Category Archives: conviction

Who Are “The Least of These”?

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There is a terrifying passage for Christians found in the 25th chapter of the book of Matthew where he recalls the words of his teacher, Jesus.  In it Jesus describes a time at the end of the world as we know it where “the King” of all creation judges the people, distinguishing those who go into eternal life and those into eternal death.  The test of destination and identity (sheep or goats respectively) is by how each person, throughout the course of their life, treated people that Jesus refers to as “the least of these.”  

 

Given the literal eternal ramifications of these interactions, who then are “the least of these”?   

According to the passage the least of these fit into at least 6 categories.  They are those who are:

  1. hungry (v. 35)
  2. thirsty (v.35)
  3. stranger (v. 35, greek word xenos – meaning foreigner)
  4. naked (v.36)
  5. sick (v.36)
  6. in prison (v.36)

All 6 of these categories describe people who are in great need.  

There are interpreters who qualify that “the least of these” is only referring to needy disciples of Jesus, not needy people in general because in verse 40 Jesus calls them “the least of these MY BROTHERS” (emphasis added).  Purporters of this view make this claim because Jesus is talking to his disciples in this passage and earlier in Matthew 12:46-49 Jesus calls his disciples his brothers.    

Here’s a number of reasons why I think “the least of these” can be interpreted more broadly than just disciples:

1. In the context of this passage

Jesus speaks of “all nations” and “people” (v.32) being present at the great judgement where this scene is described.  The condition of each person’s separation, one from the other, is how they treat “the least of these.”   If the least of these were only disciples of Jesus in need there are at least a couple issues. What would happen to those who do not live amongst or come in contact with disciples of Jesus (the modern mission movement exists because there are still populations of people for which this is true), let alone a disciple in need?  Wouldn’t it be likely that those that are not in contact with the disciples of Jesus would be those who are in need?

 

2. In the context of this gospel

If we are going to use Matthew 12 we must also look at the other uses of the word brothers (adelphos) in the book of Matthew.  When speaking to “the crowds and to his disciples” in Matthew 23:1, Jesus broadens the definition here that they should reckon each other all as brothers in 23:8 (disciples and non-disciples alike).  In the “sermon on the mount” no less, recorded earlier in the same book, Jesus teaches that an identifying mark of being “sons of [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45) are those that EXPAND the circle of whom we love and that to greet only our “brothers” (adelphoi) in the limited sense would make us no different than unbelievers (Matthew 5:46-47).  It seems strange, and a little suspect, to turn around and insist then that our definition of care for our “brothers” in Matthew 25 then ought not expand to include others in need…which Jesus is constantly challenging his disciples to do (Matthew 4:24, 5:3, 8:16, 9:12, 11:5, 14:14, 15:32, 19:21).  So it seems we may not truly be the “brothers” that we think we are if our love is so limited.

 

3. In the context of the rest of scripture

There are too many passages to name here that affirm God’s identification and concern for the poor, the needy, and the stranger that the weight against a contrary interpretation is revealing (just for starters: Exodus 23:6, Deuteronomy 10:18, Leviticus 23:22, Psalm 140:12, Proverbs 14:31, Isaiah 1:17, Jeremiah 22:16, Acts 10:2-4, Galatians 2:10).

 

4. Even if the interpretation is correct that the least of these is limited to the disciples of Jesus, the irony is that the vast majority of the disciples in the world are more likely the poor, the needy, and the stranger anyway. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2016/may/26/the-world-is-getting-more-religious-because-the-poor-go-for-god

 

Like the lawyer, seeking to justify himself before Jesus in Luke Ch.10, I wonder if we as interpreters of the bible want to make the circle of “the least of these” smaller because we hope to limit our responsibility…we want a more comfortable religion?  But isn’t what we see in Jesus the opposite? He’s constantly flipping our expectations (responding to the lawyer’s question with the story of the good Samaritan) and breaking through our carefully crafted barriers.

