Lent Week 1: Jesus in the Wilderness

This year during the Lenten season we will be looking at some key moments in the life of Jesus leading up to the cross.  This week we look at a familiar story which comes to us courtesy of Matthew’s Gospel:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.  For it is written:

” ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up on their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot
against a stone.’ ”

Jesus answered him: “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give to you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

–Matthew 4:1-11

Forty days and forty nights Jesus fasted in the wilderness.  This is where the forty days of Lent comes from.

By passing through the Jordan at his baptism and then heading out into the wilderness, Jesus recapitulated Israel’s journey through the wilderness and into the Promised Land, but in reverse.  The forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness parallel the forty years Israel spent there.

Now at this point an interesting question surfaces.  Why did Matthew choose to include this episode in his Gospel account?  Why did Mark and Luke include it in theirs (they tell the same story but slightly differently)?  You see, not a whole lot was written down in ancient times.  Papyrus wasn’t cheap, and few people knew how to read.  So if Matthew, Mark, and Luke wanted to go to all the trouble to include this, there must have been a very compelling reason.  And here it is:  Each of these temptations was, for Jesus, a temptation to opt for the world’s way of doing things, the way of power and of me-first, the way that ran contrary to everything Jesus was and everything He was all about.  This struggle would be a recurring theme throughout Jesus’ ministry, right up to the very end when He went to the cross.

So Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and then the devil came to him when he was at his weakest.  His first temptation was to turn stones into bread.  It was as if the devil was saying, “Come on, Jesus.  I’ve read your book.  I know who you are and what you’re all about.  You can do this.  Who’s going to miss a few stones from out here in this godforsaken country where it’s nothing BUT stones?”

Any worldly king would have killed for that kind of power.  And if they had it, they almost certainly would have used it to transform stones into bread–to “transubstantiate” stones into bread–in that moment.  But Jesus didn’t bite.  Instead he answered the devil as one under the old covenant:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  This was an allusion to Israel’s time in the wilderness when God provided bread for them on every day of the journey.  Jesus refused to use his power to meet his own needs.  He came not to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many.

Next they go to the temple.  How did they get there?  They walked, in all probability.  Meaning that Jesus and evil personified–they spent some time together.  They went to the highest point of the temple.  Now this was not some spire on top of the temple building, as you might imagine.  It was the southeast corner of the temple courtyard.  You look down from here, and it is a sheer dropoff of hundreds of feet into the valley below.  Had Jesus thrown himself down into that ravine, as the devil had asked him to, and emerged unscathed–it would have had a tremendous effect.

The devil even quoted some Scripture at him.  Two could play at that game.  The modern version of this is all over the place in evangelicalism:  Just believe, just have faith, just quote a verse–and God will come through for you.  He has to.

Jesus answered by quoting Scripture:  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  These same words were spoken by Moses to the Israelite nation, at a point when they felt themselves entitled to certain things by virtue of their status as God’s chosen people.  You don’t understand, he said.  It doesn’t work that way.

If you think that by doing such-and-such things, you can get God to respond in the desired way–that isn’t Christianity.  That’s magic.  That’s religion that plays right into the world’s way of doing things–the way that Jesus came to turn upside down.

So now we come to the third temptation.  The first two were merely warmup acts, in which Jesus and the devil were getting to know each other.  This temptation was the main event.

They went up to a high mountain.  How did they get there?  They walked.  They spent time together.  Likely they went atop one of the mountains north of Jerusalem.  They went at night.  They saw the whole city lit up at night, in all of its splendor.  About sixteen miles away was Jericho, likewise lit up at night in all of its splendor.  This was the epicenter of the presence of God in the lives of the Jewish people.  It is as if the devil was saying, “Feast your eyes on this, because I know this is why you’re here.  I can give you all this.  All you have to do is bow down.  Not for all time, just for a moment.  Just acknowledge that it is mine to give.”

But that is not what Jesus came for.  He did not come to barter for a kingdom, but to establish a kingdom.  This would be a kingdom of conscience, established in the hearts and minds of his followers.  A kingdom where power and influence were not exercised for the exclusive benefit of the powerful and influential.  A kingdom where the subjects were not at the whim of the rulers.  A kingdom where the subjects were not required to lay down their lives for the king, but the other way around.  A kingdom like none that had existed previously.

