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Tribute to Chris Gennaro, an Expendable Christian

Chris RunningI used to run with Chris Gennaro and his wife, Michelle. In fact, it was they who got me interested in running long distances. We’d often train together on Mission Bay in San Diego and I ran with them during my first two half marathons. Through running, and learning about their desire to be missionaries in Africa, I grew to love them both. In particular, Chris made a lasting impact on me as a husband, father, friend, and Christian.

Be that as it may, I never would have thought I’d take so long to get over someone’s death. Others have bothered me, but Chris’ death troubled my spirit way down deep, where my innermost thoughts live and where, I suspect, my darkest doubts lie as well. I can tell you this: I had never prayed so hard and with so much faith as I had prayed for Chris. I have never prayed for anything that important since, and probably never will again…not without a heavy dose of faith delivered first from God.

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Chris Gennaro, missionary to Lesotho, contracted encephalitis in January 2013 and passed on 16 February of the same year. He and Michelle, along with their six children (two adopted from orphanages in Africa), had moved to Lesotho to work in God’s harvest. He had just started really ministering to the people of Lesotho…his people. I remember that because it was one of my prayers. “God, don’t let him die now. He just got to really know people!”

I don’t know how many people prayed prayers like that, but it was in the hundreds. Try as we may, we couldn’t stop the mighty hand of God from carrying out his will in Chris and Michelle’s lives. Chris Gennaro had become expendable in God’s plan. Like those who are killed for their faith, my dear friend died in the harvest field.

As I read her story and think back to the moment, this is where Michelle and I take separate roads in our grieving process. Her story of course, is far more important. I watched a woman of God struggle with intense emotions, yet she came through on the other end trusting God more. It was no surprise, then, that she went back to Africa as a teacher to missionary kids. She now resides in San Diego and supports Africa Inland Mission (AIM) as the Southwest region mobilizer.

I had to take a different path in my faith due to Chris’ death, which has taught me several things over the years. I’d like to share them with you now.

First, it taught me that the grieving process can take years to get over. I’m not his widow, and I can’t imagine what she goes through. What I do know, as someone who loved Chris, that his death has been very difficult to move on from. Not all the time…but definitely some of the time.

Second, it’s hard to trust God with big prayer requests when he seems to have let you down. I prayed hard while Chris was sick, but as the days went on, it became clear that he wasn’t going to make it. While his family sang hymns on the night of his passing, I was preparing my resentment against God. My faith changed a lot that day. I remember standing up in my office when I learned that he’d passed, walking to my door, and shutting it. That day, I also shut the door on God for a long while. My rebellion was substantial.

I remember, as Chris was dying, that a song got into my head and wouldn’t leave me. It’s by Brian “Head” Welch, of Korn fame. Here are a few lines from the song “Paralyzed:”

Why is my love so cold? No more will I pretend
Gasping for air as you’re slipping through my fingers
Don’t kiss me goodbye, please don’t leave here
The smell of sacrifice, Your disappearing whispers
I cannot grasp how my life inside just withers
Don’t kiss me goodbye, please don’t leave here.

Those words hurt so bad when Chris died.

Third, I learned that God is still God even when I feel like he isn’t. Just because I throw a tantrum doesn’t mean that God comes down from his throne. He is still very much Lord of all even when I don’t want him to be. Sometimes, I feel the weight of that majesty and sometimes I feel the blessing from it, but one thing is constant: it’s always there. He does not rely on me in order to stay the King of the universe. As I struggled in the last five years to understand God and his love, his majesty seemed to grow even more dominant. It was as if I was to feel the constant pressure of his glory until I came around.

Another song comes to mind now as I remember the struggle. It is called “Hands in the Air” by a group called The Waiting. Here is a sample of the lyrics, but really the entire song is simply amazing.

Light from my window sill, make my way to the door
I hang my head and still, I know you’re wanting more
Over the threshold now, I move across the yard
All that my will allows, my every step is hard
Now in the garden I carve out six feet of space
There make my will comply, lie down upon my face
Been toe to toe too long, I’m tired of fighting You
I see You were too strong ’cause I am black and blue
But now I understand a loser’s due to win
How every dying man is sure to rise again
So I raise my left hand one, I raise my right hand two
Under the morning sun, my spirit cries to You

I’ve come to understand that God is so much more powerful than I will ever be and that is good. I’ve also come to understand that I might never comprehend how God wields his power, and that is also good. If I were to know too much, I might decide to try to influence it more than I should.

