Tag Archives: jesus

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 follower 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 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 is 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 governmental 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.  

You’re the only one

*a little poem inspired during my silent retreat last weekend

You’re the only one i can tell everything to
You’re the only one i can go to with every desire underneath my desires
You’re the only one who always keeps their word
You’re the only one who never leaves me
You’re the only one who knows my every brokeness and still loves me daily
You’re the only one that becomes more lovely to me in the knowing
You’re the only one from whom i can never ask too much
Jesus
You’re the only one in whose love i am so filled i want to love others better

why we’re afraid to pray for healing

too often we find our prayers infrequent and frail.  when we hear that someone is ill or not well our automatic response is more “that’s too bad” rather than “let’s pray.”  if we actually do pray for healing for another person we keep it general and not too specific.  and we are sure to add on to our prayer “if it is Your (God’s) will” to get God off the hook…or ourselves.

why is that?

it may be that we’re not sure what his will is, especially when it comes to healing.  yes, there are certainly inscrutable things about the Lord’s will in specific cases.  however, there are things about God’s will that are relatively clear.  healing, surprisingly, is one of them.  again, there are instances where he may not provide healing for some reason but in general it is reasonable to think healing is his will.

  1. when Jesus inaugurates his kingdom he proclaims the gospel AND demonstrates the gospel through healing. (matthew 4:23, 9:25)
  2. when Jesus sends his disciples on their short term mission trips he sends them out, commanding them to proclaim the kingdom AND to heal (the 12 in luke 9:6, the 72 in luke 10:9)
  3. we never see an account of Jesus in which he turns people away from healing or says it is not the Father’s will
  4. Jesus instructs us to pray for “His kingdom to come and His will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.” if heaven is where God’s kingdom and will is fully established and in heaven there is no sickness or pain, then we ought to ask for healing to be unleashed here on earth.
  5. lastly, our actions betray us. when we do not see healing then we conclude it must be God’s will that we not be healed…but then we continue to pursue medical treatment.  aren’t we disobeying God then if we truly believe that?

 

it is not a matter of IF healing is God’s will, it is just a matter of WHEN.  this leads us to the second reason why I think our prayers may be so weak willed.  as americans, we’re terrified of disappointment.  we’ve twisted our theologies of prayer to protect ourselves and limit God.  we’ve found believers in other countries, especially those not cushioned with wealth, to be of tougher faith who don’t give up on God and prayer at the first sign of disappointment.  often they do not have the luxury of health care so they go after God in ways that we can learn from.

in fact, Jesus teaches us, through the story of a widow who keeps going to an unjust judge to get justice (Luke 18:1-8), that perseverance in prayer IS faith (v.8).  when full healing didn’t come to a blind man after Jesus laid hands on him, Jesus just did it again (Mark 8:22-25).  He was fine to acknowledge that healing is a process.  if Jesus had to pray twice for the same healing we could surely pray twice (or more).

just so you know that the kingdom of God isn’t just a matter of talk, i’ve experienced more breakthrough as i’ve kept asking of God in my life.  one night a couple months ago at our discipleship school, right after a teaching on healing prayer, we prayed for anyone who was feeling any physical ailment.  each person we prayed for was not healed instantaneously.  however, when we pressed in to pray a second time, without fail, people felt a significant decrease in their physical symptoms.  i took the teaching challenge to enter into any opportunity to pray for people’s physical healing for the following week.  again, when i didn’t stop with one prayer, i witnessed healing.   one sister with chronic pain in her knees went from barely being able to walk to me to joyfully walking down the stairs.

even if the answer does not come right away he may be shaping us for the better in the asking.

let us persevere with God beyond what we’re comfortable with.

 

*special thanks to chris rattay for many of his insights concerning physical healing

heaven breaking though to earth…

DR view

two weeks ago a team of 25 others and i, from the inner city of LA’s eastside, went down to the dominican republic for about 9 days for a mission trip. we went in hopes of being used of God to bless others and see him at work in another country…and in turn, as it always turns out, we were blessed by the people we met there.

it was indeed an amazing time. the locals led us and we learned from them as we did various outreaches in neighborhoods in santiago.  we dug some trenches, listened to life stories, prayed for people, participated in healings & exorcisms, and shared Jesus. we met some brothers and sisters of our heart, even though not of our blood, and made eternal friends in Jesus.

one experience in particular comes to the forefront of my mind, especially relevant in light of the tragedies and tensions of our nation in this past week. at the mission house where we were staying there is a little haitian man who only speaks creole, named luis, that takes care of the house (to give you some background, the domincan republic is not a wealthy country as it is but it shares a border with haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. even with centuries of conflict between the two countries, many haitians have come to the DR seeking work to send money back to their families.  needless to say, there is much discrimination and oppression against this darker skinned marginalized people group).  luis only knew some words in spanish but would greet us every day with smiles as he closed the doors behind us and cleaned up after us.

