The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Culture (page 1 of 9)

Radical Conversion(?)

I recently finished reading Radical Restoration by F. LaGard Smith, and found it to be an endearing combination of brilliant insights and prolonged axe-grinding. However, one quotation in particular really struck me:

The pernicious effects of a spiritual body composed mostly of second-generation Christians whose early-youth baptisms were, in the main, more convention than conversion are more spiritually devastating than we might ever imagine. Why are we not more evangelistic? Because we ourselves were never radically converted. Why do spiritual matters not hold center place in our busy, work-a-day lives? Because a merely “mentalized” faith can too easily become a compartmentalized faith. Why are we just as materialistic, worldly, and secular as our irreligious (or religious!) next-door neighbors? Because we have been duly initiated into a worldly church, but never properly introduced to an other-worldly Kingdom.

(p.42)

I have had discussions before about how adult converts perceive a lot of things differently than those who have “grown up in the church,” but never before had I really considered the effect of having churches comprised largely of second (or third, or fourth) generation Christians who became Christians largely as a matter of convention: it was just what they were raised to do.

Before I go any further, I should point out what a tremendous blessing it is to be raised in the church, and to have Christian parents who are devoted to the idea of passing faith on to their kids. So please do not hear me as saying that it is a bad thing to be raised in the church. It is not. But at the same time, I think there is a lot of validity to what Smith suggests above. In biblical examples of conversion (think, for example, of Saul of Tarsus), we see a radical change in people when they come to know Jesus. Their lives are very different than they were previously.

When I look at my own life, I see a very different story. I can never remember a time when I didn’t know Jesus. I was a good kid who tried to do good things. To be sure, I had sin in my life, but becoming a Christian didn’t entail a massive lifestyle change. In fact, the main difference in my life that I can remember is that following my baptism and commitment to Christ, I began taking Communion on Sundays! The point that I’m trying to make here is not that partaking of the Lord’s Supper is not important (it is), but rather, to underscore that my life was not significantly different than it had been previously: my life course was not radically altered by my decision to become a Christian.

Last fall, I attended a youth conference where the speaker did an excellent job of making the point that before you are prepared to share the Story of Jesus, you need to understand and be able to articulate how the Story has impacted your own life. A helpful way to verbalize this is simply by completing the statement, “Before Jesus, I was ____________; now I am ____________.” The problem is, based on my conversations with a lot of students raised in the church, they are unable to determine any difference! They can’t tell how their lives changed after they became Christians. This is a big problem.

This problem is further underscored by my conversations with young people prior to their baptism. Especially with younger kids, I always want to ask something like, “How will your life change once you are a Christian?” Generally, they have no idea!

Truly, I think Smith has hit upon a major issue, and I think the implications of this issue are, perhaps, as significant as he makes them out to be. The reality of “Christians” who look entirely too much like the world is pervasive in American Christianity, and maybe this is the root of the problem: people are not truly being converted.

That necessarily leads to the question, what should we do about it? Honestly, I am not sure, but here are three tentative suggestions:

Talk to kids about the cost of discipleship before they make a commitment to Christ. Becoming a Christian is not about joining a social club, or slightly cleaning up your spiritual self. It constitutes a radical change of dying to self and following Jesus instead. Increasingly, I try to have these sorts of conversations with children and teens who express a desire to be baptized in an order to get them to see (even in a limited way) the magnitude of the commitment they are making.

As the Church, do a better job of embodying the radical expectations of Jesus. How are young people going to figure out how to live as salt and light in the world if older Christians are not modeling this sort of lifestyle for them? If we have long-time Christians…and elders…and ministers who are markedly worldly in their thinking and practice, how will our children move beyond that. Read the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus demands radical living. Isn’t it about time that we hold ourselves up to the standards that Jesus sets for following Him?

Make the conversion experience more of an event. If becoming a Christian is the most important decision that one makes (and I absolutely believe it is), shouldn’t we make a really big deal about it? People go through great time and expense planning weddings, birthday parties, retirement parties, etc., because we recognize that these are significant milestones that deserve to be celebrated. I realize that because of the nature of conversion (people make a commitment in the moment), the same sort of upfront planning might not be possible, but couldn’t churches plan celebrations after the fact? Couldn’t we eat together and sing and talk and laugh and celebrate the new birth that has happened, and talk about the reality that everything has now changed? Couldn’t we, at least within our church fellowships, pay more attention to celebrating baptismal birthdays than physical birthdays?

Perhaps these are helpful suggestions; perhaps not. For my part, I am convinced that Smith has struck upon a legitimate problem, so certainly something needs to be done.

Glorifying God in Conflict

Introduction

Last summer and fall, I spent six months teaching through the Sermon on the Mount in a couple of different classes at church; at the same time, I also took a graduate school class called “Managing Conflict in Ministry.” Together, these two sources caused me to re-think the way I look at conflict.

