Archives For Social Justice

The Bible is a thick book.  Always has been.  In the first century, an expert in the Old Testament Scriptures asked Jesus to summarize all of the commands in the Bible into the greatest commandment, to slim down that thick book into something easy to remember.  Jesus tells him the greatest commandment is to love God with all your being and he throws in a close 2nd, to love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:35-40)

In a different conversation, another expert in the Old Testament Scriptures wanted to press Jesus further on this issue.  He asks Jesus, Who is my neighbor?  These experts in the Law would be the equivalent of a modern day seminary professor and pastor rolled into one.  The expert in the Law in Luke 10:25-37 was testing Jesus as well as seeking to justify himself.  Jesus’s answer is no less astounding 2000 years later as it was when it came off his lips.  But we so often miss what makes it so astounding…

In order tell this religious leader who his neighbor is, Jesus goes to the heart of ethnic and religious prejudice of the day.  Sound biblical interpretation must keep this same heart as we apply this text to our American cultural milieu in 2017.  What you need to know about Luke 10:25-37 is that the religious leader was Jewish (as Jesus was) and the beaten up man in the parable was Jewish.  So in order to apply this story to your life and your culture, you must first put yourself in the shoes of someone who has been robbed, beaten, and left for dead.  And you are a pastor.

Comfortable?

Now one of your own people comes by.  Another pastor like you.  He is too busy to stop, walks around you because he doesn’t want your blood flowing onto his new TOMS Shoes, and goes along his way.  This happens a second time with another one of your pastor colleagues.

The man who ends up stopping is a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  First century Jews looked down their noses at the Samaritans for a number of reasons, namely that they were of mixed bloodlines and had a different religious system.  Samaria was a border region in-between Judea and Galilee and was avoided at all costs.  Jews would have journeyed around Samaria (a 3-day detour!) rather than walk through it.

The Samaritan is the one who stops and mends the robbed, broken, beaten Jewish man and pays for his recovery to health.  And notice he doesn’t interview him or check his paperwork or try to determine if it was his fault he got into this mess or not.  He just loves him.

Jesus says this Samaritan displays who Jesus was referring to when he said the 2nd greatest commandment in all of Scripture is to the love your neighbor as yourself.  It’s not to love people like you, who have the same skin color as you, who speak the same language as you, who have the same religion as you, who are of the same socioeconomic status as you, or who are from the same side of the border as you.  It’s fine to love those people, the people just like you, but that’s not at all what this parable is about.  If that’s how we apply it, we are being unbiblical and blatantly missing the heart of Jesus.  If you’re a Christian, does that make you comfortable? 

One more note, whenever you hear the word “love,” you must substitute it for, “stop, mend the broken, touch the wound, carry the burden, and pay for the cost involved.”  This is a lot different than how we would like to define the word love!  So let’s love our neighbor:

Does this include our undocumented Mexican immigrant neighbor?

If it includes Jews and Samaritans in the 1st century, do you think it does?

Does this include Muslims and refugees?

If it includes Jews and Samaritans in the 1st century, do you think it does?

Does this include white to black and black to white?  Remember Jesus’s definition: “stop, mend the broken, touch the wound, carry the burden, and pay for the cost involved.”

If it includes Jews and Samaritans in the 1st century, do you think it does?

Lord forgive us of our party lines and political rhetoric we cling to instead of getting off our horse and mending the wounds of the broken that are laying in front of our door.  We don’t even see the broken because we are so blinded by pixels and deafened by earbuds.  Forgive us.

Jesus got killed for saying this stuff, it wouldn’t be surprising for the American Church to reject it as well.  But brothers and sisters, we don’t need to go down that road!  Let’s hold unswervingly to the Bible as God’s Word and love our neighbor exactly like Jesus’s commanded us to.

We’ve obviously fallen way short of Jesus’s standard, but that also shouldn’t surprise us.  Falling short of Jesus’s standard should not lead us to feelings of shame or guilt or God forbid, defending ourselves, even arguing against Jesus that we are right and he is wrong.  We have grace!  We have been forgiven and given 2nd chance after 2nd chance!  Our sin has been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus so we can walk in freedom and yes, walk in love.  Let’s use these dark and tumultuous times, when robbed and beaten up and left-for-dead men and women are lying in front of our doorsteps, just like in the ditch in the Good Samaritan parable, to love our neighbor.

When the pastor asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”  We know who he is pointing to.  The question is if we will obey or not.

A lament

My heart is heavy from a Bible that says defend the oppressed and a Church that says just preach Jesus.

Just preach Jesus, but don’t preach anything he stood for or taught.  I will leave your church if you do.

Don’t preach about touching lepers or loving the poor or proclaiming liberty to captives and setting the oppressed free or loving your neighbor or welcoming the stranger as if they are Jesus himself or how the Samaritan is today’s Mexican or Muslim.