This has helped me believe in God again as my Lord. It has also allowed me to see my friend Chris as an expendable Christian who burned out giving Glory to God, which is the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IN THE WORLD. Anything I leave here on earth when I go must likewise simply exist to give God glory. If it gives me glory, or if my legacy is just mine, then it is worthless.

As the Apostle Paul said in Acts 20:24 – 

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

I remember one day, while running with Chris (Michelle had been unable to join us), he began to share some frustrations with me about the missionary planning process. He just wanted to get to Africa as soon as possible! I wish I had that fire…that determination…that said I would burn at both ends for God, so that, even in my death, I might hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Rest well, my friend. Until we meet again…
As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Pray for North Korean Athletes!

342px-Olympic_rings_without_rims.svgThe Winter Olympics, hosted this year in South Korea, suddenly provide American Christians an opportunity to do personally what we’ve only been able to do in abstract for years: Pray for North Korean people’s salvation.

Plenty of intrigue surrounds the North delegation to the South Korean-hosted games. Everything from the history of their involvement (last time Seoul held the games, the North blew up a plane and tried to one-up their neighbor), to Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to stand for the North Korean delegation (not intended to spite the North), to the grim reality that North Korean athletes will be tackled if they attempt to defect weight heavily on the games. Here’s an overview of what you can expect to see with the North’s involvement in the games.

All gamesmanship aside, these olympics present a unique opportunity. While it isn’t the first games that the North has participated in, it is the first time the North and South have integrated on this scale. Just think about a Christian on the South Korean women’s hockey team and her ability to give short snippets of the gospel to her North Korean partners! Their minders (government officials who are specifically designated to translate, provide security, and keep the athletes in check), cannot be with them on the ice, BUT THE GOSPEL CAN!

Christians in the free world have a responsibility to pray for the lost, and reach them when we can. Here’s a very unique opportunity, both to pray and to witness, for those who are given the glorious opportunity!

We should also pray for Vice President Mike Pence, a professed believer, who has an amazing opportunity to calm the rhetoric of our two nations and instead, as a Christian, present the gospel to the North Korean delegation. What an opportunity!

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

If Facebook Causes thee to Sin…

 

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)

I suspect that this post will surprise you because you all know how much I love posting on Facebook.

Lately, however, I’ve come to realize that, like the sin Jesus talked about so harshly in Matthew, I’ve had to change my thoughts on social media. My primary reason for tearing out social media is because I waste a considerable amount of time scrolling through the feeds of my friends and pages that I follow. It’s not that my friends aren’t doing fun things (or amazing things, or sad things, or infuriating things!), it’s just that I don’t need to know every last thing you’re doing. You don’t need to know everything I’m doing either.

Let me give you an example of the above: Do you know that I like to run? Of course you do. I used to post just about every run I accomplished. It could have been a slow run, a long run, a quick jaunt, or whatever. It doesn’t matter what it is, I post it. And I had a friend who used to make fun of me for that, and he was right…I just never realized the gravity of it.

Then there’s the issue of wasting time. Did you know that there’s literally a Facebook page that’s called, “Bored Panda” and another one called, “I waste so much Time?” I know them very well, I click on posts from them all the time. I’ve never “liked” those pages, but enough friends post them that I see the feeds. And don’t get me started on fake news…

And that’s not all, folks! Facebook allows me to engage in idle conversation and rude discussions. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve attacked someone on Facebook? How many times I’ve crossed the line in conversations in Facebook? How many times I’ve wanted to cross the line in conversations? If Matthew 12:36 is true, then I’ve got to clean up what I say and do, and that includes removing a temptation like social media.

I started my process by closing down my Pinterest account. Then I closed down Twitter. After that last one, I almost immediately felt less angry. I’ve become convinced that Twitter is just one big shouting match. I’m glad to be done with it. Then I had to decide what to do with Facebook.

This is my story, not yours! Please don’t think that I might be judging you. I know that most people don’t struggle with the same temptations I do. I realized that I needed to step away from Facebook’s personal page and messenger. How long I fast social media is up to God, my wife, my accountability team, and myself. However, I’m not walking away from all aspects of the social media giant.

