Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In Exodus 22 and 23, the Israelites are told not to oppress foreigners, how does that apply to the current situation of illegal immigrants in our country?

Immigration takes the stage as a central hot topic issue. Let's make a few observations before attempting to answer the question. First off, the United States is not a theocracy like the Old Testament Israelites. Second, we cannot point to any Bible passage for U.S. regulation of the issue; and finally, we must submit to the laws of the land (see Romans 13). However, we have been a nation who has been biblically informed in decision making in the past. Think about these conversations on God’s character:

1.    God has always had a heart for those who are on the social fringes. God has a heart for the fatherless, widow, and the foreigner. (James 1:27 and Leviticus 19:24)
2.     The Holy Spirit calls us to bear fruits in keeping with love, gentleness, and kindness which are all perfectly reflected in Jesus Christ. (Philippians 4:5)
3.    God loves all people no matter their ethnic status or background. (2 Peter 3:9; Acts 17:26)

It is clear that illegal immigration is against the law and we as believers cannot say that the law doesn’t matter. Illegal immigration provides benefits as well as some issues for the United States. With the surprising loss of life through abortions each year, someone needs to talk the low paying jobs and rent the low rent housing. So illegal immigrants do provide an economic benefit to the country and communities; however, the law must be honored.

So I would call for fellow believers to seek a balance between mercy and honoring the law.  A position that takes into consideration the mercy that these immigrants may desperately need in pursuit of better lives for themselves and their children but also honors the law. I would personally advocate for the option of a pathway towards citizenship with the reasonable penalty being paid as part of that process. Similar to a speeding ticket or a parking ticket, the punishment must fit the crime.

The oversimplified solution of putting all illegals on a boat sending them back to their country of origin lacks the needed gospel perspective. In 2010, the United States received over 42 million international immigrants, which was around 20% of the global total.[1] We must view this as not just a political issue but as a gospel issue. Immigration, legal or illegal, provides opportunities to fulfill the Great Commission. Dr. J.D. Payne points out that it is estimated that there are 361 unreached people groups in the United States.[2] As Christians, we have a responsibility to take the gospel to the immigrant, legal or not. Let’s not pass up the opportunity to meet the Acts 1:8 challenge in our backyards and across the street.

[1] Payne, J.D. Pressure Points: Twelve Global Issues Shaping the Face of the Church. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2013), 63.
[2] Ibid.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Will There Ever Be Another Billy Graham?

Today Billy Graham went home to be with the Lord.  Billy Graham’s faithful ministry spanned nearly seven decades. He was a friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, evangelist to the world, and pastor to a dozen U.S. presidents. He was and remains a personal hero of mine. Southern Baptist owes a debt to Dr. Graham as they sought a return to gospel fidelity in the 1970’s through the 90’s. Dr. Moher asked to use Graham’s name to aid the restoration of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. I could go on about how God used him, and while that may be a worthier task is not the focus of this blog.

I have often heard the question from church members, “will there ever be another Billy Graham?”  The short answer is No, absolutely not! There are several reasons for this, let me see if I can help unpack why I say no. Here are the reasons:

1.           The American culture has shifted significantly since Dr. Graham’s crusades. He was ordained in 1939. Dr. Graham was part of the greatest generation. His contemporaries were John Stott, J.I. Packer, and Francis Schaeffer . When he came onto the scene, the prevailing worldview was modernism, which was predominately Christian saturated and influenced. The move then shifted to post-modernism, which began to critique the evangelical movement. But today we have experienced another two cultural turns from postmodernism to pluralism and finally to tribalism.

2.           Evangelicals were once a tribe; now evangelicals are tribal. Seth Godin, who to my knowledge is not a Christian, has made a remarkable observation about what technology has done to our culture. It has created tribes. He defines tribes as “a group of people linked together by an idea, a leader, and a way of communicating with each other.” Evangelicals have leaders within their tribes with their leaders, publications, blogs, conferences, even bible translations. The sad result is that many tribes talk about each other but don’t talk to each other. As Mark Driscol points out, “We make a point, but not a difference.” Billy Graham was the  Big Chief of evangelical movement, but now that evangelicals are tribal, no one will be the big chief. The closest we have today would most likely be Rick Warren, but he is different still than Dr. Graham.

3.           Nothing Ever Repeats itself twice in the same way. C.S. Lewis once state in his book a grief observed that “nothing ever repeats itself twice in the same way.” We should not go looking to make someone a clone of Dr. Graham. Perhaps Acts 13:36, Dr. Billy Graham “served God in his own generation, he fell asleep” this morning. We have his legacy to build on though he is dead, he will continue to speak to us through books and recordings of his sermons.

