I don’t hate you. I just disagree with your position.

For once in my life, I actually decided to think before I spoke.

I’ve let the whole thing slow down to a dull roar before jumping in. The emotions surrounding the gay marriage decision by the Supreme Court in May were running high – and still are in many quarters. Rainbow flags are flying, hashtags are tweeting and the rhetoric is thick. Some are smiling. Some are disheartened. A few don’t care.

Observers who call this a “historic decision,” are accurate. With at least 10,000 years in the books, traditional marriage has been the norm. And this new definition opens our society to a brave, new world of unknown consequences. I won’t add to the debate, but let me address one particular repugnant and pervasive response I’ve seen the last few days.

“The haters have lost. #LoveWins.”

Hater?

It snuck up on me, but now it seems that any opposition to an idea or principle, regardless of the argument is deemed “hateful.” This modern use of the word “hate” is ruinous – and shouldn’t be used with such disregard. It’s Orwellian. It’s oppressive. It’s dangerous.

You might use this term as a label for others today, but what happens when the day comes and it’s used against you?

May I have the freedom, the respect to disagree with the decision? May I have the ability to disagree with an action? May I have the liberty to disagree with conclusions? May I stand with an opinion without being called a “hater?”

Afraid to speak up

I have been surrounded by a number of people throughout my life that do not regard homosexual behavior as the normative. But this isn’t a single issue. To them, it’s not the worst thing in life. It’s not the most vile. It’s not the great evil. We have plenty of human behavior in our own ranks to fix. I have never heard or seen a peer, family, or friend “hate the gay.”  I don’t speak for everyone, but it’s not a rampant emotion.

Fred Phelps and his family are not Christians — they do not speak for us.

To the contrary, I’ve seen a great deal love. My church – a fairly large and substantial Evangelical church – had a message from the pulpit that invited every gay man or woman to attend, to stay and to be in fellowship. I’ve had good friends, who happened to be gay, that never felt this supposed hate from me, even though they knew my stand.

So many of us are afraid to speak, to have an opinion or a discussion for fear of being labeled a hater.

Is it possible to disagree with you without hating you?  Is it possible to use logic and reason and discussion without being throw into the hate-pile to be burned?

Both sides of the aisle use this language. Christians who feel slighted are using the “Don’t hate me bro” defense. I’ve heard people accuse others of hating Hobby Lobby – or Chik Fil A, because they oppose their stands on issues.

Can we stop the hate talk?

Taking a position on policy, or lifestyle, or decisions doesn’t mean that I am coming after your character. It’s quite probable that I can disagree with you and still like you  — even love you. Reasonable humans can do this.

If I think that a country should be able to define and enforce its border, it doesn’t mean I hate immigrants. If I think God defines marriage and not a court, I don’t hate same sex couples. If I think schools shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the concept of God in history, doesn’t mean I hate atheists. Candidates don’t hate children, old people, or women.

When the Bible tells me to love, it’s a matter of the heart and the soul.  It doesn’t mean that I need to make excuses for behavior or overlook a fallen nature. I love their person, their being regardless of how they act. We love because by doing so it might help them into a right relationship with God.

You see, it’s the world that has the concept of love and hate all messed up, not the church.

When the woman was ready to be stoned, Jesus by his persuasive logic of love caused the accusers to melt away. Out of compassion, out of love, he saved her life. But then he said, “Go and sin no more.”  He didn’t hate her, but he still told her change her ways. His love changed the conversation, and so can ours.

You want tolerance. You want acceptance. Start with me. Start with my friends. Respect that we will disagree on certain things without calling us names, without labeling us as hateful.

I know there are some — and you may be quick to point them out — that have blurred the lines between disagreement and hate. Yup. They are there. But they are not me. They are not my Lord.

This quote by Rick Warren just about sums it up:

 “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

 

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Looking at race — Through their eyes

Unsettled.

There it is again.

This has been happening plenty lately as I’ve gone to the Middle East, marched with Ethiopians and now this.