As an author, I use Facebook to help share my stories. I have a page of over 1300 “likes” that I use extensively to promote my writing. I realize that, if everyone suddenly felt like I did about social media, that I’d quickly lose a major promotional source. But that’s not a reason to keep something that causes me so many other problems. My wife, who is my link to the Facebook page, doesn’t share my issues with social media, but if she suddenly did, then the page would shut down altogether.

And then what? Well, I’m not completely sure, but I’d figure it out.

At first, I thought, “but how will I get my news?” And then I remembered that I subscribe to the daily newspaper. I actually help pay people to be journalists. I’ll be fine. Then I thought, “but how will I know what my favorite authors are doing?” Then I remembered that I can sign up for their mailing lists and actually see less overall noise. By the way, you can sign up for my monthly mailer too!  I also wondered what I’d do without my friends updates. Then I remembered I can text you and call you!

You may see me as a hypocrite. That’s ok. I sometimes think that about me too. And, in fact, I’ve thought of myself as a hypocrite for some time. I’ve known that Facebook causes me problems (more than I’ve listed above) and that I needed to close down my account. Yet I balked at actually carrying through what I knew needed to happen.

The simple fact is that Facebook causes me to sin. I’d much rather enter heaven answering the questions God has with, “And then I closed Facebook down.”

I’ve lived without an active Facebook account for just short of two weeks as of this writing and I haven’t died yet. However, I always reserve the right to return if I must. I don’t think I will any time soon, however, because the truth is that I’ve become far more productive in its absence. And peace like a river floweth…I could watch the Super Bowl last night without yelling at my friends on Facebook or Twitter. What a change!

If you decide that you also need to leave social media, I hope you will find a way to stay connected to me and this ministry of writing! Send me a text, leave a message in the comments section, or give me a call! Above all, do what needs to be done, and enjoy the effects, whatever they are.

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

Expendable Christians

People are dying for their faith around the world. Over 3000 of our brothers and sisters are dead now because of their bold faith in Jesus Christ and their unwillingness to balk at his obedience, according to the annual Open Doors Report. They are the expendables in the kingdom. Sadly, If you’re anything like most western Christians, you glossed right over that number.

So let me say it again:

Over 3000 Christians are dead because of persecution.

Something that has bothered me for a long time is the simple fact that people are dying for their faith around the world and I rarely face any trouble for my faith. More to the point: 3000 people died for their faith last year while I live in almost serene comfort.

We live a sheltered spiritual life in America. I don’t know of many people who don’t accept that fact, but it doesn’t matter. It’s fact: We live in spiritual comfort compared to those who face real persecution for their faith.

Jesus was clear in Matthew 5:10-12 when he said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This is what it means to be an expendable. For the cause of the Kingdom, I accept being subjected to ridicule, pain, hardship, and persecution for God’s gain. And yet, because we are likewise blessed beyond measure in the Western world, we live in relative peace and comfort. Reconciling this is sometimes difficult for me.

As a freelance writer with a career outside of writing, I get the opportunity to pursue projects that I feel are important. This is one of those projects. The end product is still taking shape, but it will have a lot to do with foreign aid from Washington and what our role, if any, is as Christians supporting persecuted believers in hazardous countries.

More to follow on that, obviously.

I want to encourage everyone to go to Open Doors USA and download the annual report. Yes, you have to give them your email address to get it, but it’s worth it. And, if you can, donate a little bit of change to support the work of Open Doors. The organization took in over 20million dollars in 2016 (latest information I have) and only 4million was used for expenses, meaning over 16 million USD went to support the persecuted church.

I’m just bothered that I live in relative safety while 1 in 12 of my brothers and sisters are in danger.

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

California Lawmaker threatens legislation in wake of Turpin Family Horror

Why another Law Won’t Work

A husband and wife were recently arrested and charged with torture and child endangerment in the case of their 13 children. Those children range in ages from two years old to 29.

When my wife first mentioned this situation to me, I rejected it out of hand. I didn’t want to involve myself emotionally in the case. Assuming that this was a local issue, I figured it would go away in a few days as the news cycle proceeded through the litany of situations around the country that would enrage, enthrall, and otherwise entertain the masses.

