How Should Christians Respond to the Immigration Debate?

One of the hot-button topics in our country today is the debate over immigration. I’m referring specifically to those individuals from other countries who attempt to bypass the normal channels of legal immigration.

We’ve been inundated in recent weeks with news coverage over the separation of families; the conditions of the detention centers; raids by ICE in various cities; and the competing and contradictory viewpoints of the political parties. It’s impossible to imagine that there is anyone in our country who isn’t aware of this issue and who doesn’t have some kind of opinion on it.

The way that you view this issue will primarily determine your response to it. You can frame it as primarily a legal issue, a moral issue, a compassion issue, an economic issue, a societal issue, or a political issue.  How you frame this issue will largely determine which side of the debate you fall on.

Each viewpoint has its go-to arguments that for them provides an iron-clad answer. It would be interesting for someone to look at this issue taking into consideration all of the different points of view equally and offering a solution.

For the Christian (and that’s who I primarily write for) this is also a spiritual issue. And that should be where we begin.

Let me make it clear that I am not addressing this in the framework of a national policy as much as I am your own personal attitude. A Christian’s first concern should be our personal perspective.

However, even framing the immigration debate in a spiritual context does not guarantee agreement (when did we ever have agreement when it comes to the spiritual?!). But there are a few things as Christians that we need to consider as each of us develop our own personal opinion.

Let me give you a few things to think about.

First, the Bible has a lot to say about immigrants, especially in the Old Testament, and we need to take all of it into account, remembering that Israel spent time as immigrants in Egypt. I understand that America is not Israel but the various statements in the Old Testament related to the foreigner/alien/stranger (all terms related to non-Israelites) show us something about the heart of God. Statements like the following need to be considered.

You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21).

If a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33).

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19).

Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. (Zechariah 7:10).

These statements address a number of different issues related to the immigrants in Israel, but one of the primary applications is how they relate to the worth and the dignity of a person. We are to treat illegal immigrants the same way we treat anyone else in terms of their worth and their dignity.

Another consideration is Christ’s statement in Matthew 22 that we are to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). This doesn’t refer just to just those who are in our country legally. It refers to anyone you come into contact with. In the context of the immigration debate, how do you love your illegal neighbor?

A third consideration for the Christian is the relative importance of this world in contrast to the next. Even though Abraham lived in a land promised to him by God, he was not tied to that land. In fact, we’re told that he lived there as if he was living in a foreign country. For him the Promise Land was not home for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:9-10).

Abraham was all about what is to come, not what is now. And that should be our perspective. On a scale of 1-10 where we live now doesn’t even make the chart compared to the 10 of heaven. Which makes the spiritual viewpoint far more significant than any other.

One way to assess where you stand on this issue is to ask yourself the question, What’s more important to me, keeping the illegal immigrant out of my country or helping him/her get to heaven? You answer reveals your heart.

Finally, take into consideration that people are always more important than policies. Jesus came for people not policies. Jesus died for people not policies. Jesus rose for people not policies. And Jesus is coming back for people not policies.

I understand that for our nation, or any nation to function there has to be laws and policies. And because every leader is human, every policy will be less than perfect. But again, my emphasis is not on policy but on our attitudes toward this delicate issue.

Sometimes as Christians we hide our less than admirable attitudes behind the language of policy.

One of the most helpful articles I’ve read from a Christian perspective on the immigration issue is What the Bible Says About the Current Immigration Crisis. You can read it at https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/bible-immigration.

And remember, always, always, always make it about people not policies. If you have to err, do it on the side of people, not policies.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

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We All Need God

It’s true. We all need God.

I’m not talking about in the sense of salvation. Yes, we need God to save us from our wretched, sinful lives. But after that we still need Him. Perhaps more than we know. It’s not a one and done.

When life gets hard and crashes over you like massive ocean waves – you need God.

When the unexplainable happens to you – you need God.

When you’re suffering beyond what you can stand – you need God.

In those and a thousand other situations we know that we need Him. And, He knows that we need Him, and He encourages us to come to Him in our time of need (Philippians 4:6, Hebrews 4:14-16).

So, we do what the Psalmist did, and what God encourages us to do – we cry out to Him. We express our anxiety, our pain, our angst, hoping that He will come to our aid.

But He doesn’t always come – at least not when we think He should.

