Obama, Christianity and Immigration Reform

Image courtesy of twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of twobee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The news is reporting that Mr. Obama is moving to shield millions of illegal immigrants. It seems the Left and the Right are back at it – fighting for their particular view of what is right.

Before I even began to write this post I knew that immigration reform is a very charged topic. I also no that there is no monolithic Christian perspective on the issue. In fact, immigration is largely a national issue and not so much a spiritual one. That is to say, the bible never addresses how to handle immigration reform. The Bible DOES talk about foreigners and aliens and how to treat them. The Bible also addresses how to help those in need. Those are the issues we’ll look at today. Do you remember that movie Short Circuit from a while back? It’s about the robot that comes alive and has personality. The movie is filled with issues of identity: identity we give ourselves and identity given to us by others.short circuit On of my favorite scenes has two of the main characters talking and one asks the other about his identity – his heritage.

The white guy asks his (seemingly obvious) co-worker from India: “Where are you from?” To which his colleague responds: “Pittsburgh, originally.” 🙂

The passenger had a whole heap of presupposed ideas about his friend’s identity. This is part of our problem when it comes to immigration. We assume an “us vs. them” attitude. In the Old Testament we find that God gladly welcomes foreigners and aliens into the community of faith. Not only were they welcome but God saw to it that there were treated fairly and without discrimination.

God loves Foreigner?!?
God loves Foreigner?!?

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. ~ Leviticus 19:33-34 There is no room for an “other-than” mentality – they become us. Many Americans seem to hold to an immigration policy that embraces this wrong thinking. Heck, we still struggle with oppression and discrimination among natural-born citizens. The foreigner doesn’t stand a chance.

But God’s people are supposed to act fairly and inclusively no matter what. The New Testament letter of James tells us that our words need to match our actions. If we believe in a God that cares about people then so should we. It does no good to wish someone well if we fail to back up those words with our actions. I know that James wasn’t addressing international politics but I do believe that his words ought to make us think twice about how we behave towards foreigners looking to move to America.

While it may seem that I am in favor of flinging wide our national borders to any and all comers, I am not. I think that legal immigration should be embraced. I think that illegal immigration should be quashed. During the Exodus, when God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, God made a provision to care for foreigners. The only stipulation was that Israel’s law would apply to the foreigners as well. In this case it meant circumcision. That’s a steep price to pay for citizenship! If foreigners want to legally immigrate and make our laws their laws I believe we should welcome them whole-heartedly.

Where I personally draw the line is when people look to circumvent laws for their own betterment. When all is said and done I know there is no easy answer or fix to immigration reform. I know that Christians will approach the issue from several perspectives and reach differing conclusions.

Regardless of how America addresses the issue as a nation, I believe Christians need to wrestle with these Bible verses and ask if we’re treating people the way God would want us to treat them. And remember – go back far enough and we’re all from somewhere else (even the “Native Americans”).

How about you? Have you given any thought to how God wants you to treat foreigners and aliens?

Related Posts:

You’re Breaking the Law But You Want the Church to Protect You?

What’s Your Goal

I pray that's not me ;)
I pray that’s not me 😉

A friend asked me a question the other day. A real friend, mind you, not merely an acquaintance I made on Facebook. He asked, “What’s the goal of your blog?” While I love writing and sharing I do actually have a single goal that drives my blog. In fact, I want everyone to know so from day 1 my blog has declared:

Turning the Bible Into Behavior.

While I have a lot of good thoughts (at least I think I think good thoughts), my driving desire is not to share my thoughts but to share how I feel our behavior can change to become more biblical. When I asked my friend why he was curious as to my goal he answered, “I was wondering because you often post on controversial things.” Honestly, I don’t think I post on that much that is controversial. I have a few posts about race-relations, the government, and one on Christian liberty, but not a whole lot would be controversial.

I don’t pick things to purposefully stir up controversy. I write on things where I see a practical need for humanity to change behavior. Too often we live according to our own rules and principles and ignore what God would tell us through the Bible. As a Christian pastor, I believe that the Bible should be our guiding force for determining behavior and action. So I write – hoping that I’ll be able to affect some change, even if the only behavior that becomes more biblical is my own. The Apostle Paul writes:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:13-15)

Our digital age has made it easier than ever to spread the story of Jesus and the biblical principles for living. So I write.

I have found the whole experience to be fascinating. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Like when I put a lot of effort into writing a good post about controlling your tongue and watching your mouth and it barely get 15 views. Then I write a post about Christian freedom called “Christian Beer” and it explodes overnight. You bunch of lushes!

At any rate, I’m going to keep writing. Some people play video games. Some zone out in front of the tv. Some do other things. I’ve started the habit of writing every night. So the posts will keep coming. And I hope that through the writing I am able to change my behavior and that you are able to change yours. The goal is to be more like Jesus.

So I hope you enjoy reading. I sure do enjoy writing. For every post I always encourage discussion and comments – it doesn’t have to be a one-way street. And if you read a post and it resonates with you in some way would you do me a HUGE favor and share it?

Thanks, and God bless you!

Christian Beer…I Mean Liberty

Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Naypong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love Big Macs. I don’t even remember the last time I had one, though – they’re really not good for you. One little hamburger. 540 calories. But it tastes sooo good!

