  During our Nativity scene, I had to introduce the band of scholars, the wise men, who followed a star until it led them to Jesus.

Turn with me to Matthew 2.  After Jesus was born, the wise men (Magi) were summoned by King Herod to find the child so that he could worship Him (Spoiler alert:  That wasn’t Herod’s intention!)

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

I want to talk about the three gifts here:  Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

Gold – Jesus as King

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,

Gold I bring to crown Him again,

King forever, ceasing never over us all to reign.

Gold is a precious metal and is often used as a status symbol for those in royalty.  It’s dense and very weighty.  The elements of the tabernacle mentioned throughout Exodus and Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 6 has elements created from pure gold or overlaid in gold.

Gold is incredibly valuable, but it’s also very soft.  It can be bent, twisted, and beaten down, but that doesn’t change its identity.

Christ the King lived a life that we couldn’t live.  He experienced good times and bad, joy and sorrow, trials and temptations.  He was beaten down, attacked, and broken, but His identity as the Son of God never changed.  He who knew no sin became sin so that we could become His righteousness.

Here’s the thing.  There is no amount of gold that can even compare to the kingship of Christ.  His kingdom will never end.  His love and justice has the final word.  You can mock Him, claim He doesn’t exist, challenge Him, but He is still God.

Christ is King forever and ever!  Hallelujah!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. — Isaiah 9:6-7

Frankincense – Christ as God

Frankincense to offer have I

Incense owns a Deity nigh.

Prayer and praising all men raising, worship Him, God on high.

Frankincense is a high quality composition.  Some of you burn incense in your homes and it gives off a distinct fragrance.  During Old Testament times, incense was burned daily and nightly as a constant offering to God.  It accompanied sacrifices and was burned by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on the annual Day of Atonement.

Incense represents the prayers and intercessions of people to a spiritual power.  In this case, it’s the saints (Christ followers) to the Almighty Father, with Christ as the mediator.  We offer our incense to God whenever we pray to Him.  Did I mention that prayer is a weapon against the enemy?  When you pray, God is working on your behalf.  He will guide you, protect you, sustain you, but only if you call out to Him.

O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to You!

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! — Psalm 141:1-2

And when [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. — Revelation 5:8

Myrrh – Christ as Sacrifice

Myrrh is mine: It’s bitter perfume

breathes a life of gathering gloom.

Sorry, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

Myrrh served a few purposes.  It was an ingredient in anointing oil, it was also an embalming agent, and a perfume.

Well, if myrrh seems like a good gift, then why is it associated with death per the last verse?

Take a look at Mark 15:23.  This is where Jesus is being crucified.  The sinless Son of God whom the Pharisees demanded His death is being forced to carry the cross to Golgotha (Place of a Skull).  They nail Him to a cross.  The suffering is excruciating.

Look up Roman crucifixion in your spare time.  That’s what Christ went through for you and I.

And they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.

According to Jewish custom, those sentenced to crucifixion were given this mixture of wine and myrrh to deaden the senses, to make the pain more bearable.  Jesus didn’t take it.  He went through hours of pain with the weight of the sins of the world upon Him.  When He died, they laid Him in a tomb, embalmed with spices and myrrh (John 19:39-42).

But that’s not the end of the story.

Three days later, the tomb is empty and Christ has risen in glory!  The Son of God conquering death so that all who would believe would be born again!  He has given us the task of spreading the good news of the Gospel, that He died for us, killing our sin, so that we can live with and for Him in this world and for eternity (Matthew 28:19-20, John 3:16).

The wise men’s gift of myrrh was a prophetic indication that He would be the great Sacrifice, the one who would give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

Wise Men

Glorious now behold Him arise,

King and God and Sacrifice

Alleluia, alleluia!

Earth to heav’n replies

For this Christmas season, remind yourself.  It’s not about Santa Claus, the presents, or the jaded commercialism.  Instead, it’s about one night in Bethlehem that changed the course of history; a prophecy hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the making.

The Baby Jesus, born of a virgin in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

The angels heralding of Christ’s birth to nearby shepherds.

The wise men a time later presenting their gifts to the future King, God, and Sacrifice.

Reflect on that, my friend.  Read the stories for yourselves.  Slow down and appreciate what God has done for you and I on this one particular, holy night.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. — Hebrews 4:14-16

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

Merry Christmas and an awesome New Year!

-Jon Pannell

Disagree?  Let’s talk!