To be sure, this situation will pass out of the news cycle. All situations do. However, I did get caught up in it after reading an article in the paper. Now I’m invested.

This entire case sickens me. That they apparently made the children memorize long portions of scripture and homeschooled the kids (unclear of what ages were being taught) makes it even worse. What a blight this puts on the believers who also homeschool and make their kids memorize scripture! I am comforted only on the fact that David Allen Turpin and Louise Anna Turpin will have to stand before God regardless of what the State of California says (and they will stand before the State of California obviously, as they should).

As soon as I found out that they homeschooled the kids (of course they did…they had to keep their lives a secret), I knew that someone would initiate a plan to regulate homeschooling. Politicians can’t not regulate a problem once it arises.

The fact is, however, that there are already regulations on the books that would have given the local authorities an opportunity to know if the kids were being mistreated. Perris city fire officials should have checked the home yearly for fire regulations compliance.

Here is the statute that requires inspections:

California State Health and Safety Code 13145 – The State Fire Marshal, the chief of any city or county fire department or district providing fire protection services, and their authorized representatives, shall enforce in their respective areas building standards relating to fire and panic safety adopted by the State Fire Marshal and published in the State Building Standards Code and other regulations that have been formally adopted by the State Fire Marshal for the prevention of fire or for the protection of life and property against fire or panic.

You might assume that the reaction would be to discipline whomever was in charge of ensuring compliance through fire regulations.

No word on that.

Instead, Assemblymember Jose Medina, a democrat, has released a statement to the effect that he is, “extremely concerned about the lack of oversight the State of California currently has in monitoring private and home schools.”

No call for those who should have visited the house to be disciplined. No argument that the individuals who messed up by not following local regulations should be fired for the gross negligence. Just more regulation. The reason for that is that local fire marshals rely on entities (and individuals) to self-report. There was a case in San Diego not too long ago where a platform collapsed in a gym. In San Diego, as in Riverside (which has oversight of Perris City fire safety), there seems to be a misplaced trust in organizations self-reporting fire inspections requirements. That’s not what the state code stipulates.

This is not the answer to the problem. We don’t know how much money this new regulation will cost, but some person will undoubtedly need to track homeschool entities throughout the state to ensure compliance, schedule home visits, input data into various tracking databases, etc. I’d argue that this will most likely take several people in each school district (assuming any future legislation will track this information through the school district, which I do).

These are people not teaching children in public schools. So instead of finding a way to better fund schools to make them more attractive to homeschooling parents who may be interested in returning to local schools, Assemblymember Medina will have the state add a financial and personnel burden to the very people he should be trying to help.

Stop knee-jerk reactions that add a regulatory burden to law enforcement and other entities. Enforce what’s already on the books. Then, if it isn’t enough, then we can look into more legislation.

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

A White Guy Visits a Black Church

My visit to Bayview Baptist Church started on a whim. It came about after black football players began protesting the National Anthem in greater numbers, to include entire teams after President Trump issued his disruptive comments on September 22, 2017. My heart sank and I started thinking that maybe the American racial problem had no fix.

Furthermore, I had a sneaking suspicion that we were just as divided in the church as Americans were outside the walls of our sanctuaries. On Martin Luther King Jr day, I think it’s fitting to look at our continued racial problem from a spiritual context. I will begin with a statement: We are just as segregated in the church as we are in the rest of the country. MLK said as much in 1958: “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Sadly, this is still the case for the majority of churches.

Now, let me be clear, no one is forcing our churches to be segregated (to my knowledge). There is no great conspiracy here, like there have been in many times in our history. Instead, we are struggling with the sin of comfort and a resolute desire not to rock the boat or have ours rocked.

I had another reason for wanting to visit a black church. I wanted to know what it would be like to stick out like a sore thumb. While Bayview Baptist Church in San Diego claimed to be a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic church, I had my suspicions that they were just like the churches in which I’ve held membership. I believed I would find myself one of the only white people in the church. I’m not saying that because I want to make them out to be liars. Like white churches, the goal is multi-ethnic makeup. I don’t think anyone is trying to keep white people out of that church any more than I think that my last church tried to keep black people out.

