Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Some lessons don't come easy

There are things we don't like to learn about ourselves. Danny Wright talks about when we need help seeing our flaws:

"I was standing ready to defend my ground to the death when it occurred to me that all three of my adversaries loved me and were not trying to win an argument, but were trying to expose a blind spot."

Recommended reading.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Immigration reform and Christianity 4 (of 4)

Previously: part 1 - justice in immigration reform, part 2 - mercy toward the poor in Mexico, part 3 - those already here

Having offered my take on what the biblical concepts of justice and mercy (especially toward the poor) might have to offer on the immigration reform debate, I'd like to now give you my thoughts on what shape a comprehensive solution to the immigration situation would take.

We have to deal with both the supply of and the demand for illegal labor. To that end, I’d like to see the border closed down tight (for many reasons) and labor laws strictly enforced. There should be serious consequences for hiring illegal laborers. Also, the loose ends of the government need to be tied up – e.g., the IRS needs to be required to let authorities know when they find that people are using falsified tax ID numbers (they currently don’t).

Next, having enforcement of labor laws in place, we can require those who are here illegally to pay an appropriate fine in exchange for a green card. It will take some time for our situation to settle down a bit as people realize that they will have to get legal to work. At the same time, we need to start working, again, on the supply side and require Mexico to make some serious, demonstrable economic reforms.

After that, we can implement a guest worker program as well as loosened requirements for permanent immigration from Mexico once we have an idea of how many more Mexican workers we can absorb. As I said last time, I would not allow legalized illegal immigrants to gain citizenship without returning to their country of origin and getting in the back of the line.

With all that said, sometimes we let the perfect get in the way of the good. Reasonable people in both parties disagree with each other and the other party about what a just as well as practical solution is, and in the end a bill that can get through Congress is going to be a compromise. We have to work for the best solution we can while accepting that we will not get everything we want. I think the most important thing to remember as we leave this topic is that, to God, why we do something is as important as what we do.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Between Two Worlds: Immigration Reform Bill

Justin Taylor has helpfully compiled the links to Hugh Hewitt's posts about the current immigration reform bill (after reading the entire thing in a weekend, God bless him).

Immigration reform and Christianity 3

Previously we've look at the notions of justice and mercy toward the poor in the immigration reform question. Now we'll look at the question: What do we do about the millions of illegal immigrants already in the US?

First, a little context to spread some light on my feelings. I know a lot of immigrants. A whole lot. At my work, you can’t throw a stick without hitting an immigrant (which, incidentally, they don’t like). They’re good folks who did things the right way – they waited their turn, go to great lengths to follow the rules, and live with all the hassles involved.

One in particular is a nice lady named Rosalind. She’s an immigrant from Great Britain. She waited more than 20 years for her sister to be able to join her here. There were other options, for instance her sister could have come on a tourist visa and overstayed, but they took the long and drawn out legal route. I’m sure you won’t be surprised that she, like so many legal immigrants, has some pretty sharp things to say about illegal immigration.

Legal immigrants will ask why illegal immigrants should profit from their crimes, and it is a reasonable question. It is also reasonable to ask, though, if it is practical to try to expel millions of people, most of whom are doing some kind of useful work.

Now, in these debates, the term “amnesty” gets thrown around a lot. Amnesty has been variously used, but in its truest form, it means to let an offender off without any punishment. A blanket amnesty of millions of people would send a poor message to everyone in this country and to those who might be tempted to enter the country illegally in the future – i.e., lay low for a while, they tend to grant amnesty every 20 years or so.

What is proposed in the current bill, however, is not amnesty in that sense. The proposal is that those who have been in the country illegally would have to pay thousands of dollars in fines to get citizenship. We can debate whether or not this is a sufficient penalty for illegally entering the country, but we should not call this amnesty, and continuing to do so will only continue our tradition of talking past each other on this issue.

Now back to the question: So how do we balance justice and mercy in this situation? My inclination is to allow those who are already in the country illegally an avenue to become legal residents (probably with accompanying fines). This ought to be pared with a crackdown on border security and a crackdown on employing illegal workers to prevent a fresh influx of people trying to get in on this deal and to prevent those who are here from thinking they can go on with business as usual. To preserve the notion that law breakers should be punished and to honor those who came here the right way, those here illegally should not, in my humble opinion, be able to earn citizenship without going back where they came from and getting at the back of the line.

There’s more to be said, but this has gone on long enough. Next time: my thoughts on what a comprehensive solution would look like.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Immigration reform and Christianity 2

What about the poor?

Last time we talked about how to apply the Christian Faith to the current debate over immigration reform, and we looked specifically at the biblical concept of applying the law equally to everyone regardless of their economic situation. But if we stop there, we’ve only considered half of the biblical data. The Lord commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves and specifically to do kindness to the poor. What does that involve in this situation?