What’s with that? Didn’t He tell us to do exactly that and if we did, He would be there for us in our time of need (NIV Hebrews 4:16)? Not in His time – but in our time! When we are suffering the most. When it feels like we’re going down for the third and final time. Not later, Lord. NOW!

That phrase in our time of need has been difficult to understand since it was first penned.

The old Scottish theologian Alexander Maclaren offered this explanation: the right grace will be most surely given to me to help me in time of need, or, as the words may perhaps be more vigorously and correctly translated, find grace for timely aid, grace punctually and precisely at the very nick of time, at the very exact time determined by heaven’s chronometer, not by ours. It will not come as quickly as impatience might think it ought, it will not come so soon as to prevent an agony of prayer, it will not come in time enough for our impatience, for murmuring, for presumptuous desires; but it will come in time to do all that is needed.

The key is to understand the significance of the word need. It is need as seen from the mountaintop, not the valley. It is need seen from God’s perspective, not ours.

God knows the time of your need far better than you.

Peter’s time of need was not while he was on the water but when he was sinking. Lazarus’ time of need was not when he was sick but when he was in the grave. Paul’s time of need was not in the moment of his suffering but in the experience of never-ending grace.

God will meet us in our time of need which He alone knows.

So, faith hangs onto that truth even as we cry out with the Psalmist My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear (Psalm 22:1).

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The World We Live In

Anyone born before 1970 probably has a good idea of just how much our society has changed in the past sixty years. Before 1960 illegal immigration was a minor issue confined to a few specific states. Drugs were something that only happened in a couple of major metropolitan areas. The vast majority of the population disapproved of same sex relationships. Terrorism only happened in some remote corners of the world.

Sometime around 1960 that all began to change.

I don’t want to paint too idyllic a picture of the pre-60’s world. While many of the issues that we face today were either not present or existed only in an embryonic stage, there were plenty of ugly and sinful things about our society. Racism was rampant (if you think it’s bad now, it was worse then), Christianity was the proverbial lukewarm (Revelation 3:15f) in many churches, abuse, particularly in families, in all it’s ugly forms was normally swept under the rug, and sexual immorality, especially among Christians was too easily ignored.

No, life before 1960 was no Shangri-La and it was only Father Knows Best on our television sets.

That said, it’s true that we are living in a very different world today. We are dealing with issues that only the most perceptive people understood were potentialities.

Which makes me wonder what our world will look like in another sixty years? What issues will our children or grandchildren have to deal with?

And even more importantly, how can we prepare them for what we don’t know?

That’s where the unchanging Word of God comes into play.

We need to teach future generations of Christians the timeless truths and principles from God’s Word to guide their thoughts and actions. Issues have changed throughout history and they will continue to change. Future generations of Christians will have to deal with things that we can’t even begin to imagine today. And that’s the beauty of having something that never changes. Every generation can examine the issues they face against the same standard that every preceding generation used – God’s Word.

God told Israel, I am the Lord God – I don’t change (Malachi 3:6, see also James 1:17). Because God is eternal and does not change, what He says in His Word is also eternal and unchanging.  That’s why the Apostle Peter can write to his generation that His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us (2 Peter 1:3) and we can still hold onto its truth in every succeeding generation.

While the world around us changes, every generation of Christians can judge the issues they face by the timeless teachings of God’s Word and be confident that they can handle whatever comes their way.

I remember when my daughters worked as bank tellers during their college years. The bank didn’t teach them what counterfeit bills looked or felt like – there were too many potential varieties. Instead they taught them what legitimate bills looked and felt like so that when a counterfeit bill came their way they would know something was not right.

That’s what we need to do with the Word of God. Teach truth so that when error comes along, we’ll know that something is not right.

It’s not the issues that we should be focused on, it’s the Word of God.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

The Ministry of Presence

When I first started going to Haiti thirty years ago, missionary Dan Shoemaker would talk about The Ministry of Presence. Haiti has been such a needy country for so long that it doesn’t seem like any of the missionary efforts (by either short-term and long-term missionaries) or humanitarian efforts have made even a dent in the problems.

The situation remains hopeless, at least from our perspective.

That’s where The Ministry of Presence comes in. Just being there.

I remember in the early days meeting with the leadership of a Haitian church. We were discussing how we as an American church could help them. They came up with a lengthy list of options for us, far more than we would be able to do. Being inexperienced in their culture I was overwhelmed with their needs. But we had asked and they answered as honestly as they could.

