Jon’s Soapbox Chronicles: On Immigration and Playing God

Social media has been and always will be a wildfire with people throwing gasoline at each other thinking it’s water.  Now everyone is on fire, the place is full of smoke, and people are slowly and surely starting to choke out.  I’m probably one of the guys watching the blaze, hopelessly looking to tame the fire with a squirt gun in hand.

It’s time to get on my soapbox again.  The hot topic of the past month or three (heck, even since Trump’s presidency) is the crackdown on illegal immigration.  I can’t seem to go five minutes on Facebook (30 seconds on Twitter) without hearing something about the topic.

This is what I know (try not to hold my ignorance against me):

  • Travel Ban: certain countries, especially the pre-dominant Muslim ones, have had their issuing visas frozen so the Department of Homeland Security can assess screening and vetting procedures
  • The Wall: A wall is being built along the Mexican border that someone is paying for.
  • DACA: Stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – Program started by Obama that protected “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrant children, from deportation so they can study, work, and live the American dream. Requires a 2-3 year renewal. DACA was supposed to have ended back in March.
  • Zero Tolerance: Those who have crossed the border illegally or through non-US approved entry points are being prosecuted as criminals.

I’m going to focus on the Zero Tolerance Policy for my soapbox.

According to the policy, if families are caught crossing illegally, children are separated and placed with HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) and the ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement). They usually go to Customs and Border Protection facilities (the places with the cages you see in your social media posts – for no longer than three days), child immigrant shelters through the ORR (shelter facilities sponsored by nonprofits – fewer than 57 days, but some have been held for longer), and tent camps (one is in Texas, not a lot know what’s there).  During that time, the ORR tries to find family members, foster parents, or sponsors to take the children in.

The parents who committed any kind of crime, including crossing the border, is referred to the DoJ (Department of Justice), and at the end of the case, will be sent to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to see where they go from there.  Now, those being prosecuted as well as the children may seek asylum or other lawful protection.

Children are going through a lot while all of this happens.  They’re separated from their families, going through God knows what as they wait in these facilities.  They don’t know if they’re going to see their parents again, and they’re not certain of what’s going to happen to them.

Since then, Trump has signed an Executive Order, ending family separation and replacing that with detaining the entire family unit, unless keeping the family together would deem detrimental to the child.

By the way, you should take a look at our Immigration Court process.  It’s rather interesting.

Community

You preach, “This is Fake News.”  Stop it.  There may be few who are milking the cash cow by faking it, but it doesn’t mean that all of the children and families are faking it.

You preach, “This wouldn’t happen if they were to come in legally.”  That is true, and it’s a part of law, but what if immigrants are trying to flee from circumstances where their very lives are at stake, and America seems to be the safe haven?  Do you know how long it takes for someone to be naturalized?

(By the way, I don’t believe in open borders, but I wonder if the immigration process could be somehow simpler.)

Now, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (uscis.gov), there are several steps and a long wait before an immigrant becomes a US Citizen.  First, they must receive their Green Card, which enables them to live and work permanently in the United States.  Although they can live and work in the US, they are not official Citizens.

In order to get the Green Card, immigrants first must have a sponsor to petition for you and file the respective form (Alien Relative, Refugee Relative, Alien Entrepreneur, etc.).  Next, the immigrant must file the I-485 with the required documentation.  Processing of I-485, depending on workload, can take up to 8-10 months, according to current Fiscal Year.  If the application is approved and they get their Green Card, they must hold that status for at least 5 years, or 3 years if he or she is married to a US Citizen.

Then to be naturalized, the immigrant must be at least 18, be able to read, write, and speak basic English (not speak American), and be a person of good moral character.  Next is the 10 step naturalization process, and that involves filing the N-400 with required documentation, possibly attending a biometrics appointment, and being required to attend an interview with USCIS.  It takes up to 9-10 months for the approval process of the N-400.  If it’s approved, the immigrant must attend a naturalization ceremony (which could be on the same day as the USCIS interview), take the Oath of Allegiance to the US and complete the questionnaire on form N-445.  Voila! The immigrant is now a US Citizen.

You preach, “But these immigrants could be dangerous.” I get that too, but not every immigrant is a terrorist, gang member, drug smuggler, job stealer, lazy freeloader, or a combination of any and all of them.  Like I said before, they’re trying to find a new hope.

Can we treat them with kindness, respect, and dignity?  Why not treat them as human beings instead of animals or people with little worth?

