Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Heroes

Meet Gus, Suzy and the Hermes family. They are my heroes.

Jenny and I have known Gus and Suzy for a number of years now. We served together with them while on staff with the ministry Athletes in Action. Gus and Suzy were at the University of California at Irvine while we were at U.C. Berkeley. Jenny and I have always enjoyed our friendship with Gus and Suzy but it was after we each had our third child that our relationship became especially meaningful.

You probably know Jenny and my story. When our third child, Garrett, was born he had Down syndrome. It was a complete shock and surprise to us. It was also a huge life adjustment as neither of us were prepared to have a child with a developmental disability. Around that same time Gus and Suzy had their child as well. She was a beautiful baby girl called Noelle. Gus and Suzy knew there was something wrong with Noelle when she was born because much of her skin was either missing or falling off. Noelle has a rare genetic skin disorder called Epidermolysis Bullosa, or EB for short. With EB a crucial protein is missing in the skin so that the the two layers of skin (the dermis and epidermis) do not "stick" together. In fact, Noelle probably would have not survived birth if it were not for Susie having a C-section. Gus and Suzy were in complete shock and surprise with Noelle's birth and were at a lost at what life would be like raising her.

Taking care of Noelle requires constant care and attention. A simple fall or scrap of the knee can cause devastating effects because large portions of Noelle's skin can fall off. Gus and Suzy have to carefully "dress" Noelle's wounds constantly--many times a week. Gus and Suzy also have to live with the reality that most people with EB do not live past their 30's. Gus and Suzy have demonstrated tremendous love, courage and perseverance in raising Noelle.

One would think that life could not get more challenging than this, but it did. The unexpected happened...again.

Earlier this year, Gus and Suzy noticed that their older daughter, Brenna, who is 14 years old, started to complain of sore legs. Brenna's discomfort grew so great that Gus and Suzy decided to order a number of medical tests to see what was the problem. The news they received was shocking. They discovered that Brenna had a rare diesese where her body produces too much collagen. The effects of this overproduction of collagen is that Brenna's organs can harden. Unfortunately it's an uncurable diesase that will probably cost Brenna her life.

The Hermes now have two children with disorders that will probably take their lives early. The courage, faith and love that Gus and Suzy have demonstrated throughout their journey have been nothing short of heroic. They have continued to trust and praise God throughout the pain, hardship, and disbelief. They have shown me what it means to trust God, even when we don't understand him.

Having worked in sports ministry for 14 years, I have worked with a many athletes who were "heroes" to the people who watched them. I can tell you that none of those athletes even compare to the courage, strength and resilience that I have seen in Gus and Suzy. They are my heroes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Glenn Beck and the Bible

I know that a lot of Christians enjoy watching the Fox network conservative commentator Glenn Beck.

On his radio talk show in March Glenn Beck expressed some of his views on the Bible. Whenever a political commentator expresses his or her views on the Bible it immediately gets my attention. On this particular radio cast Glenn Beck admonished church-goers to "run as fast as they can" out of their church if they found the words "social justice" or "economic justice" on their church website. He went on to say that if your priest preaches about social justice then you should find another church or turn your priest in to your bishop. (You can find the clip here: ). Beck went on to say that the terms "social justice" and "economic justice" are actually "code words" for Communism and Nazism. (See clip here: )

Social justice is the idea of helping disadvantaged members of society (e.g. "social") to overcome the impediments or barriers that interfere with their gaining equality (e.g. "justice"). Social justice can be something as simple as serving the poor or as complex as enacting laws that don't discriminate against people for their religion. Glenn Beck says that social justice is not in the Bible.

As a pastor I found that assertion, well, to say the least, quite interesting. First of all, I hate it when people run out of my church, especially when I'm preaching (which happens almost weekly). Secondly, it a total downer when I get reported to my bishop. (Fortunately that only happens to me about once a quarter.)