Another thing to keep in mind when considering what “multi-ethnic” means is that our racial categories contain many ethnicities. So, while the church might be mostly black, or even all black, it may include ethnicities such as Hispanic (from the Caribbean and South America), Africa (and the ethnicities contained therein), as well as ethnicities contained in America itself. The Root website lists 46 ethnic groups in Africa alone, from which American slaves took their original ethnicity. Modern advances in DNA research have shed a lot of light on this, but I digress.

Still Segregated

Simply put, my understanding that the American church was as segregated as ever was reinforced with my visit to Bayview. Please don’t read into this statement that Bayview is doing something wrong or should be trying harder to include other races. I cannot know that answer based on one visit. What I’m trying to say is this: All of our churches are still struggling with the issue of integration. We’ve separated ourselves along race and, to at least a slightly lesser degree, ethnic lines.

I don’t know that we can expect this to change wholesale. The fact is that, regarding worship styles, everyone has a style (or range of styles) that they are comfortable with. This is something that will be very difficult to overcome, even if it should be overcome.

However, a more problematic issue revolves around the birds of a feather concept. If I go to a predominantly white church because I like that style of worship, then maybe that’s ok (although I have some doubts). However, if I only go to white churches because that’s the TYPE OF PERSON I FEEL COMFORTABLE AROUND, then I’ve got a lot of changing to do. It is up to each person to seek the answer to their situation and deal with it, because God will deal with you when judgement comes. Part of visiting Bayview was to help answer that question for myself.

The short and long of it is that I learned that I have some work to do.

Parting Thoughts

It didn’t occur to me until after I was back on Interstate 15 North headed home that I may have caused the members of Bayview Baptist Church some consternation. Here was a large white man walking into church while all around the country, race issues were reaching cataclysmic stages. Did anyone wonder if I had a gun? Should I…could I…have been more sensitive to their situation? Am I completely overthinking the entire episode? Does anyone even remember that I existed?

As you might suspect, I’ve settled nicely into a mostly white church in my mostly white neighborhood in San Diego. I feel comfortable there because the preaching style is what I enjoy and the music is what I want to sing and hear. I will happily welcome any person of any race into our church and defend them should I discover any inappropriateness, but I doubt we’ll see many of them for the same two reasons I listed for my being there. My visit to Bayview and my membership at Legacy all point to the same simple fact: We’ve got some work to do in America’s church.

As always, you can sign up to receive updates on my social commentary by going HERE.

2018 Resource Investments

IMG_7389Since making a decision on Christmas of 2015 that I would become serious about my writing, I’ve made it a point to make one writing investment each winter. For the last few years, that investment has meant buying a few writing books. Here’s what I bought for Christmas of 2017:

  1. Interzone:
  • One of my goals is to get published in a science fiction magazine this year. Part of making that goal a reality is to fully understand what gets published in science fiction magazines. Side note: in the fall of 2017, I ordered a combo pack of Analog and Asimov magazines. You can do the same at this LINK). Link to purchase Interzone below:

  1. Christian Writer’s Market Guide:
  • I purchased the Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market Guide in September and was sorely disappointed in the religious section. Only a handful of periodicals were represented. I didn’t want to buy yet another market guide, but I felt like I had no real choice in the matter. I write religious articles and stories for the most part, so I need a good market guide for that industry.
  • Also, I have purchased the Christian Writer’s Market Guide several years ago when Sally Stuart used to publish it. It was a good publication then, and I am making an assumption that the agent Steve Laube has continued that quality as he oversees its publication. I like it so far. Link to purchase below:

  1. Writer’s Digest
  • I’ll be honest, I bought this because Andy Weir, who I listened to in person, is on the cover. He had some great stories about his writing career, so I want more. I don’t subscribe to this magazine (might start soon), but I usually buy the first issue of the year. Link to purchase a sample copy at this LINK:
  1. Crafting Novels and Short Stories:
  • I’ve submitted several stories in the past, and it’s only recently that I realized that I need some serious work on my short story craft. Honestly, my book-length fiction needs work too. I’ve become fairly good at writing articles and essays (enough to have over a dozen credits), but I want more.

While that’s it for now, don’t be surprised if I update this list from time to time in 2018. In making my writing more of a priority, I will be adding the resources to make it a successful expenditure of my time. Check back for more!