First, we should say that the application of the law fairly doesn’t necessarily mean lacking mercy. In the current situation, illegal aliens are part of an underground economy that does not afford them the same protections that those in the legal economy have. This leaves them vulnerable to illegally low pay, unsafe working conditions, and the constant threat of loss of their pay and maybe even deportation if they complain. Changing this situation is a good thing for them.

Now we can move on to what else to do to help these people. First off, it is pathetic that a nation as poor as Mexico sees it's best avenue for economic growth to be sending its working class to another country. I know changing an economy is going to be hard work, but they are not just taking the easy way out but also the self-destructive way. As American citizens, we need to pressure our government to insist (and also assist) the Mexican government reform, realign, restructure – whatever is necessary – their economy. There has been progress in this area, but there is room for so much more.

Secondly, I am in favor of making it easier for Mexicans to enter the US to work. One of my chief complaints about the currently favored bill is that it makes it easier for skilled Mexican workers to come to the US. Both of them. Apparently the authors of this "compromise" think we're talking about China. We do not generally have a shortage of skilled workers, and Mexico does not have a surplus. We should allow in what they have.

I'm in favor of the temporary worker program and increased immigration (i.e., permanent residents on the road to citizenship) in numbers that our economy can handle (an important caveat). I'm not equipped to say how many Mexican workers/immigrants our economy can absorb, but we all know it is not an unlimited number. We must require our legislators to use common sense in this endeavor because over burdening our economy will help no one.

In summary, if our immigration laws are unjust (that is, they are not in accord with God's law), we can and should work to have them changed. But we have to be careful to change them wisely and not simply react emotionally to the situation.

But what about those who are already here? Let's talk about that next time.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Immigration reform and Christianity 1

Immigration reform is back in the news, and as usual there is argument over what the specifics in the proposed bill mean (and even over what they are). I want to think about what we should look for as we seek to apply the Christian Faith to this issue.

Two themes that ring clearly and often in the Bible, especially the Old Testament (OT), are helping the poor and justice. Helping the poor is based on the notions that the poor person is a valuable human being made in the image of God and that we who have been blessed by God must share that blessing (be it material or spiritual).

Justice is not always clearly understood. It is the notion that the law should be applied consistently and fairly. Certainly there is room for mercy, but there are times, especially on a national level, when the focus must be on properly applying the law. The Bible is clear that you should not pervert justice by giving the rich man preference over the poor man. It is equally clear that you must not give the poor man preference simply because he's poor.

So in our debate which tends to be between those who want to share what we have with the poor and those who want to apply the law consistently and fairly (of course, there are other sides, but we’re going to ignore now them for a variety of reasons), we have to ask if there is a balance between the two and where it is.

In my humble opinion, the rule of law has to be maintained. We live in a society of laws, but the respect for the law grows weaker by the day. Our duty to our God as well as to our families and neighbors is to seek to maintain a society where the law is respected and where, though there will always be criminals, in general people follow the law and expect others to do so. John Mark Reynolds has a lot to say about this topic

With that said, there are millions of desperately poor people who live just across the border. They need, and I think God requires, for us to do something to aleviate their situation if we can. But what can we do? We’ll talk about that next time.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My Rights

Verses I wish weren't in the Bible: 1 Cor 6:7

"Why not rather be wronged?" (1 Cor 6:7b)

This verse goes completely against my grain. I’m an American. I have rights! And frankly, St. Paul doesn’t care.

What he cares about is that I am a citizen of heaven and heir with Christ. Therefore I am expected to imitate Christ

"Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing..."
He modeled for us, and demands of us, a sacrificial love that knows no limits. He said that our love for one another would be a testimony to the world of Him.

So it would be better for us to allow a brother to harm us than for the lost around us to see the Church acting like everyone else who knows his rights.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Civil unions aren't good enough

In the news today: Gay couples ask Conn. court for marriage.

Connecticut has civil unions, but for some that is not enough. When all of this first came to a head, I supported creating some kind of legal package to allow domestic partners (of whatever stripe) to more easily set up things like power of attorney and survivorship rights that are generally granted married couples automatically.

However, when we started calling it "civil unions," it was clear that we were creating an almost-marriage arrangement, and it didn't take much prognostic ability to guess that such an arrangement wouldn't keep some people happy for long. Now some couples are suing for full marriage rights. I predict that the courts in Connecticut will find for these couples. I also predict that our society will soon have to really deal with this issue and stop trying to patch on half-measures.

Finally, as we argue, discuss, and debate, let's everyone try to remember this: On both sides of the debate are decent people, made in the image of God, trying to do what they honestly think is best. Some of these people will have a strong emotional stake in this issue. Let's show each other the respect, compassion, and Christ-like love we would like to be shown. Remember, "speak the truth in love."