You preach, “This happened through the Obama, and previous, Administrations.”  Okay, and?  If it was initiated by a previous Administration, the current Administration should have the power to end or revise it.  Stop the self-righteous indignation against people you don’t like and call your representatives.  It still doesn’t make separating children any better.

You preach, “If they want to get into America, they must conform to American law.  It’s biblical.”  

Just let me say this:

The Bible should never be used as a tool to fulfill and or justify your own personal agenda; that is never the Book’s intent.

We saw this with AG Sessions’ usage of Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (verses 1-2).

Who wrote Romans? Paul to the Roman church.

When? During the reign of Emperor Nero.  You know, the guy who fiddled when Rome burned and then blamed it on the Christians and their way of life.  Yet Paul tells the church to be subject to Roman authority.  Crazy, isn’t it?  He says later in the passage to also pay taxes, revenue, respect, and honor to those they owe; it’s an outward sign of inward submission to God, the ultimate authority.  (On a side note: Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you should just up and disrespect all authority).

Sessions’ interpretation of Romans 13 says that immigrants illegally crossing the border are disobeying God, His nation, and His authority and therefore incurring His judgment.  What he has conveniently forgotten, however, is the next part of Chapter 13:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (verses 8-10).

Love without condition.  Having compassion and empathy.  And who is your neighbor?  Anyone who is hurting (The Parable of the Good Samaritan).  You can’t choose who you unconditionally love.  Jesus unconditionally loved us; we should probably do the same.

Flags

I believe the heart of the problem, and the second part of my soapbox, is that we’re either trying to play the role of God or we’re worshipping the wrong god, and that leads to serious ramifications in how we treat those around us.  This deity power struggle has happened ever since the beginning of time when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Remember, God said eating of the tree would result in death, but the serpent said eating the fruit would make them become godlike (Genesis 3).

To Adam and Eve, what God gave them, everything under the sun and moon and closeness with Him, was not enough.

Sin.  It causes the weakening of relationship, the introduction of death, the destruction of trust, the ripping of innocence, and the belittling of the Imago Dei (the Image of God in which we are created).  And sin and its capabilities are in every heart.  We see throughout the Bible what happens when we try to become a god, worship the wrong god, or when we worship ourselves; it usually never ends well.  We steal, kill, destroy, enslave, injure, hate, blackmail, and violate one another to either fulfill our own agendas or our “god’s” desires.

Sin Quote

These gods are manmade and take multiple forms.  They are silent, blind, deaf, and lifeless, and those who worship them become exactly like them (Psalm 135:15-18), yet the more we give, the more they take and demand.  We don’t speak out against injustice because our “idol” feasts on injustices.  We don’t see the tears, the struggle, and the frustration of those around us because the “idol” has us looking the other way.  We don’t hear the cries, the screams, and the protests because the “idol” drowns it out with entertainment and the status quo.  Eventually, we will become lifeless.

When we worship our “gods,” people around us are seen as “less than” and subjects made to cater and bow to every whim and desire.  People become commodities, bargaining chips, chess pieces, expendable and replaceable pawns.  To them, people are only good for one thing; their bodies.  They don’t care about their minds, souls, stories, and spirits.

So when we mock, tease, and taunt immigrants, we’re saying that they don’t have any value or any worth, except to waste space.

Let scoffers scoff but let the willing consider the evidence: Madness has descended on our culture in a blinding fog.  Pure madness. Unreasonableness. Irreconcilability. Callousness. The devil has come to make animals of image bearers. This he does by convincing us we’re gods. – Tweet, Beth Moore

I submit to you that we are worshipping America, though it pains me to say.

We worship the Constitution, our rights, and our country, sometimes, at the expense of people’s rights and welfare. I mentioned in my first Soapbox Chronicle that there’s nothing wrong with loving our country (patriotism); it becomes dangerous when we worship it (nationalism).  Isn’t it funny that when you worship America, people end up getting hurt in the process?

Do we care for the homeless and poor, regardless of whether they’re veterans, citizens, or immigrants?  Are we looking out for the needs of others above ourselves?  What, or who, are our laws and statutes truly benefiting?

The curse of sin in our world has broken us, emptied us, made us shells of who we were meant to be, yet we try to fill that void with things that supposedly give us worth, which most will turn to grasping power, control, and money at the expense of those around us.  The things we are capable of doing for more money, more control, and more power…and right now, you’re probably thinking of those injustices.

What are we worshipping when we want to make America first, but sacrificing people in the process?  What are we worshipping when we go to the nations, but turn a blind eye to our domestic neighbors?  What are we worshipping when we do unspeakable things, up to and including murder?  What are we worshipping when we turn against those who are trying to make better lives for themselves and their families?

