Sunday, June 30, 2013

@ the Intersection of Faith & Politics: DOMA was Doomed but Not Marriage

Marriage is an institution of God. That cannot be changed by any court, by any movement to the contrary or any further decay in our country. The Supreme Court decisions on the two key cases before them last week, got it at least 50% percent right with respect to the Constitution. We might of hoped for different, maybe even prayed for it, but this was to be expected, and might actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

The Defense of Marriage act was doomed from the start. As soon as enough opposition could be mounted against it and brought before the High Court the result was inevitable. As much as some Christians love the idea that our Federal government defined marriage, at least for a time, there is nothing in the Constitution that allows for such a definition, whatever that definition may be. This point is something we need to hold on to. The decision might not sit well with many Conservative Christians, but it's the right thing to do, especially if you believe that upholding the Constitution is the right thing.

We can not claim on the one-hand that Federally mandated abortion is unconstitutional, for example, and on the other hand say that the Fed should uphold our understanding of marriage. Constitutionally, the Fed doesn't have the authority in either case. Of course that hasn't stopped them in the past from passing legislation to the contrary. But perhaps instead of fighting against this decision, we should, on the political side of the street, see it as an opportunity to speak about consistency in limiting the powers of our central government. That is something that Conservative Christians usually do champion. How far the argument goes today is anyone's guess but it still needs to be made well and reasonably. 

The DOMA decision does allow gay couples the right to certain Federal benefits, Same-sex couples who are legally married, which is only in 18 States presently, can now participate in federal benefits which until now have been available to traditionally married couples. This doesn't change the definition of marriage, at a Federal level, rather it simply expands who is entitled to these taxpayer benefits. I think that represents the fair and balanced scales of justice.

The 50% the SCOUS got wrong this week was concerning California's Prop 8. The Supremes, at least 5 of them anyway, thumbed their noses at the 10th Amendment, once again. The 10th gives power to the States to decide matters not vested by the Constitution to the Fed. No court in our land should overrule the democratic process of "We the People," as the lower court in California did. Doing so vests too much power in a small group of unelected leaders and opens the door for injustice. By way of a technicality, taking the easy way out, and returning the case to the lower court, the SCOUS showed they lacked Constitutional conviction. But that is where our court is today, however...

All the SCOUS accomplished this week is the continuation of this part of our culture war, and that's not a good thing. Neither side won a clear victory however so the battles continues. On the one hand, the decision doesn't define same-sex marriage as the law of the land.  It will be reinstated in California - against the will of the people who voted for Prop 8 - which is sad. But there are still 32 states with their own laws that still define marriage as between one man and one woman. This decision doesn't overrule that fact. On the other hand, the decision give us another opportunity to reconsider how we, as Christ followers, should respond to important culture issues. Clearly, fear or bitterness have no place in our response but either does apathy or the status quo. 

Regardless of what our culture does, marriage is not doomed in this country. Same-sex marriage does not affect my marriage or yours, at least it shouldn't. That is not to say the advances made by same-sex marriage serve the common good, they don't. When people fight so bitterly for the redefinition of a word and concept, all for personal gain that's not a good thing. Marriage, as Albert Mohler points out is meant for human flourishing, and whether one believes in God or not, that is a important concept. Marriage must have a high place in our culture. Therefore, it is past time for the Church to regain a prophetic voice and say enough, but that will require more than screaming at the darkness. It will require demonstrating the benefits of the Light.

What this historical moment should do, hopefully will do, is wake up many to the benefits of Biblical marriage, the strength of Godly families, and the rightness of God's original design. I'm talking about in the Church. The ball is now in our court, so how we respond will go a long way toward re-redefining marriage according to truth. If the concept of marriage fails in this country, it won't be because a small percentage of gay couples misappropriated the definition but because Christian marriages continue to be seen as no different from the rest our culture, with the same failure rate. Can there be a difference in our one-flesh relationships? There must be to give a witness that we have Christ as the center of lives and relationships.

God's design for marriage certainly never changes. As Mohler rightly notes, marriage is defined by our Creator. A culture can fail, marriage can fail, the Church can fail - in the short-term - but God's eternal truth never fails. We can exchange the truth of God for a lie but that doesn't change the truth of God. We shouldn't wring our hands, or put on sack clothe and ashes, but rather live even more as salt and light, noticeably different, offering different ideas, in our darkening culture. Even one small light pushes back the darkness. And, we must do so with love and understanding, not judgment and condemnation.

I came across this blog post that I think is worthy of much prayer and consideration: "Why the Supreme Court’s Decision for Gay Marriage May be the Best Thing for the American Church" This article speaks to the fact that at the Intersection of Faith and Politics, the right direction is always the direction Jesus wants us to go. Our reliance is not on what our government does, or will do in the future, but on the Holy Spirit and a life centered on Christ. That's the direction I'm heading at the intersection, how about you?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demonstration is the Key - Part III

It has been an interesting week of rethinking for me, since my FB friend objected to my use of the Penn Gillette quote and the word "demonstrate." I took some time for social media interaction on a blog post entitled: "The myth of Friendship Evangelism debunked." I won't bore you with the details but to say that there needs to be a lot of rethinking about this all important subject.