For those who are interested, Stand to Reason has a number of informative articles on this issue on their website.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Everything I need to know, I learned from the Gospel

It told me I was a sinner in need of a savior.
-All have sinned ...
-There is none righteous...
-While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It tells me I am still a sinner in need of a savior.
-If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

It tells me God will be with me through my sin.
-He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
-For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son...
-Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

It tells me how to deal with sinners.
-Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

It tells me how to live.
-As I loved you, so you must love one another.
-I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

It tells me how to grieve.
-Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. ...We believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

It tells me there is hope.
-For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
-He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.

It tells me how it will end.
-In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

(The preceding was inspired by John Piper via Tony Reinke)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Religious bigotry and Christian behavior

“…We have arrived at the marks of dangerous religious bigotry: spreading sensationalistic lies, instigating fear in the public, and promoting paranoid conspiracy theories.” (Gene Edward Veith, World Magazine, quoted in the Summit Ministries journal, April 2007)

Some years back, shortly after her death, someone suggested that my great-grandmother had cheated on her husband. The family didn’t get angry. They laughed it off. To the people who knew her, the accusation was simply ridiculous.

When people say bad things about us, what we would like is for our friends and even our enemies to laugh it off. We want to “[keep] a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” and “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

The early Christians, when so accused, could point to their lives as proof that the slander was just that (for example). Today, I’m not sure that would be a useful apologetic. When Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens et al claim that religion is evil, we can certainly defend ourselves against their attacks, but what we cannot expect is that our friends, much less our enemies, will simply laugh off the accusation. There is too much truth in what they say because, frankly, there is very little difference between us and our non-Christian neighbors (be they Hindu, Muslim, or atheist). The lost look at us and all too often see nothing different than anyone else. I know this is the case with me.

We can’t do anything about so-called Christians who have no interest in living a godly life. But we can, and must, examine our lives and ask hard questions. We need to cast off those besetting sins and become the holy people that our Savior deserves and our neighbors need to see.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Popes and politicians

From Reuters: Pope warns Catholic politicians who back abortion

"Pope Benedict on Wednesday warned Catholic politicians they risked excommunication from the Church and should not receive communion if they support abortion.

"Under Church law, someone who knowingly does or backs something which the Church considers a grave sin, such as abortion, inflicts what is known as 'automatic excommunication' on themselves."
I know we're going to hear cries from the left, and maybe even some on the right, saying that the Pope is trying to tell people how to run their countries. He's not. He's simply telling us how he's going to run his church.

I have lots of differences with the Roman Catholic Church, but I very much appreciate the way they attempt to maintain discipline within their members. You can believe whatever you want, and you can do whatever you want, but if you want to call yourself a Roman Catholic, you'll need to follow these rules. I wish evangelicals were more like that.

Quite simply, if your belief system doesn't shape the way you live, you don't really believe it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Recommended listening

During last Sunday's Stand to Reason radio broadcast, Greg Koukl, in his opening monologue, gave a great way to explain why non-Christians are lost without sounding so judgemental to (post)modern ears.

Get it from their archive here (free registration required).

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"This earth..."

Hopefully you noticed my tag line: "Reflections on the journey from this earth to the next." I'm hoping "this earth" will catch some eyes. I almost put "this world" -- that's the way we talk, normally. By putting "this earth," I wanted to highlight that we too often talk as if heaven is our ultimate destination. In popular images, we picture the afterlife as floating on clouds, disembodied spirits living in a spirit world. To an extent, that will be true for a while, but after a time, the dead will no longer be disembodied spirits -- we will have physical bodies. They will be different from what we have now -- probably in ways we can't now imagine, besides not being affected by sin or age -- but they will be bodies.

These bodies may exist for a time in heaven, but the day will come when our new bodies will not live in heaven but on a new earth. The new earth will be a place without sickness or death or mourning. There will be no tears, and there will be no sin.

We live in a fallen world, and somehow the evil of this world gets transformed in our minds as matter being evil in itself. It is not. God made our material world and our material bodies and said, "It is good." Then Man rebelled, resulting in a fall not only for himself but for creation. One day this will be fixed by the power of the cross. Wrong will be made right, evil will be no more, and once again, God will be able to say, "It is good."

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Pascal's wager for Catholics

Dr. Francis Beckwith, professor at Baylor and just-resigned president of the Evangelical Theological Society, has announced that he is returning to the Roman Catholic Church (where he grew up).

There are people I dearly love who are Roman Catholic, and I certainly don’t want to offend them or anyone else, but I was saddened by this news. Frank Beckwith is a first-rate scholar, but even smart people can make bad decisions, and I think this is one.

After saying he believes both the Roman Catholic (RC) and protestant view of justification are both biblically defensible, he says, “I thought it wise for me to err on the side of the Church with historical and theological continuity with the first generations of Christians that followed Christ’s Apostles.”