It’s just three days after the horrific shooting in a church in Charleston. Nine people, open bibles, heads bowed, seeking God. They should have been safe. They shouldn’t have to worry about murder and death.  Mothers. Fathers. Sisters. And a pastor…gone, snuffed out by a man bent on starting a war between the races What he didn’t know is that he actually might have ignited a campaign of love. 

What he intended for evil, God will use for good.

We sat outside the Denver Shorter African Methodist Episcopal Church. Not a single part of the long name resonated with my being or background, except “Church”.

“What are we doing here?” Yet God told me to do this…

I was first moved after I heard the love and forgiveness given by the family of those who were killed on Friday. Did you see that? I forgive you, my family forgives you,” said Anthony Thompson. “We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. … Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.” What manner of love is this?

The families aren’t demanding riots or protests or violence. They are calling for repentance for Dylan. They are calling for repentance for a nation. Are we listening?

And then I heard Glenn Beck who went to Charleston just to pray and show love. He said this “Something has begun and it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with LOVE.” An MSNBC anchor heard those prayers and the songs and got choked up, and even said “amen” on the air. Two sides, completely opposite, moved by something greater.

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Going there

So what is a middle-aged white guy in Denver supposed to do? I can’t fix the bigger problems in society. But I’ve been prompted by friend and editor Deidra Riggs to “go there” when it comes to race and building relationships. And Iranian Christian ‎Helen Abdali Soosan Fagan has been encouraging me to go outside of myself.  I had to go there. Maybe not Charleston, but to the AME church in Denver, whose pastor was personal friends with the slain Charleston pastor.

Admittedly, we wondered how we would be received. After all, it was a white man who sat in the middle of  prayer service that killed the Charleston nine. We bowed and prayed before we went in — not knowing if we would be intruding. There were politicians there … and media. “Please God, not a sideshow, please.” But from the moment we walked in, we were loved. We were welcomed and received with warmth. It was great to sit near my new friend, Patricia Rayon. But even if she wasn’t there, we would have felt at home.

The sermon was out of Job, and the passage focused on the words, “the Lord restores.” Job lost everything, and yet God restored Job with all that…and more.

“We might endure for a night, but job comes in the morning. God will restore. God will make a way. God will show up.”

Pastor Timothy Tyler preached with passion. He was forceful. He was emotional. And he had every right to be. He lost his friend for no reason, except to evil. “I was mad a God. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t talk to Him. But people who are mad at God have great faith, because you can’t be mad at someone you don’t believe in.”

He also spoke out against the rush to forgive. “First, we must grieve.”

And grieve they did …and we cried with them.

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I’m pretty sheltered. I’ve never suffered like so many others. I’ve always been employed. I’ve never been unjustly arrested. I’ve never been at the end of a racist joke or been pulled over just for looking a certain way.

But my lack of experience in your world doesn’t disqualify me from caring.

Friends, you are not alone.

Reflections on Charleston: The one question without an answer

It used to be the two safest places in our society were our schools and our churches.But those havens of rest are now targets for those who wish to destroy.

A prayer meeting at a black church in Charleston was the scene of a shooter’s rage earlier this week.

Within minutes, people were looking for motives. We always want to know “Why?” It’s our first reaction when we hear about a child dying, or a couple divorcing, or a neighborhood flooded. “Why?” is the soul looking of reason in an unreasonable world, searching for order in disorder, seeking hope in despair.

I don’t know why and neither do you.

Sure he was white and the worshipers were black. And he’s from the south. And he probably drove a pickup. “Conclusive proof” some will say.He could have been an anarchist. Or an atheist. Or mentally disturbed. He might have been a conservative or a liberal.

Even if you fill in any of those holes with labels, you really won’t be able to answer the question, “Why?”

And some are blaming the gun. “If only we had gun control, this wouldn’t have happened.” We have laws outlawing drugs, and yet we still have the scourge. There are laws against child pornography, and yet every day a child is violated. There are thousands of laws on the books, but they do not stop the law breaker.