Then I also came across this website article on "Friendship Evangelism," which states in part: 
"becoming friends with unbelievers in order to gain enough credibility so they will listen to the gospel, fails to recognize several important biblical truths. For one thing, believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). The essence of friendship is mutual respect and affection based on agreement on basic life principles. But can a believer really have such a relationship with an unbeliever? In light of James 4:4 and Ephesians 5:11, such a relationship is not biblical." 
I don't share this because I agree with the author but because of the glaring misunderstanding of Scripture I think he presents and the very reason I believe demonstration is the key to evangelism. Much could be said about the number of errors in this thinking but I'll just make two points. First, the idea of being unequally yoked is not an admonition to avoid friendship with unbelievers, Jesus certainly never did - all of the Apostles were "unbelievers" when Jesus said "follow me" and they spent the next 3 1/2 years living together. What Paul is speaking to here idolatry in relation to how the Corinthians were living in light of the Gospel. Paul might have something similar to say about our culture Christianity today as well. 

Second, this comment, "But can a believer really have such a relationship with an unbeliever?" speaks to a clear need to reframe evangelism through a cross-cultural mission dynamic of building "bridges of love." The author in the above quote does get it right when he says, "The essence of friendship is mutual respect and affection based on agreement on basic life principles." In the missionary task, building such mutual respect and affection is vital to the advance of the Gospel. Being disrespectful or unloving won't demonstrate the Gospel the way Jesus or the early disciples did, especially in a cross-cultural context. In our post-Christian culture, it would help to begin to rethink evangelism as a cross-cultural missionary because of the vast differences in worldview. 

We should never fear engaging the world or thinking that we're somehow better than "unbelievers." (Romans 3:23). When we know who we are in Christ, we have nothing to fear from this world. Many theologians today say we have a crisis of Christology, not knowing who we truly are in Christ (I'll be blogging more about this in the future). The result is disengagement from the world and the very reason that Christians today are seen as "unChristian." We are all too eager to judge the world and remove ourselves from it, when Jesus entered it and send us out as a sacrifice into it (Matthew 10:16).

Then when we remove friendship from our definition of evangelism, and make it only about the delivery of a "presentation," we reduce the Gospel to a formula we think will "get people saved." There is no lack of "Gospel presentations" available today - with Christian radio, Christian television, Christian websites, Christian books, and Christian churches that present the "Gospel." But have you noticed it is not working. When 60 percent of our population won't darken the doors of a church it's time to rethink our approach.The best way to do that, is to rethink of our task as missionaries.

What is missing today often is the importance of authentic "Christian" witness. Jesus says in Acts 1:8 that his followers would be "witnesses." The Greek word here is martyr and while we may not face physical death, Jesus does call us to a life of willing sacrifice us that others may take notice of our lives. That was kind of Paul's point to the Corinthians when he says in his second letter to the Corinthian Christians writes:
"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
Notice what Paul says metaphorically: "you are a letter from Christ." And others are reading it. That's demonstration!

In Acts 26:20 Paul says he "preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds." Who would they demonstrate "their repentance by their deeds too?" Obviously to a watching world, that same world that is still watching Christians, so we need to consider that in our evangelism. If you don't think the world is watching how we demonstrate what we say we believe just take a look at this chart (click to enlarge in a new window):

(source: - Franks, major point in this blog post is the world is watching how Christian treat one another.)

Gives you pause for thought, doesn't it? Should we be concerned? 
If demonstration is the key to evangelism - absolutely!

This chart represents responses from non-Christians who have encountered a Christian, possibly on social media, but who weren't a "letter" worth reading. Rather than as a living "letter from Christ, when we come off as "unChristian" and unloving, our story is seen as unworthy of much consideration. This is the result of thinking friendship doesn't play a role in how we share the Gospel, shows a lack of respect for others who are made in the image of God and is without affection and therefore ineffectual.

I'm not saying that there won't be some who will still "hate" Christians (John 15:18), but that is not an excuse to not seek to befriend such people. Such demonstration may actually turn hearts, which is why it is important we rethink how we live in such a way that people see our message is consistent with what we say we believe. One of the best ways to demonstrate that is to be a friend.

Paul further writes, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). God's demonstrated his love, the foundation of the Good News, by taking action - sending his Son to die for the sins of the world. Jesus came to demonstrate the Father's love and power and sends us out in the same way. As sent one's, our evangelism then must demonstrate the love of God for all people in ways that are not only heard but seen by a watching world. Being a friend is the key here.

In Part IV of this series, I will share thoughts from my friend, Pastor Tim Ahlen, as he answers the question posed to on his LinkedIn group - the Great Commission Initiative: "The world has changed. We can change our methods but not the message. How do we catch up with the new world?" Tim offers some thinking from a cross-cultural context to help us rethink evangelism in our changing world. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rethinking Obedience: The Just Shall Live by Faith - Part I

Over at Miguel Labrador's blog "God Directed Deviations" this morning, he asks an important question in his post: The Gospel Is To Be Obeyed. But How? Miguel asks: "how do you suppose the Gospel is to be “obeyed?” it's a good question that got me rethinking this idea of obedience that we all struggle with. 