What we fight for, or defend against, show what God (or gods) we serve.

I’m getting off my soapbox.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:11-14).

Until next time, remain hidden in the shadow of His wings,

 

– Jon Pannell

 

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On Candidates and Forgetfulness

Hello reader!

May the Lord shine His face upon you and those you know in 2016.  May He do something so mind blowing to you this year.

This past Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  This was also the day that Donald Trump came to speak at Liberty University’s Convocation.  If you’ve been living under a rock under all this time, let me fill you in.  D. J. Trump (shortening his name just because) is one of the Republican candidates running for the presidency.  He’s a very wealthy businessman who is…quite interesting.

He’s known by social and mainstream media to be a misogynistic, racist, xenophobe who has no filter and offends anyone and everyone he talks to with his words, even standing behind his idea to build a wall to seal off the Mexican border and to make Mexico pay for said wall.

DJTRUMP

“I should call my campaign ‘Playing the Trump Card…'”

The reaction by students and alumni were…quite interesting as well.

Some students decided to protest the Convocation, even making their presence known on social media (powerful tool, isn’t it?).  Others made fun of his use of “Two Corinthians,” while others expressed their shame of being Liberty students/alumni.

Convo

Liberty University Convocation.  Look at all those people!

Oh, I forgot to mention that some didn’t like Jerry, Jr.’s introduction of him, which paints D. J. Trump in a very different picture that the media.  People were wondering why would Jerry, Jr. give a very warm welcome to him (My opinion: he kind of has to).

The big question was:  Why would Liberty invite a “known racist” to speak at Convocation on MLK, Jr. Day?

Now, I don’t care if you support Trump or not.  This post isn’t about him.

Forgetfulness, I believe, is one of the most powerful and potent weapons in Satan’s arsenal.  You would have moments with God where it seems like you and He are like best friends.  Then you have those dark moments where it seems that God is absent and nowhere to be seen.  You rail against Him, shout at Him, become angry with Him.  The enemy pours more and more lies in your heart and mind, tempting you to walk away from Him, to resent Him.

The enemy uses forgetfulness in multiple ways.  He’ll have you forgetting His promises to you, His promises in His Word, the times where He has forgiven you, the times where He delivered or healed you.  He’ll have you forgetting your mission to make disciples, to love one another, and to love your enemies.

So many of us, myself included, are forgetful.  Take this past Monday, for example.  We forget that D. J. Trump is a human, just like us, created in the image of God, just like us.  We love to point out his flaws and even the flaws of others, but we forget to check ourselves AND forget to love and pray for them.

Think about it; instead of complaining about D. J. Trump, have you ever thought to pray for Him, that He would get rocked with the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ?  Or is he beyond help?

Let me tell you this, friend.  No one is beyond help.  Not him, not Bernie Sanders, not even Hillary Clinton.  The Gospel is for everyone.

MLK

Don’t let someone keep you from celebrating a legacy.

Satan had us forgetting that Trump is created in the image of God and needs Jesus just as much as, well, all of us.  And guess what?  He succeeded.  And another thing as his added prize:  We started to worship politics and our self-righteousness instead of Jesus.

Don’t get me wrong, there are reasons to protest and be concerned about certain people, places, and things, but if Jesus is not in your words and actions, then what are you trying to prove?  What kind of change are you trying to make without Him?

Some people are like brick walls, which can only be broken down with Jesus holding the sledgehammer (don’t run that with Scripture).

Peter wrote that the God of the universe has given us divine power through knowing Him, and this power helps us to live godly lives.  When He saved us, we become “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire,” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Christ followers and partakers of the divine nature, we must hold to these qualities and increase in them, so that we may be effective in our lives and have a closer relationship with God.  But, there’s a consequence if we don’t hold to those values.

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Satan, your nemesis, wants you to lack in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.  He wants you to question your identity in Christ, as well as make you ineffective and unfruitful.  You were blind, now you can see, but Satan wants to blur your vision so you can’t see clearly and eventually wind up fighting the wrong target(s).

He will stop at nothing for you to forget why you are following Christ and completing His mission.  He will turn your attention to vilifying and berating others instead of encouraging and loving them.  He will get you worshipping other things, politics included, instead of God.  He will get you to engage in questionable and sinful behavior instead of seeking after God.

But let this be an encouragement.  Whether it’s someone like D. J. Trump or your next door neighbor, treat them with a Christ-like love.  Treat them the way you want to be treated.  Pray for them like you would desire to be prayed for.  If you protest, remember to do it out of love and not to fulfill some kind of agenda.