our last night we had an amazing time of receiving words of blessing and prayer from the DR team.  as we were taking pictures with each other and saying our good-byes, luis hugged me…for a long time.  but it didn’t feel awkward.  then he moved into placing his hands on my chest and back and began praying for me in simple spanish….a language that is not native to either of us as i am a japanese-american man.  he was the last person to pray from me in the DR.  i who went to DR as the missionary, the pastor and literally the servant of the house we were staying at was praying for me.  yet, in his simple prayers the Spirit of God was moving so powerfully.  i felt in that moment that all else faded away, God was reminding me of the good that he is doing, and i felt like i was in the very loving arms of God as i was in the arms of this small haitian man that society thinks is worth nothing and no one would suspect would be a mighty vessel of God’s presence.

if i didn’t open up because this person was different than me, i would have completely missed what God had for me.  any difference between us whether it was what language we spoke, what race we were, or what social class either of us were did not separate us but rather highlighted the power of God that could bring us together in understanding and peace at that moment.  i sensed God telling me not to miss this moment as it is a piece of heaven happening right here on earth. only the Kingdom of God can break through ALL barriers of separation.  

Father, may Your Kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.  

wealth: the other gospel

what a child wrote in response to the question "what is your wish for 2016" (found on a wish board at the kidspace museum in pasadena on new years eve day)
what a child wrote in response to the question “what is your wish for 2016” (found on a wish board at the kidspace museum in pasadena on new years eve day 2015)

 

i’ve been reading a book called the great chasm by derek engdahl and it has been hammering me with convictions that have kept me thinking.  on this the first day of the new year i believe it is a significant direction I want to continue to walk in.

the contents of this book, as i’ve told many people, captures what it has taken me nearly 12 years to learn (and counting).   it is a rare book (unfortunately) that brings together thorough biblical exposition with balanced real world application, especially to something so largely ignored from the pulpit.  i couldn’t commend it more wholeheartedly.

the book speaks of God’s heart for the most vulnerable in our society and the danger that wealth poses to disconnect us from the marginalized and His heart.

as a person that considers myself middle class, but actually in the top 4% of the world in terms of wealth (80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day), this is an uncomfortable topic.  yet, i must face it for that very reason. i’ve learned that having wealth, power, and/or status of any kind can blind you to it’s dangers.  i never considered myself wealthy until i got to know and have befriended people who are not wealthy (by wealth i mean having more than i need in terms of food, clothing, shelter).  those who “have” are not always aware that they have and are often not mindful of the “have nots.”  those that “have not” are keenly aware of their lack and of the others who “have.”

there is so much in the book that has struck me but i’d like to share one idea (from the fourth chapter) that still won’t let me go: wealth preaches a gospel contrary to Jesus.

engdahl reminds us that wealth (or “mammon”) is not neutral, but is personified by Jesus as setting itself up in opposition to God, hence in matthew 6:24 He says “you cannot serve God and money.”   The pursuit of wealth runs contrary to the gospel of grace.  gospel means good news. wealth promises to give us the “good news” of (earthly) life and security. Jesus promises to give us the “good news” of (eternal) life and security.  so who do we trust more in daily life?  the true gospel reveals itself in how it is obtained.  engdahl writes “At it’s core, Mammon, represents a meritorious worldview. It is opposed to grace because it is fundamentally about what can be earned and purchased.”  if my life and security is based upon what i can accomplish and earn that is not much security for me (worldly resources are limited and i fail).  if my life and security is based upon what God himself has accomplished and purchased that gives me a peace that can overflow (He is the limitless source of all life and He is able to keep His promises).

if we cannot serve both God and wealth can’t we at least have both, as long as I don’t “serve” wealth?

here, engdahl holds us again to the words of Christ by taking us back a couple more verses in that same section of matthew (v.19-21) and reflecting on it: “We deceive ourselves into believing we can have wealth as long as we do not put our trust in it. This is a great lie. What Jesus says is that if you have wealth you WILL put your trust in it: you will be enticed to serve it. You can store up treasure in heaven or on earth, and wherever that treasure is, THAT is where your heart will be.”

now, don’t get me wrong, no one is saying here that making wealth is a problem. it is what one does with it that reveals who serves whom. it is the keeping of wealth (putting our trust in it for security) rather than the giving of it (putting our trust in God for provision for us to bless others) that is an issue.

paraphrasing rankin wilborne, out of all the rivals that Jesus could have used to set up against God, He uses wealth. it is deadly precisely because we don’t think any of us have a problem with it.

let us choose this day (this year) whom we will serve.

what is biblical justice (and why does it even matter)?

for most of my life when I heard the word “justice” i thought of people getting what they deserved…and by that I mean punishment. and what did justice have to do with social justice? at best my understanding was fuzy and at worst they were on completely different planes. i suspect i’m not the only one. in so much of popular media and movies when a protagonist metes out “justice” it usually means some shady villainous character is in for some pummeling.

but is that the flavor of the word in God’s mouth? is that what the bible has to say about justice? and why does it matter?

let’s ACTUALLY take a look at what the bible has to say about justice.

