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Tuesday April 11 Devo

Yesterday we began to read the “Isaiah 53” Servant Song. Today, we’ll read the central portion of it. Read Isa 53:4-6 at least two times.

  1. Circle every time you see “we” “our” “us”. We are in this.
  1. List everything it says Jesus does on our behalf. Then, beside each item, write down what you think it means.
  1. v.6 says that we did one thing, and God responded unexpectedly. What is each?
  1. Write a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus for v6.

Reflecting on this, we see in v4 that Jesus picks up our sorrows, in v5 that Jesus stands in our place, and in v6 that Jesus bears our guilt. Everything is “for us”.

 

O love how deep, how broad, how high! Beyond man’s gift to prophesy—

That God, the Son of God, should take Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.

 

For us baptized, for us he bore, His desert fast and hungered sore;

For us temptations sharp he knew, For us the tempter overthrew.

 

For us he prayed, for us he taught, For us his daily works he wrought—

By words and signs and actions, thus Still seeking not himself, but us.

 

For us to wicked men betrayed, Both scourged and mocked—with thorns arrayed,

He bore the shameful cross and death—For us gave up his final breath.

 

For us he rose from death again, For us he went on high to reign;

For us he sent his Spirit here To guide, to strengthen and to cheer.

 

To him whose boundless love has won Salvation for us through his Son,

To God the Father glory be, Both now and through eternity.

[Latin Hymn, 15th C, Trans. Benjamin Webb—altered]

 

Monday April 10 Devo

For the next 5 days, take a few moments each day to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice, and worship him for it. These daily devotionals are designed to take about 15 minutes, and to be Scripture based. At the end of each, I’ve included a hymn to do with that day’s passage. Lyrics (aka poetry) can help us worship too – pray them to the Lord, &/or sing them to your soul!

There are several Old Testament passages that point clearly to Christ’s passion. This Holy Week, We will dwell in 3 of them.

Read Isaiah 52:13-53:3. This is the first section of the greatest Servant Song in Isaiah. (The other 3 Servant Songs are 42:1-4, 49:1-7, & 50:4-9.)

This one deals with the details of Servant’s suffering, and the why behind it.

  1. Verse 13 gives courage and hope. What outcome does it promise?
  1. Jot down as many referents to Jesus’ life and suffering in 52:14-53:3.
  1. Starting at 53:2, “we” play a part in this. What is that role?
  1. How have you been like the “we” lately? Where have you seen that in yourself?

 

“Man of Sorrows” what a name For the Son of God who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim! Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned he stood—

Sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Guilty, vile and helpless we, Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement can it be? Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Lifted up was he to die, “It is finished,” was His cry;

Now in heav’n exalted high: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

When He comes, our glorious King, All his ransomed home to bring,

Then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

[Philip P. Bliss]

How Christians disagree (and when they can’t)

Christians, it seems, love to disagree. Maybe not ‘love’ but we tend to disagree over all sorts of issues. The why is simple: As Christians we want to please God. Scripture says so much, and yet it often doesn’t say enough! So we do our best to think and live honoring to him. (Also, we still deal with sin inside of us, which leads both to errors and to stubbornness. This also causes disagreement!)

This blog post serves to follow-up “Grace is the Grease in the Gears”. Click here to read that. This will help us think through where we can disagree, where we cannot, and why.

Consider the following questions. They require different answers and for different reasons: Did Christ really rise from the dead? Can I sleep with my girlfriend? Should you have a beer? Can they use guitars, drums, etc., to lead worship? Is Christ the only way to God? Should I speak in tongues? What schooling for our children? Can I use ESV, NIV, NASB, NKJV?

They each fit into one of four levels of processing.

Level 1: Matters of truth and error, of reality itself.

Christ’s resurrection is a matter of reality, and thus of truth or error. There’s no margin for a believer to discount the historicity of it. All of eternity hangs on whether or not Christ rose from the dead. Also, “is Christ the only way” falls in this first level. If you believe there are 10 ways to God, one of which is Christ, then you are not within reality.

The Classification here is Truth / orthodoxy / reality. The central tenets of our faith: Trinity, Authority of Scripture, Incarnation are good examples.