I think part of our challenge in our understanding obedience is that our thinking has been shaped by a Judeo-Christian emphasis on doing good. Christians ethics have their place but we set ourselves up for failure when we hold to an ideal of being good, of trying to live right, "to please the Lord." There's nothing wrong with doing/being good, of course, but how many of us can do so with daily consistency? I know I can't but I also know I'm in good company with guys like, well, the Apostle Paul for instance when he says, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" (Romans 7:24).

Miguel asks this questions in respect to our response to the Gospel. But as I contend, the Gospel is not simply an idea about Jesus, or the story of Jesus, but is in fact the Person of Jesus who is with us always. That is after all what our Lord did say, right? So do we accept this by faith and if so what is our response?

Here's how I answered Miguel's questions:  
Paul says in Romans 16:19, “Everyone has heard about your obedience,” so I think if we understand what the Roman Christians were doing to “obey” it might go a long way toward answering your question. At the end of the letter, Paul is still speaking to the Romans believers, the same believers he admonished in Chapter 2 for “passing judgment” on others. Obviously, a perfect life of doing just the right things is not in view here. So what is? 
Paul spends significant time in this letter developing the concept of faith, which isn’t established on anything we do, but on God’s own faithfulness (Romans 3:2-4) – faith as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Are we depending upon God’s faithfulness to us apart from anything we can do to earn a right standing with God? 
In Chapter 9 Paul goes on to contrast the life of faith to the Israelites, saying, they “pursued the law as the way of righteousness” but that they “have not attained their goal.” (Romans 9:30). When we think of obedience in terms of doing right, not sinning, as a list of do’s and don’t we can and often do miss the one thing God is asking of us – the “just will live by faith” in Christ. That’s where Paul starts from in Romans 1:17. In fact, Paul bookends this letter by the phrase:”obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26). 
This the begs the question, who are we relying on for our obedience? On our own ability or a gift from God? Once we truly understand and appreciate the precious gift we have been given we can then live in response to that gift and will want to share it with others in obedience to Jesus mandate to make disciples.

How do you view obedience? Are we obligated to obey Jesus commands? 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demostration is the Key - Part II

Continuing on with the idea that "demonstration" is the key to evangelism, over the next two posts I want to develop further the reasons I believe this is true. Evangelism is the act of "sharing the Good News," the word "Gospel" being translated from the Greek - euaggelion. We should naturally want to share Good News, especially when it's the best news in the world. which I think was Penn Jillette point that got this series started.

Why wouldn't every Christ follower want to enthusiastically share such Good News? My experience with Evangelism Explosion showed me that people are scared of evangelism and others turned off by the very concept. There's that big scary P word that repulses many today - Proselytize. The reason for this, I think, has to do with how we misunderstand the evangelistic task. The decline of church attendance and growth of the "nones" should tell us something isn't working. If it takes an atheist to make a valid point, maybe with a bit of hyperbole, to get people thinking about this all important task I say - so be it.

In Part I, I mentioned my encounter with a FB friend who not only took exception to my Facebook post of a comment by Penn but my focus on "demonstration." In discussing the task of the Church, I had referred to "demonstration of the Good News" in reference to Matthew 24:14. I used this word intentionally to amplify the text and I was summarily accused of "heresy" for replacing the word "preached." No one wants to be charged with "heresy," unless perhaps being heretical is your thing - especially over a Facebook post. But this has given me this opportunity to rethink evangelism which is something we, the Church, need to consistently to reevaluate what is working and what needs revising.

Toward a "Practical Exhibition" of the Gospel

In Matthew 24:14, Jesus says: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." My crime of "heresy" was the word replacement, my FB friend evidently missing the fact that translation is never an exacting discipline - that's why different translations often use different words. But I wasn't after a re-translation but a commentary. The point I was trying to make was how we are to live in light of the Gospel. I'll let you decide how far off the mark I was by replacing "preach" with "demonstrate."  

The Greek word translated "preached" in Matthew 24:14 is kēryssō which is also translated as "proclaimed" which may be a better word choice. The Greek is rendered as a verb, in the future tense, making it an action word with future implications. Jesus was saying that in the future the Gospel will be communicated - for that is what the act of proclaimation - as a message about Christ's Kingdom. (Note here that the Kingdom Jesus was communicating is more than a salvation message but that's for another post.) The word "demonstrate" is also a verb, defined as "to clearly show the existence or truth of (something) by giving proof or evidence." It also means, "to give a practical exhibition and explanation of."

One reason I use the word "demonstrate" is because the task of "preaching" is too often assigned solely to professionals, which it was never meant to be. Jesus wasn't just holding a Pastors conference when he said the Gospel would be "preached." Not that there is not a Biblical role for Preacher, but it's not the Preachers task alone to "Proclaim" the Gospel. Though when we focus on "preaching" as the centerpiece of our evangelism, we hear things like, "invite your friends to church." Why don't we just invite them to Jesus, by proclaiming the Gospel?  That is a task for ordinary "brothers and sisters" (Philippians 1:14), not just paid preachers.

