Friday, September 30, 2011

Need Your Help: A Shameless Self Promotion

As a writer, I rarely ask for input from those that read what I have to say.  For me, writing is a way to communicate what I feel, think, believe and am most passionate about.  Writing has been somewhat of a ministry for me and has allowed me to connect with people all over the country and people that I may never have a chance to talk to face to face.  Writing is therapy for me and helps me communicate some of the tough, and sometimes dark issues that I deal with each and every day.  Sometimes I feel like my readers are sitting across from me at our favorite coffee shop and listening to me ramble.  I say this to let you know that you reading my blogs, essays, book chapters, etc. means more to me than you might realize.

From time to time, many of you have sent me emails, commented on a blog or personally told me how something I've written has impacted you in a particular way.  I make it a point to save each and every comment in some way, because your opinions matter to me.  Unfortunately, a lot of these comments are scattered about in cyberspace.  I've tracked down a few, but many are out there somewhere, waiting to be found when I'm not intentionally looking.  Many comments have just been made by you personally, as we've talked on the phone or over a cup of coffee.  I remember specific comments that have encouraged me and reminded me that people enjoy reading what I have to say.  Well, it is with this that I need your help.

I am working with a publisher that is potentially interested in my first book.  One of the areas that they are asking me to expand on is my reading platform.  Basically, they just want to know if I have a basic reader following that can be used as a foundation to begin marketing the book.  Its one thing for me to believe in the potential of my book, but quite another to know that that potential literally exists from others.

What I am asking is for you to just share your thoughts with me.  What have I written that has specifically affected you in a positive way?  Maybe it's just my writing in general that has impacted you in some way or inspired you in terms of your faith.  Would you be willing to send me a comment or an email sharing your thoughts?  (Unsolicited of course!)  If I can compile a file of positive responses to my writing and interest in my book, I can then use this to provide a platform foundation to reveal to this publisher the very real marketability of my book. 

Of course, as always, if you have negative comments, you know I welcome those as well, although I won't be sharing those with the publisher.  However, once the book is released, you'll have every opportunity to let them know what you really think of the "garbage" I write!  :)

Thanks everyone!  You're support means everything to me!

Peace & Blessings!


Friday, September 23, 2011

Capital Punishment & The Kingdom of God

Before reading this blog, please know that I am approaching this topic from a Christian perspective.  I am purposely choosing not to address this as a social issue, and not from our government's perspective on the death penalty.  My thoughts and opinions fall into the realm of the Kingdom of God and what I believe Jesus had in mind for what that Kingdom would look like.  I feel that this approach must be taken because this is an area in which we are not comparing apples to apples when choosing our stance.  If we claim to be followers of Christ, the choice must be made to follow His teachings and His alone.  To be honest, the secular opinion of American society is irrelevant in this situation.         
Over the last few days, there's been a lot of talk about the death penalty.  With the execution of Troy Davis in the state of Georgia, the discussion has crept up again and needless to say, opinions are very strong on this issue.  For the purpose of this blog, I will not get into the details, but in the case of Davis, evidence proves that it is very possible that he was innocent and that at the very least, the execution should have been delayed in order to re-examine the case and determine if these claims were warranted.  In my personal opinion, there is a very good chance that an innocent man was killed.  You can read the details of Troy Davis at your leisure on any of the popular news websites of your choice. 

The reason that I choose not to get into the details of Davis' case is because they are not the real issue of what we are witnessing in this situation.  Putting opinions aside of this specific case, and dismissing the fact that an innocent man may have been killed, it's imperative that we ask ourselves the question, "Should the death penalty be accepted as morally acceptable within the Christian Church?"  Whether a man is 100% innocent, or guilty of the worst atrocities that one can imagine, is it acceptable to thoughtfully consider a person's crimes and offenses by a judge and jury and make the premeditated decision to kill another human being because of the sins they have committed?  Again, I am approaching this from a Christian perspective, believing that the "murder" of another human being is a sin.  Murder in this case being considered a premeditated killing of another person that does not fall into the case of innocent accident, self-defense or government sanctioned war, in which the soldiers are doing their job commanded by the US military.  Although the instance of war could be argued from a Kingdom perspective, I'm not naive enough to believe that war can be avoided.  I am not a pacifist, but I definitely do not celebrate war, nor do I think that it should be encouraged as something good and valued from a Christian perspective.  But I'll leave that issue for another blog.        

