This year I have the privilege of coaching U-8 soccer. I have three Hispanic boys on my team, one of whom barely speaks any English at all. The English of his parents is even worse. I communicate with them in a mix of my terrible Spanish and English. I love these folks, and they seem to genuinely appreciate that I have taken an interest in their children.
I try to imagine what these parents must have gone through to get here, and how difficult life must be from day to day, surviving in a world of white faces. I know what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land. I lived for about three months in Brazil as the only "gringo" around. My Portuguese was fair at best. You cannot imagine how complicated it is to continually calculate dollars to reals. How much is this Coke costing me? The figures are meaningless to you. Is 5 reals for a Coke good or bad? It looks like you are giving them five dollars, but you aren't. And how much change am I owed? What are the coins worth?
You cannot ask the right questions. You don't know if you've received the right change. Everyone is looking at you because you are different; you feel isolated and out of place. You finally muster the courage to speak this strange tongue, and your inquiries are met with blank stares because you misspoke. They cannot understand you. You can't find the bathroom, and you cannot ask where it is. You think you got short-changed, but you can't be certain. If you add to this a general sense of hostility from the locals and the sinking feeling that you aren't wanted there, and you have a recipe for high stress to say the least.
This is how what the Hispanics go through here, every day, whether they are legal or not. If they are illegally here, it is much worse. The paranoia of getting caught must be overwhelming. Why did they come here? To flaunt American laws? Surely not! The vast majority came to find a better life. They came to escape the horrible drug lords and wars that are raging south of the border. Some came to escape a mass grave. Have you read the news about what's happening in Mexico? Would you stay with your family, or would you run for their lives?
This is not simply an economic issue. This isn't about an over-burdened tax system and non-contributors. This issue is about people. It is about children. It is about families. Yes, it does present a challenge to us and to our schools. But our first concern should not be the budget's bottom line. Any decision we make must be seasoned with compassion for a fellow human being, even if that decision is inevitably deportation.
Christian, you ought to have compassion for the alien and sojourner in your midst. You ought to remember that we are all aliens and sojourners here: this is not our home. You ought to remember that you are called to be a servant of the nations. Does this mean that you can't have a strong opinion on deportation of illegals? No, it does not mean that. It does mean, however, that you cannot treat law-breakers as sub-human money sponges.
Show compassion to your neighbor. Have mercy on the alien and sojourner in your midst. Treat them like beings made in the image of God. To do any less is unthinkable. Remember, the Lord your God is the Lord of All, and he loves the aliens and sojourners in your midst, and He is swift to take the side of the poor. We ought to be like Him.
As the argument over the use of the miraculous sign gifts continues, I want to quibble a bit with my cessationist allies. Often in the conversation over whether or not "prophecy" is still a continuing gift, cessationists will talk as if a prophecy should be "added to the canon." I think that this is a careless way to talk about the gift of prophecy because there is a difference between prophecy and inspired Scripture. They have many similarities, but they are not the same thing.
As a caveat, I confess that I do not know how God inspired the apostles and prophets to write Scripture. I do know that prophecy came in various forms: audible voices, dreams, visions, and apparently even in song. The act of writing inspired Scripture, however, remains a mystery. Nevertheless, it is important to note that both are direct revelations from God, regardless of the means in which they are delivered.
As far as similarities go, both prophecy and Scripture are divine revelation, and they are both 100% correct and binding. This may make them appear to be analogous on the surface, but it doesn't. Prophecy could be far more limited in scope than inspiration, and it was often not universally binding. Scripture, however, is always universally binding when applied correctly.
Here is what I mean. Nathan was a prophet who spoke prophetically to King David. His most famous prophecy involves his confrontation of King David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. By revelation of God, Nathan uncovers David's sin, and lets David know that though he will not die, God is going to punish him. This story is both prophetic and inspired. It is inspired because it is written down; it is prophetic because it was direct revelation from God.
However, Nathan's prophecy to David does not apply to the reader in the same way it applied to David any more than Jonah's prophecy to Nineveh directly applies to Russia or the United States. As the inspired canon, these prophecies fit into the great whole to teach us lessons about God's sovereignty and forgiveness and severity, but we cannot go about telling cities that God will overthrow them in forty days or that God will deal with adulterers in the specific ways outlined to David.
We know, for instance, that there are prophecies that were not inspired. I can say that all prophecy is given by direct revelation of God, but not all prophecy is inspired. (You might say it this way: Not every teacher can pastor, but every pastor must teach.) I'm using the word "inspired" technically, meaning the infallible word of God written down and applicable to all people. One example is found in 1 Samuel chapter 10. There, King Saul prophesies with a group of travelling prophets. We know that he prophesied, and we know that there was a travelling band of prophets. We do not, however, know the content of their prophecies. We know that they were revelation from God, and that they were applicable and binding on someone, but they were not inspired for the world.
I only write this in an attempt at caution, lest the cessationist wind up overstating his case. Prophecy is not necessarily inspired canon, and it should not be considered as such. Prophecy was and is binding on those for whom it was meant, and so it is serious business. After all, false prophecy was a capital offense.