So then the devil left him.  Luke tells us that the devil left to wait for an opportune time.  In other words, he wasn’t finished.  This was just round one.  All of these temptations would be recurring themes throughout Jesus’ ministry, and they would be present right up to the very end, when he went to the cross.

Jesus was tempted in ways that we all are tempted, yet he refused.  Why?  Because he came not to take over, but to take away the sin of the world.  Even he came not to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many.


Welcome to Lent

Welcome to Lent.

This is one of those years that comes around every once in a while, in which it is not such a great year to be Catholic–or a liturgical Christian of any stripe–because Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day and Easter falls on April Fool’s Day.

Lent is the forty days before Easter.  Back up six weeks from Easter, and then back up a few more days, and you get to Ash Wednesday.  Now all you Georgia Tech grads out there are much much smarter than the rest of us, and at this point you would tell us that’s actually forty-six days.  And you would be correct.  Back out the six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter, which are counted as free days and not considered part of the Lenten season (they are and they aren’t–it’s complicated), and you get to forty days.

Historically, Lent has been the time during which the Church has prepared catechumens (those seeking to join the Church via baptism) for Easter, which is when their baptisms take place.  For the rest of us, it is a time of preparation as well. We prepare for Easter during this season by focusing on Christ and his journey to the cross. The 40 days of Lent tie in directly with the 40 days Jesus spent out in the wilderness in preparation for his public ministry, and indirectly with the 40 years that the nation of Israel spent in the wilderness en route to the Promised Land.  Not all of us will go out into the wilderness by ourselves for 40 days, but we can all place ourselves in a posture of humility and choose practices consistent with repentance.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this journey.  Many churches have Ash Wednesday services where ashes are placed on your forehead in order to symbolize repentance from sin.   Ashes appear throughout the Bible as a symbol of repentance–the preferred expression of mourning in Old Testament times was sackcloth and ashes, and the Old Testament writers tied this to repentance.  Ashes also symbolize our mortality–dust we are and unto dust we shall return. We die to ourselves and all that we are in this world in order that we may rise again with Christ.  In the weeks to come we will focus on stories and events in the life of Jesus, especially those leading up to Jerusalem and the cross.

If You Stood Up and Applauded Andy Savage

Today’s post is directed toward those of you who stood up and applauded Andy Savage at Highpoint Church when he confessed to sexual misconduct a few weeks back.

Okay.  If I were in the room that Sunday, I might have stood up and applauded as well.  It is a powerful thing when it is your pastor who is confessing to this stuff, and I have no way of knowing how I would respond if it were my pastor.  BUT…

As I said in the previous post, worship and justice are inextricably linked.  Where there is no justice, there is no worship.  And there was no justice in what transpired at Highpoint that Sunday.

There is a real victim out there.  And you stood up and applauded her attacker.

I refuse to accept that the victim’s–and our–duty to forgive in instances such as this outweighs the perpetrator’s duty to do the hard work of genuine contrition and repentance and humble submission to the consequences of his misdeeds, whatever they may be.

We all love a good story of forgiveness and redemption.  I do too.  It’s part of who we are as Americans.  But don’t go looking for forgiveness/redemption stories where they do not exist.  This is not a place where such a story exists.  Not at this point, at least.  Savage’s statements to the contrary notwithstanding.  Dee at The Wartburg Watch has parsed this out in great detail and I find it very difficult to make a case that genuine repentance has occurred as of yet.

“But it was only a minor indiscretion!!!” you say.  Okay.  So he didn’t get her into bed and…well, you know.  The things he did would likely be described by most people as sexual foreplay.  You can read the descriptions of Savage’s sexual misdeeds in Woodson’s story here and here, and judge for yourselves.  BUT:  Savage was Woodson’s youth pastor.  He was a clergyman, and one of the responsible adults in her life.  She was a minor under his authority and entrusted to his care.  Savage’s actions represented a MASSIVE breach of said care and should never have happened in a million years.  If Woodson’s math teacher had done what Savage did, he would have lost his job and his ability to teach ever again, and be looking at jail time.  Why does the youth pastor get a pass?????

“But it was twenty years ago!!!!!” you say.  Sexual sin is in a completely and totally different category from other types of sin.  The New Testament writings which address this subject bear this out.  Sexual sin leaves a mark that does not go away with time.  Thus far Savage has only confessed to committing a minor indiscretion.  Even if it legitimately felt like only a minor indiscretion from his perspective, it sure as hell did not feel that way on Woodson’s end.  Savage’s misdeeds left a grease stain on her psyche that has not come out even after all these years, and likely will not come out anytime soon.  Read her story and judge for yourselves.