It’s hard to believe that something like could cause problems in a church. How can one little burger cause division and tension among good Christian people? I don’t think anyone reading would object if I had this burger. Okay, my wife might object, but that’s purely for health reasons. But in the early church, whether or not you ate meat was a big deal. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul writes:

1Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does, because God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able to make him stand.

Can you imagine? All this fuss is over whether or not people should eat meat. The real issue is not exactly vegans vs. carnivores. You see, in the ancient pagan world, people would make pagan sacrifices to their gods and then that meat would be sold in the market. There were some Christians who said, “We should not be eating any meat that has been sacrificed to false gods.” And since it is nearly impossible to tell which meat has been a sacrifice and which meat is clean meat, we just shouldn’t eat meat at all.” It was a spiritual decision, not a health decision. Other Christians said, “Why is any of it unfit for eating? Those pagan gods are false gods, and meat offered to a false god will not hurt a Christian.” They felt free to eat meat from the public market. So they would go back and forth – “We shouldn’t eat meat from the market!” “We can eat meat from the market.” “It may have been sacrificed to false gods!” “We serve the only real God, and that meat won’t hurt us!”

This is what Paul addresses in Romans 14 – Christian liberty and freedom – and he’s trying to tell us, “Hey, it’s okay to disagree on whether or not certain behaviors are appropriate for Christians. If you feel free in your conscience and spirit to do those things, don’t look down on others who don’t have that freedom. If you don’t think it’s appropriate for Christians to engage in certain behaviors, don’t judge those Christians who do feel free.” This is the central thrust behind the idea of Christian Liberty.

Christian liberty is the freedom from God to do whatever you wish in any matter the Bible does not address. Christian liberty is not an excuse to sin, break biblical principles, start arguments in the church, or to give Jesus a bad reputation. Let’s be super clear here: what God commands, we do. What God condemns, we avoid. When God seems silent, we have liberty to behave according to our own convictions. How does this play out in real life? God repeatedly condemns and forbids adultery. That’s a no-no. You can’t say, “I have freedom in Christ, so I’m gonna fool around on my spouse.” Liberty is not an excuse to sin. God condemns drunkenness. You can’t say, I have Christian liberty to get smashed every weekend!” Liberty is not an excuse to go against what God has declared.  God directs us to submit to the governing authorities and live lives of obedience. You cannot knowingly engage in illegal behavior (cheating on taxes, stealing, dealing drugs, whatever). What God commands, we do. What God condemns, we avoid.

So what kinds of things might be areas of liberty – areas that are not directly covered by God’s commands or prohibitions? Here are some examples: watching R-rated movies. Pornography is never okay, but what about non-porn R-rated movies? Freedom. Drinking alcohol. Drunkenness is never okay, but there are places in the Bible where the writers encourage alcohol and where wine is seen as a blessing. Freedom. Smoking cigars. Make-up on girls. Plastic surgery. Voting Republican or Democrat. Tattoos. Clothing. Hobbies.

The Bible does not address these things and so, Paul says, there is freedom to act according to our conscience. And don’t fight each other over matters of freedom and conscience.

But get this: Paul says, “If it is a matter that God doesn’t address and your conscience, your own convictions, tell you it’s wrong, then for you it is a sin.” The Bible does not condemn having a beer, but if something in you says, “I think it’s wrong,” then for you to have one is a sin. Wild, isn’t it? Paul says in vs. 14, “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.” Because what is acceptable to some of us might be a sin to others, Paul writes that we need to act in love towards each other.

Love is acting in the best interest of others. Paul continues:

15: If your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. 19 So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats. 21 It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. 22 Do you have faith? Keep it to yourself before God.

God wants us to act in the best interest of the entire group. Am I free to engage in certain behaviors? Yes, and God does not condemn us for those areas of liberty! But if the exercise of my freedoms causes someone else to have a moral failure, then I have wronged that person and I have wronged God. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:13 that “if food causes my brother to fall, I will never eat meat again, so that I won’t cause my brother to fall.” Wow! Do you mean to tell me that God wants me to restrict myself? Yes, for the benefit of others. You have the freedom not to exercise your freedoms! And if you can’t live without your freedom, you don’t have a freedom, you have an addiction.

I’ve tried to talk to people about this concept before. I’ve said to people, “Be careful about your public behavior because you never know who is watching and how your actions will affect others.” I’ve had people tell me I’m being a hypocrite – allowing behavior privately but restricting it publicly. I tell you what, I’m stinkin’ tired of being called a hypocrite. The people who label that hypocrisy are then calling God a hypocrite. Look again at Romans 14:22 ~ Do you have faith? Keep it to yourself before God.  I didn’t make it up – God did. So you have freedoms in Christ – you don’t have to flaunt them in front of everyone else. It’s okay to exercise your freedoms in private and show grace and love towards people who might not share your freedoms while in public. The guiding principle here is that God wants us to act in the best interest of the entire group, not just our own interest. Am I looking out for my fellow Christians? Am I acting in their interest?

It all comes down to this: What God commands, we do. What God condemns, we avoid. In all other areas we have liberty to follow our conscience. But God would rather that we restrict our own liberties for the sake of promoting peace and building each other up. Put love above your liberty. It’s time to make a radical shift. I think too many Christians do not put love first. We fail to think and act in the best interest of the church. We prefer to act in our own best interest. In the way we behave, in the way we talk to each other. In the way we talk ABOUT each other to others. It’s time to leave self-interest behind and act in the best interest of the church of Jesus Christ. It is time to do a 180 degree shift, to let God change us. Some of us need to repent for flaunting our freedoms in the faces of others. Some of us need to repent for judging and criticizing those who exercise certain freedoms. We need to repent for the way we talk to each other and about each other. It’s time to put love above our personal liberties and freedoms.

