The Good Undocumented Immigrant

laborersA white Christian man was driving down from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and his car had some massive mechanical failure and died on the side of the road. He was in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal in the heat of the day. If he didn’t get help, and soon, he would be in serious risk for heat stroke or death.

Now by chance an off-duty police officer was going down that road but, after he saw the distressed man, he passed right on by. He had some important personal issues to attend to. So likewise a Republican congressman, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by without slowing down – he had to get to a town hall meeting.

But an undocumented immigrant, as he journeyed, came to where the stranded man was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and gave him food and drink. Then he made room in his own vehicle and brought him to a auto repair shop and took care of him. He took out $140 and gave it to the mechanic, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back through.”

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who was stranded and in distress?

You go, and do likewise.

When the KKK Infiltrates Your Church

churchSo there I was talking to another pastor about race issues in the church. He told me about a friend of his (yes, I know that this would never be admissible in a court of law, but it’s just a story, so chill) who was pastoring down south. The pastor was new to the church, and when a black family visited one Sunday the board later asked the pastor what he was going to do about it.

His response? “I’m not going to do anything about it.”

But the family visited again. And the pastor was summoned to a special meeting with the board. Upon entering the meeting, the board members pulled out their wallets and showed the pastor that they were all card-carrying members of the Ku Klux Klan. ku klux klan

I don’t know how that story ends. That wasn’t the point of our conversation. Our conversation revolved around people who consider themselves to be Christians yet behave in ways that many Christians believe to be contrary to how authentic disciples of Jesus behave.

But here’s the thing: we can’t tell people what they are. Or aren’t. people are allowed to self-identify however they like. Oh, sure, we can tell people that we don’t think their way of doing things fits into the mold, but people don’t usually listen when we try to tell them what they are.

Like an article I saw from not too long ago. A local KKK leader in Virginia claims that the KKK is a Christian organization. They just want to make sure that the white race stays white and isn’t diluted. As he says:

It’s not a hateful thing to want to maintain white supremacy.
Yet I would like to think that the majority of Christians in the world recognize that the KKK is NOT a christian organization. It’s not merely about history and heritage.ku klux klan with flag They’ve done some really atrocious things and propagate animosity and hatred towards other human beings.

But here’s the kicker: I think it IS possible for Christians to be card-carrying members of the KKK.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think the KKK is unequivocally evil. But humanity is predisposed to be evil. It’s in our nature. In theological terms we call it sin-nature. Left to our own devices there is no way we can ever achieve heaven – we will simply never be good enough. That’s the whole point of the cross – Jesus paid the price for sin because the price was TOO steep for us ever to pay.

For Christians, that means we’re all a bunch of sinners in the same boat. We’re simply on different places of our spiritual paths. Some of us are farther along than others. Some of us still have a long way to go. But faith in Christ isn’t predicated on a list of rules and behaviors. The Apostle Paul never said, “Give up all your old ways, come to Christ, and then you’ll be saved.” That’s getting the order mixed up.

We come to Christ FIRST. Then our behavior ought to be in an ever-evolving state as we grow in our Christ-likeness. I’m fond of saying:

God loves you as you are, but God does not love the way you are.

As we mature in our faith, the old way SHOULD die out. Can a Klansman be a believer? Sure, just like the Christian-murdering Paul could come to faith. But after Paul started the road of faith HE CHANGED. This is where the rubber meets the road. God loves everyone, but authentic faith brings us to a place where we are no longer the same.

Can the Christian church have Klan members in it? Yes. I would hope it did. Just as I would hope the church would have drug addicts, drug dealers, spouse abusers, porn addicts, tax-evaders, and any other horrible thing you can think of. If the church isn’t reaching sinners then we’re not doing our job.

But the beginning-of-the-journey sinner can’t stay that way. It’s not enough to come to Jesus if we refuse to change. When it comes down to it, though, it’s not our place to force change. We can welcome people and speak the truth as we know it. Then we need to trust God to do the real work of changing hearts. Because my words will most likely never change hearts. That’s not my job – it’s God’s.

That means we should treat people with a whole lotta grace, even when they’re on a different part of the journey than we are. You might have a Klansman in your church. Who knows where God will have him this time next year.

May God be patient with us all as we grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.

Calling It Quits: What Jesus Says About Divorce

Unhappy CoupleSomeone once asked me if I could describe the Gospel in just two minutes.

Yes. You see it all comes down brokenness. We are broken people and we live in a broken world. But brokenness isn’t God’s design or intention. It’s the same when it comes to marriage. N.T. Wright notes that anyone who even reads the words of Jesus out loud will most likely be called mean, unforgiving, Pharisaical, or worse. Jesus said:

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Many people swing into two camps that are polar opposites: on the one side you have people who say, “I can be a good Christian and pursue divorce and get remarried.” On the other side you have people who stick to a very literal and rigid reading of Jesus’ words.

And we cannot deny the words of Jesus. He clearly says in Mark 10:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.

At this point everyone who is divorced or who has been affected by divorce in some way shuts down, turns off their ears, and stops listening to the message.
That’s what often happens.