“But he was only 22 at the time!!!!!  What do you expect?????” you say.  There are 22-year-olds who serve in a variety of professions with dignity, class, and professionalism–and who know enough to keep their pants up.  With those words you impugn every last one of them.

When Vanessa Williams was Miss America she caused a scandal by posing nude for Playboy (kids:  Google).  She attempted to defend her actions by saying that she was only nineteen at the time.  Lewis Grizzard, then a syndicated columnist for the Atlanta newspaper, responded thusly:  “I don’t know where y’all are from but where I’m from nineteen is old enough to know whether or not to take your britches off!!!”

“But we’re all sinners!!!” you say.  “Who are we to judge?????  Any one of us is just a hairbreadth away from what Savage confessed to, given the right circumstances.”  Okay.  We are all sinners.  We all have different areas and varying degrees of sin and brokenness in our lives.  But as noted earlier, sexual sin is in a completely and totally different category from other types of sin, and the Scriptures bear that out.  I roundly disagree that all adult males are only a hairbreadth away from molesting underage women.  I certainly hope that isn’t the case.  People, if you legitimately believed that, you would never let your daughters out of the house for as long as they live!!!!!

I refuse to accept an understanding of total depravity that excuses the worst among us because hey, we’re all sinners.

The secular world did not let this go unnoticed.  Neither did the Christian world outside of our evangelical fishtank.  Look at the titles of these news stories:

Pastor admits to ‘sexual incident’ with teen, receives standing ovation from congregation: NBC News

–-Pastor gets standing ovation after admitting ‘sexual incident’ with teen: New York Post

Pastor admits to “sexual incident” with teen 20 years ago, gets standing ovation: CBS News

Tennessee pastor gets standing ovation after admitting “sexual incident” with teen:   Newsweek

–-A pastor admitted a past ‘sexual incident’ with a teen, saying he was ‘deeply sorry.’ His congregation gave him a standing ovation: Washington Post

Yep, that’s just about every major news outlet.  And they all noticed the standing ovation.  Some are calling it “the standing ovation heard round the world“.  There’s a reason for that.  It tends to be lost on us, as are a lot of things here inside our evangelical fishtank.  The evangelical fishtank is a funny place.  But the rest of the world, and the rest of Christianity outside our evangelical fishtank, is watching.  It isn’t lost on them.  The reason is this:  When you stand up to applaud a sexual abuser after he confesses said misdeeds, it is wrong.  It is monumentally inappropriate.  It is unjust.

There is a real live victim out there, people.  And you stood up and applauded her abuser.

Think about this from the standpoint of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to stand up and applaud a pastor who admits to sexual abuse when his victim is out there somewhere…no.  There is no case to be made for that.  Not in this universe.  Not in any universe.

When Worship Becomes a Shitshow

As mentioned previously in this space, there is a beautiful young woman on the horizon of my world.  As also mentioned previously, this is just a crush, the sort of thing experienced by young boys just starting out and finding their way in the world of love, romance, and dating.

One thing about crushes is that one tends to lose track of the outside world.  One becomes so focused upon one’s feelings of love and the object of said feelings that the outside world just falls away.

But of course, life and the outside world go on, regardless of whether or not we are paying attention.  And while I was off basking in the glow of this beautiful young woman and my feelings for her, this happened.

ICYMI:  Andy Savage confessed to sexually assaulting an underage young woman twenty years ago.  Savage is the teaching pastor at Highpoint Church, a multi-site megachurch in Memphis, Tennessee.

The confession occurred during a Sunday morning service a few weeks back.  Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew gives his take on how it went down.  He was not impressed.

Savage read a prepared statement which expressed contrition for the incident.  When he finished, the congregation gave him a standing ovation.  You can listen and judge for yourself:  Here is the video of the service.  Savage’s statement begins at around 16:00.

Aigner was not impressed.  He found it exceedingly disingenuous, a blatant example of corporate crisis management/damage control.  He called it a “dog and pony show” and I consider that quite generous.  I would have called it a shitshow.