When someone disagrees on a matter of truth: Deal with them with grace. Since they are claiming Christ, ask them to use Scripture to make their case. Scripture is all that matters.

Level 2: Matters of doctrine

One step down from “truth/error” are matters of doctrine. These are extremely important in every believer’s life and each church body. Doctrine is “what the whole bible teaches us today about some particular topic.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. P.25)

The goal here is pleasing God by putting the puzzle together properly. The Puzzle being the teaching of Scripture. Rodney Stark explains that Scripture—written as it is by ~40 authors—is an anthology. It demands that we think as we piece together the nuances in teaching between the different authors. (He lays this out in The Victory of Reason.)

Doctrine is extremely important, but Christians can come to different understandings on doctrinal level questions and still be one in Christ. For instance: speaking in tongues—equally devout Christians come to different conclusions about Scripture’s teaching on this point.

The “sleep with your girlfriend” question is ultimately one of doctrine: Scripture is clear that sex is God’s gift reserved for marriage. However, the believers engaging in pre-marital sex have not lost their salvation. Their actions are deeply displeasing to God, are endangering their souls, and require his gracious discipline. But this is ultimately a question of what their beliefs are and how they are living them out.

Other doctrinal questions are: “Reformed” or “Arminian” answers to questions of salvation? What roles and offices are open to men and to women? What are the events of the End? What happens at Communion? What is the church’s stance toward Politics and Government? My answer to each of these is a reflection of what I believe Scripture is teaching.

Level 3: Matters of conviction or conscience

The third level is even more practical: how we make decisions in life. The classification here is “wisdom”. Mike Pence recently made the news for his ‘life-rule’ of not having dinner alone with a woman, other than his wife. (It’s the “Billy Graham Modesto Manifesto” rule). This is his conviction; he wants to protect his marriage, his heart and his wife’s. For him it’s a choice based on Wisdom.

A Christian’s use of Alcohol or school choice fall in this area. It’s where Christians live out their faith in the day to day. And we will come to different conclusions. It’s what Romans 14-15 (and 1 Corinthians 8) are all about.

How do we disagree here? We remind ourselves that differing is to be expected within the body, that everyone is living to honor God, and trust that he is leading someone to a different conclusion than he led you to.

Level 4: Matters of taste or preference

Finally, there are matters of taste: which translation of Scripture, musical style, or dress for church. Or, some guys just might not like to go on men’s retreat—does it mean they are sinners or lacking conviction? No, they just are so uncomfortable that they don’t do it.

You get the idea. Level 4 items that matter for eternity, nor even really for someone’s discipleship. I remember one grandfather saying to me, “I don’t love the loud music of today’s worship, but I figure I get to set aside my preferences for the younger generation’s growth.” I suspect there are many grandparents who are living into Ephesians 5:21 like this: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Conclusion

Notice is that there is some overlap between the levels. What for one is a matter of taste, for another is a conviction: one may not drink alcohol because she doesn’t like it while another convictionally abstains. Or, what one classifies as a ‘truth/error’ issue, another may consider a Level 2 doctrine issue.

By the way, the more a church demands full agreement on Levels 3-4, the more ‘fundamentalist’ they are. The more a church discards unity on Levels 1-2, the more ‘liberal’ they are. The dance is to keep the right balance of full unity on Level 1, deep cohesion on Level 2, true mutual respect on Level 3, and a generous spirit on Level 4.

Grace is the Grease in the Gears

A home-schooling mom—who no longer attends Grace—once asked me “How can you send your kids to public school? Why would you do that?” We were preparing to send our guys to the local elementary school. She and her husband were convinced of the rightness of homeschooling for their kids. She figured it would be right for everyone. For a variety of reasons, it has never been God’s leading for our family.

The Christian Life is filled with these issues: areas in which I am convinced, but you come to a different conviction about. To schooling options you can add things like: how much a local church should support missions, a Christian’s use of alcohol, appropriate entertainment/leisure choices, spending/giving patterns, political opinions. These are not matters of right or wrong (per se). They are matters of conviction.

