Refugees

Refugees

syrian-refugeesThere is a lot of discussion and debate occurring right now in the world regarding refugees from Syria. I see a wide range of opinions being portrayed. I see some Christians using scripture to show that we as believers should be welcoming and accepting of refugees. I see Conservatives expressing their concerns over ISIS having infiltrated these refugees. I see Liberals declaring that we must accept these refugees as it is the right thing, expressing that others don’t want to help women and children. The topic is divisive that is for sure. Each ‘side’ makes the situation seem simple, but this truly is a unique situation.

Some facts about this situation:
#1. ISIS has infiltrated these refugees.
#2, Jesus does tell his followers to love their enemies and to help those in need.
#3. ISIS has slaughtered people in Syria and these people need help, a home, and an opportunity to start their life over.
#4. Jesus never told Rome (the Government) what it should do, but did instruct Christians and the Church.

I believe that as a Christian I should help and love any refugees that my Government brings in with open arms. I also believe that far too many Christians are abdicating their responsibility as believers to help those in need by having the Government help those in need while they sit back and live life oblivious to others needs. I don’t believe Christians should be looking to the Government to solve this refugee crisis or use scripture to prove that the Government should be allowing refugees. The United States Government is not Christian, it is secular. Our secular Governments primary responsibility is keep their citizens safe. So, I don’t fault Government leaders who are struggling with figuring out how to help these refugees while protecting their citizens from an enemy that is known to be hiding among those very same refugees.This crisis is unique in this regard since the enemy is using this crisis to get operatives into western nations to do others harm.

A possible solution that seems logical would be to seek for a unified military approach with western nations leading the effort to make a portion of Syria a safe and secure zone. I believe this could be done quickly with a cooperative effort by European nations and the United States. Relocating 4 million people to other nations and other cultures will certainly be difficult, which we are seeing materialize due to the sheer volume of refugees, when it seems more logical to remove the threat that is causing these people to flee their homeland. The idea would then be to relocate the refugees into this safe zone and begin giving them everything they need from building infrastructure to basic needs like food, water and shelter. These people need help. We should help them. And if we can possibly help them by giving them back their homeland while ridding the area of the terrible threat that ISIS poses it would seem like a winning solution for western nations and the Syrian refugees.

That said as a Christian I am more than willing to help a refugee that my country accepts into this nation. This is an opportunity for us as believers to share Christ to people who need salvation. This presents a unique situation where people will be coming from the ends of the earth to our hometowns. We should not ignore this opportunity or live in fear of possible threats within the ranks of those seeking a new home. However, I won’t ignore the reality of this situation and the real threat that could be present among these refugees or disparage anyone who sees alternate ways to assist these individuals. It is time for the Church to step up and help, It should not be the US Government that is providing but the Church itself, the body of Christ showing love and care to those in need. If our Government simply sends these refugees back to Syria to be slaughtered it will be a tragedy, and one that has happened in the past during WWII. We should be praying for wisdom for those who must make these difficult decisions.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Recently I was reading Psalm 22 again as Crosspoint and I have been journeying through The Story. I am always surprised by how much more we can glean from scripture simply by coming to it with an understanding of the culture during the time the scripture was written.

In the case of Psalm 22 the missing piece of information for many people is that Jesus quoted the first line of this Psalm as he hung on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As Jesus was dying he quoted the first line of Psalm 22. Why would he do that?

We have the Psalms and Proverbs numbered in our Bibles. Back when Jesus walked the earth the Psalms had not been numbered. To reference a Psalm you would say the first line. So, in this case Jesus said “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Simply knowing this changes what he said on the cross to be very powerful. not everyone witnessing his  crucifixion  would have caught onto what he was saying. But his followers should have, and so should any of the other Jewish people nearby. I don’t believe Jesus was only communicating that God the Father was turning his back on his Son. I don’t believe Jesus was only expressing feelings of being abandoned. Jesus was also declaring his very purpose  in hanging on the cross by directing people to remember the words found in what we call Psalm 22. A pronouncement of what was happening before their eyes, and how it would change everything.

I encourage you to read Psalm 22 at the link below as you think of Jesus. It is truly powerful.

http://bible.com/59/psa.22.1.esv

The Story

The Story

The Story

Crosspoint Christian Church in Cape Coral is beginning a journey through the Bible this year. We are going to be going through The Story. It is the NIV version of the Bible that is organized so that it reads more like a typical story that we are accustomed to. A part of me, the scriptural purist, is a bit concerned about editing, and omission of various pieces of scripture in this version. However, I hope that the benefit of going through the complete Story of God’s plan & people will far outweigh any of those concerns. So, I am excited for this journey to begin. This blog has been just sitting here for a long time, but I hope to write here on occasion with any insights I glean through my journey through The Story this year. And if you would like to read The Story for yourself you can grab a copy for your Kindle from Amazon for under 4 bucks.