By nature, I’m not someone who enjoys conflict. I basically hate it, and my natural inclination is to go out of my way to avoid it. But really, I don’t think it’s possible to always avoid conflict, nor is it healthy to do so. In reality, conflict is inevitable, and this is true in the world, and it’s true in the church as well:

(1) God created us as unique individuals who are meant to live in community. We each have our own thoughts, desires, and preferences. We each think that certain things should happen in certain ways. We have differences of opinions. Combine that with the fact that God does not expect us to live our lives as hermits; we are to live in community. God calls us to live as the church with our different personalities and perspectives, and it’s inevitable that those  things are going to bring us into disagreement and conflict with one another at some point.

(2) We live in very anxious times. There was a famous psychiatrist named Dr. Murray Bowen, who suggested that societies go through periods of regression where the amount of anxiety in the culture spikes upward. When these spikes of anxiety occur, the symptoms in society include a rise in crime, violence, terrorism, high divorce rate, willingness to take people to court, racial division, less principled decision-making by leaders, and a focus on rights over responsibilities.[1]

Now, Dr. Bowen proposed his theory in the 1960s, but it’s almost prophetic in describing our own time: if you look around at our world, I don’t think you need me to convince you that we live in anxious times! And when you have a lot of anxious people who are worried and uptight about things, it naturally follows that you’re going to have a lot of conflict to deal with.

So I really do believe that conflict is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inherently a bad thing. In fact, I think we could benefit greatly from changing the way we look at conflict, and viewing it as an opportunity to glorify God. A lot of time conflict happens not because anyone has done anything wrong, but simply because, as we mentioned above, we have differences of opinion about things, and when that occurs, we have an opportunity to glorify God by dealing with the conflict in a way that shows love for one another and honors the things that Jesus has commanded us to do. Now, sometimes we are brought into conflict with one another because one party has sinned, and I’ll refer to that below, but even in those instances, we have the opportunity to address the sin in a way that glorifies God.

When it comes to addressing conflict, there are four different steps or ideas that I would like to suggest. Sometimes only one of these ideas will be necessary, while other times, more of a combination will be needed.[2]

Get Over It

We should begin by noting that not everything is a big deal, and sometimes we just need to get over things.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

(Proverbs 19.11)

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

(Matthew 5.5)

The proverb is probably straightforward enough, but this beatitude has an Old Testament background in Psalm 37.11, and refers to those who don’t worry about what others do to them because they put their trust in God instead. Meekness describes those who are able to remain patient and composed in the face of insult and injury. It is not the surrender of our rights, but it is the ability to overlook slights, knowing that God is sovereign and will ultimately vindicate us.

I hinted at this in the introduction, but we live in a society that is highly anxious, where everyone seems to be constantly offended by everything, and that naturally leads to a lot of conflict. In such a climate, it may seem a brave thing to constantly shout about how everyone is annoying you, but really, it is a very weak position: you are admitting that other people have constant control over your emotions and responses. Those who are meek, on the other hand, boldly refuse to give others control over their responses.

Now, there are times that we shouldn’t overlook things: if someone does something that seriously dishonors God, or hurts another person, or harms themselves…not everything should be overlooked. But I submit to you that a lot of conflict happens or, at least, is escalated, because we get involved in situations when we really should just get over it instead.

I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world is about retaliation, about getting what we are owed, getting satisfaction. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to sometimes just get over it. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Get The Log Out Of Your Own Eye

This second principle comes from Matthew 7.1-5:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

In context, Jesus is limiting the way we are to judge one another. In 21st century America, Matthew 7.1 might be the most well-known verse in all of Scripture. Since our society values tolerance so highly, it is no wonder that a verse which at first glance seems to indicate that Christians have no place telling other people how to live would be very popular.

However, it is clear that in context, Jesus doesn’t mean for this to be an absolute statement: later on He will talk about how we are to judge people by the fruits they bear, and even here He says that we will be judged in the same way we judge others, and that argument assumes that we will, in fact, judge other people in certain ways. The point of what Jesus is saying here is that we should be gentle and grace-filled in our judgments of others (because that’s how we want God to judge us!) and that we should always begin by looking at ourselves first. And Jesus illustrates that with a humorous picture of a guy who has a massive log sticking out of his eye but who has the audacity to try to remove a splinter from a friend’s eye.

I think this is a really important idea for conflict situations as well.

When we have an issue with someone, maybe they hurt our feelings or we just have a disagreement about something, it’s so easy to focus only on what the other person is doing, and to ignore our own contribution to the problem. But a key first step in conflict is to give ourselves a hard look in the mirror to make sure we don’t have any logs sticking out of our own eyes: how much of the conflict comes from our own stubbornness, poor attitude, or unwillingness to work toward reconciliation?

It’s always easy and tempting to blame any conflict on the other person, but the reality is that we ourselves are almost never as innocent as we’d like to think. It’s essential that you get the log out of your own eye first.

