Wednesday, May 10, 2017

ILLEGAL PEOPLE?


Are those who enter (or remain) in our country without proper documentation "Illegals"? Are they criminals?  Are they unworthy of compassion, even though they may have arrived here seeking refuge from persecution, war or poverty?  Apparently many Americans, including those who claim to be followers of Jesus, believe so.
 
On a previous post (A Child of Immigrants) - I argued that most of us Americans are "children of immigrants" as I myself am.  I pointed out that some of my ancestors may have been refugees and that those who had arrived in the 17th century did so "without official clearance from the residents who had preceded them ... "

The only comment I received was "Like the liberal blowhard of the lame stream media, you have missed the point ...  The issue is illegal immigration ..."

I replied rather tackily that I considered being identified as a "liberal blowhard" was a compliment and then forgot the comment.

Later I have had second thoughts and I realize that while I had retorted to a perceived slam against me, I had ignored what my reader was saying about the perceived danger of "illegal immigration."  So I feel I need to say more.

There are many in America who have entered this country "illegally."  There are quite a few who have entered legally but have stayed beyond the permitted time.  This may include students, tourists, those who visit for business reasons and so forth.  These would also be included among the "illegals."  Then there are many who have permanent visas, green cards or other legal papers.  Add to these the many refugees who seek refuge here - again through legal channels.  Our present administration is seeking both to rid our nation of those perceived to be illegals (especially brown, Spanish speaking ones) and to keep out those who are attempting to enter legally.  And we're told that the majority of Americans applaud these actions.

I don't know about the person who commented on my previous post, but there are many nativists who don't distinguish between those who have entered legally and those who entered illegally.

I suspect that the problem which many perceive is not a problem having to do with whether or not certain persons hold a particular piece of paper, but a problem having to do with the outward appearances of those persons.  Their skin is darker than mine; they talk funny; they wear strange head coverings or clothing; they worship differently - maybe they even worship different gods!

As I have mentioned in that previous post, my mother came to this country as a child, from Austria.  While her parents retained much of their old world culture and German accents, Mom became pretty well-integrated as an American.  She left behind much of what would distinguish her (except that in her speech she'd occasionally revert to a different word order than English).  One day I heard her complain angrily, "There are too many foreigners coming into this country!"

"Mom!" I replied.  "How can you say that?  You were a 'foreigner' once yourself."

I could see and hear her anger rising as she replied, "You know what I mean!"

Unfortunately I did know what she meant.  She meant what many of our indignant complainers of today mean, "There are too many brown-skinned, strange talking heathen coming into America."

I think it's time we white native born Christian Americans wake up to the fact that our indignation against these people may be based not on concern for their legal status, but on our own racial and religious bigotry.

But now we don't have to call them by those racial or ethnic slurs (that say more about those who use them than about those of whom they are used), we can simply call them "illegals" and self-righteously demand that our government do something about them and applaud when this happens.

Leviticus 19:33-34:  "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  I am the LORD your God."

This passage does not distinguish whether the "stranger" is "legal" or "illegal."

Monday, May 1, 2017

PRAY FOR OUR PRESIDENT, 2

A few years back I published a post entitled PRAY FOR OUR PRESIDENT?  Of course our President at the time was Barack Obama, a man whom I greatly admired.  I complained in that post about the fact that many of my friends - even those who claimed to be followers of Jesus - expressed so much negativity, even hatred, toward him, much of it based on false rumors and conspiracy theories.  I felt, and still feel that the attitude held by many toward this man was totally incompatible with their professions of Christianity.

But now the situation has changed with our new President, Donald Trump.  His detractors need no rumors or conspiracy theories.  Here is a man who openly expresses his hatred toward other races and religions, toward any who oppose him and toward the news media; a man who has openly boasted of his groping of women.  And many of those who opposed Barack Obama are happily supportive of Donald Trump.