How do we, in the local church, live into the reality of different convictions within this body? How do we grow in grace and truth, walking together with authenticity? Romans 14:1-6 gives us six helps for just this situation: building genuine fellowship in spite of different convictions of conscience.

The matter at hand in Rome is “do we eat meat or not?” In those days, meat vendors would sacrifice it first to the gods, and then sell it. The conscience question is this: are we condoning pagan sacrifices by eating? Or, since the gods are nothing, it means nothing, let’s eat. The second question in this passage (vv.5-6) concerns the Sabbath – Jewish-background believers wanted to honor the Sabbath more than Gentile-background believers. What should Christians do?

Paul lays out 6 principles for deepening fellowship in spite of different convictions.

  1. Welcome all believers, but not to win them to your side (vv.1-2).

Recognize that, within the body, there will not be homogeneity of views on all things. There is going to be a range of answers to conviction questions. Get comfortable with that range. Welcome all. (Again, this is not truth or error, nor even doctrinal questions. It’s conviction… conscience, practical, life-outworking stuff.)

  1. Don’t write people off based on their convictions (v3).

It’s easy to compare ourselves to others, and either look down on them (e.g., with alcohol: “they are being so legalistic not to drink”), or we judge them (“they are living too much like the world for drinking”). Paul says we simply cannot box people in and write them off and expect Grace to grow.

  1. Remember: they are serving God just like you are (v4).

“Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Again, we are talking of fellow believers on matters of conscience (not sin). I have to trust that God is working their lives, and he is leading them to their position of conscience. And, I can trust that he—the master—will get his servants doing what he wants. “It’s before his own master that he stands or falls.”

  1. We must think decisions through for ourselves (v5).

“Each of you must be fully convinced in your own mind.” You are not living by your convictions if you simply do what everyone around you does. Think things through, wrestle with Scripture, seek godly counsel, and pray. When we live from the inside out we can live with grace, because we are not insecure about our position.

  1. We honor the Lord in all things (v6).

Whether you eat meat or not, Sabbath day or not, our goal is to please the Lord and bring glory to him. With this as our goal, we will begin to see where that same goal informs others’ actions/decisions too. Goodwill grows even through outward disagreements.

  1. We give thanks to God (v6).

Gratitude is the key to receiving all things, and to abstaining from all things. When God leads us to a conviction, we’re thankful: He’s giving us a gift to enjoy, or protecting us from a harm we can’t know. Give thanks to God for our convictions. And, frankly, we can give thanks for the different convictions others hold, for the same reasons.

 

Grace among God’s people is hard to uphold. It would be much easier if you would just agree with me! Romans 14 is a good case-study of practical ways to live grace with each other. To switch to ‘machine’ metaphor: Grace is the grease in the gears of the church. Without it, everything comes screeching to a halt.

What Christ’s Death Accomplished

In Matthew’s gospel, he gives us 4 hints of the effectiveness of Jesus’ death. Hanging on the cross, forsaken, dying, “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” (Mt 27:50).

In the very next paragraph, Matthew then lists 4 events that flow from Jesus’ death. And, not just chronologically. They flow as an effect of that cause. What are the 4 effects of the death of Christ, as Matthew highlights?

First, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (v51). That veil which hid the Holy Presence of God from every eye except the Jewish High Priest (and him only once a year) is not ripped in half. God’s presence is available to all. The death of Jesus opens the way to God’s presence. This is, perhaps, the simplest way to understand what was accomplished on the cross: we can now come to God. (Read Hebrews 10:19-22 for a vivid invitation – Let us draw near to God with full assurance!). The way to God is open to any and all… the Temple system is finished–no more need for offerings and oblations. Jesus is the Final Offering, the Once for All offering. The chasm has been bridged, the debt has been paid, the penalty absorbed, the way opened. Amen.

Second, “the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (v51). That same earth that was cursed when Adam and Eve sinned (Gen 3:17) now shakes with anticipation at the renewal accomplished by Jesus’ death. Romans 8 says, “the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21). The earth dances, as it were, at the effective sacrifice of Jesus which redeems all things–not just humans’ souls!