How about you? What freedoms do you judge others for exercising? What freedoms have you been judged for exercising?

 

Good Vs. Evil

Who's Gonna Win?
Who’s Gonna Win?

Good vs. Evil. It’s one of the most common themes in storytelling. Some of the greatest movies of all time are about the struggle between good and evil. In our modern world we have created these generic categories of good and evil – they are nebulous concepts, vague ideas of right and wrong. But the Bible does not see it that way. In the Bible, Good and Evil refer to concrete actions and behaviors. You behave in good ways or your behave in evil ways.

The Apostle Paul begins Romans 12 by talking about the need to be transformed, to let God start making us into something new. Then, Paul tells us that our newly transformed selves are part of the bigger picture – the group of Christians we call “the body of believers.” In the rest of the chapter, the part I want to look at today, we see that the Apostle Paul is going to step it up a notch and talk about how we ought to behave towards each other.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:9-21

This passage is not simply a list of random behaviors that popped into Paul’s mind as he was writing this letter to the church in Rome. He is actually very intentional in his writing. This entire section is about how Christians are supposed to behave towards other Christians. He begins with a comment that sets the stage for all of Christian behavior: Love must be without hypocrisy. Remember, “Good” is not merely an ideal, some cosmic thought. In the Bible, “Good” refers to our actions and activities – our behavior. Love must be without hypocrisy means that the actions you take for the well-being of others cannot be fake. You must act genuinely for the benefit of others. This overarching concept governs all of the behavior mentioned in the rest of the passage. Let your behavior be characterized by love that is genuine and not false.
Now Paul moves to the heart of his material, and he uses a technique that is not uncommon in the Bible. He bookends his content.

The start and finish of his material uses similar lines. Verse 9: Detest evil; cling to what is good. Verse 21: Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Paul is not simply being repetitive. He didn’t forget that he already talked about good vs. evil. Think about bookends for a second. What is the real function of bookends? They prop up books and keep everything together. That is how Paul’s bookends function. The material in between the bookends is held together by this concept of good vs. evil. So we have the overarching guideline: Love must be without hypocrisy. Then we have the bookends: hold the good, run from the evil. When we see Paul’s structure we understand that he is saying, “How you treat each other is the good and the evil.” Treating each other well is the good. Not taking care of each other is the evil.

I love Paul’s language in verse 9: Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. That word detest does not mean hate or really, really, really dislike. It means to shrink away from; to pull back in disgust. One of my favorite old shows is the Twilight Zone. Nothing could put a scare into you like that show. One of my favorite episodes is called, “The Eye of the Beholder.” The episode revolves around a lady who is horribly disfigured. She is considered hideous, a monster to look at. So she undergoes a procedure to fix her face and make her normal. For the first half of the episode you never see her face – she is in bandages. And then the bandages come off (start at 3:30 in the clip)…

They take off the bandages, the doctor exclaims, “No Change!”, she feels her face, and in disgust and horror she screams and pulls back. This is the emotion Paul has in mind. Shrink back from evil, but cling to what is good. Paul says, superglue yourselves to what is good! What is good? Good is behaving in positive ways for the well-being of others. What is evil? Evil is behaving poorly towards others. And then Paul gets into some specifics. He uses 20 different examples of ways Christians should behave as Christians. While we have read over them all, let’s look at three that I think Christians would do well to pick up on.

1.  OUTDO ONE ANOTHER IN SHOWING HONOR. Honor is something we all like to have. The opposite of honor is shame. Shame is something none of us likes to have. Showing honor to others means putting them up on a pedestal. We will often do that for other people…up to a point. Sometimes we will honor a person up to the point where their honor does not take away from our honor. As soon as they start to overshadow us, we pull back on showing honor. We want to honor people, but not too much. We don’t want them to think too highly of themselves or forget their place. If I keep honoring him, I could be overlooked! Or think about the reverse side -shame. If I am shamed, I will try to put shame on someone else to overshadow my shame. The whole thing is about “one-upping” other people. We like to keep ourselves on an even field – they can have honor as long as I can too. I will make sure that their level of shame is at least equal to or greater than my own. It seems that we fear promoting other people and singing their praises if it detracts from our own image. It’s something of a competition.

But that’s not the way we ought to behave. Paul says, “Okay, you want to compete? Compete in trying to outdo each other in giving honor! Who can honor other people the most?” Think about the people in your life. In your family. In your church. When was the last time you really went all out to show honor or promote someone else? In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” Yikes! That’s a tough pill to swallow. Prop up others ahead of yourself.

2.  BLESS THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU – BLESS AND DO NOT CURSE. Paul continues to keep telling us to do the difficult things! We like to try to weasel out of this one. We set up villains in our minds – villains from the secular world. When a group attacks or insults Christianity, we cling to this verse. It is more and more common for non-Christians to attack the church as a hate group or anti-this and that. I have three responses. First, we do not hate anyone. We firmly believe that God cares for all people and that we are supposed to care for all people. Second, it is not hate or prejudice to hold people accountable to biblical behavior – it is personal, spiritual conviction. Third, and this is the kicker, Paul is not talking about situations where non-Christians insult or attack us. He is talking about situations where we come into conflict with other Christians – when we feel attacked and persecuted by other God-fearing people.