I think he has chosen the wrong way to err.

The RC view of justification is essentially salvation by grace that is maintained by works. Those works are empowered by the Spirit and appointed by God, but in the end the human has a choice as to whether or not to participate, so the human is adding something to the cross to ensure his salvation. From the protestant perspective this is salvation by grace plus.

The protestant view is salvation by grace through faith alone. Any attempt to add personal merit to the equation is not only unneccesary, we believe it spoils the whole thing – that you either trust entirely in the work of Christ on the cross or you don’t. There is no in between.

These two views cannot coexist; one side is wrong. I am not going to get into the merits of each case. The question at hand is, to which side should you err? If you’re not as sure as is humanly possible, you have to decide which side offers the better approach.

If I may borrow from Pascal, let’s put it in terms of a wager. Which is the safest bet? If the RC view of justification is correct, a protestant who trusts in Jesus and lives a godly life will (under Vatican II) go to heaven. If the protestant view of justification is correct, a Catholic who faithfully obeys the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church will not.

Given this situation, the best bet to make is the protestant approach: trust in the death of Christ on the cross to pay for your sins, and love him with you whole life from there on out. If you’re wrong, you lose nothing.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Friday, May 4, 2007

Hitler, you, and me

Hitler is often used as an example of the greatest human evil. After all, his regime killed millions of people. But consider this:

Hitler didn’t kill a single person.

Neither Hitler nor his top henchmen killed anyone directly. They relied on ordinary people, good citizens, people raised in good Christian homes. They relied on people like you and me. The lesson of the Nazis is not simply the danger of letting angry demogogues take over your country. It is also that every day ordinary people can be led to do awful things.

This comes as a great shock to some people. Many see people as basically good, only going astray when some outside factor pushes them in the wrong direction.

This should not, however, come as a shock to Christians. Orthodox Christianity teaches that people have great evil inside them always looking for a new way to express itself. We believe the heart is wicked, deceitful above all things, and that there is no one who seeks God, none who does good.

Therefore we should expect that our friends and family and especially we ourselves will do bad things. We know the depths to which we can all too easily obtain, and so we should steel ourselves against the sin of our loved ones – it will surely come – and we should take steps to head off our own sin at the pass.

For my own sin, I have to learn to resist, flee, or avoid temptation – whatever will work in that circumstance.

For my neighbor’s sin I have to learn to say, there but for the grace of God go I.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Encourage each other

1 Thess 4:13-18 talks about the coming of the Lord. Paul tells us that the Lord will come and bring with Him those who have fallen asleep and then we will all be caught up in the air with Him. He ends with “therefore encourage each other with these words.” There are many things related to this truth to encourage us.

Encourage the mourning: Jesus is coming, and He’s bringing those who have fallen asleep. Those who have died in Christ are not lost to us. We are separated for a time, and then we will be together again.

Encourage the suffering: Jesus is coming, and He will bring justice for the oppressed. The Lord who said “vengeance is mine” will, in fact, settle all accounts on the Day of the Lord. Though we may suffer for a little while, He will make all right.

Encourage the slothful: Jesus is coming, and His reward is with Him. We have only a little while to work – whether it is the few short years of our lives or the days until the Lord returns. The time to work will end, and then we will be rewarded for what we have done – and asked about what we haven’t.

Encourage the weary: Jesus is coming, and His reward is with Him. Yes, the same words will give nourishment to the weary soul. We only have a little while longer to work, so do not grow weary of doing good. Then you will see the fruit of your labor.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Checking our presuppositions 2 of 2

I hadn’t planned on a part 2, but then I read this in Serious Times by James Emery White:

“Henry May captures the spirit of the Enlightenment as the belief in two propositions: first, that the present age is more enlightened than the past, and, second, that we understand nature and humanity best through the use of our natural faculties. (25)… The challenge this brought to the Christian faith was profound. … It was first sympathetically argued that the beliefs of Christianity were rational and thus able to stand up under any amount of intellectual scrutiny. It was then argued that the basic ideas of Christianity, being rational, could be derived from reason itself, independent of divine revelation. Then came the final step, the idea that reason was able to stand over revelation as judge.” (26-7)

The error of the Christians in that age was that they allowed the base assumption that reason was the ultimate form of knowledge. Once they allowed that, the progression to full blown naturalism was probably inescapable. Today we are at a similar point; though we still battle modernism, the new battle with postmodernism is in its formative years.

So we have to decide now – are we going to allow the presupposition that absolutely true knowledge is impossible? Fortunately, many Christians today have already answered “no.” But they are fighting an uphill battle as postmodernism has moved from the academy to the streets. This means that the average Christian in the pew can be a bystander no longer.

You ask, “So what can I do?” The book I mentioned above is a good place to start.