Making some sense of Matthew 5:17

Making some sense of Matthew 5:17

Jesus says something in [youversion]Matthew 5:17[/youversion] that I have always pondered.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”

Jesus is in the middle of his famous Sermon on the Mount when he says these words. His audience is also Jewish, and this is important to remember. Jesus is about to begin saying things that are going to be shocking to the people listening to him. For some, what he has already said up to this point is shocking. Jesus said “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [youversion]Matthew 5:11-12[/youversion] That sounds a bit backwards or upside down, so some of his listeners are pondering His words, and some may be struggling with His words.

[youversion]Matthew 5:13-16[/youversion] Jesus then tells his audience that they are salt and light to the world. He is telling the Jewish people what their purpose is and has been. That they are the world’s preservative (salt). And he leaves them a question on this point, hinting that they may have lost their saltiness which makes them essentially good for nothing. Jesus then tells them that they are the ‘light of the world’, that they are to shine their light so that others will give glory to the Father in heaven.

He is essentially telling his Jewish audience that they have failed at showing the world (the gentiles) the one true God. So at this point, it is likely that some people in the audience are a bit perturbed. It is at this point that we have [youversion]Matthew 17-20[/youversion]. Jesus makes it clear that He himself has come to fullfil all that is in the law & the prophets. This phrasing essentially refers to the whole of what we call the Old Testament. A very bold statement. He is claiming to fullfil all of the prophecies as well as to not abolish the laws themselves. This last part is very important because he is getting ready to go into a discussion about anger, lust, divorce, lust, oaths, retaliation, and love that go beyond any law written. His audience knows the law, and they know it well. So, what Jesus is about to say is going to sound extreme.

[youversion]Matthew 5:21-26[/youversion] Jesus claims that even being angry with another person is the same as murder.

[youversion]Matthew 5:27-30[/youversion] Jesus says that lust is the same as adultery.

[youversion]Matthew 5:31-32[/youversion] Jesus says that divorcing for any reason other than sexual immorality causes your ex-spouse to commit adultery when they re-marry, and for their new spouse to also commit adultery.

[youversion]Matthew 5:33-37[/youversion] Jesus says that you should simply say yes or no, rather than pledging oaths on something or on someone. It was common to enhance your ‘yes’ by claiming it in Jerusalem’s name.

[youversion]Matthew 5:38-42[/youversion] Jesus mentioned the concept of an eye for an eye, but says to turn the other cheeck and walk the extra mile rather than retaliating against your enemy.

[youversion]Matthew 5:43-48[/youversion] Jesus tell them to love their enemies!

So, Jesus is turning things upside down. He is challenging his Jewish audience to dig deeper, to look for what we may call the ‘spirit of the law’. Essentially what the law is intending to teach. God’s chosen people had become content with trying to follow the letter of the law rather than following the spirit of the law. Jesus is waking them up! He is letting them know that the law is so much more than the literal words on parchment or the literal words from the religious teacher that is reciting the scriptures. That God has a purpose for the law, and that Jesus himself is going to fulfill that purpose. For those in the audience that grasped what Jesus was getting at this must have been an amazing moment. Some likely questioned Jesus, is he crazy? But, whatever they may have thought Jesus certainly got his audience thinking outside of the box.

So, lets get back to [youversion]Matthew 5:17[/youversion]. I have seen two camps of believers when this verse is interpreted. One is that at the moment that Jesus said these words we were still under the Old Covenant. That after Jesus death and resurrection all of humanity entered into a new age. The age of the New Covenant, which fulfilled all of the Old Testament law. Essentially doing away with the old laws.

Another camp leans towards this verse telling all Christians, Jew & Gentile that they must follow all of the laws found in the Old Testament.

I don’t think either idea is correct. Jesus clearly says that he did not come to abolish the law & the prophets. He even makes it even clearer in [youversion]Matthew 5:18[/youversion] “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Since the heavens nor the earth have passed away the old laws are still valid. So, does this mean that I should go out and start slaughtering goats? Begin honoring the festivals? Stop eating shellfish? It might, if I am Jewish. Jesus audience was Jewish. The laws in the Old Testament were given to the Jewish people and have not been abolished. These laws and traditions were not given to the gentiles.

So, does this mean that gentiles can murder, steal, or commit any other sin you can think of since they were never given ‘the law’ of the Old Testament? Certainly not. Paul goes into a good amount of detail in his letters discussing issues that were happening between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. The Jewish believers were continuing to follow the laws from the Old Testament and many Jewish believers thought the Gentiles should do the same. Some examples Paul mentions are circumcision, foods that could be eaten, and festival celebrations. None of the issue items were moral laws, they were cultural laws. In Acts the early Christians struggled with this issue and in [youversion]Acts 15[/youversion] the Council of Jerusalem came to the conclusion through the Holy Spirit that these cultural laws were not be added as a burden to Gentile believers.

As believers regardless of whether we are Jewish or Gentile we are to follow what the laws were intended for. That is why Jesus takes things beyond what is written in the law. And at the same time, Gentile believers are not to be burdened with the Jewish cultural aspects of the law given to them. The laws in the Old testament are God’s laws given to His chosen people, Israel. Jew & Gentile believers alike would be wise to meditate on the law and learn from it, because it has not been abolished and it will not pass away until this world is gone.