Take away the gun but you still will be left with the hanging question, “Why?”

whyEvil doesn’t always have a root cause. It just is. We’ll pour through his social media, his video rentals, the books on his shelf, and his television favorites, looking for clues.  The world is spinning on its own, with chaos and disorder pushing at the boundaries of good and righteous. And we push back, kicking at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

We stand arm in arm with those who are hurt, losing loved ones and friends. And we stand with those who weren’t directly impacted, but feel targeted because of their race or their religion.

Don’t be afraid. Every time fear and doubt creep into my life; I shake it out like a dirty rug. I stand firm, “because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” 1 Tim 1. 12. 

He is really the only answer to the question.

Pick your person: Can you really self-identify a different reality?

As an adolescent boy I remember watching the Olympics for the first time on our small television with the rabbit ears that had to be pointed in-just-the-right-direction. Winning medal after medal,  my hero was a man’s man.

Now, he says he no longer wants to identify with his physical makeup. He “self-identifies” as a woman.

And yesterday I read of a woman who is “self identifying” as a different race in order to obtain jobs and standing as a minority.

These two are personifying a greater trend. We are living in a time when fantasy is the new reality.  We are allowing people to deny science, fact, and  truth and simply accept and identify with whatever they’ve created.

My own reality

I’m sorry, but there are some things we cannot self-identify. You are what you are. I am what I am.

I cannot self identify to be a 12 year-old boy, just so I can get a discount at the movie theater. I cannot self-identify to be handicapped so I get a close-in parking spot. I cannot self identify as Royalty and live in the Queen’s palace.

I have to deal with my reality.

There are some things about my physical appearance I wish I could change. I dislike the 20 pounds I seem to have carried my whole life. My chin is sharp and my eyes are narrow. I cannot self identify as a Tom Cruise.

I am also a cheater, a liar, a self-promoter, and a manipulator, having taken on those roles and sins at one point or another in my life. For extended periods of my life, I’ve been a bad friend, husband, father, brother, and son. I cannot self-identify as a spotless man.

Here’s a way out

But there’s a way I can slip out of this reality and take on another identity:
Colossians 1. 21-22 says this:

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

I’m not stuck with all the labels that others have draped over my head. I’m a realist, but I have found tremendous freedom in this Christ-identity.

I feel sorry for these people and every other person who loathes themselves so much that they feel the need to create an alternate personhood. But there are deeper things going on, things that have need a Savior’s hand.

I want to tell them there is an out, a way to change who they they think they are.

Let it go.

That’s it.

Let it go.

Take on Jesus and let him create a new you.  Holy. Blameless. Perfect.

Is it possible that persecution will actually save the church?

We read the reports and hear the news. The church’s influence is waning. The tide of culture is crashing, sweeping our morals, our structure,  and our ability to have impact in the world. No longer dominant, no longer in control, Christians are shrinking to minority positions.

And in that vacuum, the opposition is coming in. We see it in our culture, with laws and regulations that run counter to our beliefs. We see the state take the minds of the children away from their “fundamentalist” children and school them in the proper secularist society.

And true persecution marches on through many places in our world with beheadings, rapes, and enslavement of Christians for their faith.

Despite the bad news, I think these days may one day be viewed with reverence. This could be the dawn of a great awakening. It happened once in the town of Kerak Jordan…

Every Christian family was removed

We drove through this town with cement homes and broad smiling faces. Occupied since the 9th century B.C,  Kerak  is a town known for its towering Crusader castle, one of the largest still standing. It stands as an ominous sign of the back-and-forth struggle between Muslims and Christians going back generations.

Our group of writers were invited to interview the local Catholic priest. “But only for 20 minutes, because I have a wedding to perform.”

We were uncomfortable with the imposition, but he insisted not only that we talk to him, but we also stay for the wedding. It was amazing. Full of joyous celebration and  women throwing ulalations,  I didn’t understand a word of the service, but I understood the meaning and implication. Two Christians — joining under God. Continuing their faith in marriage.