I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world doesn’t really call for a lot of careful self evaluation, and it assumes the problem is with someone else rather than ourselves. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to get the log out of our own eye. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Go And Be Reconciled

The next principle for glorifying God in conflict comes from Matthew 5.23-24:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This comes in a section of the Sermon on the Mount that deals with our relationships with other people and it is very important that we notice how strongly Jesus emphasizes that when we become aware of a problem we have with another brother or sister, another believer, we stop what we are doing and go to seek reconciliation with that person. Consider this—Jesus places the urgency of reconciliation before even worship! He says to leave your offering at the altar and first go and seek reconciliation.

That’s how important Jesus sees the resolution of conflict to be, and yet, I wonder if we view things the same way. When you have a problem with a brother or sister in Christ—some disagreement or hard feelings over something—do you stop what you’re doing immediately to go and work things out with that person, or do you hold a grudge and develop a long-lasting feud?

Jesus instills an urgency in a need to be reconciled with others. He also instructs a directness. Later in Matthew 18.15-17, He says:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Here, Jesus outlines the process for how we should deal with sin within the community of faith. We could probably spend quite a bit of time dealing with this, but I really want to focus on the first part. What is the first thing Jesus tells us to do when a fellow Christian sins against us? “Go to your brother, just you and he alone.” We are supposed to go directly to the offending party.

Just like we struggle to appreciate the urgency of reconciliation, we also struggle with the directness. Be honest: when you are upset with someone or feel like they are in the wrong about something, what is your natural reaction? Do you go directly to the person? Or do you go talk to about the situation to someone else?

I’ve had people at church come to me before to complain about the wrong they feel someone else has done to them. When that happens, I try to encourage them to go directly to the person, as Matthew 18 teaches, and to be honest with you, that advice is rarely appreciated!

Again, I want to emphasize that this is not what the world suggests. The way of the world is to hold grudges against people and to talk about people who have wronged us and make them look bad. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to go directly to the person, immediately, and seek reconciliation. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Grant Forgiveness

In Matthew 6.14-15, at the end of the Lord’s prayer, Jesus says:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, either will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The implication here is clear: if we want God to be forgiving toward us, we need to have an attitude of forgiveness toward others. In fact, our willingness to forgive others should be only natural in light of the forgiveness that God offers us.

Jesus teaches a parable on that specific idea in Matthew 18.21-35. It starts with Peter trying to figure out the limit of forgiveness: Lord, how many times do I have to forgive my brother? Up to seven times? And Jesus sets about to describe the limitless nature of forgiveness. He tells the story of a king who had a servant who owed him 10,000 talents, which is an amount of money that he would never be able to repay. The servant asks the king to take pity on him, and the king forgives the debt. But then that same servant goes out to a fellow servant who owes him a relatively insignificant amount, and mercilessly throws him into prison because he can’t pay. And the king finds out and is furious and throws the first servant into prison, because how dare he not offer forgiveness when such amazing forgiveness had been offered to him?

The expectation of Jesus for those who would be His followers is clear: since God has forgiven us for so much, how dare we not extend forgiveness to others? Here are, perhaps, the hardest words of this post: it doesn’t matter what the conflict is, it doesn’t matter what the source of disagreement is, it doesn’t matter what sin a brother or sister has committed against you. Jesus makes no exceptions; forgiveness is the only answer.

And when I say forgiveness, I mean real forgiveness. Sometimes you’ll hear people say things like, “I’ve forgiven, but I haven’t forgotten.” Guess what? That’s not forgiveness. Or you might hear someone say, “I forgave her, but I don’t speak to her anymore.” That’s not forgiveness either!

Forgiveness means that you don’t dwell on the incident. It means that you don’t bring it up again to use against the other person. It means that you don’t talk about the conflict with other people. And it means that you won’t let the incident stand between you and the other person moving forward.

Something I heard the other day that I thought was really good: a good indication of whether or not you have forgiven someone is whether or not you would be willing to accept that same level of forgiveness from God. If you’re not comfortable with that level of forgiveness from God, then you still have work to do.

Forgiveness is not what the world suggests; it’s not something the world even understands. Nevertheless, the way of Jesus calls us to forgive, no matter what. And in conflict situations, we glorify God when we follow the way of Jesus.

Conclusion

Whether or not you or I like it, conflict is inevitable. We don’t really have a choice about whether or not we will ever have to face it. We do have a choice, however, about how we will face it. Conflict can be an environment for sin; it can lead to destroyed relationships, and hard feelings.

But it can also be an opportunity for glorifying God:

  • We glorify God when we just get over things that don’t really matter.
  • We glorify God when we look at ourselves in conflict situations and see how we are contributing to them, and get the log out of our own eye before we try to correct other people.
  • We glorify God when we go to the other party to seek reconciliation and when we do this with urgency and directness.
  • We glorify God when we grant forgiveness to the other person, no matter what.

These are not easy things to do, but they are what Jesus commands. And if we’re going to be followers of Jesus, He’s the one who gets to tells us what that looks like.


[1] I was introduced to Bowen’s theory of Societal Regression by Dr. Carlus Gupton in Managing Conflict in Ministry. 