This passage is filled with words like “brotherly-love,” “one another,” and “the saints.” He’s talking about our relationships with each other. When we feel wronged and mistreated by other Christians our response needs to be blessing and not cursing. What do those words even mean? They mean that, when we are mistreated and wronged by people in the church, we should be wishing and praying for good things for them and not hoping that bad things happen to them. Think about the last time you felt mistreated by a Christian. Was your initial thought to pray that good things would happen for him? Or did you secretly hope he would fail and come to ruin? Pray and hope for success and good things for the people that wrong you.

3. BE AGREEABLE WITH ONE ANOTHER. Paul is not telling us that we have to have the same perspective on everything. We don’t have to like the same music, the same movies, the same foods, the same books…. He is not telling us that we have to become part of the collective, having hive-mentality and groupthink. The fundamental call here is to moving in the same direction, a common purpose, goal, and unity. As Christians, there is more that unites us than there is that divides us. Too often we focus on the division and fail to be in agreement, to be united in a common purpose and goal. Too many of us embrace being cantankerous Christians. Young people, cantankerous is an older word that means difficult or argumentative. Forget all of the peripherals – let’s focus on the big picture. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that we are to be united in mind and to be at peace. How can we come together as a united group of people called by God for His purpose?

We now come to the other bookend – Paul’s repetition of Good and Evil. Understanding that Good refers to activities for the well-being of others and Evil refers to behaving poorly. We read Paul’s words: Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good,” and understand that he tells us that how we treat people will determine if good triumphs over evil. Will you let evil win? Or will you behave in Christian love even when it isn’t deserved? Out of all of these examples, notice this: our behavior is not based on the actions of others. We are not called to act right when others act right. We are called to act right regardless of how others act. Show honor. Pray for good things to happen to people who mistreat you. Be united in common vision and goals. Don’t seek payback.
Where do you find yourself lacking? Where does God need to work on you?

It’s time to allow God to start changing us, our thinking, and our behavior. Don’t allow yourself to stay the same.

Are You Obsessed?

 

Single-Minded Obsession
Single-Minded Obsession

 

Do you remember what it was like to obsess over the girl you used to like? That guy you had a thing for? “She didn’t smile at me when we passed today. Why didn’t she smile at me? Or how about, “We had so much fun, but why hasn’t he called back? It’s been 10 hours – why hasn’t he called me? Should I call him? Easy – don’t want to seem too anxious. Should I have my friend ‘bump into him’? Why hasn’t he called?”

Or maybe you never obsessed over a guy or a girl. But I bet that at some time in your life you’ve obsessed over something! There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with collecting comic books. Every month had a visit to the comic shop to get the latest editions to see what Superman, Batman or the X-Men were going to do next. Looking back it seems like a lot of money poured into something I no longer do….

What price were you willing to pay to satisfy your obsession? You can always tell how valuable a thing is to us by the price we are willing to pay for it (or the price at which you’re willing to let it go). The real value of an object isn’t given it by the seller. The real value of the object is given it by the buyer – how much is it worth to you? You can see this when you look at some of the items sold on E-Bay and the prices paid for those things. I found a pet rock for sale on EBay. It came with a nice cardboard box, a nest, and an instruction book on how to care for and train your rock. What would you be willing to pay for this? The high bid – $28. Um…really?

People can become obsessed with silly things. Christian writer Ted Dekker writes in his book Obsessed:

Life is hardly worth living without an obsession. God himself is obsessed. With His creation. With humans. With the love of humans. You think he created with nonchalance? Let’s throw some mud against the sky and see if any of it sticks? Not a chance. We are created for love, for obsession. So we do indeed obsess, though usually not over the right idea.

God himself is an obsessive God, obsessed with his love for his creation, for us! Remember that the value of something isn’t determined by the seller’s price, but is determined by the price the buyer is willing to pay. In His obsession for us, he couldn’t have paid a higher price than he did – the cross. This is the kind of obsession we need to have towards God – a single-minded fixation that puts no limits on the cost. When we understand this kind of obsession some of the crazy stories in the Bible don’t seem so crazy. When you’re obsessed with Him you’d be willing to build a big boat in the middle of the dessert. When you’re obsessed with Him you’d dance in worship without caring what your wife thought of you. Jesus himself even talked about obsession for God in Matthew 13. He told his disciples a parable about a man who discovers a treasure buried in a field. Wanting that treasure more than anything, he re-hides the treasure, sells off everything he owns, and goes to buy the field. Unethical – maybe a bit – but the point is that we need to be fixated on finding God.

That’s all well and good, but how do we get to that point of obsession? It’s not like we can simply turn it on at will. True, we can’t turn it on at will. A friend recently said to me, “I’ve been a Christian for a while. I’ve read the Bible. I know what I’m supposed to think and what I’m supposed to do. But what’s next?” I think that this sums up where many of us are. We know what we’re supposed to know. We’ve heard sermons and been to Bible studies. If someone asks us what it takes to build your Christian life we can faithfully recite the answers without even thinking about it: read the Bible, pray, fellowship, obey. We know all that. So what is next? How do we get to the deep end? How do we discover that obsession within our souls?

