WATCHING OVER THE ALIEN

The Lord watches over the alien.   –   Psalm 146:9Immigrants USA

In the context of a verbally hostile race for the oval office of the presidency, there’s been much castigation and disparagement of aliens, legal and illegal immigrants to the USA and with a very vigorous, broad brush.  I’ve said this before, but it merits repeating . . .

I believe that all four of my grandparents were illegal aliens. Before you say “YIKES!” . . . let me explain.  I don’t mean to say that they were aliens from outer space like E.T. or the aliens in the Independence Day movie attacking the Whitehouse.  My grandparents were “aliens” from Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland).  As young people, born well before 1900, they migrated down to Boston looking for work and never went back.  They were undocumented.  They didn’t enter the USA legally through Ellis Island’s immigrant screening.  More than likely, they just took the ferry that ran between the Canadian Maritimes and New England, something that happened every day as whole populations moved back and forth across the relatively open border.  Because social security hadn’t been invented yet, they weren’t registered in any data bank other than having a Massachusetts driver’s license.

In many ways my grandparents were forerunners of today’s undocumented immigrants, only they came to the USA in more friendly times.  As undocumented persons of Anglo-saxon heritage they had no problem assimilating into the American culture at that time.  They blended right in.  The color of their skin, their linguistic habits and accents, the food they ate, how they dressed, and their faith commitments did not set them apart nor made others uncomfortable.  As a result they were not subjected to discrimination or oppression.  They needed no acts of mercy, intervention, or missional compassion.  The barriers to their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness were little or none.

ThesIMMIGRANT BOATe thoughts are on my mind, because it seems to me that today we are to living in a time of unprecedented diaspora throughout the world.  Millions globally are migrating great distances, some for political reasons, some to escape economic disaster, and many for the purpose of survival yet at great risk.  Hundreds, and some days even thousands, are literally dying in the process of seeking safety and a better life somewhere else.  To say that it is a difficult time to be an alien is an understatement for millions of people all of whom God loves.

The Bible has something to say to us about aliens:

Exodus 22:20 – Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him.

Psalm 146:9  – The Lord watches over the alien;

Exodus 23:9 – You yourself knows how it feels to be alien.

Colossians 1:21  – Once you were alienated from God.

1 Peter 2:11  –   Now . . . as aliens and strangers in the world, abstain from sinful desires . . . Live such good lives that others, who may accuse you of doing wrong, may see your good deeds and glorify God.

Matthew 5:16 –  Let your light so shine that others see your good works (toward the alien) and glorify your Father in heaven. – parentheses mine.

multicultural 1 diverse faces

Perhaps the most powerful directive for our regard of the alien is the second half of the Great Commandment in Matthew 22:39 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is a tough directive.  How do we love persons of other faiths or any neighbors when they are not the enemy, when they are so different they make us uncomfortable, when they don’t love the God we love, when they have ways of living that differ from ours,  and when we suspect that they are residents here in the country illegally? Isn’t it just easier to pray that they just go back to their own country, that they go live somewhere else, or that they somehow just go away?  As persons of Mexican heritage, how do we love our Guatemalan of Salvadoran neighbor?  As persons of Korean heritage, how do we love our Japanese neighbor and visa versa? As Christians of Jewish heritage, how do we love our Palestinian or Syrian neighbour.  The strength and disposition to love is a matter of a “tough mind and a tender heart” (Martin Luther King, 1963).  It is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

God loves the alien, because he loves the world.  Christ gave himself on the cross for the alien also.  He loved us while we were still alien from the Kingdom of God.  The Bible also has something to say about how we love our neighborIf we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another . . . Whoever claims to live in Christ must walk as he walks. . . Whoever loves his brother lives in the light and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness . . . and the darkness blinds him. (1 John 1 & 2, selected verses).

The matter of migration and immigrants in a foreign land is complicated and there are real, major concerns about the “bad apples” in the barrel of any country that receives influxes of immigrants.  Germany right now is a good example given the hundreds of thousands in the last few months immigrating there. God’s disposition regarding aliens is clear and it is not optional.  We are to love our neighbor, all of them.  We are to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8) who loves all aliens.