Lessons on Prayer

Lessons on Prayer

Day 8

bibleToday’s reading is from [youversion]Luke 7:1-11:54[/youversion].

Often I hear people ask why God has not answered their prayers. This can always be a difficult situation since we often do not know the mind of God and what his greater purposes might be.

In the book of Luke, Jesus gives a brief lesson regarding prayer after the famous passage known as the ‘Lords Prayer’. I want to look at the lesson Jesus gave after this prayer. [youversion]Luke 11:5-13[/youversion] Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, `A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, `Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.
“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
“You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Through this parable Jesus explains that there are times that God does not answer your prayer when you might want him to. That you need to be persistent and keep asking. It is not that God does not hear the prayer, but God wants to see how earnest your request truly is. When we are persistent it shows we have faith that God will respond. When we give up easily we show that our faith is weak, yet when we continue to ask the same request over and over, we prove that our faith is strong.

So, when we pray we should not lose heart when our request is not answered. We need to continue praying and be persistent because we know that God is good and hears his people.

What does real faith look like?

What does real faith look like?

Day 7

bibleToday’s reading was [youversion]Luke 1:1-6:49[/youversion]

The Book of Luke has always been my favorite gospel account. I love how Luke is an outsider. He wasn’t one of the disciples. So, he tells the story of Jesus life as an outsider, explaining in more detail various events and filling in the gaps from some of the other gospel accounts. I am also very fond of the fact that he took time and effort to investigate about Jesus, he didn’t just sit down and start writing what he had heard. [youversion]Luke 1:1:4[/youversion] Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples. Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught. He verified it and researched to learn the real story about Jesus. I also love that we know that this book is written specifically to a man named Theophilis for the purpose of validating all that he had learned about Jesus.

I have always been the type of person that wants to dig deeply into an issue and look for evidence. I want to know the truth, not simply be told the truth. When I first accepted Christ I forced myself to learn more about Him before I would accept Him. I needed evidence. The book of Luke was very instrumental when I first accepted Christ as it gave me a strong foundation to know who Jesus is. So, I enjoy the level of detail that Luke provides in this gospel account. I am far more comfortable reading Luke’s findings than I am reading the Book of Mark, which seems more like a summary of Jesus ministry. There is nothing wrong with the book of Mark, but I would always choose Luke’s version over Mark’s.

As I have been reading this past week the overall question of ‘What does real faith look like?’ has been what has been on my thoughts. In Matthew and in Mark I see Jesus giving some fairly clear direction regarding what he considers real faith to be. The Faith that I am seeing Jesus describe throughout his ministry is one of action and obedience. Knowledge is a key part of it, but He focuses on action or fruit as is described in a few parables. In [youversion]Luke 6:46-49[/youversion] Jesus says the following: “So why do you keep calling me `Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Jesus words here seem very similar to what is quoted in Matthew when Jesus says: “Not everyone who calls out to me, `Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, `Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, `I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’ — [youversion]Matthew 7:21-23[/youversion]

Jesus again is focusing on those who take his teachings and follow them. Those who are obedient, not simply those who believe him. I know not all Churches nor all Christians teach that we simply need to believe in Jesus to be saved. Many pastors, teachers, and Churches clearly teach about Faith, a faith of action, not simply a faith of knowledge. But I have met numerous Christians that seem to have missed the faith that Jesus is describing. He is describing a faith that follows through action more than just words. A faith that can be seen as good fruit in the lives of his followers. A faith that is recognizable. This means that if people are unable to tell if you are a Christian by how you live your life, then you should ask yourself is your faith real? Jesus words are clear and harsh on this issue. So this is something that needs to be thought deeply about. Does Jesus know you? It isn’t just about you calling on his name, it is about Him knowing you as one of his followers, and Jesus is clearly marking out that this is determined by what your faith looks like, not about the accomplishments you have in your life, or the things you have done in Jesus name, but whether your faith has been one of obedience.

I heard this story told once:

There is a man who takes a long rope and stretches it across the Grand Canyon. He then walks back and forth on the rope and a crowd gathers to watch him. They watch him hop across, walk across on his hands, and many other feats as he crossed the rope. He made it look so easy, yet even the slightest miss step and he would fall to his death. He then called on the crowd and said “Who believes that I can carry someone across on my shoulders?” Everyone in the crowd said “Yes, we believe you can.” So, the man said “Who wants to go first?” A young man stepped forward and said “I will go.”

For someone to step out and actually get on this mans shoulders would show that they have real faith, that the man can actually carry them across the Grand Canyon on the rope. The rest of the crowd simply believed that it was possible. Jesus is asking us to step out and have real faith, to follow him, not to simply believe that what he says is true. Often we have confused the concept of belief and faith together because they can be used interchangeably in English. But the difference is that one is based on knowledge and the other is based on action. Jesus is calling us to have a Faith that is obedient, not simply a belief or knowledge of the truth.