Nor, does Scripture instruct us that every believer is called to be "Preacher." We are called to let be salt and light, and to offer a consistent witness to what we claim to believe. That is to be an "practical exhibition" of the euaggelion.. We are called to "proclaim" Christ in word and deed - that's demonstration! Finishing the task Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24:14 requires many harvest workers, not just the paid pros, if it is going to be completed sooner rather than later. So how can we rethink evangelism to get there?

Our task in evangelism is to clearly show evidence of what God has done for us and what he has always been doing in his-story. The best way to do this is to share our testimony because no one can rightly argue against such evidence. That should come naturally, if we're enthused by what God has done in our lives. The first thing I was trained to do and trained others to do in Evangelism Explosion was to share our testimony. But unless our testimony matches our life, giving "practical exhibition" of what we say we believe, people aren't going to receive our message as valid. They will rightly think we're hypocrites.

The Biblical Emphasis of Demonstration

When the Apostles began to proclaim the Gospel they did so by speaking of the resurrection as a promised fulfilled to clearly show the truth of God's Word. Peter preached his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost to show "that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (Acts 2:36).  The Apostles also demonstrated the Gospel through "many wonders and signs" in such a way that "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). Acts also records that it was obvious to onlookers that "these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13).

All three Acts accounts demonstrate the Gospel - communicating the Jesus story, the power of the Holy Spirit at work, and living as a witness for Jesus. We need all three to be effective. We must participate in the first and third while still praying for the second.

From the start of the Church, demonstration has been vital to sharing the Gospel. Paul confirms this when he says, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power." (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

It seems Peter and Paul would both agree that demonstration is the key to evangelism, so where did my FB friend go wrong?  

Getting Off Track

One way we go wrong is when we reduce evangelism to preaching a message of personal salvation only, but that's not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 24:14. Jesus is talking about a Kingdom message (I am blogging about the Kingdom in other posts). The emphasis on personal salvation, where my FB friend was coming from and one all to common in Evangelicalism, focuses on getting people "saved." We go off track when we make a part of the story, salvation, the focal point of our evangelism and neglect the whole Gospel message of the Kingdom. Then we don't live the Kingdom life we're called to or demonstrate what we say we believe really has transformation value (more on this in the next post).

Not only has evangelism often been reduced to a personal salvation message, which is only part of the story, but the Gospel has also been reduced to a formula. According to this formula, a "lost" person only needs to believe some pre-assembled words and they will be saved - end of story. Such reductionism, besides missing the grand story the Bibles tells, as well as Jesus emphasis on the Kingdom, has also produced the dearth of discipleship in the Church today. I'm not opposed to a Biblical pattern for sharing the Gospel through Scripture, but to a formula mentality especially when delivered with "ugly orthodoxy"- compassion-less dogmatism.

The Gospel is not a formula - the Gospel is a Person! The Gospel is not just about a person - Jesus Christ - but is a living Person who is with us always (Matthew 28:20), if we believe his promise. Our evangelism then should not be reduced to mere words about him but demonstrated by how we live for him, with him, in him and through him. We may "Preach the Word," if we are so appointed (1 Timothy 2:7) - but more so we are to "live the Word," and by it proclaim to the world - His Kingdom is at hand. Every Christ-follower is appointed to that task. Paul urges each of us to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Ephesians 4:1). That's demonstration! 

As St. Francis of Assisi so succinctly put it: "Preach the gospel. And if necessary, use words." St. Francis apparently understood that demonstration is the key to evangelism too. 

I have more to share on this topic and I will pick this up more in Part III of this series on Rethinking Evangelism. This will be a multi-part series so I  invite you to subscribe above to get these posts emailed directly to you, "like" the brand new Living Sent Today Facebook page, or follow on Twitter @LivingSentToday.

What do you think of this emphasis on demonstration? What do you think of St. Francis' famous quip? 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demostration is the Key - Part I

One of the first training programs I participated in after becoming a Christian, that I was discipled through and became a trainer of was Evangelism Explosion (EE). If you are not familiar with this training program, the student is taught to develop a multi-point story to share the Gospel. By learning small parts of this story each week, over 13 weeks including Bible verses and illustrations, the student incrementally grasps the task of evangelism toward becoming an effective witness. That's the goal of EE and it is a good starting place.

For me, Evangelism Explosion, was foundational in my early years of being a Christ-follower and my first ministry involvement. EE taught me a "story" because it is the retelling of this story of Good News that is central to the task of Evangelism. It is a life-changing, society transforming story because of the Person this story is about. The story needs to be retold again and again. However, it is not the telling of story, in itself, that is key to our effectiveness in evangelism but of the demonstration of that story, in how we live before others. There is also that "salt" and "light" thing Jesus mentioned that needs to be considered. Being a living testimony and giving testimony, sharing the story, about the life, death and resurrction of Jesus are two sides of the same coin.