Let's take a look at a few verses from the Bible to see if Glenn Beck is correct, if social justice is not in the Bible and if we should take the measures he is advocating. I'll try to take passages from across the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. Here they are in their unedited form. You can make your own conclusion.

To the nation of Israel,
  • "Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits." -- Exodus 23:6
  • "It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God." -- Leviticus 19:10
  • "Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns." -- Deuteronomy 24:14
Through the prophet Amos,
  • Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land...buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: "I will never forget anything they have done.
In the New Testament, Jesus' first words of his first sermon in the Gospel of Luke are:
  • The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
And to the apostle Paul, in meeting the church leaders of James, Peter and John regarding his missionary efforts...
  • "All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." -- Galatians 2:10
Hmmm? Those seems like social justice to me. In fact, if you were to take out all the passages in the Bible that pertain to social justice, you are pretty much left with the Table of Contents and the Maps section.

Glenn Beck went on to qualify his controversial statements by saying that social justice is only wrong if it comes through the form of "government action." But what Glenn Beck fails to realize is that most of the instructions on social justice in the Bible were written to a specific nation--that nation being Israel--who had their own form of government. In fact, Moses gave specific laws to Israel, like the practice of gleaning and the Year of Jubilee, whose sole purpose was to make their society more just and equitable.

This leads me to my thoughts on Glenn Beck's statements. I think his statements reflect his own political philosophy rather than what the Bible says. I think he has his own view of the role of government and he made the mistake of transposing those views onto the Bible. Unfortunately, it's a mistake that happens often. The important part for us who have come into faith in Christ is to allow the Bible to inform our politics rather than to allow our politics to inform the Bible. As Christians, our final authority is Scripture. I think we all have to learn how to distinguish between our own particular political philosophy and what is actually instructed in the Bible.

Well, that's enough from me. Let me go and check our website to see if we have the words "social justice" on it. Thankfully, if it doesn't, then I may get reported to my bishop after all.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Andy's First Blog Entry

Welcome to my first blog entry! How do you like the Larry King'esque layout? It reminds me a little of game "Light Bright" when I was a kid. For some reason I could never make those intricate animals that they did on the "Light Bright" commercial.

Okay, this is a blog after all so let's get straight to the chase. Here's my commitment to you if you are going to read this blog (and if I am going to write it). I'm going to be totally honest with you. That's right. Like a shot of Jim Beam, I'll come straight with you here. Why is that important? Well, I'm a pastor after all. (That's a joke...well, kind of.) But wouldn't it be cool to read blog from a pastor who was being completely honest? I think so. I mean, what if I really shared what it was like to lead a congregation? What if I really shared my thoughts on the Bible--especially the confusing parts? What if I really shared my thoughts about intersection of religion and public life? I think that'd be a good read. My sense is that if you are going to read a blog about these kinds of things then it should at least be an honest one.

And besides, I think I need to write an honest blog just as much as anyone deserves to read one. As some dead greek dude once said, "Nothing is easier than self-deceit," and I think I'm just as susceptible to self-deceit as the next person. Therefore, I think the more honest I am with you, the more honest I'll be with myself.

What is it that I am going to (honestly) blog about? Well, that's where the "verve" comes in. I'm going to write about the topics for which I get especially excited. (def. "verve" - a lively vigorous spirit.) The topics that are of particular interest to me are faith, culture, church planting, marriage and family life. In case you don't know me, here's the skinny. I'm lead pastor of The Bridge--a new multiracial, inter-generational church. I'm married to my lovely wife Jenny of 10 years. We have 4 children together, one of which has a developmental disability. Therefore, between all this church stuff, all this marriage stuff, all this family stuff, and all this 'life with a child with a disability' stuff, I think there may be an interesting perspective in there somewhere. That's where the "verve" comes in.

Welcome to Andy's Verve.

Okay, hommies. That's enough from me. I'd love to now hear from you!!! Give me your thoughts, feedback, input, push back, etc. Let's chop it up!