[2] These points were partially informed by Ken Sande and Ted Kober, Guiding People Through Conflict (Peacemaker Ministries, 2005), 9-13.

Security, Compassion, & Immigration: Seeking a Biblical Response to a Complex Issue

I have read a lot the past few days regarding the recent executive order limiting immigration from certain locations, and the response and fallout following that order. Some of what I have read has been thoughtful and helpful, some has been hysterical and, in my view, has added little of value to the conversation, and some has been decidedly un-Christian.

What I have not seen is an attempt to look at what the Bible teaches on this issue in a way that seeks to be faithful to the context(s) of Scripture and also acknowledges the complexities and nuances of the situation. That task is a tall order, but is what I will seek to do in this space. By nature of the limitations of a blog post, I will not be able to address every relevant Scripture; by the nature of my limitations as a thinker and biblical scholar, I will not be able to perfectly make my case. Regardless, I hope you will give me a fair hearing.

Preliminary Considerations

There are multiple factors which make it difficult to directly apply biblical passages to today’s situation, and before looking at specific verses, I think we should begin by addressing some of those issues.

(1) Biblical Israel is not the equivalent of the United States of America. We will look at some passages that tell Israel how to treat immigrants—sojourners, foreigners—in their midst, but before applying those passages wholesale to our current context, we would do well to remember that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people, a theocracy established by Him to be His representatives on the earth. Contrary to this, the US is not a theocracy, and it is not God’s chosen nation. That distinction lies with the Renewed Israel, the Church.

This doesn’t mean that we can learn nothing from these scriptures—on the contrary, they show God’s heart for sojourners and immigrants—but we would do well to recognize and honor the differences in our contexts.

(2) Governments are not individual Christians. This point is related to the previous one, but basically, once we realize that “God’s people” today are represented by the church, we also do well to acknowledge that there is a difference between how disciples of Christ are instructed to live individually in their interactions with others and the duties and responsibilities that governments have to protect their citizens. To put it in other terms, the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to disciples, not to governments.

This doesn’t mean it is inappropriate for Kingdom principles to influence government policy, or that it is inappropriate for Christians to wish that the correlation between the two was higher; it does mean that we should recognize that, biblically, governments have God-given assignments of what they are to accomplish, and sometimes those assignments are in tension with behaviors that individual Christians are encouraged to do or forbidden from doing.*

(3) Biblical texts are written in specific contexts…and contexts change. All that I mean by this is that we need to exercise care and caution when we directly apply biblical texts to our lives. Later, I will discuss Romans 13, which is an incredibly important text for this discussion. However, it is interesting to note that Paul portrays government very positively in Romans 13, which makes sense because he is writing in a time of relative peace when Christians are not being oppressed. One gets a very different (biblical) perspective on government in the Book of Revelation, where John clearly portrays the Roman Empire as being in league with Satan. In addition to the fact that Paul and John are writing with different purposes, in John’s time, the government is much more hostile to believers than it was when Paul wrote Romans. The context has changed.

This doesn’t mean that Romans 13 does not apply or has no implication on our lives today; it does mean that we should realize that Scripture speaks differently about government depending on the context, and we shouldn’t take Romans 13 to apply to every single instance of governmental authority for all time.

Relevant Biblical Texts

With all of the above considerations in mind, there are a variety of biblical texts that I believe have some bearing on this entire discussion. As mentioned above, this is not an exhaustive list, but is hopefully enough to provide a representative sampling.

Governmental Authority–There are multiple texts which represent the government’s job to protect its citizens and establish order.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

(Romans 13.1-7)

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

(1 Peter 2.13-17)

There are several general principles that we can glean from these texts: God delegates authority to human governments, He expects governments to protect their citizens and punish wrongdoers, and He expects Christians to submit to their governments and honor their leaders.

Relevant to the issue at hand, it does seem that, biblically, it is appropriate for governments to protect their citizens from harm, and to have concern for their own citizens first, before extending concern for others (and if that seems harsh, recall that governments are not Christians, and are not called to live as individual Christians are).

Compassion—There are a multitude of texts which encourage people of faith to be compassionate to others; I will use two famous passages to be representative of this idea.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

(Matthew 25.31-46)

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

(Luke 10.25-37)

The first of these selections is the famous “Least of These” text, where Jesus indicates that the way in which we treat those who are downtrodden corresponds to the way we treat Him: If we show mercy and compassion to the least of these, we show mercy and compassion to Jesus. If we neglect the least of these, we neglect Jesus. In context, it seems that the least of these refers specifically to other believers, but based on other sections of Scripture, I see no problem with generally applying these verses to the least of these in our world.

These verses are addressed to individual believers, not governments, and have far-ranging implications: Christians should be people who care about those who are downtrodden or oppressed in some way: those who are poor, hungry, sick, imprisoned, persecuted for their faith, disabled, the unborn, and yes, immigrants too. We should be concerned about all of these people, because the way we act toward them directly correlates to our relationship with Christ, and the way He will act toward us in the Day of Judgment.