We need both sides of the coin to be effective however any story that cannot be demonstrated as cogent, coherent and cohesive for all of life, won't have much of a consistent effect on changing people lives, regardless of who the story is about. It quickly becomes just another story without consistency to the values that story is said to represent. The world is full of such stories, especially in our postmodern world. That is why we are commanded not to simply retell the story but to live it well (I'll address this idea in the next post). To say that the sole task of the Church is to "preach the Gospel," as a Facebook friend recently opined with ramming speed forcefulness, is to reduce the story to mere words that have consistently proven to fall short, especially today in our post-Christian culture.

That is not to diminish the preaching or proclaimation of the Word as central to the task of the Church, but as Christian philosopher, Fransic Schaeffer understood, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world,”and being ugly just doesn't "get er dun."
Compassion is an important Biblical form of demonstration. When Jesus entered this material realm from his heavenly home John 1:14 says says that the "Word became flesh" and took up residence to demonstrate the Father's love. While Jesus preached the Word, a message of repentance (Matthew 4:17), he lived a life that showed forth the glory of his Father (John 17:4). That is why we must talk about the Gospel in word and deed, with demonstration as the key to evangelism.

We can believe and say all the right words but without demonstration that we are actually living by and not simply believing in the words we proclaim as truth we simply make a lot of noise. This was Paul's point when he began to speak of the "more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31-13:3). Schaeffer's comment reminds me of the old saying, "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." This has to be true for how we share the Gospel, not just ramrod "Biblical orthodoxy," but trying to live a story that demonstrates we believe what we proclaim - grace, love, mercy, hope, peace and salvation.

Why am I rethinking Evangelism in this way, as demonstration as the key? Because my Facebook friend leveled the accusation that I was understanding the Gospel through a "missional reinterpretation." I'm not sure that that's necessarily a bad thing, because I'm a stated fan of rethinking what I understand. My friends objection however was in response to the fact that I had stated that demonstration of the Good News was part of the task of the Church. My FB friend, obviously of the "Biblical Orthodoxy" tribe Schaeffer infers, insisted we only need to "preach" the Gospel, with an unspoken ugliness of "to the heathen." Our Facebook exchange resulted from this post:

According to my friend, my sin was that I had found agreement with an atheist, on a philosophical statement with evangelism undertones. I was accused of being in cahoots with a "fool" like Penn Jillette. How could I post such a thing because such "heathen" are without honor or truth! What Penn asks does give us pause for thought, coming as it does from a professed atheist. Perhaps, my friend would have had a different response, if I had quoted the great 19th Century theologia Charles Spurgeon who opined rather bluntly, "Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that."

I tried to explain that Paul likewise quoted a "heathen," an ancient Greek playwright named Menander, (1 Corinthians 15:33), who just happened to be a comedian too. What is most interesting about Paul's quote of Menander is that it comes as he admonitions the Corinthian Christians to "come back to your senses as you ought and stop sinning" (v 34). Paul evidently understood that how we live in light of the Gospel, after he had just shared the story again (see 1 Cor 15:1 ff), was key. We are called to demonstrate what we say we believe by how we live, not just by what we say. 

Evangelism must be demonstrated to be effective and I'll take up the definition of "demonstrate" in Part II. But if understanding the Gospel in terms of demonstration is "missional reinterpreation," I'm guilty. How about you? It is also the basis for Living Sent Today.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Intersection of Faith & Politics - What would Jesus do about illegal immigration?

My new ministry, Ethnic Embrace USA, seeks to inform, inspire and equip Christ followers to think well about, pray for and reach out to our increasingly diverse "strangers next door." My ministry of prayer and evangelism mobilization has led me over the past two years to consider the foreigners in our midst, including those who are here "illegally." Both legal and illegal status of our immigrant population present unique challenges  and opportunities for Christians to think about at the intersection of faith and politics. Now with immigration reform front-page news again, and questions about how to deal with illegal immigrants a hot button issue of the day, I wanted to write about this issue in a way that would be different from what the media would report. Thus the title of this blog.

Now I don't profess to be an expert on all, or for that matter any, of the issues of immigration, but as I consider the prevailing political climate against the backdrop of God's heart for the foreigner, I find some things that urgently need to be redressed. My comments are meant for Christ-followers and may be of little value to others. But hopefully, as a Christ-follower, you will find something to at least think about the next time you engage in an online immigration debate in our social media crazed world.

The forces of globalization, urbanization and migration are changing our cities and communities, and will well into the future. I am convinced that immigration into the USA - Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, non-religious, and Christian - serves God's purposes in history toward the completion of his cosmic plan (see Revelation 7:9). It is the Lord who marks out appointed times and defines boundaries for the nations (Acts 17:26) and does so for his purposes. More people are on the move than ever before (estimated to be about 232 million globally), so understanding something of our global realities, through a starting point of God's sovereignty (Psalm 22:28), is vital as Christ-followers.  

Illegal immigration is a complex issue with forces at work that may thwart any efforts to reach a political solution and achieve good policy - coming from both sides of our political isle. The simple fact is there are at least 43 million immigrants who now call the USA home, with 10-12 million estimated to be "illegal" - men, women and children. Addressing the challenges of illegal immigration is not only difficult but has become another emotionally charged and divisive issue, even within the Church. Politically, what Democrats and Republicans both agree on is that there is a problem that needs fixing. What Christ-followers should agree on is our position should be informed by making our best effort to answer the question: "what would Jesus do about illegal immigration?" But easy answers are not in the offing. 