So now the shoe is on the other foot.  I now find my attitudes toward our President totally negative.  While I feel these attitudes are justified and I make no apologies or excuses, I feel that I need to follow my own advice.  And I ask my readers to do the same.  So I am reproducing the exhortation Uni and I had on that previous post: 

We have a suggestion:

“I exhort then first of all for entreaties, prayers, intercessions to be made for all persons, for kings and all those who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the presence of God our Savior, who wants all persons to be saved and to come into knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Pau’s exhortation to Timothy seems pretty clear and straightforward.  It also seems pretty all-inclusive (the word “all” appears 5 times in these 4 verses.

We are to pray for everyone.  There doesn’t appear to be any exception.  Now I don’t believe we are expected to simply say “God bless everybody” just before we eat or crawl into bed.  We are to pray for all whom we have opportunity to know, or whose needs we know of.

And we are to pray not just general prayers, but to intercede, to plead with God on behalf of these persons.  The third word for prayer in this passage, I have translated “intercessions” because it is related to a verb translated “intercede.”  We are told in Romans 8:26, 27 that the Spirit intercedes for us, and in Romans 8:34 that Christ intercedes.  In this passage, however, we are to be the interceders.

More specifically, we are to do this “for kings and all those in authority.”  And the reason is given “in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”  Could it be any clearer?  We don’t pray for our leaders for their benefit alone, but also for our benefit.

But then Paul gives a further reason – the reason why a tranquil and quiet life is to be desired.  It is pleasing to God, because He wants everyone to be saved.  He wants those in authority to be saved, of course, but He also wants them to promote peace because apparently a peaceful environment is more conducive to evangelism.

Elsewhere in the New Testament we’re given other responsibilities toward human authority that we have as citizens of two kingdoms:  pay taxes, submit to laws, honor those in authority (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13, 17).

But here we are told to pray for them.

And there are no qualifiers given.   We aren’t told to pray only for those of a certain political party or only for those who take a particular stand on some piece of legislation.  We’re not even told to pray only for the “good” ones.  The authorities of the Roman Empire in which Paul’s readers lived were those who were already beginning to persecute them.  In a few years Paul himself would be beheaded by the very authority he prayed for.
So, how should we intercede for our President?  What should we pray for?
·         First of all, that he and his family might be genuine believers in Jesus Christ.
·         That his life would be totally committed to Jesus Christ.
·         That he would be a man of integrity.
·         That he would have wisdom for the decisions he must make.
·         That he would seek peace and justice for America and in the world.
·         That God will protect him and his family from those who wish them harm.
·         That the Christian community would pray for him.

Donald Trump desperately needs our prayers!
(We have President Trump and his family listed first on our daily prayer list. Uni)
 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

JESUS' ROUGH EDGES


I believe we usually read our Bibles too piously.  We treat the stories as though they were stiff morality tales with little if any human drama.  We seem to especially do this with the stories of Jesus.  We read the stories of His actions, we read His great teachings, but I feel we often fail to see His very real humanity, particularly as seen in His emotions.  When we read of His anger or sorrow, even His joy, we tend to think of these as the qualities of a deity and not as the emotions of a very real human being.
 