 

Jesus, help us to love the least of these…to love you.  

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A Biblical Case for Political Engagement

faith-and-politics

*never you mind that these are the two things we are NOT supposed to talk about.

You may have heard it said “Let’s leave the politics to the politicians and the believers to the gospel”, or something like that.  

To the extent that we as Christians should not be enslaved or beholden to politics, I agree.  To the extent that one thinks the gospel (the good news of Jesus) doesn’t intersect with political realities or that it is somehow more Christian to disengage from the political sphere, I will have to disagree.  

On a practical level, it seems naive to insist there is no overlap.  Even to disengage from politics (activities associated with the governance of a country or other area) is a political choice.   On a spiritual level, God sees love for Him and love for others as interconnected. It is a human thing, not a God thing, to separate the two (doesn’t Jesus surprise us when he is asked of the greatest commandment, that he responds with two?).  

So why should we as Christians engage with politics?  And if so, to what extent?  

Loving ones neighbor does not happen in a vacuum divorced from politics and the governance of peoples.  The American mindset automatically goes to loving my neighbor as meaning solely loving individuals, when that is not the mindset of most of the world (which are of more collectivist cultures), and certainly not of the biblical witness.  The bible recognizes group, not just individual, responsibility.  It even recognizes systems, not only individual players.  Therefore, we are not just to do good to individuals, but as we are able, to do good for the larger community

The Apostle Paul, in Gal 6:10, exhorts us “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The passage states “as we have opportunity” to “do good to everyone”.  Yes, the priority of care ought to be for the family of believers but this DOES NOT mean the exclusion of all others.  

First, let us look at do good to everyone”:  

Too much evil has been done in the name of “good” / “God” that He is NOT about, and, unfortunately, we even see this playing out in these times by people claiming to be Christian.     

We cannot be clear enough on what it means to do good FROM THE BIBLE.

Yes, we are not saved BY good works.  But we are saved TO DO good works.   So what is the good work we ought to do?  The Apostle John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, believed that God’s love lives in a person through action on behalf of the ones in need (1 John 3:17-18). James, most likely the half brother of Jesus, taught that true religion is caring for those in need (James 1:27).  He even goes so far as to make the outrageous claim that a faith that is not accompanied by works, and the notable example he uses is caring for those in need, is dead and no better than demonic (James 2:14-19)!  Jesus himself dropped on his disciples that to care for the least of these was to care for Jesus himself and was the litmus test of eternal salvation (Matthew 25:31-46).  The common thread of what it means to do good is to care for those in need…to do justice.  Even, and maybe we need to be reminded especially, those we do not consider as “us”.  

Lastly, let us look atas we have opportunity”:

We must remember that during the time of the writing of the epistles most folks were not people in power but were people without the right of Roman citizenship (Jesus himself did not have citizenship status) or at least not in positions to affect direct political change.  Their opportunities to do good for larger society, at the policy level, was limited.  Even from that context of the new testament the case has been made for political engagement. 

But if you want more scriptural models it is helpful to go to the Old Testament when Israel was once a Theocratic nation state.  There we get some frames for what God’s government could / should look like.  I won’t get into all of that here (check out the books of the law for that) but suffice it to say that the laws of the government were about personal purity as well as just relations, with special considerations for the more powerless of society (and gasp! even provisions in the government for taking care of the poor!).  God took seriously not only individual actions but political actions.  When Israel strayed from His way the prophets took them to task.  Isaiah makes a scathing rebuke to the lawmakers of his day declaring “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees,  and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil,  and that they may make the fatherless their prey (Isaiah 10:1-2)!”  Amos warned “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate (5:15a).”  The gate was the central place of political exchange.   It was Israel’s job to engage in politics…for good.  They did not take that seriously, and so God took the kingdom away from them.  

But we’re not a theocracy anymore so why engage in godless politics?  

Remember also that Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah were not priests or part of the theocracy of Israel either, but they affected policy of the pagan government for the good of those in need.  