Third, “The tombs were also opened, and many bodies of the saints… were raised” (v52). Matthew says that they didn’t come out of their tombs until Resurrection day, but he inserts that account here to link it with the effectiveness of Jesus’ death. What does Christ’s death accomplish? The undoing of death! “Death itself begins to work backward…” Aslan says to Susan and Lucy. The perfect Lamb of God destroys the power of death from within. Matthew wants us to link that resurrection power to the perfect sacrifice that accomplishes it.

Fourth, The Centurion was “filled with awe, and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God'” (v54). The one positive word of testimony in all of ch27 is on the lips of this Roman soldier, who’s likely seen dozens or hundreds of men crucified. There is something utterly different about this man. Truly he is the Son of God. At the beginning of Jesus’ life, Matthew demonstrates the Gentiles worshipping in the story of the Magi. Now, at the very end of his life, Matthew does the same: the Roman Centurion exclaims praise. This is one of the major themes of this gospel: the Gentiles are included now. No more division between Jew and Gentile; all are one in Christ. No more separation or alienation. Christ brings us together.

Matthew shows us that Christ cancels SIN (by opening the way to God), cancels the CURSE (as the earth shakes!), cancels DEATH (by the mini-resurrection), and cancels ALIENATION (with the Gentiles worshipping). This is what Christ’s death accomplished! Amen and amen.

Reflections on Immigration and Deportation (Part 3)

[This is the last in a series of posts to probe thinking and responses on this issue. Click to access Parts 1 & 2. Keep thinking, stretching, learning and growing.]

6) Consider fear

Any time you have a group of people who have no recourse to due process means you have less freedom as a country. That’s why we rationally need to address what to do with the 11+million people who are here illegally: We do not want a permanent underclass.

The human temptation to exploit is too real for us to take this lightly. Employers who know workers won’t complain will be tempted to abuse them. Landlords who know tenants are at their mercy can become derelict.

Moreover, you do not want a group of people who view the police with suspicion or the government as the enemy. This is common sense. But for someone who is afraid of being deported, the officer’s uniform is to be feared.

Another glimpse of life: An American woman fell in love with and married a Mexican man who was here illegally. They had several children and opened 4 restaurants in the Midwest. He was deported, and they have not seen him since. The children are growing up without their father. The wife has lost 3 of the restaurants. And the government adhered to the letter of the Law and oversaw the destruction of a family, jobs for dozens of servers, and great places to eat.

This is one story of many. It seems to me that we are better than that as a country. Yes, if that person had not been here illegally there would have been a different outcome. But, that person was an integral part of the flourishing of his community. Is deportation really the best solution?

7) Consider Scripture & the Gospel

Three quick thoughts from Scripture.

“Sojourners in your midst.” There are several references in the Law of Moses to the treatment of sojourners. It’s always with a view to their protection and the extension of mercy to them. God is saying that a people who please him will take care with those who are aliens and most subject to danger: When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Lv 19:33-34) This verse is but an example of the heart of God: take care to be kind, just and compassionate to the sojourner.

“Do unto others what you’d have them do to you.” Jesus is stark here in Matthew 7:12. It’s true. It’s convicting. And, it’s just this simple. If I lived in a violent place with no future prospects, would I want a neighboring country to invite me in to do the back-breaking work (i.e., mutually beneficial) or not?

Extending grace always beats exacting justice. This is hard for us, because there is just so much injustice in the world. But, with the Lord, an open, gracious hand always trumps exacting justice to the letter of the Law. A country that will deny grace to those needing it will find less grace abroad in its land. A county that extends grace—even if, for a time, it is taken advantage of—is a country where grace will continue to grow.

This is not “throw open the prisons, because we show grace.” No. People ought to be held accountable for their wrongs. But, by now we have seen that with change of status, with dishonest handlers, with extreme poverty in the home country and ready jobs here, with employers hiring people who are undocumented (anchoring them here)… well, there’s so much more nuance than simply to call everyone ‘illegal’ who is undocumented. And to treat everyone en masse.