In the moments leading up to Savage’s statement, the worship band performed “One Thing Remains”, an old favorite Passion song which has been done several times at my church over the years.  (Aigner attributes it to Jesus Culture and for all I know it may have been a Jesus Culture song originally.  But Hillsong, Passion, Bethel, Jesus Culture, etc. –they’re all basically interchangeable so that’s beside the point here.)

The point is this:  Worship is not about singing songs.  But you knew that already.  You didn’t need me or Aigner to tell you that.

Worship is about justice.

Worship and justice are inextricably linked.

Where there is no justice, there is no worship.

There was no worship at Highpoint Church that Sunday.

At this point let us back up a layer and have a look at the incident twenty years ago which gave rise to Savage’s statement.

The victim’s name is Jules Woodson.  At the time, Savage was a newly minted seminary grad in his first real job, youth pastor at what was then Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in The Woodlands, a suburb on the northside of Houston, Texas.  Woodson was a high school senior.  Here is her story in her own words, as told by Amy Smith at Watch Keep and by Dee Parsons at Wartburg Watch.  The story is deeply disturbing and contains graphic descriptions of Savage’s nefarious sexual doings, so be warned.

Here is the TL:DR version:  One night Savage gave Woodson a ride home from a youth group function at church.  He took the long way home, as it were, and brought her to a remote spot.  There he did the nefarious deed.  When he was done he suddenly fell to his knees and pleaded with Woodson to forgive him and to never speak of it again for as long as she lived.

Woodson came forward to the leadership at Woodlands Parkway.  They basically made her feel that she was complicit in all of this–at a minimum–because she did not resist.  Never mind that Savage was bigger and stronger than her, that they were in a remote spot where no one would have heard any cry for help from her, and for those reasons any attempt to resist on her part would likely have made things much much worse for her.

Church leadership did not report any of Savage’s doings to the authorities.  He was honorably discharged from his role as youth pastor, allowed to quietly leave after admitting only to a minor indiscretion.  Because Savage was an immensely popular pastor, Woodson was tried and found guilty in the court of the rumor mill.  But leadership kept mum on the reasons for Savage’s departure and allowed the rumors to fester.  Woodson was hurt grievously by this and couldn’t get out of that youth group fast enough.  She hoped that by going away to college in another city she could make a fresh start, but alas, no.  The demons unleashed by this incident followed her to college, and continue to haunt her to this day.

Savage, meanwhile, returned home to Memphis where he rose to prominence as a megachurch pastor, speaker, writer, blogger and podcaster.  Woodlands Parkway went on to become StoneBridge Church.  The incident was never spoken of again, until just recently when it resurfaced as part of the #MeToo movement.

Your love never fails, and never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love never fails, and never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love never fails, and never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love…

So goes the chorus of “One Thing Remains”.  But as the Church, as the movement that is evangelicalism, our love has failed, it has given up, it has run out on Jules Woodson.

That bothers me.

Does it bother you?

If not, then get alone with God, get on your knees–no, on your face–before God, until it does.

Evangelical worship songs nowadays are all basically a ginormous wall of sound and emotion, calculated to overwhelm your emotional resistance and force you to your knees with no choice but to surrender to Christ, to God and to God’s will for your life.  It is ridiculously easy to hear such a song, to experience the rush, and to think that you have met God, that you have worshiped.

But as stated earlier, worship is not about songs.

Worship is about justice.

Worship and justice are inextricably linked.

Where there is no justice, there is no worship.

You can sing the song and feel that you have encountered God.  But if you hear a story like this and your first reaction is “Why is she bringing this up now, after so many years?”

…if you believe that Woodson in any way brought any of this upon herself,

…if you were among those who gave Woodson’s attacker a standing ovation after his less-than-fully-ingenuous statement of contrition,

…if you believe that Savage should be allowed to continue in ministry as if nothing had ever happened, without experiencing any consequences, legal or otherwise, for his nefarious sexual doings,

…if you believe that #MeToo is basically just a bunch of bitter and disillusioned feminazis who sit around reading angry blog posts all day and need to just shut up and get a life and get over themselves already,

…if you believe, in this and other stories of this nature, that the victim’s duty to forgive outweighs the perpetrator’s duty to do the hard work of genuine contrition, repentance, and humble submission to the consequences of his misdeeds, whatever they may be,

…you have not worshiped.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

–Amos 5:23-24

The Scriptures are abundantly clear that God’s sympathies are with the powerless, the vulnerable, the oppressed and marginalized, those who do not have a voice in our world.  That would not be Savage or his enablers/defenders at Highpoint or the other churches where he served.