Uni and I were struck with his humanity the other morning during our reading of Matthew's Gospel.  An old story we'd read many times, but somehow we felt His emotions more in this reading.  The story is found in chapters 21-24 of Matthew's Gospel.
Jesus had entered the Jerusalem temple courtyard not long after His triumphal entry into the city and He was confronted by various groups with challenges as to His authority:  the chief priests, the scribes and elders - perhaps the whole Sanhedrin; then the Pharisees with the Herodians (a sycophantic political party); then the Sadducees.  All of these attempting to stump Him or find something with which to accuse Him.  Then the questions about the greatest commandment.  We can almost feel His impatience growing as He carefully answers, sometimes with a rebuke.  Then He turns the tables on them and hits them with a question they can't answer:  how can the Messiah be both David's son and David's Lord?  Of course they can't answer without conceding that the Messiah is both because He is God incarnate.  They are stumped!  Matthew tells us "no one was able to answer Him a word, neither did anyone question Him anymore from that day forward."  (Matthew 22:46)
And then it's Jesus' turn to really let loose.  He begins His tirade slowly and carefully at first, with a warning to both the crowds and His disciples, about the scribes and Pharisees - those expert teachers of the Law of Moses and its accumulated traditions.  He essentially tells his hearers, "Do as they say, but not as they do - they're a bunch of hypocrites!"  Then He turns to the scribes and Pharisees themselves and really blasts them!  He calls them every name in the book:  "hypocrites, blind guides, sons of Hell, sons of murderers, snakes, brood of vipers!"  We can feel the buildup of rage.  We can see the anger flashing in His eyes as He tells them that "all the guilt of all the blood of righteous persons murdered on earth" will be avenged on them.  (Matthew 23:35)
Pause for a moment.  Why was Jesus taking out His rage on these people?  He knew He was going to be crucified; He had already spoken of it a number of times.  But the leaders of the plot to murder Him were the chief priests, most of whom belonged to another party, the party of the Sadducees.  It would be those priests who would conspire with the Romans in His death.  Why didn't Jesus let His rage fall on them?  Was Jesus mistaken in His foresight of His crucifixion? No.
I suspect it was because Jesus was "theologically" more in tune with the Pharisaic party.  Perhaps He felt the priestly party was too far gone.  But the Pharisees were those who were perceived as the spiritual leaders and teachers of Israel.  They were closer to the truth and thus Jesus held them more accountable.
But immediately after this blistering tirade, we see what appears to be a total shift in Jesus' emotions.  After pronouncing His judgment, "Amen!  I'm telling you all, all these things will come upon this generation!" (Matthew 23:36), His rage turns into deep sorrow.  Perhaps the thought of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and of His people - the destruction that He had just foretold - had hit Him with unquenchable grief.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who murders the prophets and stones those sent to her!  How often I've wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you didn't want me to.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  For I'm telling you, you won't see me again until you say, 'blessed is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord!'"  (Matthew 27:37-39)
The tears of rage have become tears of sorrow.  Thought Matthew doesn't mention Jesus' weeping here, Luke tells us that He had wept over the city and uttered a similar lament as He approached it, on His triumphal entry.
Matthew omits the story of the widow's offering that Mark and Luke tell us occurs next (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4) but we can imagine the deep emotion still quivering in Him.
At this point Jesus leaves the temple precincts and we're told that His disciples point out to Him the beauty of the temple.  Were they attempting to  calm their Lord who was still trembling with a mixture of anger and grief?  Were they afraid?  The story continues with Jesus detailed predictions of the future destruction of Jerusalem.
I suspect that many of us are uncomfortable, even afraid, when we consider Jesus as filled with rage or sorrow.  He appears to have let His emotions take control.  That doesn't fit with our picture of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild" or of a halo-wearing, medieval- English- speaking saint.  He's too much like us!
But wasn't Jesus like us?  Didn't the Second Person of the Trinity become human like we are?  Yes, we're told that He was "without sin."  But we're not told that he was without emotion or without human weakness.  We want a nice Jesus, not one who flies off the handle or bursts into tears, not one with rough edges.  We want a two dimensional Jesus, not one as human as we are.
But there are some problems with our bland picture of Jesus.  First, it's not one that's in agreement with the facts.  Read the Gospels "again for the first time" (old corn-flakes' commercial).  You'll see a Jesus that defies our stereotypes.
Secondly, if we picture Jesus incorrectly, what does that do to our Christian life?  If we are to be imitators of Christ, if we are to do what Jesus would do, we need to get to know Him better as a human being and live as He did or would.  We may need to stop seeing the Christian life as just being nice and be unafraid to embarrass ourselves.
When was the last time you got angry and spoke out about hypocrisy or injustice?  When was the last time you wept over those you loved - your family - your neighbors - your country - your church - who were suffering the consequences of their own rejection of the truth?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A CHILD OF IMMIGRANTS

"They're bringing drugs.  They're bringing crime.  They're rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people."  Donald Trump, 6/16/2015

"I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security  to create an office to serve American Victims.  The office is called VOICE - Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement.  We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests."  Donald Trump, 2/27/2017

"Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid.  As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal."  We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes."  When the "Know-Nothings get control it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics."  When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country, where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy. Abraham Lincoln, 8/24/1855.