FIRST, let’s see how much the word actually comes up and presumably how important the subject is to God:

in the old testament* (*i refer to the hebrew bible or the protestant old testament, as other groups add texts that are not in the canon of either traditions)

  • in hebrew (the original language of the old testament) the word that is translated in English as justice is the word: “mishpat
  • the word mishpat is used 426 times (according to the hebrew concordance of the nasb translation) in 403 verses.
  • the word for love (as in the word used concerning how abraham loved his son Isaac, how Isaac loved rebekah, how we are commanded to love the Lord your God from deut 6:5) used in hebrew is “ahab
  • the word ahab is used 220 times in 202 verses

the word “justice” is used about twice as much as the word love.

in the new testament

  • in greek (the original language of the new testament) the word that is translated in English as justice is the world: “krisis” (we know this is the equivalent word for the hebrew word mishpat as krisis is used in the greek when matthew quotes from the old testament book of isaiah 42:3)
  • the word krisis is used 47 times in 46 verses
  • the word for cross (you know, what Jesus was hung on to die slowly of suffocation) used in greek is “stauros
  • the word stauros is used 27 times in 27 verses

the word justice is used nearly twice as much as the word for the cross (what christians use as a symbol to identify their faith).

needless to say, even from a cursory reading of bible, it is fair to say that justice is a big deal to God.

in fact, the prophet micah sums up a God honoring life in this oft quoted verse:

“he has told you, o man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

– micah 6:8

how then do we “do justice”?  what is justice in the eyes of God?

NOW THEN, let’s look again to the scripture to see how the word justice is used:

in the old testament

often times the word “mishpat” is translated in english as other words such as “judgment”, “manner”, “right”, “cause”, or “ordinance.”   if we look at just the words that are translated as the english word “justice”, what was most shocking to me was how it was actually used and to whom it was most often applied. the word is not used, mainly, toward sinister abusive people…it is used more for the most needy and vulnerable in society (just for starters see exodus 23:6, deuteronomy 10:18, psalm 82:3, ecclesiastes 5:8, isaiah 1:17. there are so many more…if you don’t believe me do a word search on justice in any bible app/website and actually read the verses in context)

wait…so we’re supposed to punish the needy, the poor, the immigrant, the orphan, the widow (which it seems is the tact that too many are actually taking in america)?

NO! it is the definition of justice as mainly having to do with punishment that is not reliable. let’s take a closer look at a passage that talks about what God means by justice in more depth.

27 “‘Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit;
therefore they have become great and rich;
28 they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no bounds in deeds of evil;
they judge not with justice
the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper,
and they do not defend the rights of the needy.

29 Shall I not punish them for these things?’ declares the Lord,
‘and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?’”

– jeremiah 5:27-29

in verse 28 justice is equated with making the cause of the fatherless prosper and defending the rights of the needy.

yes, those who do not do that, especially those who maintain power by neglecting those in need, will be punished. But justice is not just punishment of evil (which, in context, is neglecting those in need) but it is the doing of good (acting on the interest of those in need). we tend to focus on the former and neglect the latter.

in fact, whenever the word justice is used in the old testament, more often in the same breath it is linked to caring for and acting on the interest of those in need.

in the new testament

speaking of former and latter things, we see this same vein of the usage of the word justice carry into the new testament as even Jesus weighs in on the issue of justice in case it wasn’t clear.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

– matthew 23:23

in this passage Jesus underscores the importance of justice. he even ties justice together with mercy and faithfulness (and in the parallel passage of luke 11:42, to the love of God). the luke 11 passage calls to mind the greatest commandment which are to love God and to love others. justice, then, is paralleled with loving of others.

the reason why the term “social justice” is not used in the bible is because, to God, justice and social justice are inextricably linked.

 

IN SUMMARY then, what is biblical justice and why does it matter?

Q: what is biblical justice?

A: biblical justice ≠ mere punishment

biblical justice = social justice = taking action to uplift those in need

Q: why does biblical justice matter?

A: it is the weight of the heart of God, so heavy that it encompasses love and takes Him to death on a cross

or to put it differently

The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.

– proverbs 21:15

So are we living justly?