Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thoughts for the National Day of Prayer 2013 - Blessing the Nations Among Us

On this National Day of Prayer many are asking God to bless us as a nation. And there is nothing wrong with that. The fact is, God has blessed us more than any nation in the history of mankind. But isn’t it time, we instead ask God how we can be a blessing to others, especially to the nations among us? The fact is, we are blessed to be a blessing to the nations.
Our nation faces many difficult challenges today. But what has been in the news and on my minds in past few weeks is what may well be a defining issue of how God will, or won't, bless our nation again. The Boston bombing brings front and center the fact that we are a land of immigrants, some of whom hate us or at least what they think America stands for. Immigration reform is also a major issue before Congress. What should our response be as Christians to our changing demographics, the growing pluralism, the multiculturalism and the growing diaspora population of our land? 

As Christ follower we need to put aside the political debate and focus on a Biblical answers. I am however often saddened by what I see from those who claim to be Christians. The all too common vitriolic response, especially to Muslims, as expressed on social media, by Christians is most unChrist-like. Something has got to change. Here’s a quote that I read yesterday that shapes it well:
"Christians aren't better than Muslims. Christians aren't better than Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We all share in the same fallenness. We must love them like Christ. We must talk to them like Christ. We must invite them to Christ. But doing all of that requires that we first start thinking like Christ."
Let me unpack this a little further. With our position in Christ, there is a difference between being better and being better off. We are immeasurably better off knowing Christ, with Christ, for Christ, then we could ever be without him. That needs to inform how we relate to others since we are no better than anyone, apart from Christ. Human to human we are no better than anyone. Only in Christ do we find our difference (Romans 3:23), which then must compel us to love others as he does. As we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16) we must think differently and we can but our thinking must align with what our Lord says is important to him - the essence of repentance. 
As a God of justice and mercy, when the Lord began to lay out the social responsibilities of his people, immediately after liberating them from Egypt, treatment of the immigrant was at the top of his list. 

In Exodus 22:2 we read: "Do not ill-treat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt."

In Exodus 23:9 we read: "Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt."
Immediately following the Exodus the Lord tells his newly liberated people, who had not even yet been formed as a nation, who had not yet encountered a foreigner, how important he thinks treating other "nations" in their midst was to him. The Lord gives instruction - not once but twice.

When the Lord says something once it is important, when he repeats himself we need to understand how important it is to him, and when he repeatedly directs his people concerning a matter we had best listen and obey. God's global witness is at stake through how the foreigner is treated by God's people.

Recently, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists did a study of Muslims in the Bible-belt.  Most Muslims reported that they had never met a Christian. How could that be in our "Christian nation?" Many Muslims feel alienated, marginalized and oppressed in America. We may think we are justified in our negative attitudes, even animosity, toward Muslims due to people like the Tsarnaev brothers, but Biblically, we have no right to such thinking.

Moses clearly got the memo, understood and instructs this new nation, Israel, saying in Deuteronomy 10:18

“He (the Lord) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

And in Deuteronomy 10:19, Moses takes it even further:

“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Moses reminds the people of their blessings of liberty and tells the Israelites they were not only to care for but to love the foreigner. How often we think they are one and the same – providing care and love. But are they really? Giving a handout is easy. Loving the foreigner, especially one like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is much more difficult. 

We need to think better about what it means to love our neighbor. Our blessings are not simply to be shared out of obligation but out of compassion, mercy, and lovingkindness. We are to think like Christ toward those the Lord has brought to our nation. And, when we respond our motives are as important to our God as our obedience. We are to love others as ourselves.

Love requires relationship and that’s hard work. But it must be done. That is the life we are called to as Christians but one that we don’t seem to live well as Americans, especially when it comes to loving our cross-cultural neighbors. We should know that God ties his blessing to his people’s obedience and gives us a choice to make.

 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 
But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy
We are blessed to be a blessing and how we handle our blessings makes all the difference in the world. God leaves the choice up to us, that is the free will he gives us, of how we will live in relationship to others. But here's some questions to answer to flush this out even more:  

Does God change?
Has God’s heart for the foreigner changed?
Does God still bless obedience? 

How you answer those questions should inform what you do next. On this National Day of Prayer, I think it is important to consider how we have been so richly blessed but more so how we have too frequently taken for granted our blessings, so now what?

At the end of the Old Testament account, we read in Malachi, a charge brought by the Lord against his people for they had deprived the foreigners of justice and did not fear the Lord (Malachi 3:5). Malachi closes out the Biblical record of how the Lord dealt with a people who refused to obey his commands to love the foreigner as themselves. They had turned to all manner of false idols and neglected the commands of God. Where are we today?   

Let’s pray God has mercy upon our nation. Let’s start thinking like Christ. Let's bless the nations among us!

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