If you are a citizen, and a citizen in a democratic country no less, you have more opportunity than most to do good that affects a great number of people.  And as Uncle Ben famously said, Jesus had said before him “to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” 

What does the Kingdom of God look like?

child king

if Jesus laid down his life to preach not just a gospel of the King but a “gospel of the Kingdom”, what then does this Kingdom look like?  and how is this Kingdom actually good news, and not just another man-made kingdom that will come and go?

at best, the “Kingdom of God” for me was a “christianese” notion that was a vague echo in my head from passages i’ve heard in the bible (and told myself that someday i’d get around to studying) and at worst it’s a phrase whose interpretation i just blindly accept from the people who use it.  the following is my attempt to study the phrase as it is found throughout scripture, trying not to rely on commentaries for the work i ought to first do myself (and please don’t just take my word for it either, but look into it for yourselves.  i realize we all bring our own perspective to the reading of scripture but i don’t want us to use that as an excuse not to allow it to speak to us.)   with these clues i hope to piece together what the bible reveals of what the Kingdom of God looks like, a Kingdom that Jesus says is already breaking through in our midst if we care to recognize it.   

 

so what does the Kingdom of God look like?  

1. it is a treasure worth giving up ALL else for

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is so valuable that, when it is found, it is worth giving up all THINGS (Matt 13:44-46) and even all PEOPLE (Luke 18:29-30) to have.  According to Luke 18:29 it is something that rewards not just in the life to come but “many times more” in this time as well.  Nothing that we could ever own nor any intimate human relationship we could ever have surpasses the Kingdom of God in worth.  

 

2. it is eternal

the Kingdom of God endures throughout all generations and lasts forever (Psalm 145:13).  daniel prophesied that it would end all other kingdoms (Daniel 2:44) and it is indestructible (Daniel 6:26).

 

3. it is accompanied by supernatural power

this was probably the most surprising discovery to me.  with 10 verses connecting the Kingdom of God to supernatural power, no other descriptor of the kingdom comes up more frequently.  there are some outrageous claims about the Kingdom of God, that can easily be dismissed as a “pie in the sky” worldview, if it were not substantiated by power.  i’m not talking about human power consisting of simply the means and authority to exert force (thanks, mark charles) but supernatural power which, by it’s very demonstration, substantiates its source as being “above” that which humans can claim.  

God’s kingdom is not just about talk but it comes with power (Mark 9:1, 1 Corinthians 4:20).  the gospel of the Kingdom is not just a proclamation but a demonstration of power, power over sickness (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Luke 9:2, Luke 9:6, Luke 9:11, Luke 10:9) and power over darkness to drive out demons (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20).  any discussion of the kingdom that does not address supernatural power is just playing at the Kingdom of God.  

 

4. it is good

unlike most, if not all, other kingdoms, it is good.  not good in the sense that it makes everyone feel nice but good in the sense that it does right.  what good is good if it’s only good for those who oppress others?  rather the foundation of this Kingdom is built upon “righteousness and justice” (Psalm 89:14).  the Kingdom of God is not merely outward behaviors but a matter of springing from the deep internal reality of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17)

 

5. it starts small but becomes great

like a tiny seed of the mustard plant, Jesus says the Kingdom of God starts small (Matthew 13:31-33, Mark 4:26-32, Luke 13:18-21).  so small it may be easy to miss.  so small it seems insignificant.  so small it feels like it’ll take too long to wait for it to become more.  but grow it will. and it will grow so greatly that it could provide comfort to so many others than just oneself.  so great that the universe itself will show visible signs of its fulfillment (Luke 21:25-31).  the Kingdom of God is great but it won’t always look that way at first; it requires patience and is a process.  those who skip over this may find themselves chasing something else entirely.  