It comes from an encounter with Jesus. For the cripple at the pool of Siloam it was encountering Jesus that made his legs whole. For blind Bartimaeus it was encountering Jesus that gave him sight. It is encountering Jesus that breaks our addictions. It is encountering Jesus that restores our relationships. We need to have a face to face encounter with the Living God! This is the kind of story we find in Mark 5:

1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

There are few images in the Bible that are as unsettling as this. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a troubled soul. Jewish teaching held that there were 4 tests for insanity: 1) a mad person sleeps in graveyards, 2) a mad person tears his clothing, 3) a mad person walks around at night, and 4) a mad person destroys anything given him. In this one person we find all 4 tests fulfilled – what we have here is a madman, and every word of his description emphasizes his pathetic condition. Here is a man who is made in God’s image and the unclean spirit causes him to horribly distort that image.  It makes one ask, “Is there anything happening in my life that distorts God’s image in me?” Though we here may not be struggling with actual demons, we do struggle with things that distort God’s image in us – anger, hate, jealousy, or lust, to name just a few.

6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God that you won’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

We see several interesting things happening at the same time. Look at what the demon is saying to Jesus – he addresses Jesus by name and says, “I adjure you by God.” In Jesus’ time, if one wanted to perform an exorcism, one needed to know the name of the spirit. When you knew its name you had power over it. Then you could command it under oath (adjure) to leave the body it inhabited. What the spirit is doing here is trying to exorcise Jesus! “I know your name – you are Jesus. I command you by God, leave me alone!” The irony is rich. He thinks he can take on Jesus in a power encounter. But it’s all talk – no one can outdo God.  No one can contain Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter who you are or what’s going on in your life, Jesus is ready to encounter you! This man came from the tombs. He was considered unclean and untouchable, but Jesus doesn’t stop this encounter – he welcomes it. That’s encouraging news for us. No matter what our problems, our flaws, our addictions, or our demons, Jesus stands ready to encounter us. But will you run to Him and fall at His feet?

9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

The name “Legion” has ties to the Roman army. A Roman legion was made up of anywhere from 3000-6000 troops. And you thought you had problems! Of course, this could be one final attempt on the unclean spirit’s part to put a scare into Jesus! But it’s evident who is in control. The person in control doesn’t beg, and the demon has been begging Jesus since Jesus arrived. They beg permission to go into the pigs and Jesus permits it. And the first thing they do upon overpowering the pigs? They destroy the herd.

14Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.  

When God starts to do stuff, people can’t help but talk about it. This is part of the power of personal testimony. I saw God do something and you’re not gonna believe it! If God starts doing something and we tell people about it, you’d better believe they will come out to see for themselves what’s happening. So the pig herders go to tell the town and countryside what they saw – when everyone returned they see the whacked-out crazy guy sitting by Jesus, clothed and sane.

When they encounter Jesus, people do change. Before, this man had been in an unbreakable grip of destructive evil; now Jesus has shattered the grip of evil and restored him to full human life. It is encountering Jesus that heals the sick. It is encountering Jesus that breaks addictions. It is encountering Jesus that restores relationships. We need to have a face to face encounter with the Living God!

But not everyone is happy with what has happened. The response of the people is fear – not of the once crazy guy – they fear Jesus! He has demonstrated supernatural power and an authority over the spiritual and natural world. If he cast the demons out of all of the sick people, there wouldn’t be enough pigs and livestock to hold them all. Every farmer and rancher would go out of business! The locals are apparently more concerned with their way of life than for the life of this man or the Lord of Life standing before them. Are we more interested in “business as usual” or the power of God to deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us? Sometimes we can start to see God as a concept, an idea by which we should live our lives. It’s when we start to think like this that we begin to care about business as usual. But God is not an abstract thing – God is the creator and giver of life and His power can deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us. Oh, how we need an encounter with Jesus.

18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

What a life turn-around. He goes from being demon-possessed to being Jesus-obsessed. He has had an encounter with Jesus Christ and is forever changed – he becomes obsessed. And Jesus sends him out to spread his obsession to others, and all the people were amazed. Now we’re back full-circle: What is your obsession? Do you have a single-minded fixation on God? I believe that we know what we needs to know – at this point going deeper is going to mean developing the personal experience of God and his love and power.

We need a fresh encounter with the Lord of Life, so that we can be healed, restored, set free, and set loose to obsess about God and spread our obsession everywhere we go. The demoniac would not have had his encounter with Jesus if he hadn’t run to Jesus and fallen at his feet. That’s where we need to be. Seeking God and asking him to encounter us, to intervene in our lives. The Christian band Skillet writes in their song My Obsession, You’re my only infatuation…My purpose, my possession, live and die in my obsession, my obsession.

Are you obsessed?

Fighting Discrimination

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this country has lost its ever-lovin’ mind. It is clearer than ever before that we face sharp distinctions between categories of people. Distinctions in and of themselves are not bad things. Our lives fall into categories based on a variety of things: age group, ethnicity, gender, education level, income, homeowner or renter…and the list goes on and on. It’s impossible to live a “category-free” life.

The problem is when we discriminate based on categories. In simpler terms, discrimination is about playing favorites. Every grade-school child knows about playing favorites. The popular or athletic kids are always picked first for games. The kids in the negative categories (unpopular, overweight, uncoordinated, whatever) are discriminated against and picked last – if picked at all. Playing favorites. Discrimination. It’s the same thing. It’s about treating some people more or less favorably based upon some quality or characteristic.

This isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been going on since the dawn of time. In his letter to the Diaspora James writes:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-8)

James’ audience had a particular problem of treating wealthy people better than they treated the poor. The rich got the best seats and the most attention. The poor got the floor and the cold shoulder. The principle at work in his churches is the same principle that drives discrimination today: paying attention and responding to outward appearances is the primary way of showing partiality.

Not only is discrimination incompatible with authentic Christian behavior but it is actually sinful. It is contrary to the will and character of God to discriminate against and treat people as less-than because of a category to which they belong. If you show partiality you are committing sin. That’s not me saying that – it’s the Bible. The Bible repeatedly tries to move us away from a mindset of discriminating against people, showing favoritism, because of their categories.

One of the most popular stories from the Gospels is about Jesus calling out his disciples for discriminating:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14)

Even Jesus’ closest companions fell into discrimination. It happens whenever we start to think less of someone because of his status. He doesn’t count as much, he’s only a child. She doesn’t count as much, she’s just a woman. They don’t count as much, they’re not _________ (fill in the blank). There is no room for discrimination in God’s Kingdom. God doesn’t play favorites – why do we? It’s because we let our identity come from our categories rather than from God. We’re ethnic before we’re Christian. We’re political before we’re Christian. We’re employees before we’re Christian. We’ve got our priorities backwards. We need to shed the classifications of this world. Our sense of identity ought to come from God.

So what’s the answer? First, we have to change our allegiances, our priorities, our categories. We need to stop seeing others with the classifications of this world and start seeing people through God’s eyes. It comes down to loving people the same way you love yourself (a biblical concept). No one wants to be treated as less-than or other-than. So don’t treat others that way.

Second, we need to see OURSELVES without the categories of this world and see ourselves through God’s eyes. One of the early leaders in church history was a young guy named Timothy. It seems that some preferred to classify Tim by his age rather than by his calling as Pastor. Paul instructs Tim to shed the human classifications and to remember the calling that God has given you.

It’s time to make a change. It’s time for Christians to lead the charge. We should not put up with discrimination. We should recognize that identity is not determined by human categories but on our Creator. Imagine a world where physical distinctions disappear and we treat each other decently simply because we’re all made by the same creator. It’s tough – I know. But try. Drop all the other labels and put on this one: CHILD OF GOD.

How about you? How have you been discriminated against? In all honesty, how have you discriminated against others?

Bubba Has a Compulsion

Too Many Apps!
Too Many Apps!

Bubba is what we call our three year old. He’s an awesome kid. He can light up a room with his infectious grin. He’s a very happy kid who naturally attracts affection from everyone who sees him. I don’t think this is parental bias – I actually believe this about my son. But he has a problem. He has a compulsion. He’s addicted to apps.

Yes, you heard that right. He’s addicted to apps. On my wife’s phone. On her Kindle. Wherever he can find them. He’s got a compulsion – he MUST buy new apps.

The other night my wife and I were downstairs talking when our inbox received notification after notification about new apps that “we” had purchased and downloaded. I looked at the time stamp on the emails and exclaimed to my wife, “THIS IS HAPPENING NOW!” Mind you – it was 10 p.m. I bolted off the couch and went bounding up the stairs and burst into the kids’ room to discover that Bub had crept out of bed when the lights were off and parents were downstairs. He snuck into our bedroom and slipped Momma’s Kindle off of the charger and ran back to bed to download apps to his heart’s content. He’s done the same thing with my wife’s phone. In the past two weeks “we” have bought $20 in apps from the Kindle store. It’s kind of like the time our daughter purchased $200 in game tokens for a Facebook game, but that’s a story for a different post.

Anyway, back to Bubba. It’s almost like he can’t help himself. He has a problem. A gaming problem. Any time I hear people talk about having a problem my mind (being the movie fanatic that I am) always goes to the movie Airplane where the main character has a drinking problem.

While I find the word play amusing I understand that lack of self-control is not funny. It’s not just lack of self-control when it comes to alcohol, for there are quite a few areas where not having control leads to serious problems. As humans we often see lack of self-control in spending, alcohol, eating, sexuality, gossip, time management, and every other area of life.

Sometimes we try to play it off as though it’s no big deal. It’s only money. It’s only food. It’s my life – so what if I want to get hammered. The defensive talk goes on and on. The issue isn’t about what you have a right to do vs. what you are restricted from doing. The real issue is about the nature of God’s character and His intended goal for our character.

The Bible is not silent when it comes to self-control:

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (I Timothy 3:2)

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness…. (2 Peter 1:5-6)

These are not even all of the passages relating to self-control. Clearly, then, there is something to this self-control thing that God desires us to wrap our minds around and to put into practice. Yet we fail time and again to do it. Why can’t we beat it? It seems to come down to gratification. We throw self-control out the window because we like the feeling of indulgence.

Please understand that this is not to negate the harmful power of physiological addiction on the body. But even then, one of the difficulties in breaking addiction is the strong pull back to gratification. To be honest, one of my greatest struggles with self-control is in the area of my eating. I love food. I love the feeling of consuming great tasting food. I like being full. I dislike being hungry. At least I’m not alone – there are a lot of overweight pastors. In fact, it seems to be the issue of choice for many pastors when it comes to lacking self-control. How many overweight pastors have you seen? There are a lot of us. Yet it’s impossible to deny that God calls us to self-control.