Similarly, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we have an example of radical mercy and compassion, with the clear implication that everyone qualifies as our “neighbor” and thus, deserves our assistance.

So, regardless of government policy one way or the other, I do believe there are certain attitudes that Christians should convey toward the least of these (including immigrants), people whom Jesus clearly considers to be our neighbors. And once people like this are in our midst, there is a clear mandate for the way in which we should treat them.

Also, it is worth mentioning that there is some risk involved in showing compassion as Jesus calls us to: we may be inconvenienced, or get taken advantaged of, or even find ourselves in dangerous situations. But none of this seems to alter the command that Jesus gives us.

Sojourners–This is perhaps a subset of the last section, but there are many biblical texts which implore God’s people to take care of the foreigners or sojourners in their midst. I will share several of these because they are short, and also because I think they are often overlooked or unknown by believers.

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

(Exodus 22.21)

“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.”

(Leviticus 19.33-34)

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

(Deuteronomy 10.18)

“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

(Deuteronomy 27.19)

“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers…”

(Jeremiah 7.5-7)

“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.”

(Ezekiel 47.22)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

(Zechariah 7.9-10)

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”

(Malachi 3.5)

Keeping in mind all that we have already said about honoring biblical context and not equating the nation of Israel with the United States, isn’t it interesting how much emphasis is placed upon caring for sojourners in the Old Testament? They are frequently grouped along with the poor, widows, and orphans—basically a repeat of the “least of these” idea.

This special concern for sojourners/immigrants/foreigners occurs despite the fact that God is concerned about His people remaining their ethnic and religious identity: even in a society where God limited things like racial intermarriage, He still goes out of His way to mandate concern for foreigners.

And He provides a rationale for this as well: the people of Israel themselves had been sojourners in the Land of Egypt (where they were not well-treated); how dare they mistreat foreigners within their own midst? As Americans, most of us have ancestors who came to this country from other places, so this is reasoning that we should easily be able to follow. And as Christians, we are sojourners and exiles in this present world (1 Peter 2.11), which should provide us with an extra level of understanding for others with similar status.

Prayer for Leaders–This point is a simple one, but the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

(1 Timothy 2.1-2)

I don’t think that praying for leaders precludes Christian citizens from also engaging in courses of action like contacting representatives and protesting and using their political voice through voting. Furthermore, I don’t want to assume that the people who are protesting the loudest are not also praying, but I just want to offer this reminder: praying for our leaders is a biblical command, and it should be our first (and most frequent) response in difficult times.

I believe this is the most powerful “weapon” at our disposal when it comes to influencing policy for good, and yet, how often is it neglected or even openly disregarded and mocked (and sometimes by believers!)? I confess that just this morning, as I contemplated writing this post, it struck me at how little I had prayed for our nation’s leaders and the entire situation, and I stopped right then to do just that.

Gracious Interaction–As this variety of texts has illustrated, I do think this is an issue with some complexities and nuances, and sometimes, loving Christians who genuinely care for other people and want to do what’s best might come to different conclusions. When that happens, the way we interact with one another is very important.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

(Ephesians 4.15-16)

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

(Colossians 4.5-6)

The first of these texts occurs in the context of a discussion on unity in the Body of Christ, while the second refers to the way in which believers are to speak with “outsiders.” The key idea here is that we are to be extremely careful of the way we speak to and interact with others. We “should speak the truth in love”, and our speech should be “gracious, seasoned with salt.”

I think these two different sayings represent the same idea: it is possible to feel passionate about something, and even be right, but to present that idea in such a way that you become wrong. When we engage in discussion over this (or any) topic, it is paramount that we treat one another with grace, and that we present our own views with love and respect.

So, for example, it is neither helpful, nor Christian, to assume that if someone disagrees with me by supporting the Executive Order, he/she must not care about refugees. Similarly, it is neither helpful, nor Christian, to assume that if someone disagrees with me by opposing the Executive Order, he/she must not care about protecting their own family.

Dangerous Attitudes

With all of the discussion and biblical passages in mind, there are some attitudes which I have witnessed (from Christians) that I believe are spiritually dangerous, and must be opposed:

  • Attitudes that are driven by fear are inherently un-Christian. We are not called to be people of fear, but people of boldness who absolutely rely on our Heavenly Father to protect us. The argument, “If we let these immigrants enter into our country there may be terrorists in their midst who want to harm us” is a worldly argument. It is not a Christian one. It is an argument that I understand, and honestly, sympathize with, but the part of me that wants to make that argument is the worldly part of me, not the part of me that seeks to be a disciple of Jesus and live according to the principles He has established.
  • Attitudes with an “America first” mentality may be good (even necessary) national policy, but they are not Christian attitudes. Biblical teaching on the Body of Christ and the household of faith make it clear that, as a Christian, I have more in common with a Syrian Christian who speaks a different language than I do and whom I have never met than with my secular neighbor who lives just down the street. The Kingdom of God is universal, and it is to this Kingdom that I owe my primary allegiance.
  • Attitudes that display a lack of concern to those who are oppressed and suffering in foreign countries are un-Christian. To be clear, you can support President Trump’s policy and still be concerned for those affected by it, but I have also witnessed people say things such as, “We have too many of our own people and problems to worry about before we focus on others.” This is not a Christian attitude. All people matter to God, and thus, all people deserve our concern.
  • Attitudes that judge the motives of others are not Christian. It is beyond our ability to know the motives of others, and certainly beyond our job description to judge those motives. We should be charitable towards people with whom we disagree, and not assume that they are evil for disagreeing with us.
  • Attitudes that conflate the nation of Israel and/or the church with the United States of America are biblically uninformed and also do not reflect a Christian perspective. The US is not the Kingdom of God, and should not be expected to behave as if it is. There is nothing wrong (in my opinion) with seeking to influence American policy with Kingdom values, but expecting the US to reflect the policies of Ancient Israel or the behavioral requirements of individual Christians reflects confused and possibly disingenuous thinking.
  • Attitudes that perpetuate untruth are not Christian. Sometimes people repeat falsehood out of ignorance rather than malevolence, but still, truth is hindered when this happens. It seems to me that both sides are guilty of this: calling the Executive Order a “Muslim ban” does not seem fully honest, when it actually restricts people of multiple religious backgrounds from only a select number of (predominately Muslim) countries. There are non-Muslims who have been affected, and there are Muslim countries that have not been affected. On the other hand, claims that President Trump’s Executive Order mirror earlier policy made by President Obama also seem to be untrue, as there are significant differences between the two.

Concluding Thoughts

At this point, I have spilt a lot of digital ink discussing this issue without telling you what to think, or even telling you what I think, but neither of those things has really been my purpose. Instead, I have been trying to address Christians, and get them to reflect on a variety of things:

  • This is a complex issue, made so by some preliminary considerations related to applying biblical texts to our own situation, and also by what the Bible teaches concerning the role of governments, and the role we play as individual believers (and the tension that may exist between those two things).
  • We must be careful in the way we discuss these sorts of topics, and make sure to speak the truth in love and season our speech with grace.
  • There are a variety of dangerous spiritual attitudes that Christians can be guilty of. When we recognize them in our own thinking, we should seek to eliminate them, and when we see them portrayed by Christian brothers and sisters, we should (lovingly) seek to correct them.

As for my own thoughts, I appreciate the desire of President Trump to keep American citizens safe, but considering that we already have an extensive vetting process in place for refugees which has seemingly worked well to prevent terror attacks,  I feel the Executive Order was unnecessary. Besides, in my own life, I feel that I would rather err on the side of compassion, and that is a Kingdom value that I would be happy to see influence American policy.


*To use an example of this principle that I think all people will agree with and understand: if a drunk driver severely injures or kills someone I care about, it is appropriate and necessary for governments to execute justice and punish criminals. It is inappropriate for me, as an individual Christian, to take justice into my own hands and retaliate for the criminal act.

After the Election: A Plea for Christians

after-the-election

So there’s an election tomorrow; you may have heard something about it. Actually, if you’re like most people, you have probably heard so much about it that you don’t want to read another word. And I understand that—I actually wrote a good blog post about the election a few weeks ago (at least, thought it was good), but I didn’t even publish it, because who needed to read yet another person’s opinion about what the right thing to do in this election is?

So I want to be clear: this post is not about the election. It is a plea for Christians on what I think we should do moving forward, after the election is over and the dust has settled. Related to that, I am not a political scientist, or a lobbyist, or a pundit, so I am not going to presume to give you my opinion on a host of political topics. I am, however, a minister and a student of the Bible, and so I will frame this post from a biblical and moral perspective.

Elections can sometimes deceive us into thinking that we are making a real difference in the world with the way we vote, or that a Presidential election is of the utmost importance. But I want to push back on that a bit: from a Christian perspective, we are called to do a lot more than just vote, and we should have higher priorities than who the President of the United States is.

To Trump Supporters

People chose to support Donald Trump for a variety of reasons, but to those Christians who did so ultimately because you are vehemently opposed to abortion and couldn’t bring yourself to support Hillary Clinton (who is not only pro-choice but seems to be shockingly comfortable with virtually any abortion under any condition): I get where you’re coming from. Abortion is one of the great evils of American history; it is genocide against our own children. I absolutely abhor it.

But here’s the important thing that I really want you to hear: if you truly are opposed to abortion, please don’t think that simply by voting for Donald Trump (or any political candidate) that you are somehow doing your part to stop it.