We also need to recognize that our government policies, to some extent, have contributed to this challenge and failure to secure our borders is only one of the issues. In fact, many immigrants come here legally at first and then disappear into our communities (between 30- 50% according to a Pew Research Study), so building a fence is only one part of the solution. Our immigration system, or insufficiency thereof, coupled with economic realities (business desire for low wage workers being only one) and other global pressure points all contribute to this problem. If we, as a nation, are partly responsible for our present challenge, and failure to reach good policy makes it so, we should take responsibility by at least demanding that our national leaders get it right this time. More importantly, as Christ followers we must seek solutions that do justice but also extend mercy. I am pretty sure that is what Jesus would do.

A dear friend, who opposes the current immigration reform now before Congress, recently asked me this exact question: "what would Jesus do?" The context: "with those who broke the law." The implication was that Jesus would not be in favor of "amnesty" because he would support our laws.  My read of Jesus however is that he wasn't necessarily stuck on the prevailing law of the culture, challenged the system on the basis of mercy (John 8:1-11), and extended forgiveness as his primary mission. Perhaps the better question is: "what would Jesus ask us to do?" Clearly, he would be looking for a response that glorifies the Father and serves his purposes, rather than our self-interests. That is after all what Jesus did do (John 17:4). That is our starting point if we are to honestly seek an answer to "WWJD?"

Answering the question of "what would Jesus do"" brings us face to face with some complicated realities. While Jesus doesn't directly address illegal immigration, it does helps us to try to understand an issue as he might see it, in as much as that is possible. The Apostle James encourages us to seek the Lord's wisdom (James 1:5) and we can search the Scriptures for some answers but even then we may find disagreement based on our starting point. Below are a few Christian links I have read in considering my position from different sides of the debate (if you read one I would suggest the third):

 Immigration Reform: Another Christian View

A Biblical Perspective on Immigration Policy

Illegal Immigration: Seeking a Christian Perspective - See more at:
Illegal Immigration: Seeking a Christian Perspective
Illegal Immigration: Seeking a Christian Perspective - See more at:

In recent years I have needed to rethink my own starting point on this issue. Politically, I once considered myself a Conservative Christian but today I try to evaluate my positions as a Biblical centrist, with Biblical ideals as primary in my considerations. Sadly, I do find what is being put forward as the Conservative position today is often hard-line opposition to reform, often rooted in nationalism,  rather than in Biblical faithfulness. Without a firm underpinning of Biblical truth, which is presently lack when only 9% of Christians says they approach this issue with Biblical understanding, any political philosophy is being built on the wrong foundation. This is not to imply the Liberal position gets immigration right but that's for another post. It is to say, there is much that is disconcerting about how Conservatives Christians are approaching this issue, in my opinion.

At the intersection, we need to ask some hard questions: What should be our goal as Christ -followers when it comes to illegal immigration? What are we trying to accomplish? Or what should we be trying to accomplish?
What should be our goal as Christians when it comes to illegal immigration? What are we trying to accomplish? Or what should we be trying to accomplish? - See more at:

Some will insist that our laws are the proper starting point. They will insist "it is the Christian thing to uphold the law of the land," based on a their reading of Romans 13:1-3. While that may be a  Conservativism position, not to mention a convenient argument, is it Biblically valid? Actually, it fails on the basis of not being broadly exegetical, and quickly becomes a logical fallacy.  Would a Conservative Christian use the same argument concerning our abortion laws? How about healthcare? Of course not. Conservatives rightly fight against the injustice of state sponsored abortion and have ideologically pushed-back hard on healthcare reform. The laws of the land may not necessarily be just or respect the human dignity of all people, as they should. There is no compulsion to submit to unjust laws and when laws contribute to the problem they need to be changed or discarded. 

In fact, our nation was founded upon the rejection of unjust laws - "no taxation without representation." It is clear that many of our Founders relied on Biblical principles, as far as they understood them, that helped shaped their thinking (not withstanding the issues of slavery, civil rights and women's voting equality) to set in place our laws. Likewise, we need to ask, are we committed to honoring God in how we adjudicate our laws? Is our position aligned with Christian values and supported by good Biblical understanding? Or, is our position based more on our favored political ideology? Is trying to be faithful to the Jesus way our motivation? 

Biblical Faith trumps politics where our laws are inadequate to the task, as they presently are. That is the direction I'm taking at the intersection. Then we must take a hard turn to Scripture for guidance but where do we begin? Let me suggest one of my favorite Bible verses: 
"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8
As Christ followers, we must seek solutions - cultural, political, economic, international - in ways  that align with God's heart to for his people to "do justice," "love mercy" and "walk humbly." I suggest that this three-point verse can serve as at  least a filter for our thinking about any issue we face today. These three - justice, mercy and humility - must work in harmony or we're not rightly aligned with God's will. Those with a bent toward justice must consider mercy, while those who lean toward mercy must consider justice. Both must do so with humility. Let's see what might happen when we run this illegal immigration issue through this Biblical filter.

