Biblical Parties

My wife loves to host parties. For the last several years she has hosted a Christmas cookie exchange that brings women from far and wide to our house, bearing tins and tupperware containing six dozen cookies. The evening is filled with fun, laughter, sharing of cookies, and eating food.

Before we bought our house, we prayed that whichever house we did eventually buy, God would allow it to be a place for people to come and find joy in God. We wanted it to be a place for the weak to find rest, for the discouraged to be encouraged, for the lost to discover the joy of the gospel, and for the glory of God to be more fully known to those who would be our neighbors. He has answered that prayer in ways we could not have expected.

Thinking about my wife’s affinity for parties made me consider what the Bible has to say about parties or as it’s writers refer to it- festivals. Consider II Chronicles 30:22:

And Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good skill in the service of the Lord. So they ate the food of the festival for seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the Lord, the God of their fathers.

This festival was a result of the call of King Hezekiah to the nation of Israel and Judah. They had turned away from God and turned to idols and false gods. This was a call to gather together as a people and turn their hearts back towards God.

“For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him (II Chronicles 30:9).”

God was pleased to have his people come back to him with repentant hearts so that he may show them his grace and mercy. Mourning for sin and repentance from it are appropriate and right, but God also wanted them to rejoice in the grace and mercy that he promised to them for their return. A festival was an appropriate response to highlight the grace and mercy of God. The festival was supposed to last seven days but they extended it to 14 days and it involved thousands of animals for sacrifice to God.

Living on this side of the cross precludes our parties from filling our homes with burnt animal flesh, but all the aspects of our parties can remind us of the mercy and grace of God. Parties remind us that God wants us to rejoice in him. Cookies remind us that we are to taste and see that God is good. Friends remind us that because of the cross we can have fellowship with God. All aspects of parties are to point towards God.

I hope and pray that our parties are intentional in this way and remind the people that enter our door that God is to be seen and savored.


God in the Manger

“And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:16-20)

As I get older and the Christmas’ stack on top of each year after year, I am becoming increasingly aware of the shallowness with which I’ve approached this time of year. The casualness and the familiarization of Christmas can have a dulling effect on the spiritual senses and I lose sight of the awe in which I should approach this time of year.

This is the time of year that we celebrate God in the manger! Luke writes that the shepherds ran to the manger and saw the Maker of the universe laying in manger; laying in materials like hay and wood that he himself had spoken into existence. The shepherds were in awe. Those who heard the shepherds tell of these things were in awe. Mary treasured these things in her heart.

My wife and I are reading an advent devotional this year by Dietrich Bonhoeffer called God in the Manger. This week we read, “What is going on here, where Mary becomes the mother of God, where God comes in the world in the lowliness of the manger? World judgement and world redemption- that is what’s happening here. And it is the Christ child in the manger himself who holds world judgement and world redemption. He pushes back the high and might; he humbles the haughty; his arm exercises power over all the high and mighty; he lifts what is lowly, makes it great and glorious in his mercy (42).”

Thank God for awakening me to the strength and majesty and glory that is found in this story. It is not a simple, cute story. It is a story of the dawning of our redemption for without the incarnation there would be no crucifixion, and without the crucifixion there would be no resurrection, and without the resurrection there would be no salvation.

Look to the redemption we find only through Jesus Christ. This baby lying in the manger was the lamb that was slaughtered to bring us redemption. Find new awe in it as we come before King Jesus. He is no longer in a manger, no longer on a cross, no longer in a tomb, but now sitting on the throne of the universe holding all things in his hands!


Dossier: Done. Now: Wait.

Many have been asking Johanna and I how our adoption process is going. We love that people are thinking and praying for us as we go through this exciting, boring, tedious, convoluted process. We have just completed our dossier which will be on its way down to an unknown desk in Haiti. Now we wait.

We also learned that Haiti changed some of its requirements. Some of the changes increase costs and some of them add hoops to jump through. One significant change was that our adoption agency can no longer decide which orphanages to work with in Haiti. Our agency, All Blessings, has worked with 4 out of the 63. Now Haiti is saying that we have to accept any placement from any of the 63 orphanages. Because of the difference in the quality of the care children receive in these orphanages we have a greater risk of adopting a child with unknown needs or trauma at the outset.

This does not deter us, and I thank God to be married to a wife that is willing to engage in risky love. Jesus’ love that adopted us into the family of God was risky to the point of death. Because of that we can discard prudence and take this risk of love and be obedient to Him. Below is an update that Johanna wrote at her blog (www.jomegs.wordpress.com) that gives more detail as to where we are at and where we are going, Lord willing.

June – ready to tackle our dossier!
July, August, September – dossier document collecting. Setbacks, mistakes, delays. :P
October – sent dossier to our agency.
Currently – redoing a couple documents for the dossier.