 

 

6. it is a mystery revealed  

the Kingdom of God is a mystery to most but to some it is a gift revealed (Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10).  In a way, the Kingdom of God is hidden in plain sight in that Jesus gave all who would hear access to it.  but he told of the Kingdom through “parables”, stories that could be taken at face value but that pointed to a deeper reality for those who would care to look further.  why not reveal the Kingdom of God more plainly?  maybe such a form would serve to weed out those who were not truly hungry for spiritual things.  there is hope in that even the disciples of Jesus didn’t get what the parables were always about, but they did stick around with Jesus to find out.  the Kingdom of God is going to grow.  we can do our part but at the end of the day, like a growing seed, it will grow whether we fully know how God does it or not (Mark 4:26-29).  

 

7. it is a reversal of worldly status 

probably the most distinctive aspect of the Kingdom of God, that sets it apart from all other kingdoms, is the radical (and often unsettling) worldview of privileging those at “the bottom” of the earth’s social status.  this aspect of our King’s heart is not some side-note in His scripture.  next to point #3 above, these associations of the Kingdom of God with “the least of these” are the most reiterated.  

in the economy of the Kingdom of God “the least” are the “greatest” (Luke 7:28, Luke 9:46-49).  the Kingdom of God belongs to children (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16) and the poor (Luke 6:20, James 2:5) whom society tries to push aside.  the Kingdom of God will go first to the “sinners” we don’t expect to be a part of it (Matthew 21:31).  

can you imagine such a Kingdom?  where the people that the world tells us are “losers” are the ones who are held in most high esteem?  where children and the poor are our models of faith and how to relate with God?  where those we look down upon are actually the ones we will be looking up to?  these very notions go against how the kingdoms of our world operate (and it’s not a very good track record i might add).  maybe this gives us a sign that it’s origin is not of this world.   maybe this is why we have so much difficulty in seeing the Kingdom of God.  we’re not even looking in the right places.  our lenses are totally broken.  then maybe, after all, this is the good news that we’ve been looking for all our lives.  

 

in conclusion, what does the Kingdom of God look like and what makes it so good?

the Kingdom of God is the most valuable, eternal, powerful, good, growing, mysterious, and upside-down thing you can give yourself to.  

5 Reasons We Should Defend Undocumented Immigrants as Christians

First off, what I am NOT saying is that a complete open border policy is necessarily the best way to go nor that we should blindly defend those that intend harm (as it regards immigrants, actually, the opposite is true in comparison to native born folks).  Let us consider that if a stranger came to our home most of us would first want to make sure they are not there to harm anyone.  

But what I AM saying is that once we know their intent is not harm, if we are to be good neighbors, we ought to welcome them as we would want to be welcomed (as we work toward immigration and policy reform that reflects this spirit).  i would like to submit to you 5 reasons why we should seek to defend undocumented immigrants, especially if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. :

1) Jesus challenges us to welcome the stranger as we would welcome Him (Matthew 25:35)

There is a wealth of scriptures (from the law, from the narratives, from the writings, from the prophets, from the gospels, and even from the epistles) regarding the foreigner/immigrant that would make us think we ought to err on mercy over judgement.  Jesus’ very identity is intimately tied up with the foreigner that to reject the foreigner is to reject him.  the biggest, irony is that we ourselves were foreigners (unless you’re a Jew, which i’m assuming you’re not), enemies even, to God’s chosen people but were given the grace of being included in the family of God.  To be unmerciful to the foreigner is a deep hypocrisy we must keep in check as believers in Jesus (let alone as citizens of the U.S. with it’s troubling origins. R.C.W., W.H.*).  

2) Yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. However, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver.

In the case of our 45th president and his administration, they are going against God’s commands to defend the most vulnerable of our neighbors (Deuteronomy 24:14, Zechariah 7:10, Matthew 25:31-46) and instead are insulting them and enacting laws against them.