O God, we embrace your words. They are ours to live by: Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit.  By your grace and Spirit strengthen us to be more than a blessing to aliens in our midsts.  Make us servants in your likeness that some will come to faith in you because of our love for them.  This we earnestly pray in your name, our Lord and Savior who loves the alien.  Amen.

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CORNELIUS, PETER, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT: GRACE & RESPONSE

CORNELIUS AND PETER 1God’s grace and our response is the overarching, relational pattern of life we see throughout the narrative of the Bible. We see this in both the Old and New Testaments. When God’s grace is given, it calls for our active response. God anticipates our engagement. When we follow through and engage his grace it is then that God’s intended blessing upon us and on others is realized.

Take a look at just one example. We see God’s grace and engagement in the story of Peter and Cornelius (Acts, chapter 10). Luke, the writer, devotes an entire chapter to the narrative. Keep in mind the pattern, grace and response. Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was a devout, God fearing believer in the Hebrew God. The same was true of his all his family.   He was a man of prayer and kindness to the poor. God sent an angel to him with a message. Cornelius was told to send men to Joppa, to a house where Peter was staying, and to have them bring back Peter. This was not a casual walk across town. Cornelius’ military posting was in Caesarea several miles from Joppa. Cornelius was obedient in responding to God’s directive and sent his men with a message to Peter.

In Joppa, Peter was taking a mid-day nap and had a dream. God’s used the dream to prepare Peter to go out of his comfort zone and break the Hebrew law regarding what was unclean and impure. God’s voice came to Peter three times in a dream saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” When Peter awoke and began wondering what the dream was all about, he received his answer. The servants arrived. Peter said to them, “I am the one you are looking for.” They gave the message to Peter, and before they left for the journey Peter invited them into the house to be his guest. By Hebrew law, such hospitality to gentiles was forbidden. It brought about impurity since such close contact with gentiles was unclean.

The next day they departed for Caesarea. When they arrived Cornelius told the story of his faith in God and how God told him to send for Peter. Cornelius invited Peter to tell him and his household (family and servants) about Jesus. But before Peter could finish his story, the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message. The gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles. What happened? God’s grace brought Cornelius and Peter together. They both responded with obedience to the two separate ways God spoke to them and the result was that Cornelius and his whole household (family and servants) were saved and filled with the fullness of God. Moreover, Peter learned a big lesson: God’s grace and gift of the Holy Spirit is not only meant for the Jews, but for all, Jew and Gentile.

When followed in obedience, God’s grace and direction always leads to more grace and blessing.  Thanks be to God!

THE WHOLE LOAF

 

loaf-of-breadWhen Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” he meant the whole loaf, not just half of one. Today the body of Christ in America looks more and more like half a loaf.

Here’s why . . .

The Barna Group is a market research firm specializing in the study of religious beliefs and behavior of Americans.  In 2011, they completed a study of 15,000 Americans that brings to light one of the most compelling pictures of contemporary Christianity beyond what one might imagine.   Their results are so astonishing, we have to ask, “What happened to the whole gospel?”

The Barna Group researchers clustered their findings along a continuum of ten groups or what they call “Ten Transformational Stops” along the journey with the percentage of the national sample that falls into each of the ten stops or categories.  The ten categories and their percentages include:

  1. Unaware of sin                                   1%
  2. Indifferent to sin                             16%
  3. Worried about sin                            39%
  4. Forgiven for sin                                   9%
  5. Involved in faith activities             24%

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –                                                                              —–

  1. Holy discontent                                    6%
  2. Broken by God3%
  3. Surrender and submission                 1%
  4. Profound love of God                           0.5%
  5. Profound love of people                      0.5%

Notice how the major activity falls between categories 3 through 5. At stop 5, the church is only half a loaf.   After 5, the percentages drop precipitously.  Another way to say this is that 89% of the persons surveyed are accounted for in the first five “stops” (1-5) and only 11% go on to be represented in one of the upper 5 categories (6-10).