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The town of Kerak has about 65,000 residents and many of them are Christians, one of the highest percentages in Jordan.  But the in the middle 1800’s the town had an interesting upheaval.

It was the days of the old Ottoman Empire and the tribe that comprised the Christian minority was in the middle of a struggle. Many lives were lost until the prevailing government authority stepped in and removed the 90 Christian families for their own safety. A few sympathetic Muslim families went with them.

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90 Christian Familes were forceably removed

They were given choices: Go to Syria. Or they could have boarded a boat and been relocated to South America. But they chose to stay in their own country and were moved to Madaba, an ancient Moabite town.  It was sacked by the Persians in 615, and the earthquake of 747 completed its ruin. It stood abandoned for more than 1000 years until these Christian families settled here. It was they, in the process of rebuilding, who began to find hundreds of rich mosaics buried under the rubble.

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A Mosaic in Madaba

The ancient Babylonians used the multi-colored rock quarries to produce mosaics and tiled art in nearly every corner of the city. The new Christian settlers were encouraged to discover – and preserve these mosaics.  People have been uncovering mosaics in the most unlikely of locations. Today, it’s nothing to refinish a floor in a home and during the excavation to find an ancient mosaic floor.  And it’s a heritage they are proud of and protect.Now known as the Mosiac City, the town has prospered in tourism, commerce, and peace.

There is an ancient map, dating from the 6th century, which maps out the entire known Middle East. With two million pieces of colored stone, it’s a tremendous finding.  I stood over it, amazed at the rich depth of a map that didn’t use satellite technology, rather the tales of travelers and carefully measured landmarks.

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The magnificent floor map in Madaba St. George church

Can we prosper despite persecution?

I’m sure that persecution in the middle 18th century was in no way soft or a little threatening. It came at the edge of an angry sword or a wild-eyed enemy. And for those that escaped death, their fate was forced relocation. To some, to be uprooted from your home and sent to a place that is not yours was a punishment more painful than the dagger.

But in a strange way, God was at work in the middle of this tumult. These families moved and yet they still prospered. And this new town of Madaba has some farm land and it had some rocks. ”We could make something here!” 150 years later, I was able to see a town that had made it. And I’ve met a number of people who claim a heritage to this town who are impacting the world.

All of this is because of a painful time and a literal uprooting.

What about the wandering Jew?

I think about the Jews – persecuted as no other religious group. In every culture, in every land they have been minimized, persecuted, and marginalized. But they stick to their ways, trust their God, and cling to their families. And they not only survive, but thrive.

And we love to cherry-pick promises about faith and love and children. But how about this one?

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you… If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you… because they do not know Him who sent Me.”

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Pray for the persecuted church

I’m not sure if this is any comfort to those who are on the run from ISIS persecution in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Nigeria. I’m not sure the father who leads his family across the desert at night is thinking about influence 150 years away. But persecution has a way of making us prioritize what is important in our lives.

I know that “a shaking” is going on. This present terror in the Middle East will not stop there. It will come to our own land, and maybe your backyard.

How deep is your faith?  And what would you give up to keep it?

Video, “My Jordan Journey”

Last month took part in a writer’s tour of Jordan. I met some amazing people and experienced a trip that changed my life. Safe, interesting and expansive to the soul and the mind, it’s “The Other Holy Land” in my opinion.

While I was over there, a group of four of us were part of a short, four-minute video where we reflected on our pilgrimage.

This was shot in the middle of a Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum desert. I wanted to spend the night in the tent…but the group had other plans.

Crazy, but there’s been more than 55,000 views of this in just a month. So, I guess it’s time to share.

In case you don’t know, I’m the guy with head wrap on the right!

Journey to Jordan from N. Connor Eberhart on Vimeo.