In my mind, what I heard was – We need your money – if you come with it that’s optional. So, being the prototypical American (blunt, to the point etc.) I asked, If you had to chose one, money or us, which one would you choose?

It took less than 5 seconds for them to respond, We want you to come!

What they wanted more than our money was our presence.

I’ve learned in the years since then that it is my presence in Haiti that makes the most difference. Just to be there with them in their suffering. To sit in their homes no matter how poor; to preach in their churches, sometimes with cracks in the walls so big that I can see farmers herding their goats down the street outside. Just to be there.

The Ministry of Presence is not just for a Third World Country like Haiti. It’s not just for missions. We all have the opportunity to practice The Ministry of Presence with those around us. With the widow who has just lost her husband. With the neighbor who is discouraged. With someone at church who is struggling with God.

The Ministry of Presence is just to be there. To talk – maybe. To pray – perhaps. To encourage – always.

But most importantly just to be there.

To let God use your presence in the lives of other people when they feel like no one cares. No one understands. No one will take the time out of their busy schedules to simply sit with them.

We all know the story of Job in the Old Testament. How he was attacked by Satan until he had nothing left. How his friends came to comfort him but actually ended up making his situation somewhat worse with their ill-timed theological explanations of suffering.

But what we often miss in the story of Job is that his friends started out well. They started out simply practicing The Ministry of Presence. Job 2:13 says they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. That’s The Ministry of Presence.

Perhaps had they stopped there Job’s suffering would have been different. But they didn’t stop there – they began to lecture Job and try to explain why God allowed him to go through such great suffering which only added to Job’s pain.

There will be times in life when giving advice or council is appropriate. But there will also be times when The Ministry of Presence is what is needed. I suspect that we often error toward the former and not the latter. For some reason it’s easier to talk than to keep quiet.

It takes great discernment to know when to keep quiet and simply be there. To simply practice The Ministry of Presence.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Handling Hardships (or Grace for the Journey)

I was complaining to God recently about the difficulties of life (please tell me that I’m not the only one who does that!). All I wanted was a little relief. Some time – a few days of peace when I didn’t have to think about problems and stress.

You would think God would be OK with that. But it didn’t happen.

On the same day of my complaint, (not before and not later!) I was reading in the book of 2 Timothy and came to verse 3. It says, You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

That’s where I stopped reading. No point in going any further. The answer was right in front of me in black and white.

Not if you want to, but you must!

There’s no ambiguity about it. Hardships will come in the Christian life and you must endure them; tolerate them; stomach them; put up with them.

Just to make his point clear, the Apostle followed that statement up with illustrations of three people who have to put up with hardships. The soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. All of them face hardships by virtue of the occupation they have chosen, and they must endure them to be successful.

I’m sure that anyone who goes into one of those three lines of work knows that their life will involve hardships, but I doubt that any of them understood the extent of the hardships they would face.

The same is true of the Christian. When you became a Christian you automatically were placed in a position similar to that of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. A place of hardship.

You may have had some vague idea that the Christian life would make your life harder in some way, but, like the soldier, athlete or farmer, you probably didn’t understand the extent of the hardships you would face.

And then you found out!

And the encouragement you got as you searched the Word of God for answers is that sometimes you simply have to endure.

Endure the pain. Endure the suffering. Endure the hardships.

There’s not much comfort in that. But there is comfort in the knowledge that you can handle the greatest hardships in life by the grace of God.

That was the lesson the same Apostle who wrote 2 Timothy 2:3 learned and recorded for us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 as he dealt with his own hardship. As he asked God to remove his trial, the divine response was My grace is sufficient for you. All Paul needed to handle his hardship was the grace of God.

And that’s all any of us need.

We need God’s grace.

Thankfully, God has made sure that in the person of Jesus we received His grace. Another Apostle, this time John, wrote, and of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. The emphasis is on the abundance of grace that we received in the person of Jesus. We have all of the grace we need.

All of the grace to face the hardships that will come. All of the grace to make it through difficult times. All of the grace to handle the stress of life.

Grace piled on top of grace.

So, I had to stop and ask God to give me grace instead of praying for a way of escape.