The thing about grace is that it is uniquely a divine trait. Only God originates grace. Every act of grace on earth has the same source. Therefore it is in never-ending supply. The more grace you give, the more grace you have to give, and the more grace is in play. This works on the level of countries, too. Think of the after-effects of World Wars 1 & 2: After WW1, The Treaty or Versailles exacted extreme reparations from Germany, and set the stage for another war 21 years later. After WW2, the Marshall Plan for Europe (and its equivalent for Japan) saw the quickest turnaround of destroyed enemies into vibrant allies that the world has ever known. It was a display of grace in the political sphere.

Can we think there is a grace-filled solution to our problem? Do we think we have to support deportation or else we’ll be denying the rule of law? Is there a creative third-way through this dilemma? I think so.

Consider each person as a person with dignity and potential. Consider each person’s past: (a) the universal longing for a better life, (b) their status (which is not ‘one size fits all’), and (c) the contribution they’ve made since they’ve been here. I think on balance, we can figure out a way to address their immigration status in a way that upholds the rule of law, while seeing the potential increase they bring to our country.

 

Based on these considerations, might God grant believers like you and me a different outlook than what Left or Right are serving up?

Reflections on Immigration and Deportation (Part 2)

[Part 2 of 3 – to get us thinking, growing and engaging in the public sphere. To read part 1, click here. We pick it up in the middle of several considerations believers should make when thinking about the individuals and the issue as a whole. Part 3 will be published later today. Leave a comment–graciously–to push back, ask questions, encourage or bring new insights!]

3) Consider the cultural increase

Lamentably, during the 2016 campaign, now-President Trump played on prejudices by calling Mexicans “rapists, criminals” etc. He has since gone out of his way to differentiate between the criminal element and the industrious element in the Hispanic community, and he’s praised their contribution to our economic growth. This has been lost on those at both ends of the political spectrum: the Nativists (who want to keep America for Americans) and the Left (who only hear Trump say what they want him to say).

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of the Latin Americans who come to this country are coming seeking a better life. They are prepared to work hard to enjoy the freedom and prosperity that are available here. They are future- and family-oriented (wanting to give their children a better life), and they hold traditional values (with a strong Catholic ties).

Honestly, if I were designing the type of people I’d want to populate our country, these would fit the bill. Hardworking, industrious, family-focused, with traditional values.

It seems to me that they are models for whom to have flowing into the country. If only their status were not an issue.

Is there a way to solve that very real ‘illegal status’? To me, because they are the types of people who will change the future, it’s worth us finding that way.

4) Consider the economic increase

People know where jobs are, and they go where jobs are, and they get a job. It’s the law of supply and demand, and it’s how economies work: those willing to move for work will get it. At the moment of their employment, they are contributing to your life and mine, and our economy. Farms, factories, constructions sites, etc. We now reap the benefits of their illegal labor. The US economy grows because more people are able to produce and have the means to consume.

Are they taking jobs from Americans? It’s hard to think so when the jobless rate is under 5% (which is the traditional line for “full employment”) and the economy is in the longest growth cycle for 50 years (over 90 months of growth, as of Feb 2017). Rather than taking jobs from others, they are contributing to the growth of the economy.

Are they doing work that no one wants? Yes. The alternative to their labor in these jobs is higher pay for these jobs and thus, higher prices for the food harvested, goods manufactured. This statement is not a blanket excuse for illegal immigration. But it’s a reminder to those who want wholesale deportation that this will radically change many aspects of our economy.

On taxes & use of public services: I honestly don’t know if they ‘pay their way’. You can find studies and reports to say whatever you want. So I don’t know if they currently pay their way. But I know this: they sure will if they prosper, and they never will if they remain poor. It’s in our best interest to help them prosper.

However, every dollar spent at Walmart, Piggly Wiggly & Amazon is taxed, no matter who spends it. Every rent check pays the property tax on that rental unit. Every employee paid with a fake SS number contributes to Social Security, and they’ll never get that back. Every employee paid has federal and state taxes deducted at source. If that is with a fake social security number, they’ll never file taxes to get returns the tax code grants to workers.

Schools and Emergency Rooms. “They are using these services without paying for them.” Except they are paying sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes; it’s not anything near a ‘free-ride’ indicated in that statement.

