Aliens, Foreigners and Exiles

Those of us who call ourselves Christians need to remember where our allegiance lies.  As much we we like to think of our particular location in a particular country as home, it really isn't.  Especially during this season when our own nationality and our responsibility as citizens are intensified, we need to view ourselves correctly--as foreign citizens, or "resident aliens."  

To draw upon an analogy from the Old Testament--and I'm going to use several in this piece--we are rather like Abraham, who was called by God to leave his home and go to another country that God would give him as his inheritance.  "He went without knowing where he was going," the writer of Hebrews recalled.  "And even when he reached the land God had promised him, he lived there by faith--for he was like a foreigner, living in tents" (Hebrews 11:8-9).

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Time to Teach Morality Again

Call me old fashioned, but I think it's time to start teaching morality again.  You know, like they did in the old days, only without the use of certain devices designed to elicit compliance, such as the rack, chastity belts, and wooden spanking paddles like the one my junior high gym teacher, Mr. Creel, used to carry around like a trophy.

The reason I'm floating this idea isn't because of the really nasty immoral stuff we continually see all around us, stuff perpetrated by rapists, murderers, and Reality TV producers.  Although these folks seem to grab an inordinate share of attention, both from the media and our criminal courts, they represent maybe three percent of the population, and with rare exception they are probably unredeemable. 

No, I'm thinking of a much larger percentage of people, decent folks who really would like to make good moral choices, but for the lack of some quality instruction, they sometimes have trouble distinguishing right from wrong and think nothing of the negative consequences of their actions.

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Perfect Storm...Perfect Peace

PART ONE: PERFECT STORM

In case you haven't noticed, it's kind of rough out there. Depending on what state you are in--and I mean that in an emotional sense as well as a geographic one--at this very moment you could be in a state of total shock, confusion and dismay over these three events that occurred in America within a span of just 48 hours:

  • the devastation left by Hurricane Ike in the Southwest;
  • the bankruptcy of Lehman Bros. in the Northeast, leading to an immediate layoff of 25,000 workers and the near-meltdown of the U.S. economy; or
  • the horrific train collision in Southern California that left 25 dead and hundreds injured.
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The Way Heroes Are Made

Everybody dreams of being a hero. Like most guys, when I was growing up I used to dream about delivering the game-winning home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, or completing a hail-Mary pass in the fourth quarter as time expires to win the championship. I never had the opportunity (okay, I never had the talent) to experience such heroism, so I mostly live out my sports fantasies through real athletes, and each time I witness a last-minute hit/shot/pass/run/kick that wins the game or championship or whatever, I get goose bumps, and whoever comes through in the clutch becomes my new hero: Dwight Clark and "The Catch" in the 1982 NFC Championship, Kirk Gibson and his improbable home run in the 1988 World Series, David Tyree and The Miracle Catch in the Super Bowl earlier this year.

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Shake, Rattle and Roll

There are a lot of great reasons to live in Southern California. There's the weather, the beach, Disneyland. What's not to love? Well, for one, those unsettling earthquakes we get every once in a while. And we just had one. Not a big one (certainly not the Big One), but enough of a quake to get your eyes wide open and your mind racing.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake we had just before noon on Tuesday was somewhere between 5.4 and 5.6 on the good old Richter Scale, and the epicenter was about 40 miles from the Conversantlife.com office. (Okay, so our location didn't factor into the reporting, but I thougfht you would want to know, seeing as how you are concerned for our well being and all.)

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I'm Okay With Being a Loser

I've never felt this way before. I feel like an outsider, an anomaly, a weirdo, a putz. I've never felt this way before except maybe in the fourth grade when I got cut from a Little League team. What a loser. That's how I feel now.

And I'm okay with it.

I guess I should have seen this coming. Some really smart and successful people have been calling me a loser for a number of years now. Ted Turner started it, and now Bill Mahr, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have jumped on the bandwagon. Even Bill Gates, the king of philanthropy, once said that church is for losers.

Okay, so it's not like these titans of business, entertainment, and science have personally contacted me just to say, "HEY LOSER!" But they've said as much to the kind of people I identify with--people whose beliefs about reality and way things work in the world are centered in the Bible and the person of Christ. I never really let it bother me, figuring that people who are on TV (or who own a TV network) or who write bestselling books for run big companies are entitled to call other people losers. That's fine. I still know plenty of people who hold beliefs similar to mine, so I'm comfortable. If we're all losers, so be it. At least we're in the majority, even if we aren't rich and famous.

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Of Salmon and Plastic Water Bottles

So I'm walking through Trader Joe's in Huntington Beach with my favorite uncle, who happens to work at a Trader Joe's in Chicago. He's retired from teaching and decided to work a few hours a week at a place he really loves. If you aren't familiar wtih Trader Joe's, it's as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a grocery store. There are 300 hundred of them, mostly in the West and East Coasts, yet each one feels like a neighborhood Mom and Pop shop filled with uniquely branded food, funky signs, and friendly staff members who seem to actually enjoy their jobs. And then there are the customers, who for the most part appear to be college-educated-Birkenstock-wearing-eat-healthy-care-for-the-planet kind of people who are fiercely loyal to their favorite grocery store.

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When Nature Groans

We’ve got some strange weather going on right now in Southern California. It’s raining, the wind is blowing, and yesterday there were tornados in Riverside County. One person died as a result. No life is inconsequential, but there’s no comparison between the problems and inconveniences we’re having and the horrific aftermath of the natural disasters that occurred in Myanmar and China, where the combined loss of life is expected to top 100,000.

When you read reports or watch video about the misery that people endure in the wake of these trajedies, you can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness. You can contribute and maybe even volunteer to help the victims, but there’s no assurance that such holocausts of nature will not occur again. In fact, you know it’s only a matter of time before another hurricane hits or an earthquake strikes. And you wonder: Can we trust this life-giving sphere that is usually so good to us? It all seems rather capricious, especially when those who are least able to handle the terrestrial blast of wind, flood, and fire—the poor and the disadvantaged—are often hit the hardest.
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God and Natural Evil

Two headline-grabbing catastrophic natural disasters—the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in China—once again have prompted the “Why?” question, as in, “Why does God allow these things to happen?” Some might even phrase the question this way: “Why does God cause these disasters?”

After all, we do refer to these kinds of natural events as “Acts of God.” Even insurance companies use the term to designate major natural catastrophes: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and the like. Is that accurate? Does God act to bring them about? Does He actually cause natural evil?

While I would never have the audacity to offer an answer to this vexing question, I think there is approach or two that may help us deal in some small measure with the unfathomable misery and suffering caused by such natural occurrences.It goes to the heart of the problem of evil, which includes both moral evil (the bad stuff that people do) and also natural evil (the bad stuff that people do not do).

Let's Not Get Defensive

Christians are playing defense a lot these days. Thanks to the bad press we're getting, along with the pounding we're taking from the "new atheists" (Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are two of the most vocal examples), you can't help it but be a little defensive when it comes to talking about your faith. The problem with that posture, of course, is that it just reinforces what most people outside the Christian faith think: Christians are a bunch of whiners.

There's an alternative to being defensive, and it's not what you might think. Some people figure we Christians need to mount a good offense, but that's an equally bad tactic. Nobody likes a bully, and sometimes that's what a strong offense produces. So where do we land? May I suggest that we go back to what the apostle Peter suggested to the persecuted church in the first century: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15-16).

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.