Next steps:

  1. Dossier approved, translated into French and submitted to Haitian social services or IBESR.
  2. Wait. Wait some more. Wait covered waiting with wait filling. Our file will sit on a desk, in a file drawer or in a box (I have no idea how they file dossiers when they arrive – just making this part up) for as long as it takes for it to reach the top of the stack. The front of the queue. The interesting thing is there seems to be no rhyme or reason to who’s file is chosen first, second or third. No centralized, standardized system. So we wait and pray and wait. Probably somewhere between 9-20 months.
    Also in this waiting time, we’re going to learn some basic Creole (the language most commonly spoken in Haiti) and work toward meeting Haitians living here in MN and more families with Haitian children.
  3. MATCH! At some undetermined date, our dossier will be reviewed and chosen to be matched. A child will be chosen for us! The much anticipated, long-awaited and most definitely loved child who will become a Puelston. :-)
  4. Travel to Haiti to meet our child. Once we are matched, we will make a two-week trip to Haiti to meet and get to know our child. We will be able to take any or all of our kids with us to meet their brother or sister – we’ll decide if that’s a good plan or not when the time comes. This will be an exciting and nerve-wracking trip, hopefully full of good opportunities to love and get to know this little person. Then we have to leave them in Haiti and return to the U.S.A. while their adoption processes through the Haitian legal system. Sad/hard/really tough.
  5. More waiting. We wait again, for an undetermined amount of time, for the court system and social services to go through the necessary steps to make the adoption legal. Hopefully, in this time period we’ll be able to send our child lots of reminders of our love, our family and how excited we are for the day we will be together again. There are LOTS of steps in this process, and it can take anywhere from 9-18 months.
  6. Visa appointment! This is the last step in the long process and once our child has been issued a visa from the U.S., we will travel back to Haiti to bring him or her home.
  7. Home. Hallelujah and pass the bonding/attachment phase. Lots of love, family time and learning how our family works with another, amazing person in it.
    So that’s it in a nutshell – we hope and pray that the time frames are shorter, rather than longer, but Haiti is in a time of transition with adoptions and things are slow right now. They could get faster, they could stay slow, they could get slower. We will have ample opportunity to exercise that lesser known beatitude: “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be bent out of shape.” And ample opportunity to trust a loving Father with His perfect plan and timing.

Thanks for being part of this journey with your love, thoughts and prayers! We are so grateful for the support, financially/emotionally/prayerfully. This is a bumpy, winding road and we’re so thankful for those who are cheering us on!


Cast Your Burdens

Psalm 55:22

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.”

We come before God this morning and experiencing his mercy and grace not because of a righteousness of our own making. When we read here that the righteous will not be moved, the righteousness that keeps us from not moving in the face of Satan’s accusations is that of the perfect, complete and eternal work of Jesus Christ. So come this morning and feast at the table of forgiveness by casting your burden on the on the LORD for he will sustain you.

We have a Father this morning that beckons for us to come to him as his children because of this work done by our elder brother, Jesus Christ. Because of the gospel we can come before him despite our…

  • Lust-filled choices,
  • pride-centered works,
  • gossip-motivated tongue,
  • confusion-causing circumstances,
  • weak and broken heart,
  • anger-producing hearts,
  • quickly irritable hearts,
  • lazy, self-centered hearts,
  • and selfish producing hearts.

And the list goes on. Come to this table of fellowship this morning with your brothers and sisters in Christ and cast your burdens, cast your sins, on the one who caught them all, killed them all, and paid the price for them all. Come and take full joy in our Abba Father this morning.


Swords and Mercies

The experiences of being a cop at 24 years of age did not take long to form a growing chip on my shoulder towards the people that received a ride to jail in my backseat. I could feel the coldness growing around my heart and the pride elevating me to think how much better I was than those whom I was dealing with. Here I was taking people twice my age to jail and I had already been a more productive member of society than they. How my pride stunk before a holy God.

Since that time God has done a joyful and glorious work in opening the eyes of my heart towards the wonder of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only reason my heart did not continue to harden was because I realized that my biggest problem was the same problem that people I was dealing with at work had: sin. We both have a sin problem.

There is a tension in this for a street cop though. How can I have a humble heart and a kindness towards people that I may have to point a gun at? How do I remain tough and tender at the same time?

The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is full of paradoxes. Truths that seem to be counter towards each other but once understood through the help of the Holy Spirit bring freedom and joy. In one sense I can be tough towards people because Romans 13 warns that the government does not bear the sword in vain. The government is an extension of God’s vengeance, dealing out punishment to whom punishment is due. I love that picture as a cop and I embrace iy whole-heartedly. Yes, I am the sword and I must not be afraid to use it. I will use it if I have to and I will have the full pleasure of God behind me as I wield it correctly.