Please understand that by dissent, I do not mean violent resistance but rather civil protest.  The early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances.  Let us not forget, the person who wrote that verse about submitting to the government, Paul the Apostle, was in PRISON when he wrote that very verse because he would not submit to the governing authorities to be silent about his faith.  Jesus himself confronted even the establishment of the temple (read church) authorities, over their corruption with money at the expense of making a way for the marginalized to worship, and he made quite a scene about it too (one of the few times in scripture where we see Jesus ANGRY is quite telling).  

3) Yes, people ought not cut in “line” to get in to the country but this is based on the assumption there is a “line” for those who are poor.

It seems from our current immigration policy (even before no. 45) this is not the case.  As of right now, the only ways you can enter the country to become a legal permanent resident (i.e. get a green card) are:

A) employment (i.e. You are invited in by an employer, most often does not apply to “unskilled” work of those who are poor.)

B) family (You have an immediate blood relative that is a citizen or permanent resident.  However, the sponsoring family member must demonstrate that they have the financial resources above the poverty line to support these family members coming in for which there is already a limit.  And even if this is approved the process can literally take decades, especially if you are from a poor country in which case waiting is particularly a luxury you cannot afford when your survival is on the line.  For more detail on what B might look like see this article by an immigration lawyer. S.W.P.*)

C) diversity lottery (Only applies if you are from a country that does not have very many immigrants in the U.S.  This leaves out many of our poor neighbors.)

D) refugee of persecution (Under the current administration these are being pushed to be more rarely granted and even before this administration there has been a HEAVY 20 step vetting procedure ALREADY in place.  Often refugee status is dependent on the type of relationship and interest the U.S. has with a given country and does not include fleeing from home country due to famine, natural disasters, or dire economic circumstances.)

For further and more comprehensive discussion on immigration policy I have found the book Welcoming the Stranger to be immensely helpful (written by two authors: Jenny Hwang, a director of advocacy and policy of the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief, AND Matthew Sorens, a Board of Immigration Appeals – accredited Immigration and Citizenship Legal Counselor at World Relief).   

4) The hands of the U.S are not clean regarding their role in these very countries, crisis, and conditions that gave rise to the need to emigrate.

Specifically regarding many of our neighboring Latin American brothers and sisters, the U.S. has been involved in the violence of supporting military juntas in civil wars to drug trafficking in these countries fueled by the U.S. demand for illegal drugs to the U.S. war on drugs that went into these countries (without supporting reconstruction efforts)  to exporting gang members into these countries ill equipped to handle them (K.C.*).  

Certainly, individual responsibility is important and even in terms of governmental responsibility the U.S. is not the only ones to bear that burden. But it is morally irresponsible of the U.S. to shift blame solely on the immigrant, especially onto the children and families fleeing the violence, when the U.S. has been complicit in contributing to these issues.  It is sobering to consider that one of the few clear instances in scripture of the case for a greater weight of sin is how it is heavier upon those in leadership.  It’s not going to be easy but if we have made such a bed we must work together to sleep in it.  

 

5) The unjustified and inhumane way the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are going after folks with NO criminal records.

According to a recent Washington post article covering raids that happened this past week, “The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some immigrants who did not have criminal records, an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during the Obama administration that aimed to just corral and deport those who had committed crimes.”  However, with some fact checking (thanks to Dr. Ji Son) it turns out that the actions of ICE were worse than we thought.  An analysis by the New York Times in 2014 revealed that since Obama became president, “two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.”  Although the intent of the previous administration may have been better, the devil was in the details of the local execution of these policies, with devastating (S.C.*) results.  

There is little to no due process (precisely because their status makes them vulnerable to exploitation, S.C.*) or concern for tearing them away from family to a different country (something we don’t even do to our worst criminal offenders).  Let alone, that what counts as “criminal” can change depending on jurisdiction area (S.C.*) and as such can include violations and misdemeanors (including traffic violations), and broad definitions of “aggravated felony” (which includes even “filing a false tax return”).