So we wrestle. We wrestle with the knowledge of what we know is God’s “best” for our lives – his desire for our character – and the sinful desire that attempts to satisfy human pleasure and refuse self-control.

Whatever you struggle with in your fight for self-control you should know that you are not alone. It’s part of the human condition. There’s something in all of us that wants to just let go in some area. Sometimes it is harmful, sometimes it is personal. It’s not about whether or not our self-control affects anyone else or not (I’ve heard many alcoholics say, “It’s my life – leave me alone”). What it is really about is that God is characterized by self-control and wants the same for us.

So you can start your journey today. Recognize what it is in your life that you lose self-control to. Make a plan to beat it. Tell someone and allow him to hold you accountable. Find a sponsor. Get into a program. Join a Bible study group. Do something, but don’t just sit back and allow your life to be dominated by your lack. It’s not God’s best for your life. You could be so much more.

And maybe one day we can break Bubba from his app addiction.

 

How about you? Where do you need self-control? Where do you struggle?

Listen Up, Shut Up, and Calm Down

So is a grenade...
So is a grenade…

We may not live in the Wild West but sometimes we sure do act like it. We become gunslingers, looking to take down our enemy at high noon. Instead of six-shooters, though, we use words. Words have power.

With our words we can cut people down. With our words we can cripple another. With our words we can destroy a reputation or even cripple a business. Words have power. You may have found yourself on the wrong end of someone’s words  – what they say to you or about you is terrible and difficult, like looking down the barrel of a .357 Magnum.

Perhaps you’ve already faced the destruction that comes from someone’s harsh and hurtful words and now you’re trying to recover as best you can. Words have power. Choose them wisely.

Too many fail to see how powerful their words are. The tongue can be an ugly thing. We throw around terms and phrases without thinking about the consequences of those power weapons. In the Army every warfighter has to qualify with their rifle. When we go to the range to shoot the instructors are clear to remind Soldiers that they have the responsibility to know where their targets are and what lies beyond. Every time a bullet comes out of the rifle the Soldier is responsible for what happens on the other end. What would happen if we started treating our words in a similar fashion? Stop speaking so quickly and think about your intended target and what happens beyond. Where do the words go? Who might the words hit? Human speech has an enormous capacity for harm or for good. Words have power. Choose them wisely.

The Bible has some practical advice on how we should behave when it comes to our mouths. Not merely some abstract thoughts here – concrete steps on what we can do to gain control of our mouths, to stop tearing people down, and to start building people up. It’s not difficult at all – just three things to remember:

~ Listen up, shut up, and calm down. I don’t know about you, but every time I’m told to “do something” there is a part of me that wants to rebel and do the exact opposite. I remember one time when my wife thought I was driving too fast and told me so. Rather than admit that I might be going a little too fast I punched the gas. Not smart, but that seems to be a human response. When God tells us to listen up, shut up, and calm down there’s part of us that wants to say, “WHAT?!? YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” Of course, the Bible doesn’t phrase it so coarsely. It says:

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Yeah, that’s much nicer. But the point is the same. We too often fly off at the handle and speak without listening, embracing rage and anger. I don’t want to beat a dead horse but we’ve seen just this thing happen in response to the Zimmerman/Martin issue. God says, “Listen first, speak second, and hold back on the anger.” But we’re doing just the opposite! An entire nation is quick to speak, slow to listen, and fanning the flames of rage and anger. In all fairness, it’s both sides of the fence that are behaving this way – not merely one party.

We forget that words have power. Racist words. Sexist words. Slander & Gossip. Manipulation. There are many ways that we use language to cut each other down. And we let our rage fuel our pet issues. But the Bible is clear that human anger may bring about vengeance or payback but it does not bring about divine justice. It doesn’t reflect the character of God nor does it accomplish that which God would regard as true righteousness.

It’s hard even to imagine our world filled with people who are listen first, take their time to respond, and stay calm. But it will never happen if we don’t start to imagine it. Imagine a world where people actually lived out watching what they said and using words wisely. This means we need use our words to build up and not tear down. Like a little spider or a hand grenade – the tongue isn’t so big, but is capable of great damage.

Be careful, little mouth, what you say….

How about you? How have you been hurt by words? How have you hurt others with your words?

No Cheap Sex

Husband and Wife
Husband and Wife

It seems that there is a general disregard for the power of marriage in our culture. With the divorce rate near 60% couples have a greater chance of splitting than they do going the distance. It absolutely breaks my heart when I see couples split. Of course there are a couple of legitimate reasons for couples splitting, but it’s still heartbreaking. God didn’t design us to be in temporary relationships. We were created to be part of a deep covenant; connected to our spouses in relationships that go far beyond any other relationship. But we don’t talk that way much. Certainly Hollywood doesn’t teach us about committed and enduring relationships. There must be a better way of doing things. I think God has set us up for success if we would just pay attention to what he tells us and learn to live it.