If Christians are serious about opposing abortion (and we should be) it’s time to put our money (or time) where our mouth (or vote) is:

  • Adoption: The issue of abortion is part of a larger issue of children not being desired, and thus, is intrinsically related to the issue of adoption. My wife and I went through an embryo adoption process, and for me personally, my strong feelings about abortion were what convicted me about this being my calling to do more than just cast a vote. Adoption is a long, strenuous, and expensive process, but the reality is that there are children out there who need homes, and Christians are called to meet that need!
  • Support Others’ Adoptions: For a variety of reasons, it is simply not feasible for all Christians to adopt. But it is feasible for all Christians to support the adoptions of others! This can be done by making direct donations to families you know who are adopting (after all, it is expensive), by volunteering respite care or occasional babysitting to families with adoptive children, or by donating to adoption agencies directly to help defray some of the costs for adopting families (of particular interest for many of my readers, here is an adoption agency affiliated with Churches of Christ). P.S. If you are reading this and are in the process of adopting right now, if you will contact me I will be happy to share information on how people can make donations in support of your adoption.
  • Support Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Many times, abortions happen because young single women are frightened and feel like they have no other options. Crisis pregnancy centers help to educate and provide other options, generally free of charge. In Northwest Arkansas, Loving Choices is one of these centers, and you can support their great work by volunteering or making financial contributions.
  • Support Maternity Homes: Also called homes for unwed mothers, these groups work to provide a safe environment for girls under the age of 18 and help them plan for their futures. Compassion House is a maternity home in Northwest Arkansas, and can also be supported through volunteering or donations.

I think it is appropriate to use your political voice to oppose the heinous practice of abortion, but the reality is  that in our current political climate, this by itself accomplishes very little. Christians, we must do more! By no means is this an exhaustive list, but these are some practical ways in which Christians can do more than just vote.

To Hillary Supporters

People chose to support Hillary Clinton for a variety of reasons, but to those Christians who did so ultimately because you were so scandalized by the sorts of things Donald Trump said about immigrants, certain ethnic groups and (especially) women, and couldn’t bring yourself to vote for a person who could say such deplorable things: I get where you’re coming from. We have significant problems with xenophobia, racism, and the objectification of women in our society, and these are things that Christians must fight against.

But here’s the important thing that I really want you to hear: if you truly are opposed to xenophobia, racism, or the objectification of women, please don’t think that simply by voting for Hillary Clinton (or any political candidate) that you are somehow doing your part to stop those things.

If Christians are serious about opposing xenophobia/racism/objectifying women (and we should be) it’s time we actually stood up to fight against these things:

  • Xenophobia: The melting pot nature of the United States is an early and somewhat unique characteristic of our country. I believe it to be one of our great strengths, and in some ways even a small foretaste of what heaven will be like, a great multitude “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7.9). To the degree that you have immigrants in your community, make an effort to be in contact with and get to know them. Patronize their businesses. And be quick to speak against comments or jokes which denigrate immigrants (especially if they are made by other Christians).
  • Racism: In many ways, this is a related issue but is in some ways more deep-seated because of the long history of race-based slavery in the United States. I am not naive enough to suggest that I know the perfect solution to this problem, but at the very least, it has to begin with us getting to know people of different races and respecting them enough to listen to their experiences, try to empathize, and admit that perhaps we genuinely don’t know what it is like to be a person of color. And of course, be quick to speak against racist comments or jokes (especially if they are made by other Christians).
  • The Objectification of Women: This is undoubtedly a rampant problem, but in many ways is the natural result of the hyper-sexualized society in which we live where pornography (overwhelmingly depicting women, for male consumption) is readily available on the internet, satellite TV, and the sexting apps of middle schoolers. I do not know how to halt the massive momentum of this cultural problem in any way other than calling out and then refusing to support any activity, language, or form of entertainment that treats women as objects. This means no longer pretending that stars like Beyonce are somehow good role models for young girls when they treat women as objects in the lyrics they write and themselves as objects in the way they perform. It means punishing our sons if and when we hear them speak of women in disrespectful ways. It means informing our daughters and their dance team coaches that they will not participate in routines which call for teenage girls to dance in sexually-suggestive ways for audiences of adults at football and basketball games. And it means the constant re-affirmation to all the women in our lives that we love and value them because of the character they possess and the image of God that they bear rather than for their purely external characteristics.

I think it is appropriate to use your political voice to oppose a man who has said so many deplorable things, but Christians, if you really want our culture to be free from evils like xenophobia, racism, and the objectification of women, you have to do more than simply cast a ballot.

To Third Party Supporters

People chose to support Third Party candidates, or not vote at all, for a variety of reasons, but to those Christians who did so because they could not in good conscience bring themselves to vote for either Trump or Hillary due to the significant character deficiencies of both: I get where you’re coming from. In fact, I am you. I was appalled by the character of both candidates, and truly could not distinguish in my own mind who was worse.

Having spilt a lot of digital ink addressing those who supported Trump and Hillary, I want to address this audience as well, but self-critique is always a challenge. I think what I want to say is this: if you are disappointed in the moral condition of a nation that could produce these two people as the primary candidates for President, please don’t think that simply by not voting for either that you are somehow doing your part to improve it.

If Christians are serious about living in a society where character—morality, compassion, integrity, etc.—are valued, we have to begin by looking at ourselves. Are we living as salt and light in the world (Matthew 5.13-16)? Are we living in close enough proximity to the world that we can actually make an impact and at the same time distinct enough from the world that we can actually make a difference? If we are not in the world, we can’t influence it for good; if we’re just like the world, we also can’t influence it for good.