Calling Evil Out: One Man’s Stand

I never meant to be in a fight, let alone one played out across the world. But this one has crossed the ocean, jumped the divide, and struck a chord right in the heartland of America, the heartland of my very soul.

I wanted to spend the rest of my days writing about thoughtful pursuits, faith, and hope. I wanted to be a man of peace that would age gracefully, allowing the gray hair to take over my head one hair at a time. I wanted to fade away and not burn out.

But what has happened to me over the last two months cannot be overlooked. By providence, by divine selection, by forces way out of my control, I am now fully engaged in a world I never imagined.

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I’ve read the headlines, just like you. I’ve turned my head when I’ve seen the men kneeling on the shores of Tripoli, declaring their faith even as the life was drained from their neck. I’ve hashtagged and prayed for the hundreds of innocent Nigerian girls snatched from their school, pretending they were in a good place, hiding in the forest. I’ve chalked the fighting up to civil war or politics gone astray.

Consumed with work, and summer vacation plans, and a car with an overdue oil change, I went about my life. After all, it wasn’t my fight.

But in these last two months, I’ve been ushered into  this modern-day stand for righteousness. I’ve been to Jordan and interviewed dozens of ordinary citizens, as well as senior government officials and underground church workers. I’ve stood with Ethiopians who are crying out for justice, for someone to care. I’ve befriended a woman whose daughter is a Muslim convert and they a working toward peace. I’ve met good, decent Muslims who abhor what’s happening. In the past few weeks I’ve met with Middle Easterners – both Muslim and Christian – who tremble.

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I’ve taken it all in – wondering, waiting on God. What does it all mean? Why now? Why me? I’ve finding that my presuppositions and presumptions have fallen. My mind is changing. And the words are coming.

This fight is against evil. And I’m now a soldier.

Here’s the truth. Don’t look away. ISIS-ISIL-Daesch is rolling through countries like Iraq and Syria, but also Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tunisia. They find villages that are predominately Christian or Shia Muslim. They overrun the local populace and often behead the men. They take the women as sex prizes, and then capture the children – boys and girls – to be sold as slaves. This is not crazy-eyed fundamentalist talk. This is real.

Our government wants us to believe the battle of the day is against climate change, or police power, or those who make too much money. I cannot utter one more word about such things when the rest of the world is gripped by fear.

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For the men who are reading, I want to appeal to you right now. Are we content to rely on politics, for the UN or some other power to make a change? Will we stand for the females who are suffering here? These are our women in the family of humanity and this is our call.  Is your passion college football, the latest smartphone, your workout routine? Really? Is that you are called to do?

My hat is off to the good women who are engaged in the fight, using the power of the pen and that should make us men sit up – even stand up! Ann Voskamp, who peered into the eyes of eight-year old Iraqi girls, just barely spared by from sex traffickers, and has rocked the world with her revelations. Jennifer Dukes Lee has rallied her women of courage. And now it’s time for us.

What about the Muslim question?

I think far too many of us are afraid to say something because of the Muslim question. In this society we don’t speak truth because we will be called intolerant or judgmental, so we mumble nonsense.

We don’t want to talk about this issue because the barbarians claim to be the true Islamics, hoping to restore purity to their faith by fear. It’s true — they claim to be Muslims, but do Muslims themselves embrace them?

Simply because they call on Allah doesn’t mean they represent an entire faith group. Wiping the earth with blood doesn’t splatter every person who worships under a crescent on the roof. Like many others before them, they are using their religion as a rallying cry.

I hate it when people think Christians are judgmental, or ignorant, or divisive because of the acts of a few. As a group, we turn away snake handlers, Fred Phelps and those who kill unbelievers.

I think there’s a middle road. 

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I’ve had conversations with more than 100 Muslims in the last month, and not one of them has agreed with this savagery. They don’t secretly cheer the traffickers, the rapists, the murderers. Sure, you can pull proof texts out of their Koran, even as we have our own texts from Scriptures that are terrible to read on their own. You can cite polls about those who believe in the extremes of Sharia Law or honor killings or any other radical element.  But by and large, Muslims are afraid of these people too. 