I do not believe that the prophetic ministry has continued from the days of the apostles. The apostles and prophets never uttered an 'iffy' prophecy, and they never wondered whether their word came from the Lord. They never prophesied with the caveat of "sometimes I'm wrong." No modern day 'prophet' has the chutzpah to prophecy like that, and the reason is because whatever it is he is doing, it isn't what the apostles and prophets of old were doing. If it were, he would not be confused or shy about it. He could say, on pain of death, "Thus saith the LORD!"
There, my small point is over. I'm sure that this minor addition to the conversation will inevitably lead to an end to the entire imbroglio.
I had a couple of minutes to kill today after stuffing myself at the local Mexican restaurant. I saw this article on Yahoo! and thought it might be fun to read. For the most part, it was. Until I got to this quote:
Genuine smiles and fake smiles are governed by two separate neural pathways. We know this is true because people with damage to a certain part of the brain can still break into a spontaneous grin even though they're unable to smile at will. Scientists speculate that our ancestors evolved the neural circuitry to force smiles because it was evolutionarily advantageous to mask their fear and fury.
According to this theory, some cave man somewhere thought, "Heeeey...I'm really ticked at the tribal chief right now. I really, really wish I could fake a smile so he wouldn't see my inner fury." Hearing this desperate plea, Evolution stepped in, and after hundreds of generations of progeny, granted his request. And people claim that evolutionists aren't a people of faith!
Do people really find this easier to believe than a con-artist TV evangelist's forehead slapping ministry?
It is unfortunate that the current economic woes of the United States serves to obscure the issue of America's immigration problem. The highs and lows of Wall Street are only symptoms; they can only point to problems that are foundational. You cannot fix the economy by fixating on the fluttering of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. You can, however, begin an economic recovery by concentrating on the working and living conditions of the people who live in and contribute to the economics of the country. The people of a country are, after all, the country's most valuable resource. Therefore, immigration is a foundational issue, not a symptomatic one.
Immigration is a boon to any country. There is not a single business in the United States this is not dependent upon immigration for growth, success, and innovation. Immigrants bring with them a vitality and perspective that native citizens sometimes lack. They are an adventurous sort and visionary. They are a people willing to leave behind all that is familiar and beloved in order to build a new life for themselves and for their families. They are highly motivated, resourceful, and willing to sacrifice for success. Any country that doesn't have a healthy influx of immigrants is a country on the decline and is in danger of stagnation.
Unregulated immigration, however, can cause serious problems for a country. Even the Boar's Nest of Hazzard County charged $1.00 cover to keep out the riffraff. If a country has unregulated immigration, there is nothing to keep the unsavory sorts from entering the country at will. Such people come, not with the intent of building a life for themselves, but rather they come to exploit the native populations through criminal activity. This serves to give the rest of the immigrant population a bad name, and it makes their dream of integrating with the native population very difficult.
This is the dilemma that faces the United States. Our borders are not secure. This allows anyone access to the country. Hence, illegal immigration is a real problem. What good does it do to deport someone from the country when the back door is wide open? Deportation and the threat of deportation is like a rubber-toothed bulldog: it sounds mean but it lacks any real bite.
In fact, illegal immigration does not simply aggravate natural citizens. It aggravates legal immigrants. In fact, some of the people most passionately against illegal immigration are naturalized citizens. They recognize that illegal immigrants give them a bad name, and it is galling to the naturalized citizen that they had to learn the language, pay for the proper paper work, and work hard to earn their right to be here; only to face discrimination and suspicion because of law-breakers from their own native countries who came here illegally.
There are layers of problems to the United States' immigration woes. First, the border is insecure, making deportation a lousy deterrent. Secondly, we actually need immigrant labor, and legal immigration is currently so difficult that we cannot get people here properly to fill the jobs. Thirdly, we have to realize the temptation to jump the border is overwhelming. Why would someone wait years and go through all the red tape, monetary outlay, and rank bribery required when they can get across the border more easily by sneaking? You don't believe that the red tape is real? Why on earth would a sane person pay a "coyote", who is basically a thug, thousands of dollars to sneak them across the border if it were easier to go through legal channels?
In the next post, I'll try to go through some of the challenges that we face regarding illegal immigration. In this discussion, we must always keep one thing very much in the forefront: We are talking about real people. People with hopes, families, and dreams to make a better life for themselves. Yes, some illegal immigrants are drug running criminals, but it has to be a small minority or we would be in a much worse condition that the one we now face.
If you do not know what a cessationist is, then this post may not matter to you anyway. If you are curious as to what this might mean, then I hope that this post might be helpful to you. If you do not know what to think of miraculous sign gifts, then I hope that you will find this post helpful.
What is a cessationist? A cessationist is someone who believes that the miraculous sign gifts that were present in the 1st Century church are not being given to the church today. These would include the apostolic gift, the gift of miraculous healing, prophesy, the ability to write infallible Scripture, and the sudden ability to speak and be understood in a language one is not familiar with.
This is not to say that a cessationist does not believe in miracles or Providence or the influence of the Holy Spirit. We certainly do. We simply do not believe that things are happening in the church now as they were in the early days of the church. I surely believe in miracles. I count my own conversion as a miracle, and every other conversion for that matter.
