By / Oct 17

These are hard, painful days on many fronts. I don’t need to walk you through photos of refugee children washing up on shore or African-Americans being shot by police. We’ve all seen them. And most of you reading this article get to decide what to think about these things or, more importantly, if you will think about these things.

This won’t be an argument for the reality of the pain that the black community feels right now and has felt for generations (though that needs to be talked about), or the grief this brings to many police officers. This won’t be a political plea to open our borders to refugees, or a statistical appeal to the safety of bringing them in.

I have a bigger question today. A more foundational question. Rather than circling up around our opinions, let’s start asking, “Who is my neighbor?” Then, let’s start moving toward them with all the tenderness and care that we would treat Jesus with if he was suffering one neighborhood over from us.

But, how do we that? I’m so glad you asked. This is not exhaustive, but I have a few thoughts based on my experience.

1. Seek to understand. When I first got involved in cross-cultural ministry, someone told me, “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood”. That has served me well for years now. We have to assume that we have biases and ignorance. Likewise, we need to start with assumptions that we have much to learn and that we don’t have the full picture. We should be genuinely curious about the perspective of someone from the other side of the table.

If you don’t know anyone from the other side of the table, follow blogs and podcasts and twitter feeds. As you do, compassion (sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others) will grow and undeniably lead you to empathy (the capacity to place oneself in another’s position).

2. Show hospitality. I picked “hospitality” as my focus word this year. I thought I would learn a few things about cooking, maybe buy a bigger table and set aside some extra time and money to share meals with others. Then I started studying.

In the New Testament, the word hospitality actually means “love of strangers”; the same kind of love that you would love your family with. This is where things get interesting. Martha Stewart suddenly has less bearing on the conversation, and it gets a little more uncomfortable. This tells me that I am not off the hook after I invite my friends and family over for a meal. It also tells me that it’s not an event to be checked off the list. Instead, it’s a lifestyle of sacrificial love.

This love of strangers or outsiders (typically categorized as immigrants, widows, orphans and the poor) is a common thread woven throughout the Old and New Testament (Isa. 58; Rom. 13). What is God telling us about his character in this? He is showing us that he is a God who goes outside the gate for people who have nothing to give. He is a God that must go through Samaria. He is a God that invites enemies into his family and has the audacity to adopt them as sons and daughters through his Son.

I’ll never forget a hands-on representation of this I experienced. I was with my friends who are missionaries to refugees in Chicago, and we walked into a home where an impossibly small and aged grandmother was sitting in the corner—obviously blind, mostly deaf and very frail. And sadly, she was completely unnoticed by me. But this was not the case with my friends. They walked directly to her and sat with her, sang to her and prayed with her as our hosts patiently waited. One of my friends turned to me and said something to this effect—and I hope to never forget it—“Liza, always go to the smallest person in the room. It’s what Jesus would want.”

Hospitality practiced in a biblical sense matters to God because it is a direct reflection of the gospel. I don’t believe it’s just for a few believers with a calling; I truly believe it’s for everyone who follows Jesus. We are supposed to be taking care of the vulnerable—those that don’t have natural, societal provisions for thriving. Furthermore, we are to be intentional about putting the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior.

This preaches so “amen-y,” but it’s so hard to live. If you are going to adjust your actual lifestyle and go out of your way to be hospitable, it will end up turning some, if not all, of your life upside down. You will invite misunderstanding on both sides. You will be interrupted, taken advantage of, made uncomfortable. These kinds of relationships are messy and refuse to serve our ideals for efficiency.

3. Stay until you empathize. Another thing, and maybe the hardest thing, is to embrace an empathy for our neighbors—the kind that only comes after you sit with them long enough to crawl under their burden. And then, before you know it, you can’t turn your head, change the channel or be OK again until your neighbor is OK, too. A quote from a black brother drives this home: “I need people who don’t feel my pain to believe me when I say it hurts.” It’s possible to start to believe your neighbor, in the marrow of  your bones, even though you don’t directly feel what he is feeling.