Let's begin with mercy. Where would we be without God's mercy? One argument being put forward is that because illegal immigrants broke our laws they are not entitled to "amnesty." They should not be permitted to stay in this country because they are law breakers. Some certainly broke our immigration laws in coming here but many are here because their family brought them here. Do any deserve to stay? The thing about mercy is that it is never deserved. It is a pardon of the guilty for no other reason than the benevolence of the merciful. Mercy is in fact amnesty, a mitigation of the penalty for the infraction committed. But are we willing to extend mercy?

The position of many opposed to amnesty is to round up and deport millions of "illegals," three-fifth of whom are reported to have been here more than 10 years. This approach is impractical (how do you round up 11 million people people who are living in the "shadows"?), expensive (it would cost an estimated $285 billion to deport all illegal immigrants if it could be done at all) and irrational (it doesn't consider all the socioeconomic factors involved which is shortsighted and emotive) to the challenge.  More importantly it lacks the Biblical primacy of mercy (James 2:13). If our desire is to honor the Lord our solutions must begin with mercy, as it is the place God begins with us. Being merciful is also a command of Jesus (Luke 6:36). Mercy without justice however is simply "bleeding heart" Liberalism.

How then to we do justice? There are consequences for our sins that are not overwritten by mercy. Certainly law-breakers need to pay a recompense for their infraction. If, however, our system is at least partly to fault for many of these immigrants staying here without proper processing, that needs to inform our judgments. From what I understand of the present bill being put forward in Congress, the illegal immigrant is held accountable for their actions, required to pay a fine and taxes, prove they have gainful employment, learn English, pass a criminal background check and get in the back of the line for lawful entry. That seems reasonable to fit the crime. Providing a retributive justice pathway to citizenship is then not "amnesty," although it's being labeled that way. For the many people who are contributing to the common good as productive members of society it is the right thing to do and "justice for all."  

To complete our triumvirate, how do we walk humbly before our God? Let me suggest a few things because the lack of civility within our national debate is only making matters worse. First, humility calls us to an honest and thoughtful approach to the issue, not a knee-jerk reaction (Proverbs 16:11). Do we make our best effort to understand the issues before we respond? Second, humility calls us to put others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). Do we consider their importance to God, their needs and the ramification of our position on their lives? Third, we must never allow bigotry or bias to define our position (1 Peter 2:1). Do we really want to be known by "unChristian" behavior, which tramples upon God's grace (Hebrews 10:29)? Finally, then humility must be concerned with our public witness not just our personal feelings. Is the meek character of Christ (Matthew 5:5) our guide?

While we won't get the above three ideals perfect, they can serve as guiding principles to determine our direction at the intersection. We must acknowledge that Scripture does lean more heavily in the favor of mercy. Jesus does says, "blessed are the merciful" (Matthew 5:7).

There are other issues to consider and I'll do so in another post but as a closing thought here, I'm presently reading Cornelius Plantinga's "Engaging God's World - A Christian vision of faith, learning and living." Plantinga shares a thought that I think it we should consider in how we respond to the issue of illegal immigration as Christ followers:
"...the work of Jesus Christ represents the intelligence and expressiveness of the triune God. According to God's intelligence, the way to thrive is to help others to thrive; the way to flourish is to cause others to flourish; the way to fulfill yourself is to spend yourself."
As Christ-followers we need to think well about current issues, through a Biblical lens and not just accept every meme because they align with our politics. That is how we live at the intersection. We  who have the "mind of Christ" must plunge the depths of the great question: "what would Jesus do?" I hope this blog provides a place to start thinking and praying about this great challenge of illegal immigration before our nation. I pray we will run our answers through the filter of mercy, justice, and humility.

Prayer, of course, will also help us find our bearings at the intersection. In our present fallen world, political powers and parties frequently have their own agendas that often keeps Biblically based policy from becoming reality. This gives us another reason to pray - "Your Kingdom come, your will be done." That is what Jesus would do

[I welcome your thoughts but please keep the your responses civil and Christ-like. If you found this blog post helpful, please share it with others. Also subscribe for future posts. Thanks and blessings.]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rethinking: Sin - Part 1

[It's been a month since I blogged last. If you want to know why please visit:]

I have on my Facebook page some old posts under the heading "Rethinking." Some of my previous rethinking posts are: Rethinking Mission, Rethinking Worship, Rethinking Holiness, Rethinking the Lord's Prayer.  I also have blogged here at some length about rethinking the Gospel. These posts are just brief re-thoughts that help me reprocess my own need to re-think things, as I understand them. 