At this point, you are probably wondering what my opinion is on the death penalty, so let me cut to the chase.  I am 100% against capital punishment.  As I stated before, I am choosing to look at this issue from a Christian perspective; not socially.  I choose to look at life from God's perspective, thus seeing all life as sacred, regardless of the horrendous acts that many people chose to commit.  Does this mean that the man, Jake Kampe, does not believe that some people are worthy of death?  No.  Does this mean that my human nature would not want to see the death and even suffering of those that kill the innocent, those that molest children and rape woman?  Does my opinion of the death penalty mean that somewhere in the dark recesses of my soul, I would resist pulling the trigger of a gun pointed at the head of someone who killed someone that I love?  My wife or one of my boys?  Let me just say that that is an area that I don't even like to think about.  The "man" is capable of much more outside the realms of God's Kingdom.  Which is why I chose to retreat within His borders.

Yes, there is violent imagery in the Old Testament and the death penalty was condoned by Mosaic Law.  But it's important to consider a few issues before we use these illustrations as a justification for capital punishment in today's society.  First of all, as a good friend of mine reminded me of today, two reputable witnesses had to be presented that both witnessed the crime deserving of death.  How often do we have one solid witness at our disposal during a trial, let alone two?  The death penalty was taken very serious in Old Testament Israel.  Which leads to the second issue: "why" was the death penalty condoned in the first place?

It's important to know what was going on in Old Testament times in terms of the Nation of Israel.  This nation was selected as God's chosen people.  These were the people that would bring God's redemptive message to the world.  These people bore the message that would eventually pave the way for Messiah, redemption and all things being made new.  A great change would eventually happen to the world and the people of Israel were the instruments that God chose to use.  Therefore, it was imperative that God protect His people regardless of the cost.  As with the seemingly ridiculous laws found in Leviticus, the death penalty was another example of the extremes God had to go through to make sure Israel survived, persevered and was protected, even from themselves.

While capital punishment may have been necessary in Old Testament times, with the coming of Christ, He in fact made "all things new".  The world had been redeemed through Him and His eventual death of the cross and His resurrection.  Jesus came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, which He did in completion and perfection on the cross.  The Kingdom of God had been inaugurated and Christ's ministry began a way of looking at the world from a radically different perspective.  The Kingdom of God is about everything that will eventually be realized.  It's not complete, but our job as the Church is to reveal it in as much completion as humanly possible, even if it makes no sense to society.  Standing against the death penalty is one of those instances.

As followers of Christ, we face a constant tension of duality.  What might be acceptable by societies standards, may not be within a Kingdom perspective.  Like I said, I may stand against war with God's Kingdom, but understand that war is an unfortunate reality in our world.  By standing against capital punishment, we are showing the world what Christ stood for in it's essence.  We show the world that we are willing to love our enemies, even when all logical reason tells us otherwise.  It shows the world that we are willing to turn the other cheek, even when our other is bloodied.  It shows the world that we are willing to lay down our sword, even when we are 100% justified in wielding it.  It shows the world a Kingdom that chooses life, not death and that it's continuing cycle will not redeem mankind.

When Jesus was confronted with the woman found guilty of adultery in John 8, he had every right to allow her to be killed.  According to Mosaic law, a woman found guilty of committing adultery could be legally stoned to death.  Jesus could have easily forgiven her of her sins, promised her eternity in paradise and given his approval for the stones to begin flying.  Instead, Jesus asks all of us to examine our own lives, drop our stones and ask a very simple question.  If the wages of sin are death, then why am I still alive?                   

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Center Stage Theologian, and a Fool.

I recently wrote an article on my children's ministry blog, The Emerging Child, about the importance of praying with the children in your life.  As usually is the case, after meditating on the topic for a while, I found that there was an underlying reason that I wrote what came to mind.  Thinking that I was primarily sharing my thoughts for other parents, pastors and teachers, I quickly found that the proverbial finger was being pointed at me.  I saw myself on center stage, called "bullshit" on myself and didn't like what I saw.       

Its funny how our thoughts don't always follow our actions.  We develop great ideas in our minds and can even implement them from an outside perspective, but when it comes to internally carrying out what our minds eye sees, we often fall short.  I wonder why this is.  Why is it so difficult to carry out what we believe and follow through what we hold as true?  I assume it's just part of our fallen nature and that we can be pretty screwed up creatures.  Paul was familiar with this all too well when he wrote, "For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."  (Romans 7:19-20)

We live in a state of constant duality between knowledge and implementation.  In an increasingly relative culture, living what we actually believe becomes more and more difficult.  The tension increases and our strength fails, and this is where the real test comes into play.  Do we really believe what we say and do?  Are the thoughts that run through our minds really issues that we will carry out to the forefront of life, or are they words that fall on deaf ears?  Do we have deaf ears as well?  

Back to my children's blog topic and the idea of praying with kids.  After spending a good deal of time thinking about this, I came to a very sobering conclusion.  If I pray with my boys, or any other kids in my life for that matter, I better be damn sure that I mean what I say and say what I mean.  I better know without a shadow of a doubt that my words are being directed to a holy God, and not just being recited to impress those that listen.  Because guess what?  Kids are natural bullshit detectors.  They can sense insincerity a mile away and know when something isn't real.