Unless and until Christians take seriously their calling to live as salt and light in the world, there is little hope for better circumstances or an improved moral condition.

To All of Us

This political season has been rough. Thankfully, it is almost over. Moving forward, in addition to what I’ve said above, there are a few important ideas that I think we should remember:

(1) Politics should not disrupt the unity of brothers and sisters in Christ. I am not saying that politics are unimportant, but they are not of the utmost importance. Although there is always room for respectful discussion and disagreement, it does God’s kingdom a great disservice when Christians wage wars with one another over political views, because the world notices the way we treat one another. Moving forward, we must repent of this behavior, and actively seek reconciliation in relationships that were damaged because of our opposing views in this election.

(2) We should be gentle in our judgments of others related to their political views. Since politics are not of the utmost importance, we need to be very careful about the judgments we pronounce on one another for the way we vote. Statements such as “You can’t be a Christian and vote for ______________” are inappropriate. It is God who separates the wheat from the tares, not us (Matthew 13.24-30). Furthermore, a lot of people genuinely felt that there was no good choice in this election, but that they had to choose someone. Moving forward, we must repent of this behavior, and be gentle in our judgments of others. I don’t want to be judged harshly for the decisions I made that I prayed and agonized over and struggled to determine the proper course of action, so I shouldn’t judge others harshly in similar circumstances.

(3) We should remember—always—that our citizenship lies in another sort of Kingdom, in which Jesus always sits on the throne. It is fine for us to express care and concern for the country in which we live (after all, Jesus did!), but sometimes we get overly worked up in political seasons and reveal that we sometimes forget that this world is not our home and that God is sovereign, regardless of what happens in our elections or to our country. Moving forward, we must repent of this behavior, and proclaim Jesus as King and ourselves as His subjects, before all else, no matter what.

Christians: after the election, this is my plea to you.


*This post takes for granted that Christian readers will acknowledge the inherent wickedness of practices like abortion, xenophobia, racism, the objectification of women, and the smug passing of judgement on one another. All of these are, inherently, dehumanizing actions, and for those who bear the image of God and are called to see Jesus in one another, are completely unacceptable.

The Christian Response to a Broken World

Christian Response:Broken WorldThe tragic events of the past week in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas have been nothing short of heartbreaking. From my perspective, the response to these events from a lot of Christians has been pretty disappointing as well. Too often, we are quick to speak and slow to listen instead of the other way around (see James 1.19), and when we react in that way, we can often add fuel to the fires of heartache, division, and confusion that are already waging.

The reality is that we live in a broken world marred by lots of problems. As Christians living in this context, how should we respond when tragedy occurs? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are three responses which I believe are helpful in the face of tragedy:

(1) In response to a broken world, Christians should lament. Perhaps our most basic response to suffering is that we should weep with those who weep (Romans 12.15). That seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but recently, instead of this, I have seen Christians telling those who weep that what they weep about doesn’t really exist and isn’t worth weeping about at all! When the world gives us evidence of its brokenness, we should acknowledge that brokenness, allow ourselves feel distress, and bring that distress before God. It has become popular, in some circles, to criticize prayer as a response to horrible tragedy, but as Christians, we should take no note of such dismissals. Christians believe that God is ultimately sovereign over the universe, and thus, He is the one who can do something about the brokenness in our world. It is absolutely appropriate that we bring out laments before our Father, as we yearn for a day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5.24).

(2) In response to a broken world, Christians should aid the suffering. I think part of the reason that a lot of people are critical of prayer is that they feel that this is all that Christians do. And perhaps that can be a fair criticism at times, because God certainly expects us to accompany our prayers with righteous actions. Philip Yancey says that the church forms the front line of God’s response to the suffering world, and I think he is right: Christians have a responsible to get into the mess of the world and try to do something to clean it up. That is probably accomplished less by posting political agendas on social media when tragedy happens, and more by being present with those who suffer, developing real relationships with people who are different than we are, and seeking to extend justice to those who don’t have it.

(3) In response to a broken world, Christians should proclaim Jesus. Too often, this part is neglected. In John 16.33, Jesus was speaking to His disciples on the night of His arrest and He said simply, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Though not spoken directly to us, those words certainly apply to us as well; as recent events remind us, we live in the same world, a world which was created good but has been tainted by sin and is now characterized by heartache. As Christians, we weep with those who weep, we do what we can to help those who are suffering, but we also remember the second half of John 16.33: “In this world you will have tribulation…but take courage, I have overcome the world!” As Christians we also proclaim that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that sin, suffering, strife, injustice, and death do not get the last word. As Christians, we long for the day when Jesus returns, when death dies, and when every tear is wiped away from our eyes.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am certain that more could be said. At the same time, I am just as certain that if Christians everywhere would respond to suffering and tragedy in our world in these ways, the Christian witness would be strengthened, the suffering of people would be limited, and the borders of God’s Kingdom would be expanded.

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