I wish to God that I could somehow reach out to Woodson and wrap my arms around her, reassure her that she is not alone, that she is not to blame, that she did nothing wrong, that Savage and his enablers/defenders do not speak for me or act in my name.  Alas, I cannot.  And that would be creepy anyway, almost as creepy as what Savage did to her in the first place.  Regretfully, all I can do from where I sit is write this angry blog post.

But you can join me.  You can join me in genuine contrition before God that this is what we as the Church and as an evangelical movement have come to:  that our love has failed, it has given up, it has run out on Woodson–and God knows how many other victims there may be out there who have yet to come forward.  You can join me in crying out to God for justice, for genuine contrition and repentance from the perpetrators and their invertebrate enablers, whoever they may be, however powerful and well-known they may be.  You can join me in speaking out, in having nothing to do with the deeds of darkness but instead exposing them to the light of truth.

My fellow evangelicals:  It’s put-up-or-shut-up time.  If you truly believe that, as the song says, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me”, now is the time to put some action to that–by joining your voices with those of the victims who cry out to God for justice, by joining in the fight for justice and raising your voices to let the watching world know that the victims are not alone and not to blame and the perpetrators and their spineless enablers/defenders do not speak for you or act in your name.

You’re on the clock, people.

Rachel Denhollander: There’s More to the Gospel than Forgiveness

Today I wish to direct your attention to a feature at Christianity Today on Rachel Denhollander, the first of disgraced doctor Larry Nassar’s victims to come forward and the last to give her impact statement at his trial.  The piece includes a lengthy interview with Denhollander in which she discusses her ordeal and how it affected her faith.

Denhollander’s statement drew significant attention in evangelical circles because it included an offer of forgiveness to Nassar.  Yet this was couched within the larger context of a plea for justice and repentance, which went largely unnoticed in the evangelical world.  This is one of the failings of evangelicalism with respect to sexual abuse:  Forgiveness is all that is discussed, as if the only thing that matters is the victim’s ability/willingness to forgive.  Little if any attention is given to justice or repentance on the part of the perpetrator.  The Sovereign Grace scandal was an example of this par excellence as many Neo-Reformed heavyweights rallied to the defense of C. J. Mahaney with no calls whatsoever for justice or repentance on his part.

Read:  My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness

Donald Trump’s War on American–and Christian–Ideals

By this point I am fairly certain that most if not all of the Donald Trump supporters have long since left the room, so I feel fairly safe in saying what I am about to say.

Now I generally do not talk about politics.  Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion is not a political blog, and I have no intention of making it thus.  I do not have the taste for it, and I feel that there is little to nothing to be gained by it.  Political subjects are excruciatingly contentious and political convictions are very deeply held; thus nothing can be accomplished by talking about politics save to convince the already convinced.  Although there is the possibility that some of you out there are sitting on the fence and open to being convinced by a reasonable argument.

Yet there are occasions when the need to talk about politics is inescapable.  These seem to be recurring with alarmingly increasing frequency in the present political climate.  Indeed there are times when silence on an issue is complicity with the worst among us.  So talk about politics we will, when I feel it is necessary.

ICYMI:  There was a government shutdown last weekend.  This was triggered–in part, at least–by inflammatory and racist remarks from our current president during an important meeting with high-ranking legislators.  Specifically, he referred to certain regions of the world as “shithole countries”.

So where to begin here?  I think it best to begin with the obvious.  The statement that we need more Norwegian immigrants and fewer from “shithole countries” is racist.  That’s all there is to it.

Some defenders of Donald Trump might argue that the above statement is not racist–it is just a way, albeit a crude one, of arguing that we need a more skilled immigrant pool.  It isn’t.  That argument goes like this:  “We need a more skilled immigrant pool.”

But is that really what Donald Trump said?  At first he owned it but later he attempted to backpedal, saying via Twitter that his comment was “tough, but this [the profanity] was not the language used”.  His supporters went on the offensive forthwith.  They heaped all manner of reproach upon Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator who was in attendance at the meeting in question and who first reported Donald Trump’s comments, impugning his integrity in no uncertain terms.  “Dicky Durbin,” they called him.  “Never trust a Democrat,” they said.  “All they do is lie, cheat, and steal.”