But that’s because preachers who read the words of Jesus in this case never go all the way with the Gospel. Hear me out.

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

These guys have no real concern about understanding God’s truth about marriage and divorce. Jesus is now in the area that John the Baptist had been when John condemned the behavior of Herod marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. John told Herod, “This is not right!” But that’s just John. He tended to get emotional.

In fact, you could say he lost his head.

When the Pharisees approach Jesus they’re trying to put in in a tough spot on Herod’s turf – wanting him to make a declaration about marriage and divorce that will get him killed. But Jesus doesn’t fall for it.

He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

In the ancient world the certificate of divorce was a way of saying that the husband gives up his right and claim on the woman. Another man can have her without fear of the husband coming after him. There’s only one passage in the Torah that explicitly addresses divorce. Deuteronomy 24:1 says,

“If a man marries a woman, but she has become displeasing to him because he finds something improper about her, he may write her a divorce certificate, hand it to her, and send her on her way from his house.”

And Jews fought about what this passage meant. A hundred years before Jesus was born there were two major schools of thought. Those who followed Rabbi Shammai said that “something improper” meant infidelity. Those who followed Rabbi Hillel said it could be anything that displeases the husband – even burning the soup.

They missed the bigger picture.

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

The law passed down from Moses doesn’t declare divorce right or wrong – it simply assumes that divorce is a fact of life and seeks to protect the wife. The certificate of divorce meant when she remarried she would not be accused of adultery. But Jesus tells them that this was not God’s original design and intent.

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The problem is not with God’s ideal or the Law – the problem is with people and their hardened hearts. We are broken people who live in a broken world. That means we will do broken things to each other. This is not the way God designed it to be – it’s a sad fact of brokenness.

And Jesus does an amazing thing here. Instead of simply ruling out divorce he elevates the idea of marriage. It’s not about how and when you can split. Jesus says that the way God designed human marriage to work is for two to lose their individual identities and understand that they are now part of the same person. Jesus puts marriage on a whole new level.

If this is God’s design and intention, who is man that we should split it up?

And that’s where most preachers stop. And people listening who have suffered through a divorce shrink lower and lower into their seats. But that’s not the end of the Gospel.

You see, the Gospel is about restoration and reconciliation. The Gospel says, “You matter enough to God that He paid the price to fix your brokenness – a price you could never afford.”

The Gospel says, “The only thing that is unforgivable is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

That means that divorce, though not God’s design and desire,
is not an unforgivable sin.

That means that, as a divorcee, you can rest assured that God still loves you and that you are not separated from Him because of your marital status.

That means that, as Christians, we can treat friends and family with love and respect even when they have gone through divorce and remarriage.

The Gospel is bigger than all of us, and God’s grace reaches farther than we could ever imagine. We are called to be people of reconciliation and restoration. When we deal with people who are divorced or going through a divorce. When we live the life of a divorcee. God’s grace reaches to us all and calls us to act towards each other with that same grace.

‘Cause it’s only when we’re acting with this kind of grace
that we’ll see true reconciliation and restoration happen.

Related Posts:
Beyond Divorce: Living After Heartbreak and Separation
I QUIT! What to Know Before You Divorce

How Bad Can I Be and Still Be a Christian?

 

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We are masters at justifying our behavior. If we REALLY want something then we will find a way to convince our brains and our hearts that it is okay to do it. Those of us who are really slick and have a little bit of the Bible tucked away in our heads will bring up Scripture to justify our behavior.

The Apostle Paul once heard a report from the church in the city of Corinth that blew his mind. It seems that one of the church members had an affair with his father’s wife. The church was so proud of their liberty and freedom and openness. Paul was not proud. Instead, he wrote:

Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Corinthians 5:2)

I would guess that a good many of us have never tried to get frisky with our step mothers, there are other areas in our lives where we do what we want to do even when we know we shouldn’t be doing it.

Someone once talked to me about the two types of Christians: law-driven people and grace-driven people. When it comes to justifying our behavior we all suddenly turn into grace-driven Christians, promoting God’s grace above all else.

“God’s grace covers all.”

Paul had to fight this mentality from the church in Rome. His response:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big believer in God’s grace. If God were not gracious with us we’d all be toast. But we must walk that line between receiving grace and abusing grace.

Grace does not give us carte blanche to sin and willfully make unrighteous decisions. Grace does offer to catch us when we fall. Grace helps us get back on track. But as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with God, our new life should pull us away from the old behavior into a new way of doing things. It’s spiritual maturity. Paul continues:

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires….For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

Remember when you fell in love for the first time? Most of us will go through a lot in order to change ourselves so that we can be the perfect partner for the one we love (many young people foolishly pretend to be something other than what they really are, and that will blow up later). The point is this – grace isn’t about abusing the freedom God has given us. It’s not a get out of jail free card to continue making evil choices. Grace should be drawing us in a closer relationship with God to the point where we WANT to be different.

It’s not about “How bad can I be and still be a Christian?”

It’s about “How much do I love Jesus, and what am I willing to do to belong to him?”

Related Posts:
Making Waves: Behaving Badly
Becoming a Better Me
Creating Life Change