Let us examine any prejudice within our hearts toward the immigrant and rid ourselves of the unfounded fears and lies concerning the immigrant who contribute to our communities. We as Christians have a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable coming from the most vulnerable situations.  In addition to deep 2 Chronicles 7:14 prayers, here is one more way to defend the undocumented immigrant.  Jesus advocated for us when we were defenseless.  Let us be merciful as Christ has been merciful to us.  

*thank you to my friends over at the Progressive Asian American Christian group.  Although I may not agree with everything that is said in the group (as is hard to say with anyone in a group that large), you’ve provided significant insight and perspective into this issue that has been helpful.  

Jesus and the foreigner

in light of our president’s executive orders in his first week in office, and the ensuing chaos, we may have different opinions on the best way to implement immigration policy. that is expected.  there are certainly many more qualified than me to make that assessment.  in regards to that, this seemed one of the more balanced approaches to the concerns.  

however, as believers, i hope there is one thing upon which we can agree: Jesus loves the foreigner.  yes, he loves all of humanity…but i dare say He has a tender spot for foreigners. as i survey the scripture it is my view that, whatever policy is landed upon, the default tenor would favor mercy over judgement as it regards the foreigner in general.  here’s why it’s reasonable to think so.  

Jesus has a special love for the foreigner because…

1. it’s in his heritage

yes, Jesus was the Son of God but, lest we forget, Jesus was also a jew.  jews were once refugees to egypt to escape famine and lived as foreigners in egypt for a long time.  they were perpetual foreigners because they became an underclass of slaves under the oppression of egypt (a nation with a different religion and gods) and were viewed by their rulers as dangerous enough to attempt a genocide of jewish baby boys.  God heard their cries and delivered them into a new land.  yet, even as they possessed a new land God reminds them:

“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 19:34

as the son of God and as a son of a jew Jesus was bound to this word to never forget the suffering of being sojourners and to care for the foreigner.  

 

2. it’s in his lineage

there are foreigners to the nation of israel in the very birth line of Jesus – foreign to the people of God, foreign to the country, foreign to the religion of the people of God (aka not christians).   one foreigner was a woman named ruth from the land of moab.  moab was not some neutral nation to the people of God.  moab tried to hurt the people of God (a king of Moab hired out a prophet named balaam to curse the people of God, and moab in the book of judges oppressed the people of God).  ruth didn’t come from a safe country.  but this moabitess came to a new nation and came to know a new God and she accepted them as her own…and God weaved her and her story into the line of Jesus.  

 

3. it’s in his experience

Jesus was foreigner in multiple ways.  He left the comfort of the heaven to become an immigrant to earth.  he also became a further foreigner when he was on this earth.  to escape the slaughter of jewish baby boys (sound familiar?) from a jealous king herod, Jesus’ family had to escape their home country to become refugees to egypt before he returned years later.    

 

4. it’s in his identity

just in case we weren’t sure what and who Jesus stood for, Jesus, in no uncertain terms identifies himself with the foreigner.  in fact, he says that however we treat a foreigner is how we treat him and is a litmus test for saving faith.  to not be hospitable to the foreigner has eternal implications.   

 

5. it’s in our salvation

perhaps the most fateful twist of all for us though is the truth that if it was not for Jesus’ love for the foreigner we would be damned (unless you are a jew which, statistically speaking, you probably aren’t).

praise God that He considered it “too light a thing” to only bring back the jews to Him but that He would reach out to us…gentiles.  without His light shining out to us we would not be able to “see.”  He has a mission for reaching out to the foreigner…to the very ends of the earth…to us.  we are infinitely fortunate that He loves like that.

 

there can be much we say or do (or don’t) regarding the foreigner but let us be completely clear…it matters how we treat the foreigner.  Jesus takes it personally.  and we should too.  

why was Jesus born into SUCH difficult circumstances (or when we’ve become too used to the Christmas story)?

i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times.  i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it.  as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart.  on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.

given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:

1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.

why was he born in such a “backwards” time?  why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy?  why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival?  why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?

2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.

why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?

3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.

especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john.  if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).