So why did I become a cessationist? I certainly did not start out as one. I tried very hard to be a charismatic. I was enamored with the supposed 'super-powers' that some claimed to have. They believed that they could speak in an unknown tongue, could lay hands on the sick and heal them, that they could know the secret thoughts of men at a mere glance, and that they were privy to things that would happen in the future. Who wouldn't want that? I knew that God was all-powerful, that He loves me, and that He gives gifts to men. So why should I not desire, even eagerly, these gifts?
My conversion to cessationism, then, came and still comes from two fronts. First, I noticed right away that the supposed miracle-workers were not doing exactly what happened in the Bible. Secondly, I noticed that they were dumbing-down the requirement for prophesy in the New Testament era. It is plain in the Old Testament that anyone who claimed to speak for the Lord God was held to a high standard. A false prophet faced the death penalty. I could not find a single modern prophet who would be willing to be held to that high standard.
Instead, they pretended that after the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church, that prophesy somehow became less reliable than it was in the Old Testament. Now, God spoke to his prophets in a way that could be misunderstood, leading his prophet to prophesy in error. This seemed to me to be patently ridiculous, and it still does.
As for the gift of miraculous healing, I simply never saw anyone "command heal" in a genuine way like Peter or the apostles did. No one, except for the charlatans on TV, were grabbing crippled people by the hand and lifting them up to be perfectly well. I've never seen this happen. Ever. And I have known many believers, and I have been to many churches, and I have prayed over many sick people (some of whom, by the grace of God, have recovered.) But I have never witnessed anyone healed like Peter did it. I have never seen a dead person raised from the dead like Peter did or Paul did. I have never seen anyone heal like Jesus or the apostles.
The very fact that anyone has to go around and argue that these things are present in the church today is a sad sign that they really aren't. No one argued with the signs the apostles performed. In fact, the opposition was miffed because of the fact that "a notable miracle has been done through them (that) is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem and we cannot deny it" (Acts 4:16). The same thing goes for the miracles of Jesus. This is simply not the case with miracle workers today. It is always anecdotal, they do not heal 100% of the time, and the charlatans rely on mass group suggestion and friendly environments to ply their healing trade. Not one of them has ever gone to a hospital or met a random cripple and healed them like the apostles did. Not one. Every story you hear is someone who has a friend who knows a missionary who raised the dead at a hut in some village in Africa.
I believe in spiritual gifts. I believe that the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift given to every believer in Jesus Christ. I believe that God can lead the believer through His Word and through Providence to make wise and wonderful decisions. I believe that God heals the sick through the prayers of His saints. I just do not believe that there are miracle-working apostolic types among us today, though I believe there are a pile of lying and self-deceived hucksters. It is simply the choice of God who is not building His church by the Acts of Supermen but upon the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have been reading the articles that are coming out now about the rioting in London and the UK. It saddens me that people are acting this way, and it further saddens me that the behavior is being excused by appealing to the disenfranchisement or the poverty of the rioters. There is, in the end, no excuse for this type of behavior when other means of protest are readily available.
I could easily write an article on why it is wrong for the people to behave as they have, but I hope that most people could think of a reason why they ought not be knocking through windows of privately owned stores and taking what they please from their fellow citizens. Instead, I want to prepare my children to be the type of person who would walk away from the mob and not go into the store and take what isn't theirs.
I read an article that a journalist wrote that had a snippet of a conversation that she overheard during the looting. Apparently, three young men were watching the riots, not participating, when one of them saw an opportunity to go into a store and take what they wanted. He tried to talk his friend into going down and getting themselves the loot. The article did not say how the young men decided. The conversation, however, reminded me of this:
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason; like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we shall find all precious good, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse.." (Proverbs 1:10-14).
I imagine that one of those young men watching the mayhem is my own son. I know that the pull of the chaos, the promise of free treasure, and the adrenaline that the thought that such an act would bring would be a powerful temptation for a young man. But the end of that behavior is death. It is madness to do what these people are doing. It is death, both physical and spiritual, to participate in that kind of wickedness.
My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors (Proverbs 1:15-190).
People who break in to steal and destroy are more foolish than birds. A bird will avoid a trap it sees being set; these rioters are setting a trap for themselves. They will drive out business; they may be arrested; they may die. Inevitably, they will have to live with what they have done, they will have to deal with knowing that they brought hurt to many, including the death of some. For what? A television set? A bicycle?
Ultimately, God will judge the earth. He will judge between the wicked and the just. I pray that I will teach my son these lessons well so that he will not consent to walk with sinners. I am resolved to plead with him as the writer of proverbs pled with his son. I have lived long enough to know that the path of the wicked leads to destruction, but that righteousness leads to life.
Do you think that these looters were taught these things by their parents? Or did they teach them that their poverty gives them the right to strike out against "the man", even when "the man" is their neighbor who sells goods down the street.
I am a pastor serving in my hometown of Albertville, Alabama. The greatest evidence of God's grace in my life are my wife, son, and daughter. One look at me and then my wife will tell you that her "yes" was a modern day miracle. Otherwise, I am almost completely mundane.