In another sense, the same God has commanded me to love my neighbor, and my neighbor may not be the one across my street that has his life put together neatly. Jesus told a story to a self-righteous lawyer in Luke 10 which explained that our neighbors may be those we despise the most. In the story a Jew provides aid to a beat up Samaritan that had been robbed. The Jews and Samaritans had a long standing hatred for each other that cut across race, religion, and culture. This Jew showed mercy to someone who was hard to love. This kind of mercy comes from a man that loves God with all of his heart, soul, and mind (Luke 10:27). This love is nothing less than a gift from God.

I can point a gun at someone justifiably and put handcuffs on them and pray for their soul while I am taking them to jail. This is perfectly in line with what the Bible teaches and it is a glorious paradox that helps me work in a profession of constant tension. Thank God for the gospel.


A Cop and a Dad: My thoughts on Ferguson

The Ferguson news headlines have subsided for now. The Ferguson hashtag has quited down. The conversations on cable news and talk radio have decreased. They will flare back up in a few weeks when the grand jury releases their decision on whether Officer Darren Wilson should be charged with homicide or whether the shooting of Michael Brown was justified.

During this lull it seems like a good time for me to write and process my thoughts from this incident. Since this story broke open on August 10th, my 32nd birthday, I felt like my feet have been planted in two worlds with a gap that is widening. I am a cop and I am a husband/ father pursuing a trans-ethnic family. We are adopting a child from Haiti. I thought about writing this post in the ensuing days after the Ferguson riots but I wanted to give it some time to percolate. Was what I was thinking then be the same a month from now?

I read a lot of news articles and blog posts as the events in Ferguson unfolded. This story hit several different angles that are hot button issues in United States law enforcement today. Issues like race, use of deadly force, technology (i.e., body cameras), community policing, and the militarization of police were all found within the strains of this one story.

While many of my thoughts could be fleshed out, I only want to share one that I think is the most important. Before doing that, these articles have been the most helpful (and aggravating)  in helping me think through this issue:

1. The Citizen, the Centurion, and the Sword by Joshua Waulk. The debate over Ferguson has been framed in two ways depending on your camp: an emotional story line and a factual defense of what took place. Both have their place. This blog post provides a helpful, factual summary of the why and how of cops using deadly force. Action is quicker than reaction. The twenty-one foot rule. Graham v. Connor. This is the vocabulary of cops. To clearly understand and evaluate officer involved shootings an understanding of these facts are needed. Waulk is a former cop and a current pastor and has been involved in a gun battle personally. This is a must read.

2. America in Black and White: Why do so many of respond to Ferguson so differently? by Justin Taylor. This article is helpful for two reasons. First, Taylor boils down the debate over the death of Michael Brown to four positions. To gain any traction in a debate a person needs to fully understand the other side of the argument. There has been far too little of that with Ferguson and Taylor’s blog is a reminder for us to think hard, not think lightly. He also quotes an excerpt from John Piper’s book Bloodlines that is critical for all Christians to understand when as we think about race.

3. Power, Police, and Another Shooting by John Piper. Next to Jesus and the writers of Scripture, John Piper has been the most influential person on my life that I have never met. I am deeply grateful for Christian Hedonism which radically changed the way I viewed what it means to be a Christian. Having said that, this blog post made me want to pull non-existent hair out of my bald head. In the post he links a video that shows an officer involved shooting in St. Louis and concludes, “This video constitutes a powerful call for serious reassessments of how our police are trained and empowered to use their guns.” After reading Joshua Waulk’s blog post, this statement can be easily dismantled as a naive assessment at best. Still, I’m thankful for the tone in which Piper wrote the article which was a humble approach and an acknowledged thankfulness for restraint cops show.

4. Coming (Back) to America: My One Fear by Thabiti Anyabwile. This was another frustrating, but necessary blog post for me to read. It was frustrating because the way in which he writes this imply several things about law enforcement that I don’t know if Anyabwile believes or not. Where this was helpful for me, was the way in which it caused me to try and begin to understand the different perspective and life experiences that a gospel-centered Christian brings to this issue.

5. The Gospel in Black and White: A Missiological Perspective on Ferguson by Bob Bixby. “The black culture values the black community. They value the black collective. It was through community that blacks prevailed through the Civil Rights Movement Era. They feel much more dependent on community than we whites do…Whites on the other hand, simply do not see themselves as a collective.”

Bixby spends several paragraphs explaining this more and it is important for people like me to think and feel this reality more deeply. As a white person, and a majority race, I can’t identify with a black person who feels the weight and emotion of what happened in Ferguson even when he personally is not connected with it. No factual explanation of the incident will erase that emotion.