4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.

yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture.  what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating?  what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father?  what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?

5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.

why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place?  ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?

6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.

out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds?  why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks?  unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?

the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.

why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king?  couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died?  why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country?  then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised?  why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?

 

why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances?  certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world.  i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time.  however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering.  the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places.  he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people.  when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us.  could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?

this is our Jesus.  this is our God who is with us.

jesus-poverty

trying to find sense when it seems we’ve lost our minds (a response to the election one week out)

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a week ago we reached the end of a difficult and particularly toxic election for the united states.  we were hoping to move on. however, when the results were called we woke up to a different reality.  for some it was triumph and feeling emboldened for others disbelief and dissent.  for many anger…at “the other” side (i for one experienced more anger before the election then after).  we didn’t know our divisions could actually get worse.  

(WARNING: this is a long read so feel free to read in parts.)

WHY ARE PEOPLE (AM I) HAVING SUCH STRONG REACTIONS TO THIS ELECTION AND ITS RESULTS?   

there’s all sorts of craziness happening.  there is so much division, even amongst believers.  but, I know that no matter what, we as the people of God’s Kingdom know that only His Kingdom lasts so we must be the people in this world that hold the tension of not giving into despair (whether that’s giving up on people we disagree with or giving up hope of any kind) but not dismissing pain.  it is the pain however that is getting us most riled up.  pain dismissed is what got us here.  there must be space to deal with the pain if we are ever to move to a place of healing.  there are 4 thoughts we’re tempted to have but we must not give in to.    

1. we ought not be so upset, we shouldn’t be crybabies.

yes, we don’t despair because God is in control.  but why shouldn’t we cry?  where does this stoicism come from?  not from God.  the people of Israel were familiar with lament and maybe we can learn something from them.  Job asked God questions in his pain.  Jesus wept (even when He knew it was going to work out for good).  The early church was familiar with tears.   Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  

yes, we may not need to cry over some things that can be better said in words.  but sometimes we may need to cry because that expresses more than our words could ever say.  the hand of God responds to the cries of his people.  we need space to grieve or else our pain will harden into something worse.  

2. but Romans 13:1 says we should submit to governing authorities God has put in place so we should just accept it

yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. however, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver (i.e. in our president-elects case, the need to love the most vulnerable of our neighbors as opposed to insulting them and proposing laws against them. if he has changed, awesome!  let him apologize and set things right).  by dissent, i do not mean violent resistance but civil protest (the early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances. Jesus himself confronted the establishment of the temple authorities by overturning the corruption of money-changer tables).  

when God appoints a leader that DOES NOT always mean God anoints a leader.  let us remember God appointed pharaoh with a hard heart to oppress the israelites,  nebuchadnezzar with an arrogant heart to kidnap daniel and his people, and will appoint the anti-christ (i’m not saying we know who the anti-christ is) with a defiant heart to persecute his saints.  but again we are not hopeless because he always has and always will work things out for the good of those who love him.   

3. none of these policies have been put into place yet, and it’s not such a big deal as there are people in the world with greater suffering.

yes, there is a scale of pain but that doesn’t mean that we must then disregard the lesser pain.  yes, the suffering of others gives us invaluable perspective and we are poorer without it but that is the very thing i am appealing to: perspective.  you may not be strongly affected by things that were said but that doesn’t mean others can’t be strongly affected, especially those who are dealing with a real history of real pain.  there is real pain for them, not so much because of legitimate results of our electing system, not because laws have come into effect already, but because the election results can be read as an approval of a president, by this united states, that thinks it’s okay to dismiss many who live in them – a realization of fears these very people have worked so hard to overcome.  in fact, if we pivot perspectives, many were surprised in this election precisely because they did not take into account the pain of working class / poor whites in the rust belt states that swung the vote.  yes, we can not make everyone happy, nor should we, but telling someone their pain does not matter is certainly not a solution.