Just preach Jesus.  Continue Reading…

I didn’t grow up around immigrants or refugees.  When undocumented immigrants started coming across my news radar a few years ago, I was confused.  I figured a person could just go to the Secretary of State’s office and apply for citizenship and be on their way, so why weren’t these immigrants doing just that?

I genuinely praise God for a newfound education into the immigration system.  I’ve been convicted about the aggressive way I’ve recently approached this issue and have apologized and grown from that.  What I hope to do here is help others who are asking the same questions I was a few years ago by offering some factual and gentle information:

4 Misconceptions: Continue Reading…

This past Sunday night in our small group, we came upon the following verse from 2 Timothy 2:25:

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth

It hit me pretty clearly that I have not been doing this in the past week in my blog articles about Donald Trump, immigration and refugees.

Whenever I see the poor, vulnerable and oppressed and I see Scripture that tells me to defend them, I can easily become over-emotional.  I can relate with Peter when he cuts off the Roman guard’s ear during Jesus’s arrest (John 18:1-14).  He’s probably just doing his best Elijah impersonation, thinking God will be pleased with his zeal.  Instead he gets put in his place by Jesus, the revealed King of an upside-down kingdom.

While the zeal I have for the oppressed is truly rooted in Scripture and in compassion, it also gets mixed up with my own pride.  Pride that I’m right.  Pride that is impatient.  Pride that is judgmental.  Pride that reverts to name calling, quick fixes, and black-and-white, for-me-or-against-me thinking.  Pride that is sin.

I will go to a conference or training on some element of caring for the oppressed and come home high as a kite on all my zeal.  I’ll tell my wife all about it and my new enlightened wisdom (and essentially how she and the Church are failing).  This upchucking of zeal isn’t helpful at all.  It short-circuits the chance for anyone to learn and it short-changes the process God uses to teach us things.  A slow, gradual, humble process.

With immigration reform, I got sucked in.  I was reading some blog posts from Christian activists and started zealously typing myself.  I wanted in on this.  I wanted to be on the right side of history, with my name next to the oppressed, and I didn’t care who I had to fight to do it.

The thing is, Jesus never fought.

Fighting comes from pride.  It also comes from thinking we are in control and have the power…again signs of pride.

In addition, we all have biases we bring to the text of Scripture.  All of us; myself definitely included.  We need to do our very best to objectively strip away these biases, but the only way to do that is with humility.  And if we notice bias others are bringing with them, we must not act as if we ourselves are not encumbered with the same disability.  We must speak the truth in love.

Which of course can only come be accomplished with humility.

I know I need to change how I talk and write about biblical justice issues in the future.  And I know I will indeed continue talking and writing about these topics, I don’t really have a choice.  To attempt not to would result in the same response Jeremiah had in Jeremiah 20:9,

his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

I am going to do my best to slow things down.  Frankly, I’ll take any advice those reading this can give me.  To not make things so black-and-white, for-me-or-against-me, like there are only two options or two ways to apply or interpret a Scripture text.  To give the benefit of the doubt.  To show respect to how the other side came to its conclusions.  To do my best to humbly, lovingly and gently lay out the factual or Scriptural items that took me from Point A to Point B so that people who are at Point A can receive it and see if the Lord is leading them to Point B as well.  He might not be.  Or it might not be this second.  But that’s the beauty of the Lord being in control and the Lord using his words and education to grow us.  We’re all wired differently and he’s going to work on us differently, with different timing and in different areas, in different ways.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ that I’ve offended with my zeal, to those who feel I’ve cut off their ears, I sincerely apologize.  Please know my heart is rooted in Scripture and being faithful to every page of it.  Pray for me as I learn what “faithful” means.  Pray that faithful is mixed with grace and humility rather than the silent assassin of pride.

An apology post I wrote after reflecting on how I’ve written about Trump and immigration / refugee policy

Romans 13:1-2, 4-5

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves…  For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities…

These verses seem to indicate we are to do whatever our governmental leaders tell us, and if we don’t, or if we resist it, it is like we are disobeying or resisting God.  If only it were that simple.  A few quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” muddy the waters quite quickly:

I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal”

In fact, the majority of Dr. King’s letter dealt with this tricky biblical subject as he faced the brutal oppression of “legal” Jim Crow laws, which most white Christians argued must be followed based on Romans 13:1-5.  This was no different than white Christians justifying slavery a century earlier for the same reason.

Yet, there has always been Christian resistance to these legal movements.  Christians who saw the governmental law in stark contrast to God’s law in the Scriptures; they saw it as the sin it was and would not let themselves be complicit in it.

Christians who harbored Jews in Nazi Germany.

Christians who helped run The Underground Railroad.

Christians like Dr. King who led the Civil Rights Movement.

Not the mention the modern day global Christians living in countries where it is illegal to be a Christian, to attend church, to own a Bible, etc.

Or consider this Scriptural wrench from Acts 4 thrown into the engine of the Romans 13 argument: Continue Reading…