5) Consider who else is implicated

If an employer hires an undocumented worker to work for him or her, that employer is as culpable as the worker. There’s no way around this. Even if an employer is presented with a SS number, there’s a good chance in farming, construction, etc., that the potential worker is undocumented. We are unjust if we speak only of ‘illegal immigrants’ and not also of ‘illegal employers.’

If the employer pays cash, or fails to live up to employment standards in any way (i.e., paying them less than minimum wage, making them work beyond what the law allows, threatening them with no recourse), that employer is profiting unduly from their status. That’s called exploitation, which is not only illegal, it’s also immoral.

I have heard many on the Right say with conviction, “but they’ve broken the Law”, and I agree: the Rule of Law is the bedrock of freedom. So is the universal application of the rule of law: Employers who hire undocumented workers must be held to account too.

Second, if citizens at large participate in the benefit of undocumented work—lower prices for homes, building, produce, factory goods—then aren’t we ratifying the working situation? This is why, when the abolitionists in England were working against the slave trade, they shamed England not to use sugar, which was produced by slaves. While we eat the fruit harvested by and drive on roads built by their hands, we are ratifying the situation that brings it about.

[Part 3 is coming later today.]

Reflections on Immigration & Deportation (part 1)

[Part 1 of 3 – to get us thinking, growing, and engaging the public sphere]

“I’ve told my friend Alejandro, if he’s scared, he can come and stay with us.” A friend at Grace told me this recently. Alejandro is his friend and is in the US illegally. The recent focus on the deportation has driven up fear for Alejandro and the millions like him.

My friend was the second person at Grace in the last three weeks who told me the same thing: they are willing to take someone in, so as to protect that person from forcible deportation.

These two brothers, I can quite confidently say, would vote on the conservative side of the political spectrum. They are mature (in Christian faith and in their age category). They are financially successful. In other words, they are not radicals by any political definition.

And yet here they are ready to defy an agency of their government. What’s going on?

It’s time to admit that we need to think afresh about persons who live in the US illegally. And by “we” I mean Believers. Christians. Christ-followers. It’s time for us to step back from the thought patterns of the Left or Right, and change the equation in our thinking. My intent here is to write to believers who consider themselves thoughtful. Let’s be more thoughtful and more creatively thoughtful than what we see in the world. Whether you identify with the Right or the Left, do you have room to grow in your thinking?

It seems to me that you can address a problem either by looking at the problem itself or by looking at the desired outcome. In this case, either you can focus on walls, wait times and quotas, etc., or you can see the bigger question: what kind of country do we want? What kind of atmosphere? What kind of future? What kind of people to populate it? What coheres with Scripture and with our calling? How do we treat people near us? How should we?

Let me make four preliminary comments, and then offer several areas in which we can “consider” better.

First, every sovereign nation has the right and duty to seek the best for its own citizens (though not at the expense of other countries, i.e. conquering a neighbor). A primary role of government is to maintain order and the ability to live peaceably within one’s borders. The other way to say this is to promote “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” and maintain true justice and human rights.

Second, every nation that flourishes walks in step with God’s ideals for human flourishing. For Christians this is so obvious as to be redundant. A nation that flourishes, then, will highlight justice and integrity, compassion and kindness. These are like 4 wheels on a car: each is needed to drive the car forward.

Third, the United States is based on opportunity, an industrious spirit, merit, ‘blind justice’ (citizens equal before the law because of equal human dignity). The American Dream is not so much prosperity as it is opportunity; not more possessions, but more decision-making power. America has always looked forward—to build a better life, a better nation, a better world. A city on a hill. A place where people dream of coming and achieving untapped potential. As we review the history of the North American Continent, 95% of us are of immigrant stock, and we built the US (and Canada) from wilderness to world leadership because we based it on freedom of the individual to flourish.

Fourth, the two major tragedies of our past are so humiliating because they contradict our ideals: The awful treatment of Native population, and the horror of slavery and its hangover. We have failed our ideals miserably in both these areas. And we’ve failed God’s ideals.