The good news is that there is Grace for the Journey.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Grace to Heal

The longer I minister to people, the more I realize that most people in life are dealing with difficult issues. If you aren’t, consider yourself blessed. Some are dealing with not just difficult issues but debilitating issues – some physical, some emotional, some financial.

Without being cavalier let me say – That’s Life. Jesus warned us about it (John 16:33).

While we would like life to be all roses and candy, more often it resembles dead flowers and stinking fish. That’s Life.

If you are going through one of those times in your life, whether it is difficult or debilitating, what you need more than anything else is Grace to Heal. God’s grace to be specific. In His grace is healing power for whatever you are going through.

But here’s the thing about God’s grace – it normally comes through people.

There’s no pill called the Grace pill. There’s no elixir that you can take that will give you more grace. There’s no Grace Spa that you can go to. There are only four places where you can find God’s Grace.

The Bible. Prayer. The Holy Spirit. And God’s People.

That’s it. That’s the short (literally!) list.

But that’s enough. It is ALL you need.

You already know what to do with the first two. Read the Bible faithfully. Pray faithfully. The third one (Holy Spirit) is totally up to God.

But what about the last one? God’s People?

You can control how much or how little you read the Bible and pray. But you can’t control God’s People. They are literally out of your control. You can’t demand that another person give you grace. All you can do is wait for someone to show you grace, either through an intentional act or perhaps without even realizing it.

And that’s where we as Christians come into the picture.

God wants us to be people of Grace. While God does work in significant ways through scripture and prayer, and He is always working in our lives through the Holy Spirit, He also works in significant ways through His people. That’s why there are so many commands in the Bible like Be Kind; Love One Another; Pray for One Another; Build each other up, etc. It’s all about becoming a person of grace.

The apostle Paul exhorts us to Be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). By following Paul’s teaching in the New Testament, we are in the end following Jesus, the ultimate Man of Grace.

So if you are breezing through life today – look for someone who isn’t and show a little grace.

If you are struggling today, it’s still a good time to show grace to someone else. Being the healing power in their lives will also turn on the healing power of grace in your life.

At some time(s) in life we all need Grace to Heal.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve

Where is Your Identity?

All of us have an Identity. It’s Who We Are.  It’s not Who We Want To Be. It’s not even Who We Think We Are. It’s Who We Are. Deep down on the inside.

People struggle with the issue of their identity. Some people don’t like who they have become. Other people think that they are one thing when everyone else knows them as something else.

One thing is certain – we all have an identity.

The problem with Identity is that often we don’t want to be Who We Are – we want to be something or someone else.

The question is: What Defines You? What gives you your identity?

For some it’s their occupation. When two men meet for the first time it doesn’t take long for one of them to ask, What do you do? By which he means, what is your occupation? Men self-identify based on their job.

I suspect it’s different for women but I’m still trying to figure that out.

For other people their identity might be associated with their wealth or social standing. Identity can even be tied up in your family name. The Kennedy family comes to mind. Or it can be associated with your husband or even your hobby.

Identity for the Christian is supposed to be different. We’re suppose to find our identity in Christ. One writer explained it this way: your identity lies in being a member of the body, with Jesus as the Head. Your identity is reflected in your relationship status: a bondservant, a child of the King, the friend of Jesus, and the bride of Christ—the (Church.Conciliapost.com)

That is were we find our identity. In Christ and in His Church.

That is a thought that has never crossed the minds of most Christians. Not that our identity is to be found in Christ. Most Christians will agree with that.

But that our identity is to be found in the bride of Christ—the Church.

And not just in the “Universal Church”. In the Local Church. The local church is the manifestation of the universal church. It is where the universal church is played out. The New Testament never even hints that there can be Christians who are not a part of a local congregation.

Your identity is intimately tied into the church you attend.

That means that you are to see yourself as a member of that body with Christ as the head. You are to see yourself as a bondservant, a child of the King, the friend of Jesus, and the bride of Christ in that place.

And when that is true, how you see yourself – your identity will radically change. For the first time, perhaps, you will see yourself as God sees you.

And how God sees us is our true identity.

Don’t base your self-evaluation on external, extraneous things. Make sure that you base your identity using the same standard that God uses. Then you will be satisfied, even if your bank account, or your occupation, or your social standing, or any other standard of measurement you want to use is not what you want it to be.

Stay in the Word

Pastor Steve