To be honest, I believe much of the world has ignored this issue because Christians have often been the targets. When a cartoonist was killed, the world was aghast that free speech would be stymied. But when thousands of Christian women are passed around as sex objects, we collectively yawn.

So let’s for a second set aside the religion of the attackers and the attacked and start to talk honestly.

Calling evil by its name

If you are a atheist or an unbeliever, you shouldn’t clap because Christians are “getting their due” (someone sent me an e-mail with this gem) Yes, we had our Crusades a millennium ago. Yes, we have used the cross inappropriately at times. But can you set that aside, and can I speak to your heart? These are crimes against humans. We need you to stand.

If you are a Muslim, you are welcome to this battle, shoulder to shoulder with all us, without fear of retribution or being called a sell-out. This is no time to review a thousands years of division. We need your voice.

If you are a Christian, you shouldn’t broad-brush an entire religion for the sins of a few (We hate that, don’t we, when fools blow up abortion clinics or protest funerals or say stupid things in the name of Jesus.) Yes, you are offended and threatened by the cries of this army. But we need you to take a stand, even it’s  side by side with a Muslim if that’s what it takes.

Once we get past the rhetoric , then perhaps we will have the will and wisdom to do the right thing. But it begins with all of us to call this thing evil.

So here is my stand and if I have to stand alone, then so be it..

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The day I died in the Dead Sea

For three glorious days last month I was on the shores of the Dead Sea. At more than 1,400 below sea level, it’s the lowest spot on earth. I wrote on Facebook, “Today, I’m at the lowest point of my life,” stealing a line from  Benjamin Corley in our group. I couldn’t believe how quickly the interventions came in on my while and then I realized that I had forgotten to post a very important photo that would give a little context.

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Thank you all for caring!

Ben and I took some of the mud collected from the shores and smeared it on ourselves. The $200 mud treatments charged by spas around world can be had with a scoop of the hand here. It seemed silly to do this – and definitely challenged my predetermined sense of manliness. I let it bake on while facing the burning sun, and I could feel the salt lifting the oils from my skin. When I washed it off, I almost felt radiant. (What have I become!  Save me Tim Tebow!) Don’t count on any future updates from me on facial mud masks.

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But the real experience was to float in the waters of the Dead Sea. With a 34 percent salinity, it’s one of the world’s saltiest bodies. It’s 9 times saltier than the ocean. Nothing lives in these waters – no fish, no plant life. Not even bacteria (Except here)

I entered the waters with my muddy body and before I could even begin to ease into the water, my feet began to rise. Similar to a gravity effect, my body began to float. I tried a few strokes from my side or on my back, the traditional trajectory and movements of my body were thwarted by the water which actually pushed harder against my efforts.DeadSeaFloat

I tried turning to my front, but the water flipped me over like a bathtub toy. The ballast must be in my front side (too much falafel, hummus and pita!) I was a human cork, bobbing, floating. I yelled to my pal across the water, “Help me, I can’t drown.”

And it was true. It is impossible to die of drowning in these waters.

I tried different strokes taught to me by Mrs. Jacobs when I was nine. Side stroke. Frog push. Forward stroke. Nothing worked. It was useless.

The only enjoyment I had was when I laid back in the water and let go. I released my efforts and lay prone on my back – and let go. I had to trust the water that I had grown to fear all my life. 

I could look off one shoulder and see the Golan Heights of Israel. On the other I could see the Jordanian resorts. Straight up I could see the sky. I closed my eyes to the quiet and bobbed with the gentle waves, not a care in the world.

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The Dead Sea is a unique spot. One of the lowest spots in the world, the Jordan River dumps fresh, vibrant water into its depths. And there, everything living thing is choked out by the salt. The sea has one inlet, and no outlets. There are relationships like this, and homes, and churches. There are people who take, and never give.  There is no lower place a human can sink…no lower place on earth for them to reside.