At this moment, we are in danger of allowing within our midst a third human tragedy on a national scale: our ultimate treatment &/or ‘solving’ of the question of the dilemma of undocumented persons in our midst, of illegal immigrants into our border.

The need is urgent for many Christians to think with more creativity. So let us consider together.

1) Consider the individual & their home

Think of a village or town in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America: Economic prospects are bleak (to put it mildly). The future for your family is tenuous. Mere existence is the daily grind. There’s very little “pursuit of happiness.”

Consider this: of the people in that village, who would embark on a 500-mile mile journey to a distant country for a better life? The ones with courage &/or resourcefulness, those who not only want a better life but who will work to make it happen.

What is their expectation as they start their journey? Perhaps they go with limited knowledge of VISA prospects but hope for the best. Or they go with encouragement of family in the US (“just come, we’ll figure it out”). Maybe there’s a handler who says “I can get you in, for a fee.” Or they know they’re coming illegally.

In those cases where a handler has promised entry: Often the handler will be crooked, and drop them off near the border, obviously without proper paperwork. At that point, the migrant has few choices: enter this dreamed-of land with no papers, remain in the borderland of Mexico (which is not home, has no job prospects, and has a high level of crime), or attempt to make the trek back to one’s home village. It’s not hard to see why people cross illegally.

Perhaps, back in the village, there’s no handler, but there’s a solo trek across Mexico to get to the US. There is a 1½-3 year waiting period to obtain a visa, as of 2011. [https://www.us-immigration.com/us-immigration-news/us-immigration/how-long-does-it-take-for-an-immigrant-to-legally-come-to-the-united-states/] This legal immigration road would entail multiple correspondences with the US embassy/consulate. This might just seem too long in a dead-end home where things never get better.

From our end it’s illegal immigration. I don’t think that’s the overwhelming concern in the village. They are willing to risk anything and everything on a better life. They know that if they get to the US they can get jobs and begin to change their lives.

Perhaps they should think more clearly about immigration status before leaving home. But can you blame them? Stay for a no hope existence; Go for a risky-but-American-Dream future. Get to America and make more in a week than most make in a month, send support back to mom or wife, and ultimately bring your family to America too.

They are simply trying to get out and make a better life. This does not mean that they are in the right to cross the border illegally. But it helps me remember where someone came from and what they came to. They desperately want what we have been born into.

2) Consider change in status

Not all who find themselves in the US illegally came here illegally. Consider this accounting from an attorney friend of mine:

I’ve got a client who came to the United States in 1998 with his wife and his 1 year old son. He left a terrible situation in Mexico. I’m not sure mechanically how they got here. He is diligent, law abiding, fair. He loves his family, has been married to one woman and works hard. Initially, he obtained a work permit and began working as a textile worker. He kept the same job for almost a decade. He and his wife had 3 more children born in the United States. They paid taxes. He had a valid driver’s license. He was never arrested or charged with any violation of law. About 5 years ago, he went to renew his driver’s license and was told that he had to present a social security card in order to renew. He’d had a NC driver’s license for more than a decade. He never was issued a Social Security Number. He tried to get one, but was told that his status in the US was no longer permitted. He could not even apply for a SSN. He has remained in the US…illegally for several years. His only option was to leave the US and apply for entry and then wait or he could stay and do the best he could. He would never abandon his family. He stayed. For years, he kept his nose clean, obeyed the speed limit, worked as a painter for cash (all the while still reporting the income to the IRS, who, by the way, gladly took his money each year). What do we call this man? Is he an illegal? Is it fair to consider him in the same light as someone who, in 2017 may be aware of the illegality of their act, who comes anyway, no matter the reason or justification? 

His status changed, and now he’s undocumented. The laws changed, and now he’s in a shadow bureaucratic existence. What should he do?

[parts 2 & 3 will be published tomorrow – including Scriptural insights. You can “subscribe via email” and get each post delivered to your inbox; see above right]

Of Scuba Gear and Insurance Policies

What is the nature of the gospel? When it comes to you and me, and our interaction with Jesus Christ for salvation, what does that interaction look like in our lives?