I really like the idea of rethinking, having arrived at a place in my life of being anti-dogmatic, at least I want to be. It is part of my quest to continually revitalize my own Kingdom life. I think it is perfectly acceptable to rinevestigate what we commonly think of as our Christians beliefs. It is healthy to do so, as along as we approach our rethinking through the lens of Biblical truth. Of course, even the idea of Biblical truth has required rethinking across the millennium - that's what Protestantism was all about. Christians have been rethinking our faith since the very first ideas of what it meant to be Christ follower were being considered (see Acts 15). And it can be a reinvigorating and reviving process as we reengage our minds and revisit the things of God 

Many ideas we think of as "Christian" can and should be brought through a continual mill of rethinking because as Paul understood we only understand "in part" (2 Cor 13:12), and usually poorly at that. When we begin the rethinking process we do so by refocusing on the real intent of God expressed through His Word. A good rethinking question is: what is most important to the Lord? It is really okay to re-investigate what we know, not just stubbornly hold to what we've come to regurgitate as doctrine. With that in mind, here's the first entry in my new Rethinking series - "Rethinking Sin."

"What is sin?" If you're like the typical America Evangelical Christian, your first response is probably, "falling short of the glory of God." While that happens to be our natural state, it's important to ask - what the heck does it mean? We don't want to simply repeat Biblical ideas with out understanding. It is also common to think of sin as things we do, sins of commission, that don't line up with the "will of God." Or we don't do things we know we should do, sins of omission. Both of these sins are sins rooted in our performance or lack thereof. We can of course study the Bible and come up with a list of 667 sins, if we were so inclined. All of this is fine but is there something more we need to understand?

Jesus does go to some length in the Sermon on the Mount to provide for us some guidance of what sin is (see Matthew chapters 5-7). Paul gives us a lists of sins (Romans 1:28-30, 13:13, Galatians 5:19-20), Peter warns not to be like pagans (1 Peter 4:3) and James tells us to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world (James 1:27b ). We then may avoid certain things like alcohol, R-rated movies, etc. We think we're doing good by being good. After all, we don't want to "miss the mark." But is that the extend of sin or even the real essence of "sinning"? Is sin really only avoiding doing certain things or not neglecting certain other things?

Perhaps there is something more we need to rethink about the nature of sin that can help us draw nearer to God and "one another," in the manner we're called to live out as Christians. Recently, I came across an interesting blogpost that caught my attention with the profound idea of considering sin as "relational failure.” The blogger offered the following in support of his thinking that sin is a failure to put relationships first and foremost and that failing this we are sinning:
There are many advantages to understanding sin this way. Some examples: viewing sin as relational failure eliminates a common split between so-called “individual transformation” and “social transformation.” Sin, in this sense, can be relational failure in marriage, relational failure with the world and its resources, or relational failure with “outsiders.” Sin as relational failure, keeps us from the easy attribution of the other person as the “sinner.” Understanding sin as relational failure exposes a legal understanding of sin as inadequate. It is quite easy to follow a set of rules and be mean about it. It also indicts those that use religion or theology to sabotage or destroy relationships. Heretics are now the ones who have used their theology to promote themselves and exclude others." 
Sin as "relational failure" is challenging me to rethink my definitions of sin, especially considering my sin of self-centeredness as a perpetual problem. I get that I sin against God of course, and I sin against my my family with my short-temper and occasionally I may sin against others when I know "I'm right." I know I commit the sins of omission, when I neglect to read my Bible or when I say "I'll pray for you" and don't. But sin as "relational failure," in the sense being used in the above quotes, is making me rethinking things. What this concept of sin elevates is the vitally important Kingdom principles of the "other." And, so this idea of "relational failure" has a depth we should plunge.

There is also an obvious need to rethink sin as "relational failure," with the pandemic failure of relationships that are destroying the fabric of our culture. We may think we're doing fine on all other counts of avoiding things we think we should and failing miserably with our broken family relationships, high divorce rate, and fatherlessness. Relationships are hard work and much harder than mere avoidance, which may be why we chose to define sin as between "me and God," rather than between me and others. We may know that adultery is sin but is it only sin because God says "do not commit adultery" or because of it represents a "relational failure," between husband and wife that the damages others?

What happens when we begin to rethink sin in this way, as a failure to value relationships first, even before our own beliefs, our own understanding of what is "legal," our own needs?  If we are not willing to go there, to challenge our thinking, our long held ideas, do we put stumbling blocks before others and therefore sin? It is of course easier just to stick with what we know but by doing so we are in fact falling short of the glory of God.

I started this blog post a few weeks ago but this morning in my Bible reading, I stumbled across Romans 14:23 that says in part:  "and everything that does not come from faith is sin." This verse gave me the impetus to return to this finish this post, because it goes beyond our typical definitions of sin and in a way that I think adds credence to the idea of sin as "relational failure." Faith, that reflects the Kingdom of God, is relational - expressed toward God, lived out with others in love. And, Paul helps us to rethink sin as "relational failure" when he says, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6). Biblical love is only expressed in relationship and according to Paul it is "the only thing that counts." 

I'll conclude here Part I of "Rethinking Sin." Hopefully, I've given you a lot to reconsider but that is after all the point of rethinking. One of the major problems we face in our culture today is a lack of critical thinking to bring real change. But we don't change unless we think about changing - that's what rethinking all about. In Part II, I'll revisit some of the ideas being expressed in the above quote and how it may help us rethink our long established understanding of sin for Living Sent Today.

Q -  What's your thought about sin is a failure to put relationships first and foremost and that failing this we are sinning?