One of the strange anomalies of the man who preached on these shores 2,000 years ago is that he spoke in upside language. The poor will be rich. The weak will become strong. The first will be last. Like reading a book while standing on your head looking through a mirror, everything is upside down, or is it backward – and yet the meaning is simple and true.

Like the time he said.He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”

I never quite understood these words fully, until this day. The day I could do nothing but float, and trust. The day I died in the Dead Sea.

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I spent the evening, deep in thought. The sun set across the mysterious waters. My skin, refreshingly vibrant. My soul, ready for the next act of surrender.

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The Dead Sea, photo by David Rupert

 

Unsettled: Face to face with families of the martyred

I was a white face in a sea of dark faces, many with tears streaming. They were crying for the slain, for the raped, for the pillaged, for the imprisoned. They weren’t distant peace-nics or sympathetic Africans. They weren’t there out of some guilt. They were living this tragedy. It seemed everyone there knew someone affected. I met a cousin, and an uncle, and a friend — all who have had a loved one impacted.

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Ethiopia. I can’t even find it on a map. I can’t tell you a single thing about the country except they had a terrible drought two decades ago. Or was it three? What am I doing here? All I know is that an Invisible Hand nudged me to the Colorado Capitol where hundreds gathered — representing a local Ethiopian community of 30,000 — to cry, to ask for support, to offer prayers.

I am with you. 

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The World is Silent

It didn’t take long to hear the plight of the speakers. In France, a vile cartoonist was gunned down by ISIS and hashtags sprang up, advocates for free speech sounded the alarm,  and the world rightly was aghast. But 30 poor Ethiopians, looking for work, are taken hostage — and either gunned down or beheaded. 80 more are currently imprisoned. And the world is silent.

Not now. Not here. Not me. 

The Ethiopian martyrs were given the opportunity to renounce their faith. They did not and they paid the ultimate price. A Muslim man, Jamaal Raham who was a friend to one of the Ethiopian Christians, stood with his friend in solidarity — and lost his life too. Jamal offers a beautiful glimpse into what the world should do. 

There is a growing problem across the globe with Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. Many of the details are shocking and I’ll save many of those for another post. But what we need to do now is to pray for the church and stand with them in whatever way possible.

I had one man tell me online that “Christians deserve this … that they brought it on themselves because of the way they are so hateful.” I was shocked. Regardless of the cross that hangs around their neck; Regardless of the color of their skin; Regardless of the continent they live, these are humans who are being brutalized. And as fellow citizens of this world — black, white, Atheist, Jew — we should be outraged.

Can we get past “jihad”  and talk about humans?

I believe that many are afraid to speak up for the martyrs because they are being killed by those who are doing so under the guise of a faith in Allah. And we are afraid to be called “Muslim haters” or “racists” or intolerant. I understand. Language can spell the end of a reputation and we are all so guarded.

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While it is true that ISIS crawls under the protection of a faith to perpetrate their hate, we cannot succumb to the temptation of condemning an entire people for the sin of a few. We bristle when others paint our faith because of a few crazies. And the fact remains that I have met so many Muslims over the last two weeks and not one of them is in agreement with what is happening. I do not believe for a moment that this is mainstream Islamic faith. So let’s just set aside the religion question and simply stand with our fellow brothers and sisters. 

“We must do what Jesus asked us to do — and that is love our enemies, regardless of what some are doing to us.”

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“We must love our enemies”

“It’s beyond Christianity. It’s an attack on humanity.” I interviewed a man named Jehesal at the rally who spoke with great passion. “We must do what Jesus asked us to do — and that is love our enemies, regardless of what some are doing to us.”

I asked, “Are you here out of revenge?”

“Absolutely not,” said Jehesel. “We are not here for revenge. If we seek revenge, we are against Jesus message.”

One woman I spoke to simply told me that her only response is to pray for her enemies. “I pray every day, because that’s what God wants me to do.”

