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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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.”

——-

*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?

Avenge1JL1

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.

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!)

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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.

To the Student Who Didn’t Finish Strong

I see you.

You’re the one who has the support and prayers from friends and family to finish the semester strong.  You try to crack down, writing one more paper, doing one more presentation, staying up one more hour to study for one more exam.

But something happens.

There’s an issue with family or friends; a death or a falling out.  You become overwhelmed with outside projects.  Work becomes a priority.  You’re beyond stressed.  Depression, illness, and/or anxiety relentlessly consume your soul.  Suddenly, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day for you to complete your needed tasks.

Your assignments start coming in late, then later, until you’re finally not turning them in at all while other projects accumulate.  Life seems to give you beat down after beat down without any signs of letting up.

You almost mentally, physically, and even spiritually check out for the semester, if you hadn’t done so already.

You drop or withdraw from class after class.  Or you try to finish your classes, but end with failing grades.  You thought you were at the finish line, only to find it was further away than you thought.

You couldn’t make it.

It’s difficult.  It’s painful.  I know.  I’ve been there.

And I empathize with you.

Personally, this semester was the worst I had ever been through.  I picked up so many projects and work shifts that I lost focus on my schoolwork.  I only completed one out of my four classes this semester.  I was so stressed out every day that twice I almost physically and mentally shut down.  My assignments and tasks were coming in late until I couldn’t do the assignments.  My spiritual life tanked.  Instead of running toward God, I ran away from Him (conflicting theologies, overthinking Him, thinking I can come to Him whenever I have “free time”).

I see you. And it’s okay.

Maybe you didn’t get to graduate on time.

Maybe you needed to change your major.

Maybe you had a personal crisis.

Friend, it’s all good.

Life has a way of throwing us curveballs, and oftentimes we are unprepared to take the swing.  We strike out time after time.  Sometimes we just want to give up and wonder what is the point.

But here’s the thing, friend.

This game that Life plays has multiple innings.  We don’t know when it will be our last, so we must always be prepared for whatever Life has for us.

Sure, you have been beat down by this semester.  But you get back up.

You may have failed, but you get back up.

Alfred J. Pennyworth said this in Batman Begins after Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows burned down Wayne Manor and Bruce was lamenting over how he tried, but failed, to save Gotham:

Alfred:  Why do we fall, sir?

Bruce:  …

Alfred: So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

You may have felt like a failure this semester or school year.  You may feel like Bruce Wayne in that moment.  But friend, here’s the thing about failure.

You can stay down, completely shut down and have an eternal pity party where no one is invited, or you can get back up, dust yourself off, and jump right back in with a newfound wisdom and passion to continue pursuing your goals.

Failure is NOT your destiny.  Failure shows your humanity and helps you become wiser if you let it.

It’s going to take some time to recover.  Don’t rush the process; take all the time you need.  Who knows how long it may be before you can continue?  But the important thing is that you continue.

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You may seem to be a letdown to your friends and family.  You may seem to be a letdown to God.  Your enemies might gloat and enjoy your pain as they refresh themselves with your tears (I don’t know who does that, honestly).

I’m telling you here:  DON’T. GIVE. UP.

If your friends and family don’t believe in you, guess what?  I believe in you.

I have family and friends who believe in me, who will pray for and support me when I can’t see, hear, or think clearly.  You need a good support system to keep you going through the hard times as well as the good times.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. – Proverbs 17:17

Like the verse above says, you need friends who will love you at your messiest, at your worst, and you need people in your life who will lead you through difficult times, like this.

I want to challenge you with this:  Take some time and reflect on your goals and what went wrong this semester.  Have a friend or group of family and friends to help you out.  Also, take some time off.  Breathe.  Exercise.  Do fun things with people.  Get refreshed, refocus, and jump back in.  May you have someone in your life like Alfred to Bruce:

Bruce:  You still haven’t given up on me?

Alfred:  Never!

Friend, get back up, step back up to the plate, and get ready to hit that next curveball out of the park!  You only have one shot to play in the game of Life; make it a good one.

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

 

– Jon Pannell