4. sometimes God subjects people to pain that they deserve…they have brought it upon themselves.

this may be, but this is the judgement for God to make not ours.  even such pain is not pointless. this side of heaven and hell there is still hope of redemption.  we are ALL made in image of God and we ALL fall short.  once we begin to demonize the other side as ignorant, insane, and/or irreversibly immoral we’ve put them in the category of beyond redemption.  we do not know that.  secondly, there are real beliefs and values at play on both sides, to ignore that is for us to be stuck in an endless cycle of greater division.  we may not agree with the beliefs and values of the “other” but they are motivated by what they think is right as we are motivated by what we think is right.  we may not all be right but let us work this out and not give up on each other.    

to my fellow christians in particular, let us keep in mind that neither political party is the party of God.  God is not left or right, liberal or conservative.  both sides, all sides, must answer to Him.  both sides have faults.  both sides also have some truth and issues that align with what God cares for – here are just a few (please keep in mind that i’m not saying either side doesn’t care for these issues or that the application of these values in terms of policy is the best way, but i’m talking more about emphasis of platform as it relates to biblical principles):  

“conservative”

“liberal”      

i long for the Bride of Christ, not to be beholden to either political party but to hold ourselves and our institutions accountable to a more holistic Kingdom vision.  for the time being though, inevitably, with the way our secular party system is currently formed and our tendency toward tribalism, someone is bound to lose.  there are costs to be paid.  this leads to the next big question.    

 

GOD, WHY WOULD YOU ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN?  

whatever “this” is for you, we are faced with this question in the face of real evil and suffering that we witness not just on a personal level but on a systemic level.  as i’ve wrestled with these questions with God in the past week this is what i’ve sensed.  

1. suffering reveals his saints

  • in trial, it shows what/who we really trust in.  
  • in this past week, God’s been causing me to appeal to and put my real hope in his eternal character and kingdom more than before.

2. suffering refines his saints

3. suffering tests his saints

His Bride shines brightest in suffering not in comfortability.  

 

So then, this leads to the final big question

HOW THEN DO WE MOVE FORWARD?   

1. let us take our pain to God first.  

2. let us seek God for what’s important.  

  • let us ask God what do we need to let go?  
  • let us ask God what we must not compromise?  
  • let us allow liberal/conservative adorations and divisions to die.  there are three things that are eternal: God, people, and His Word.  all our answers to what is important must be measured by scripture.  we need a deeper theology of orthodoxy and orthopraxy of what it means to love God with all that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.       

3. let us walk the walk not only talk the talk.  

  • let us commit ourselves to unceasing prayer because the power of a right life in Christ comes from prayer, not people pleasing.  daniel, even under threat of the lion’s den in a broken government, never forgot who he was and continued to do his thing, as was his usual practice for decades, of seeking after God and His Kingdom.  prayer to the Father was the God-given private nexus behind Jesus’ public authority and power that he modeled for us.
  • let us not be afraid to enter into the suffering of others unlike ourselves, without which there is no resurrection.  Jesus tells us that if we are to follow him, we must take up our cross (instruments of death) and follow him.  we are saved by faith alone but a faith without works is dead.
  • let us first be faithful to what God has put before us before we engage the broader discussion.  this one is such a challenge for me because, if i am honest with myself, sometimes the work right before me of loving my own family, my own ministry, my own community is harder then to engage in larger scale dialogues and policies.  not that we ought to neglect the latter but that we must not lose sense of our God given responsibility before us.   as we do that better we are better equipped to have something of more substance to offer to the broader conversation.   

we don’t always understand why there is suffering when God is a good God.  but just because we don’t see a reason for the suffering doesn’t mean there is no good reason.  we don’t know the full story, no one does except God.  but in humility let us trust in His goodness because His goodness will always win.  let’s not give in to despair or hate.  let’s keep on doing good because He is good, He gives us power to do good, and good WILL win.    so no matter what we’re facing let’s persevere in Jesus because HIS Kingdom is already being unleashed and it is indestructible.