Yet this much is undeniable:  Whatever Donald Trump said, profanity or no profanity, it was so harsh that it was found shocking by all who were in the room.  And at no point has Donald Trump denied the underlying sentiment.

This is not without precedent.  While on the campaign trail Donald Trump said of undocumented Mexican immigrants:  “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”  He has routinely stoked the long-debunked conspiracy theory that Obama is of Kenyan citizenship.  He claimed that the “Central Park Five” were guilty despite DNA evidence which clearly indicated no such thing.  He attempted to implement an unconstitutional “Muslim ban”.  He equivocated on the Charlottesville protests/murders, saying that there was violence “on many sides”.  Given this prior record, Donald Trump has long since forfeited the benefit of any possible doubt.

Yet the issue here is not whether or not Donald Trump uttered a profanity in that meeting.  It is much deeper than that.  Our president believes that certain people are disqualified from immigrating to the United States by virtue of the living conditions in their country of origin.

There is no way in hell to square this with our deepest and most cherished ideals of who we are as America.  For immigrants who come here, it isn’t about healthcare or economic benefits or social services or whatever.  Well, there may be some who look at it in terms of all the great social services/healthcare/welfare programs that we have here and how can they get in here and mooch off of all that.  I don’t know.  But for the vast majority, I would be willing to bet that it is about the freedoms we all take for granted, freedom to speak, work, worship, and advance, and the possibility of a better life, if not for themselves, then for their children or their children’s children–all things they could never in a million years hope to attain in their countries of origin.  Our highest ideal of who we are as a nation is a place where all can come and better themselves, become whatever they are capable of becoming, and we are all the better for it.

Furthermore, there is no way to square this with who we are as Christians and as evangelicals.  The countries which Donald Trump disparages as “shithole countries” are places where evangelical Christianity is burgeoning.  In many parts of Africa, growth of evangelical Christian communities is off the charts.  Africa is on track to become the largest evangelical continent.  In other words, many of the people living in those “shithole countries” are our fellow evangelicals.  Evangelical Trump supporters:  That is worthy of pondering.  Will you sit back and let our president disparage your fellow evangelicals because they come from places with less than desirable living conditions?

But it’s bigger than that.  As Christians, we believe that all people are created in the image of God, and that all people are people for whom Christ died.  Regardless of the living conditions in their country of origin.

If you are an evangelical, ask yourself:  How do I square these things with Donald Trump’s belief that certain people are disqualified from immigrating to the United States by virtue of the living conditions in their country of origin?

And now I will answer you:  You don’t.

Think about this through the lens of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to support a president who besmirches your brothers and sisters in Christ because of the living conditions in their countries of origin…no.  There is no such case to be made.

Am I advocating open borders or an unrestricted immigration policy?  No.  Much of the Democratic rhetoric on immigration is just not consistent with present-day economic reality.  In prior generations, when our economy was largely industrial, anyone from any part of the world could come and plug right in to our industrial economic machine and make a decent living for themselves.  But that picture has changed and we need an immigration policy which takes that into account.  And yes, we do need a more skilled immigrant pool.

But it is inexcusable to speak of certain parts of the world with less than desirable living conditions as “shithole countries”, or to support and/or defend a president who does so.  All people, including those who come from such countries, are made in the image of God and are people for whom Christ died.  As such, they deserve better than that from our president, and they deserve better than that from us.

Charles Featherstone: Conversion Stories

Today I wish to direct your attention to a piece by Charles Featherstone entitled “Conversion Stories“.

The dominant narrative in evangelicalism regarding conversion is that you make a decision to receive Jesus Christ into your life.  Life breaks cleanly into two separate compartments at that point of decision:  A time of darkness and sin before you knew Christ and the time during which you knew Christ, when all is light and peace and clarity, sunshine and roses.  But for some people that conversion narrative just doesn’t fit.  For some people the moment of “decision” is a time when Jesus says “Follow me” and you have no choice in the matter.  For some people following Jesus does not lead to light and peace and clarity, but only to darkness, confusion, and trouble.  Yet you keep following just the same.

Jesus doesn’t ask us softly and tenderly. He comes up to us — at least some of us — and smacks us across the side of the head, strikes us blind, and commands “follow me,” after which we leave everything and follow Jesus. There’s no please, no request, just a demand that we cannot say no to. And we leave everything to follow Jesus.