Here are five elements on the Bible’s perspective on the powerful bond we call marriage:

1. There’s no such thing as cheap sex. God says in the Old Testament, “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.” (Exodus 22:16) Wow! One night stands? No such-a-thing in God’s community. Can you imagine if we lived by this principle in our country? The bars would be empty every weekend. Your wingman wouldn’t be the guy who helps you land the girl – he would be the guy to remind you, “You take her home tonight you’re stuck with her EVERY night.” Cheap sex hurts people and does not breed lasting, intimate relationships. Cheap sex does not promote family and thus weakens the nation (I believe strong nations are built on strong families, but that’s a post for another day). Cheap sex is looking for the positive elements of relationship without the commitment and struggle all genuine relationships must endure. In short – it’s not God’s ideal.

2. Marriage is designed to be a lifelong commitment. The Apostle Paul writes, “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wished….” (1 Corinthians 7:39) I do believe that Jesus and Paul do talk about some exceptions whereby they permit divorce, but God’s IDEAL is still clear – marriage is supposed to be an enduring commitment between a man and a woman.

3. Your spouse influences your life (whether or not you realize it!). I once read that we are a composite of the five people we spend the most time with. That’s simultaneously an interesting and scary thought. But the people we “do life” with end up being who we are like. It’s no wonder that the Bible cautions us to choosing spouses that will bring us closer to God rather than drive us away from God. “Shall we then…act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” (Nehemiah 13:27). Or Paul: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers….” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Contrary to what some proclaim, these verses are not about racial purity. Even ancient Israel allowed foreigners to be part of the their community and God commanded justice towards them. No, the issue is about the gods that foreign people serve. People who serve different gods and have different spiritualities tend to pull us away from the One True God, Yahweh. This was Solomon’s downfall. The Bible actually doesn’t condemn his multiple wives. It condemns his choice of foreign women that led to worshipping false gods. The person we marry will end up influencing us, so choose wisely.

4. Marriage ought to be respected and honored and not taken too lightly. It’s a commitment and not something to fool around with. God tells us in the New Testament, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4) That certainly goes against the attitude of our day.

5. Marriage is not the same as merely cohabitating. Though there is no direct command regarding cohabitating, there is a story in the Gospel According to John in which Jesus encounters a women outside of a little town. She begins talking to him and tells Jesus that she has no husband. Jesus answers, “What you’ve said is true. You’ve had multiple husbands and the man you’re with now is not your husband. Yes, what you’ve said is true.” Jesus doesn’t see cohabitating on the same level as a committed, covenantal relationship established by marriage.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with an incredibly high ideal. God’s ways set the standard for us, and we have fallen short. We need a radical change in our perspective – we need to align our behavior with God’s ideals. It can start today. It can start with you. Are you married? Start looking at your marriage through the God’s perspective. Are you single? Start looking at your dates and relationships from God’s point of view. Do you have kids? Start teaching them what God’s ideal is so that they grow up grounded with a biblical foundation for what they desire in marriage. We can change our perspective. The question is – do we want to?

How about you? What do you think about God’s ideal for marriage?

Learning How to Forgive

Now more than ever it seems that forgiveness is an area in which we all need improvement. Sometimes people do things to us intentionally to hurt or wound us. Other times the offense is not intended but damages nonetheless. When we are hurt our response is often to hold on to the grievance. It fuels our anger and animosity towards others. We often forget that we have the same ability and inclination to wound others. It’s easier to forgive our own sin and failure than to forgive others who wound us. This was part of the point of Jesus telling us to “remove the plank from our own eyes before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.” We live in a “BUT THEY…” culture. Jesus says, “Forgive,” and we respond, “BUT THEY…!” We prefer the hurt over the healing and the forgiveness. We demand justice before we will even entertain the thought of forgiveness.

But the Bible doesn’t place any limitations or restrictions on forgiveness. There’s no tally we keep and, once we reach a certain point, refuse to extend forgiveness any more. Forgiveness is an attitude – something that can be extended even before the offender asks. It can be extended even if the offender NEVER asks. Jesus asked God to forgive his murderers, not because they deserved it, but because forgiveness is part of God’s character.

Real forgiveness, then, is what we ought to seek. Real forgiveness lets go of the right to get even or pursue justice and instead extends compassion and love. Real forgiveness is not deserved or earned – it is a gift from the one who is hurt to the one who does the hurting. The Apostle Paul writes: Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord (Romans 12:19). We can forgive and leave payment up to God. He frees us to love. Forgiveness fosters love. Refusing forgiveness fosters hate.

But we don’t forgive because it’s the nice thing to do. We forgive because it is God’s nature to forgive. As we seek to be faithful followers of Christ, we need to be letting his nature become our nature. Paul writes again, “Accept one another and forgive one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Colossians 3:13). And again, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32). Our forgiveness wasn’t earned. In fact, the Bible tells us that God showed us his love in that Christ died for us while we were sinners. We were broken and messed up and he chose to extend love and forgiveness.

It doesn’t end there. Extending or withholding forgiveness can affect our relationship with God. Jesus says, “If you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Tough words to live by, but I didn’t make them up. God calls us to live in forgiveness and reconciliation if we want to have a healthy and vibrant relationship with Him.

Ultimately, forgiveness brings freedom. It allows us to have healthy lives. It opens the door to reconciliation and makes for richer relationships. Our world is being torn apart by hate, hurt, and an unwillingness to forgive. As Christians we can set the example for the way God calls us to live – we can extend love and forgiveness, even when people don’t deserve it. It’s the only way forward.

How about you? Do you have any experience being forgiven by someone else even when you didn’t deserve it?