There is another dynamic here that I see as a cop. There is a divide between whites and blacks when situations like this occur. There is even a greater divide when it comes to the law enforcement community because while I don’t think of myself as a collective regarding my race, I do think of myself as a collective when it comes to my vocation as a peace officer.

Just as black people feel a strong sense of community given their history and minority status, law enforcement officers feel a strong sense of community; especially as the animosity towards us has increased recently. When a cop is killed anywhere in this nation I get an email from the Officer Down Memorial Page.  When a cop is killed in the line of duty in my home state, thousands of officers who never knew him will come to the funeral. We wear mourning bands until his body is placed in the ground. We share in the experiences of tragic circumstances that the public doesn’t see. There is a feeling of shared community that develops around the badge.

When these two communities collide, problems erupt. I see a problem with cops having no desire to understand the sense of community blacks have with each other and vice versa. Cops need to understand the painful history of the black community and the black community needs to understand law enforcement tactics and methodology.

Paul talks in I Corinthians 13 about what love, an attribute more important than faith and hope, looks like. “It is patient and kind. It doesn’t envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” We need more of this, but this will not happen apart from hearts being changed by the gospel. There may not be common ground we will find on this issue, in this life, but there can be a common love that navigates these troubled waters with kindness.

We have an example set before us. Jesus did not see us in our sin and leave us as we were. He didnt stay on the perimeter. He stepped off his throne in heaven and stepped into the messiness of sinful human beings and into our story. He took on flesh, became international, and felt our pain. He took our pain. He made himself as nothing and took the form of a servant and became obedient to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). This is the humble example we as Christians are called to follow and it is the only way we can ever hope to truly understand the life stories we each bring to the table. Let us count others more significant than ourselves. Let us not look to our own interests but to the interests of others. This is where find full joy. This is the example Jesus left for us.

 


He Is Going To Kill Her!

There are some calls that come across the radio which immediately make a cops neck hairs stand on end. This was one of the those. A caller was shrieking into her phone, letting our dispatcher know, in hysteria, that “He is going to kill her!” That was the extent of the information I had as I hit the accelerator and began heading towards the address. My nearest partner was 20 miles away.

My headlights shined down the block as I made the final turn before reaching the address. I flipped my headlights off, threw my squad into park and got out. As I began walking towards the house a female ran out the front door. I recognized the screaming. It was the same sound I could hear in the background as our dispatcher was talking to her one the phone. She ran towards me saying, no screaming, that he was going to kill her or had killed her. Questions swirled in my mind but the broken windows on the house were clear indicators that this lady wasn’t just crazy.

I told her to sit on the curb, next to my squad, and wait until I got back. As I began walking towards the house, my hand took a firm grip on the polymer of my Glock 22. I held it at a low ready while my index finger flicked on the tac light, mounted to the rail just underneath the barrel. The light illuminated the front of the house where I could see large chunks of glass laying on the sidewalk. Before I could walk up the steps to front door; it began to open.

Very slowly, very coolly, a man walked out. He had his hands up, was absent of a shirt, and looked as if several cats had made him their personal scratching post. I secured him in handcuffs and began asking him where his wife was. He told me she was inside but would not tell me anything else. The manner in which he was spoke was cold and distant and didn’t match the tenor of someone usually involved in a scrap. At that point I had very little doubt in my mind he had just done something horrible.

After doing a quick pat down, I walked him to my squad. The Shrieker was still sitting on the curb in a mess of tears and smeared make-up. She began screaming at him, asking him what he had done to her friend. After securing him in my car I started walking back to the house.

As I walked over the broken glass and up the stairs my tac light shown into the house. The hallway was strewn with broken bits of wood that hinted at one unified point in time they were a door. Now they looked more like wooden confetti. The house was dark and silent and wreaked of cheep beer, stale cigarette smoke, and marijuana. My tac light bounced off walls and floors and ceiling as I began clearing each room.

I attempted to pull my imagination back from what I would find and focus on keeping myself in the moment of being safe and processing what I was seeing. After the main floor was clear, I began moving down towards the basement. The rambler style house had stairs near the garage that led downward. As I walked down the stairs and came around the corner I saw that the basement was unfinished. Some walls were up, while others were only studs.

As I moved across the concrete floor slowly and quietly I could see what appeared to be a closed off, small room. It looked like a sauna room. As I opened the door and moved into the small room, my eyes revealed to me what I had been looking for. If you have been in a sauna room before you know that most have two tiers of benches; one low and another high, directly above it. There on the top bench, in the corner of the room, was a woman curled up into the fetal position; crying quietly.

There have been few moments as satisfying as that one, as I assured her that I was there to help her and that she was safe. The job transferred from tactics to talk though as I realized that I had my work cut out for me. She did not want to tell me what happened. She did not want him arrested. As my heart rate slowed down the real work had begun- building the case against a guy that needed to go to jail.


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