Abraham Lincoln could not have known about the "progress in degeneracy" of our day.  And though the particular groups he was speaking of may have changed somewhat (though not completely), the "degeneracy" is still progressing.  We have elected as our president a man who freely preaches racism and xenophobia in a manner no president has in my lifetime and who has attempted to block the entry of immigrants in various ways.

And when in his speech to congress Donald Trump advocated an office to particularly discriminate against immigrants as a criminal group, his groupies, of course were elated.  But sadly the media - whom he had already labeled as "fake news" and "the enemy of the American people" - simply spoke of his speech as "more presidential."  No one seemed to give a ____ about his making xenophobia a national priority and creating an office to promote it!

Why aren't we angry?  Why aren't American Christians speaking out?   Why aren't our political leaders of both parties speaking out?  I am a child of immigrants; most Americans (all the white ones) are, unless they are immigrants themselves.  Why don't these pronouncements bother us?

My mother came to this country as a child with her parents and older siblings, from Austria.  Her parents - my grandparents - got here just before the First World War.  In a few years America would be at war with their native land.  Were they refugees, fleeing war?  I don't know, but I suspect so.

My father's family came to America from England in the 1600's.  I suspect they were Puritans, as they settled in Massachusetts and almost all had biblical names.  (There were also names like, Thankful, Mercy and Deliverance.)  As Puritans they would have been fleeing their homeland for religious reasons.  And, of course, they would have landed on our shores without official clearance from the residents who had preceded them thousands of years earlier.

So what right have I as a child of immigrants to cheer the closing of our borders and the stigmatizing of immigrants?

As a follower of Jesus, how should I look at this question?   I believe that a look at the biblical story shows a long history of immigrants and refugees

We could go back to the first book of the Bible, the Book of Genesis.  There we find the story of Abraham, called by God to leave his home in Ur and go to the land of Canaan.  And when there he fled to Egypt because of famine.  The rest of the Book is filled with tales of flight by Abraham and his son Isaac, then Jacob, then Joseph - the whole family of Israel.  And then there is the story of Ruth, a refugee from her homeland to Israel.  And on and on.  The Old Testament is one continuous narrative of flight and migration.

And then we read in the Gospel of Matthew of Jesus, the Son of God, who himself became a refugee from the murderous campaign of Herod the Great.

" ... an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.'  So Joseph got up and took the child and his mother by night and took off for Egypt, and he stayed there until Herod's death."  Matthew 2:13-15

But it's not only the stories about immigrants in the Bible that we need to look at - it's the commands.  Over and over in the Old Testament we find commands aimed at the Israelites regarding the "stranger" or alien (some translations use the word "immigrant.")  A few:

"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."  Exodus 22:20; 23:9

"When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt:  I am the LORD your God."  Leviticus 19:33, 34

Over and over the prophets rant against Israel's oppression of "the stranger" along with her other sins that brought judgment on the nation.

And when Jesus foretells His return as the Son of Man to judge the nations, it is not their sexual misbehavior or their violence which make up the criteria for judgment, but their treatment or mistreatment of certain groups:  the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner.  Matthew 25:31-46

Add to all this, the fact that we who follow Jesus Christ are addressed as "aliens and strangers" (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11).  While we may or may not be citizens of this land," our citizenship is in Heaven, from where we are eagerly expecting a Savior - the Lord Jesus Christ!" (Philippians 3:20)  How can we not identify with those others who are also "aliens and strangers?"

So we who are both Americans and followers of Jesus, should be appalled at the "progress in degeneracy" our nation is following.  Things will probably get worse before they get better.  We need to speak out and do our part to welcome "the stranger" even though we may be going against official policy.

"We must obey God rather than man."  Acts 5:29