Many people think of it like they think of an insurance policy. When you want life insurance, you make a decision to buy it, you pay some money, and then you forget about it… until you are in trouble years later. Too many people think of salvation like this: a one-time decision, go on living your own life, and then when you die you are assured of a good outcome.

This is wrong. It’s not anywhere in Scripture. It’s against the very heart of the gospel message. A better way to think of it is this: you are trapped under water. Doomed. Certain death is moments away. When all of a sudden, from above, comes a scuba diver. He takes off his scuba gear and holds it out to you.

Do you take it? Only if you think there’s air in the tanks. Only if you can see yourself doing the impossible: breathing underwater. Only if you trust the person giving it to you. Only if you want to live.

You grab the mouthpiece, and take a breath. Life. Right now. You put on the tanks, and strap them on to your back. You are wearing the Scuba Gear. You are rescued.

The nature of the gospel is this: you wear it. You put it on. You grab hold of it. For every breath. The gospel isn’t something you think of once, and then get a big payout when you die.

The gospel – God’s love toward in Christ Jesus – is this: you put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and being clothed in him, you are saved from death and doom, and you are assured of a place in God’s everlasting kingdom.

With the scuba gear on, you can work to free yourself from the trapped-ness of being underwater. This too reminds me of the gospel: once we are breathing the air of God’s grace, we have the presence of mind to work at ridding ourselves of the things that trap us and doom us: Secret sins, wrong habits, error-filled thinking, selfish ambition… these will do us in, if we don’t attack them and free ourselves from them. The problem is that we don’t have the power to do this on our own.

But breathing the air of the gospel through the scuba tanks means that we have God’s power to free us from the stuff of life that traps us here.

And, very soon we float up to that place we were created for: just like a regular trapped swimmer can come up to the air they can breathe, so too, God has created us to be with him. And, as we grab hold of that scuba gear called The Gospel it won’t be long until we are breathing the clean, fresh air of the Presence that we were created for.

The gospel changes everything about us. It’s not insurance for one day in the future, it’s Scuba gear for every breath.

If Jesus hasn’t changed your life, then he hasn’t changed your heart.

If he hasn’t changed your heart, then he hasn’t changed your eternity.

Thus, if Christ hasn’t changed your daily life, then you have to ask yourself, has he really changed your eternity?

How to get ready today

If you know your boss is coming to check out your work, you prepare for it.

If you know your mom is coming to visit, you clean your house.

If you know the IRS is coming to audit, you get things in order.

If you know the Cable Guy is coming (anytime between 9-noon!!), you have arrange your schedule to be home for it.

We all understand the concept “being ready” for a visit that we know is coming. In Matthew 24-25, Jesus reminds us of the Visitation that is unmistakable. The Coming of the Son of Man at the end of time is not a “maybe-maybe not” scenario. He is coming.

The only unknown is the When.  (Read Matthew 24:36-25:13 – that is the theme of this portion: “be ready for he is coming at a day and an hour you are not aware.”)

Our stance in daily life, then, has got to be one of vigilance, faithfulness and preparation.

Consider the following areas of our lives, and how you can grow in preparing yourself today so that you can look Your Savior in the eyes at his coming! Unashamed. Joyfilled. Use the following to do an “audit” of your life.

  • Affections – what is it that you love and long for more than anything? Are you cultivating your heart to be more consumed with Jesus?
  • Practices or Habits – what is it that you spend your time doing? Which of the things you listed are redemptive, which are neutral, and which draw you away from godliness?
  • Speech – how God-honoring are the words that come out of your mouth?
  • Decisions – do they reflect God’s priorities? Do they strain toward “putting to death my sinful nature” & walking in the Fruit of the Spirit.
  • Sin – are you giving room in your life for things you know are wrong? “It’s just my little peccadilo”. NO! Do battle against sin that so easily entangles us. Also, are you asking God to show you your blind-spots and hidden errors?
  • Confession – how often do you seek God’s forgiveness? His power? His Priorities? How often do you throw yourself on his mercy?
  • Praise – when was the last time you simply told God (in speaking, writing or singing) how great he is and why?

Watch the Lord make you more like Christ, and make your life more fulfilled, as you address these areas in your life seriously!

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