The movement beyond step 5 and onward to 10 reflects spiritual progress toward spiritual formation, maturity, holiness, and empowered service to the glory of God.  Christians having been justified by grace through faith seem to stop there and get busy in religious activities with little to show beyond that.  It is a kind of bus stop religion:  get saved, wait around for the glory bus to heaven, and in the mean time do a little good.  As you can see steps 3 to 5 seem to be saying “You’re a sinner.  You need a Savior. Pray this prayer and you’re good to go.  Now get busy in the activities of the church.”(J.D. Walt, 2015)*

bread of life 13The overwhelming majority of American Christians are living out only a half gospel.  It
would seem that for many the work of evangelism only brings people to a redemptive point of salvation from sin and fails to take them any further other than keeping them busy in religious activities.  The data shouts that very few go on to do serious discipleship work of restoration to the Imago Dei and holiness.  It is no surprise that the majority Christians remain immature, babes in Christ, drifting either into a state of being nominal Christians, or of a dissipation of their faith, or both.  The alternative is to embrace forms of evangelism that continue to establish people in the Kingdom, and to facilitate an intentional life of discipleship leading to holiness, purity of heart, and fidelity to the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

The faith communities that identify with the saving work from sin offered by Jesus Christ need to get on with the second half of salvation, salvation to the restoration of the Image of God in every believer, holiness after the likeness of Christ. May the findings of the Barna Group become so well known and compelling that they fan the flames of passion for a Great Awakening.  We are over due for a national repentance by Christians who are leading lives that fall short of God’s best and the sanctifying and glorifying grace that God intends for all who confess that Jesus is Lord.

*J.D. Walt, “The Whole Gospel:  Getting on with the second half of salvation,”
Seedbed Sower’s Almanac and Seed Catalog, 2015.

QUIET AND CONFIDENT

confidence lion

What is it about quiet guys that girls find attractive?  Is it because in a quiet way they seem to have a hidden strength?  I confess in college my wife liked me in part because I was quiet.  Quietness left room for mystery.  In reality, I was just shy, but hey, it worked in my favor.  Quietness is often paired with confidence, an inward appearance of assurance and poise.  It infers an inward strength.  It may be assumed because in real life it is often true.  We find attractive the person who is strong and needs not to be loud about it. In times of difficulty and distress there is a calm demeanor.  He or she has a peace that others notice. God says through the prophet Isaiah, “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”  (Isaiah 30:15) The Apostle Peter says in the hidden person of the heart there is “an incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is very precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3:4).

I find that quiet people are often more approachable.  Perhaps they appear to be good listeners.  They have the potential of a quiet ministry that Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the ministry of biting the tongue.  They are not proclaimers.  They have no soapbox issues to announce.  They are reflective and slow to speak.  I remember often seeing effectiveness of the chairman of the Dept. of Psychology at Arizona State University in meetings of a community agency board of directors.  He was quiet, pensive, and not saying much the whole meeting.  But, often toward the end of the meetings he would speak up to quietly offer just the right wisdom to untie the Gordian knot problem with which the board had been wrestling.  His stock on the board was high.  He quietly achieved high respect and the confidence of others.

There is much in the Bible to support the idea of quietness and confidence.  God says to Joshua “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.  I will not leave you nor forsake you. . .  Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5,6&9) The ApostlePaul, after encouraging the Ephesians to do the will of God from the heart as to the Lord and not to men, then says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”  (Eph. 6:10)  Jesus in giving his disciples his Great Commission says,  “All authority has been given me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples . . . and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

As I get older, it is easier to relax, enjoy the meditating benefits of quietness and reflect on the truth that God’s promises are real and reliable.  He is absolutely faithful.   His grace in the past and the present occasions confidence and faith in the future. To paraphrase Paul’s words to the Philippians (4:6&7), we need not be anxious for nothing, but in everything by quiet prayer and confidence, and with supplication and thanksgiving, we may let our requests be made quietly known to God; and the gentle peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will give us confidence in Him and guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God!

In quietness and confidence shall be your strength. (Isaiah 30:15)