So, here I am. My neck red from years of misunderstanding. But now I’m ready to stand up for my brothers and sisters, to extend love to the enemy, and to pray for peace. I’ll do it alone, or you can can you stand with me. It does not matter.

Tour guides for faith

I am writing these words from the shores of the Dead Sea where I am closing out an amazing 10-day trek across Jordan with a dozen other faith writers. For some of us, we hoped to gain some inspiration. A few were here to see the sights. Others were looking for a pilgrimage, a way to connect with the roots of their faith.

It’s an amazing place to do it all. While Israel has places associated with Christ’s birth and final days, Jordan boasts so many biblical ties it’s called The Other Holy Land. In just a few days you can see Mt. Nebo, where Moses gazed into the promised land and was later buried, the hillside where Jesus cast the demons into the swine, the baptismal site of Jesus by John the Baptist, and the Herodian castle that later served as the place where the prophet’s head was served as a gift to Siloam’s mother.

And that doesn’t count the fabulous Wadi Rum desert, full of Bedouin charm, Petra, the necropolis city, and the Dead Sea.

Our visit could have been a typical tourist venture. You know the kind. The driver pulls up to the site and all the people pile out of the bus camera’s in hand. They point and shoot, ooh and awe, take a few selfies, and then pile back in.

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But Raed Haddad hasn’t let us get away with this kind of trek. “Now you’ll see some stones here, but before that was a magnificent city that Jesus entered. He was preaching, teaching, and healing. But most of all, he was moving the people’s hearts. It all started in the Old Testament…”

Raed has been a tour guide for 21 years and he’s a natural. He has a heart for his country and loves his people. “This is the birthplace of faith,” he reminds us. “The Holy Land wasn’t defined by nation’s boundaries as much as it was by tribes.”

But what comes out in every conversation is his heart for his faith.

“I cannot separate my faith from what I do,” he admits. “If God is true, He must be in and about everything. That includes my work.”

Paying the price

The country has both a spoken and unspoken tolerance and even acceptance of minority faith groups. Christians are guaranteed a certain number of Parliamentary positions and Christian heritage sites are particularly guarded with pride. It’s a completely safe place for the Christian tourist and resident.

But let’s be honest. Jordan is a predominately Muslim country. The government claims 3-5 percent of the population is Christian, although those on the ground claim a much lower figure. Regardless, those profess Jesus are a decided minority.

So being a Christian here isn’t easy. Speaking boldly about your faith is a great challenge. “Standing up for my faith has cost me friends,” said Raed. “Some of my friend will want me to lie or deceive on their behalf. I won’t do it. I’ve lost friends, but God has gained me respect in return.”

He has lost work too. Raed has been dropped by some tour companies because of his emphasis on faith. “How can you show people the land of the Bible and just talk about geography? They ask me to tone down my love for the Bible and for God and I won’t do it. I can’t.”

How does he get through it? “Don’t be distracted. Don’t be hurt,” he implores. “If you focus on your wound, it will never heal. Even when people shut the door in your face, he’ll open many others.”

We are all tour guides

As believers in this world, it’s our job to show others God’s wonders and truths. People drive right past the amazing things of God every day – missing out on the eternity for the sake of the temporal. Like lonely scenic overlooks, the freeways are full of people who don’t know where they are going, but are making great time.

Am I a tour guide for my faith?

One thing we can be sure of – if we do it right, we will be despised and detested for His name’s sake. That’s a promise. Many of our brothers and sisters across the globe are paying the ultimate sacrifice.

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Share Your Story

This week I helping editors at the High Calling share stories about those who on the Firing Line for faith. Have you been challenged and oppressed for your faith? Or have you stopped just short, uncertain of the results. What holds you back?

If you have your own story to share, leave a note below. If you have a blog and write about it, jump on over to the High Calling and link up for others to see.

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Want to go to Jordan? Contact Ra’ed and he will guide you on what to do next. You will NOT be disappointed. It’s safe. It’s secure. It will change your life.