Dr. Graham completed his race, but what about you? God will raise up His people and His leaders, God always remains faithful to all generations! But have you trusted Jesus as your only hope of salvation? Do you have confidence of your eternal destiny?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Should I let a feeling of peace be my referee for a big decision?

Often Christians will give counsel to let the peace be your referee when making a difficult or important decision. I often hear Christians say things like, "I feel or don't feel peace about ___________." Many fleshly decisions survive masked under this "spiritual" counsel. In fact, the Bible gives at least one biblical example of someone who was totally at peace with rebellion against God's revealed will. He followed the peace in his heart which leads him the complete opposite direction from God's will. This man is Jonah, he was given a direct biblical command to go to Nineveh, but what does he do? Jonah gets on a ship headed to Tarshish, the complete opposite direction. And the real kicker is that he is so at peace with his sin that he falls into a "deep sleep" in the middle of a raging storm (Jonah 1:5-6).

I think it is often normal for Christians to not feel peace about doing God's will. Dealing with the anxieties in our heart goes along with growth in the faith and is an essential part of trusting in God's commands and principles. Do you think Jesus was at total peace when he was sweating blood in the Garden? The peace He felt did not come from a fleshly felt peace, it was peace in doing what was obedient to God the Father.

As a Pastor, I have had to church discipline at least three members all the way to the last step of Matthew 18, and I didn't always feel very peaceful about it. But I knew it was what God had commanded in Matthew 18. I remember two days before we had to remove a friend of mine from our fellowship, I was feeling anxious about the whole thing! But my wife's grandfather told me a story about his pastor doing church discipline; he said, "You have to be faithful to what God says, kick them out, and God will send you three to replace the one." And you know the funny thing was in that business meeting we voted one out and in the same meeting voted three into our fellowship! Praise God!

The feeling I had during the whole thing felt more like a brick in my stomach, but doing what is right (that is what is biblically commanded) is usually not what is easy, at least at first! So don't trust the peace feelings in my heart or yours! Our hearts are desperately wicked and who can know them (Jeremiah 17:9)? If we follow them, we will most likely end up like Jonah, in a dirty, fishy, smelly situation wishing we had done what God asked the first time! In the end, Jonah still did what God commanded, he did it with whale puke all over him. So our referee is not our fickle feelings, but our referee remains the objective, unchanging, inerrant, infallible, revealed Word of God!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

“…God is love.” -1 John 4:8

As Valentines’ day quickly approaches, love is in the air. How are we to think about love? As 1 John 4:8 makes it very clear, love is not just one of his attributes it is his very nature. Many people like this attribute of God the best and speak of it often. The tragedy remains in the local church that many people receive lousy teaching on the topic of God’s love.

I have often heard it taught that God loves in a unique way, and there was a word invented to talk about this type of love, the Greek word "agape." This is not the case. "Agape" is the transliteration of the Greek word for love. Agape simply means love. It is not from the word itself that we can gather any particular information, but from the context of the Word of God. I would like to draw out three essential aspects of this attribute of God.

First, God’s love is uninfluenced. By this, I mean that there is nothing in the objects of His love to call it into exercise, nothing in the creature to attract or prompt it. God's love is unique from our love. By comparison, we love others because of different reasons: physical attraction, the other person thinks like us, the other person is our opposite, they're complimentary to us, etc… In each case there is something that prompts us to love someone else. We see in Deut. 7:7-8, one sees that God chose to love Israel in spite of who they are, the fewest in number.

Second, God’s love is sovereign. That is since God himself is sovereign (meaning under obligations to none, a law unto himself, acting always according to his own pleasure.) God is God and He does as He pleases. Since God is sovereign and since he is love, it follows that his love is sovereign. So God loves whom he pleases. We see this in passages like Romans 9:13 where is says “Jacob have I love, but Esau have I hated”. There is no more reason to love Jacob over Esau. Both were born at the same time to the same parents and the prophecy given before either had done anything good or bad.

And finally, God’s love is holy. The fact that “God is light” (1 John 1:5) is mentioned before “God is love” (1 John 4:8) in 1 John. God’s love is not regulated by impulse, passion, or sentiment, but by principle. His holiness overshadows all his attributes. God does not wink at sin, even in His people (Heb. 12:6). If God did wink at sin, Christ died for no reason. God continues to manifest or show his love for us.

Let’s not forget that God’s love is also eternal (Jeremiah 31:3), infinite (Eph. 2:4), immutable (James 1:17), and gracious (John 3:16 & 34). I recommend The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson for further study on this matter.