This is obviously painful, but isn’t it a better than apathy, ignorance or crossed arms? If the brokenness of the world hasn’t affected you, may I softly and tenderly suggest that, as a follower of Jesus, it probably should.

4. Start where you are. Most of us will not move to a refugee camp or live in an urban setting or open an orphanage in Thailand (but don’t rule those options out!), But you can start closer to home.

Another story from my everyday life illustrates this. I was with a friend on a business trip in Dallas. The pizza delivery youth in the lobby of the hotel didn’t seem to care much that his pants were around his knees, but he did care, deeply and loudly, that his pepsi was stuck in the vending machine. It was so easy to move past and be annoyed. But it wasn’t for my friend. She moved toward him, expressed sympathy and said, “Wait. Do you like RedBull? Yes? OK, stay right here.” She ran to her room, grabbed a 4-pack of RedBull, handed it to him and warmly wished him a good day. The pizza delivery guy was her neighbor for that moment.

We can do this, too. We can stop for the people that no one else stops for. We can be free to love them with arms wide open. We can go out of our way to be in their lane at the grocery store. We can intentionally get to know our immigrant neighbor. We can buy an extra coffee and stop next to that homeless man that we drive by every day and get to know them. We can sit next to the mentally handicapped person at our next party.

That’s my dream and constant prayer; that we, as the church, would be compassionate and courageous; that we would be sad, but not afraid; that we would spend more time asking who our neighbor is and less time ensuring our own comfort. I’m praying we lay down our rights and opinions, and instead, take up the incredible blessing of this burden.

*A form of this post originally appeared on Liza’s blog.

By / Jun 23

What is Brexit?

British, Irish, and Commonwealth citizens will vote today on the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Brexit is merely the shorthand abbreviation for “British exit,” which refers to the UK leaving the European Union.

What is the European Union?

After two World Wars devastated the continent, Europe realized that increasing ties between nations through trade might increase stability and lead to peace.

In 1958, this led to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC), an arrangement that increased economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Over the next few decades, more countries joined (there are now 28 member state) and it morphed into a federalist-style economic-political union. The UK joined in 1973, and in 1993, the name was changed to the European Union.

The EU institutions are: the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the European Court of Auditors.

Why is there a push for the UK to leave?

One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement“, which means any citizens living in an EU country can live and work in another member nation without needing a visa (it’s similar to how in the United States you don’t need a work visa to move from California to Texas or live in Missouri and work in Kansas). This prevents a country from having much say into who can enter, and some people in the UK prefer to have more control over their borders.

The EU also imposes numerous restrictions on businesses, requires full regulatory compliance, and acceptance of the supremacy of EU law. Critics of the EU also say that the UK could get many of the same benefits of trade without having to pay billions of pounds (the UK currency) to be a member state. (Denmark and the UK are two member states that have opted out of using the euro, the official currency of the eurozone, which consists of 19 of the 28 member states.)

What is the argument for the UK staying in the EU?

Those who support the UK remaining in the EU (sometimes referred to as Bremain), say that leaving will hurt trade.

The EU is likely to impose stiff tariffs and other restrictions on the new non-member country, making it more expensive to buy products and services from EU states. They also say that Britain has benefited from migration into the country and that leaving will harm citizens who are currently living and working in EU nations. Additionally, unemployment could increase as global manufacturers moved to lower-cost EU countries.

How does the decision affect the U.S.?

As in the UK, there is support and opposition of Brexit in the U.S.

President Obama warned that the “U.K. is going to be in the back of the queue” on trade deals with the U.S. But critics of the president say there is no reason the U.S. couldn’t make separate trade deals with the UK and the EU.

Another concern is that the UK leaving the EU weakens geopolitical stability in the region. Without the UK, the EU could appear to have lessened influence, which could embolden Russia. But skeptics of this claim say that it is NATO, not the EU that plays the major security role in that region.

By / Oct 3

Timothy Paul Jones discusses ways to raise children and build a family that are Christ-centered, Bible-focused, and ministry-motivated in culture of distractions and selfishness.

Jones is a professor and associate vice president at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can learn more about him at timothypauljones.com. And follow him on Twitter: @TimothyWasHere