Pray with the children in your life.  Don't preform for them.  Or you'll find yourself alone on center stage.

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Reflections - The Kingdom of America or the Kingdom of God?

Yesterday seemed to have a "feel" to it. Every year, on this solemn anniversary, it's as if a cloud descends upon my world, and the events seem to be happening in real time. Similar to Christmas Eve, the day seems to be magically alive, but not with expectation and joy, but with heavy meditation and sadness. The anniversary of 9/11 has always been a very reflective day for me. I always find time to meditate, pray, and talk with others about what we've learned from such a culture-altering event. I remember that Tuesday morning as if it happened yesterday. I remember exactly what I was doing, as I sat at my desk. I remember how the sun looked as it crept through the trees outside my office and through the window. I remember thinking that it looked and felt like Fall, although it was still very hot and humid in typical South Texas style. I remember receiving the first email about the first plane that hit the World Trade Center, and not paying much attention. And I remember the feeling of darkness I felt as I began to realize what was happening when the second plane hit. 

I also have memories that leave me feeling a little empty, saddened and a little angry. Looking back, I remember the "pep rally" atmosphere that seemed to develop almost overnight, including in the Church. Churches of all denominations began pumping their fist, chanting, "USA! USA!, wearing red, white and blue and covering the cross with the flag. When I heard the news of the first attacks on Afghanistan, I spoke to a pastor friend of mine to discuss what was going on. His reaction, "Light 'em up, baby! Light 'em up!" My heart sank, I sheepishly said, "Yeah! Right!", and quickly made an excuse to leave. But I'll admit, part of me was sharing his emotions at that time.

"Light 'em up, baby!" Think about that for a second. Like most people at that time, my friend was excited that America was retaliating. It's somewhat natural to take joy in the vindication of the evil that had been inflicted on so many innocent people. But what he was not considering was that at that very second, people were dying. His first reaction to the bombing of human beings, and what would become the beginning of a long period of war and death, was excitement. Yes, at that time, many of these people were our enemy, but whether we want to admit it or not, innocent children were dying, women were screaming and holding their babies, and men who had nothing to do with their country's politics, were doing their best to protect their families. That's the reality of war. That's the reality of a fallen world.  The same fallen world that saw the death of thousands of innocent Americans.  

Now, don't get me wrong. The events on 9/11 were tragic, and unfortunately, America had to react in some form of retaliation. I'm not advocating pacifism. I feel the same pain and sadness as any American at the loss we suffered.  What I am questioning is our "reaction"; reactions to war as Americans, specifically those of us that call ourselves followers of Christ. The Church. The Body of Christ. Should we react to war as if it is a football game? Should we cheer on the sidelines, hoping that our opponents get their skulls crushed as we rush down the field of enemy territory to victory? Or should our reaction be more solemn? Should we pump our fists in the air, chanting, "USA! USA!", or should our fists be folded in prayer, asking God to protect the innocent and allow peace to return to His kingdom quickly? Should we be so quick to wave the flag before we lift up the cross? Should our reaction be hatred for our enemies, or a nation, or should we consider the words of Jesus Himself who said, "But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (Matthew 5:44)  Those are radical words.  Difficult words.  Ridiculous words.  But that's what Jesus' Kingdom is all about.  Foolishness. 

You see, for Christians of this nation, America is not our kingdom. America did not invent Christianity and Jesus was not from the Heartland. War should not be a sporting event and we should not be so quick to pray for our team to win. Instead, should we not pray for an end to war? Should we not pray for not only the safety and protection of our country, but also the safety and protection of the world? Because whether we want to admit it or not, the entire earth belongs to the Kingdom of God. Americans, Iraqis, and Afghans are all human beings that God created. He wants ALL to be saved, not only Americans. (See 1 Timothy 2:3-7) And guess what? Even terrorists are in need of redemption.

After things settled down on 9/11, I left work and made my way to a prayer meeting at a friends house. I stopped in HEB to grab a drink and an energy bar for lunch. As I walked out, an old woman was walking toward me, weeping hysterically. She could have been my grandmother and I felt tears in my own eyes forming. As I got closer to her, she grabbed my arm and through her sobs, she began to say, "Did you see what they're doing in New York?! Did you see what their doing to us!?" I was in tears at this point and I just nodded my head. Then she said something that sums up my feelings this morning. "Just pray. OK? Please, son. Just pray."

Pray. Just pray.  This is the first year that i can honestly say that I forgive those that attacked our nation.  I can honestly say that I love them; not because of what they've done or haven't done, but because of who they were.  I love them because I see hopeless lives that came to a tragic end leaves behind a legacy of evil.  I'm saddened because I have a glimpse from God's eyes and see people that He wanted to follow Him, but drifted about as far as a human can from the true God.