Don’t let the enemy injure or kill you with forgetfulness.  Know who you are, whose you are, and what you are meant to do in this life.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life… – Philippians 2:14-16a

Don’t be like the Israelites, whom after escaping from Egypt, longed to go back, forgetting that they were once former slaves.

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

Jon Pannell

P. S. — Disagree with me? Let’s talk about it.

Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed…in America!

It’s been a while since I last wrote as life continues to come at me with uncertainty after uncertainty.  But I think I’ve embraced it.  Life is full of surprises and unexpected turns, but trust God in the process and everything will be great!

Now, to the matter at hand.  I’m going to talk about a word that American Christians tend to, in my opinion, overuse:

Persecution.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, we come to the story of Kim Davis, a lady who refused to give out wedding licenses to same sex couples in Kentucky.  She was therefore sentenced to jail, but was later released.

The world of social media was split in its judgments.  One side called Davis a hero for standing up for her beliefs, the other side called her a religious bigot and attempted to dredge up her past, while a third side said that jail time was justified as she was breaking the law.  Oh, I forgot to mention that a fourth side wondered why she didn’t quit or get fired.

Whatever your stance is on the matter (there will be no debate on this here), I want to talk about the definition and reality of persecution. Now, I have to be careful here as I do not want to water down or compromise what persecution really is.

Turn to Matthew 5:10-12.  This is shortly after the beginning of Jesus’ three year ministry.  He speaks to large crowds and He calls His first disciples.  In this passage, He preaches the Sermon on the Mount, starting with the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers.

I want to focus on the last two Beatitudes:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…

Persecution in the Greek is διώκω (dioko), meaning to pursue in a hostile manner.  It means being forcefully dislocated or relocated on some basis.  In this case, Jesus says you are blessed if you are being pursued because of your righteousness (which comes from believing and having a relationship with Him) and it results in you having to forcefully leave your current location.

We see the perfect example of this in the early church of Acts.  We see Stephen, one of the first deacons, performing signs and wonders among the people (Acts 6).  The religious elite of the day argued with him, but they couldn’t stand against his God-bestowed wisdom.  He was put on trial and he gave them an earful, even calling them stiff-necked people who resist the Holy Spirit.  They sentenced him to death by stoning.

After this execution, Saul passionately persecuted the church, having men and women who followed The Way dragged off into prison (Acts 8).

**Side note:  Notice that there are two types of people who can persecute you:

  1. Those who hate the name of Christ and will do whatever they can to eliminate any mention of Him.
  2. The religious elite, who believe that the traditions of men are immeasurably better than a relationship and belief in Jesus Christ.**

Was that the end of the church?  Of course not!  The people of the church spread the Gospel and preached the Word, even as they were scattered.  The church kept growing, and multiplying.  Christians have been martyred for their faith.  They were put on trial, tortured, whipped, beaten, and killed for believing in the lordship of Christ.

True persecution is when you are forced out of your current location to another location and spreading the Gospel during that time.

Look here, just because persecution is alive and well, that does not mean that you stop sharing the Gospel.

…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Ah, this is such a refreshing promise from Jesus.  If you are persecuted, guess what?  You get the kingdom of heaven!  That is your inheritance as a son and daughter of God!  Let this be an encouragement to you!

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21

Blessed are you when others revile you…

The word “revile” in the Greek language is ὀνειδίζω (oneidizo), meaning reproach, dishonor, or showing disapproval or disappointment.  This can come through insults, loss of friends, and threats.

Now notice that being reviled is NOT the same as being persecuted.

Being unfriended or unfollowed on the basis of faith or disagreement. Reviled.

Being ripped apart on social media. Reviled.

Having articles written about you in a negative light. Reviled.

…and persecute you…

Receiving death threats and being forced to move for your faith.  That’s persecution.

Someone physically chasing you and possibly giving you a physical beatdown on the basis of your faith.  That’s persecution.

Having your church or house burned down or closed on the basis of your faith.  That’s also persecution.

Here’s my point.  A lot of American Christians got it mixed up.  Yes, Christianity is unpopular, but that has always been the case.  Christians were persecuted and reviled all the time in the early church, but that caused the church to grow and multiply.  When Christianity was recognized through Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 AD and therefore stopped being a persecuted religion, that was when Christianity started to become stagnant.

If you look around the world and witness churches being destroyed and Christians being killed by the hands of terrorist organizations like ISIS, you will realize that you are still blessed to be in this nation.  Trust me, friend, it’s not as bad as you think it is!

Inigo

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s always the opportunity for Christianity to become truly “persecutable” in America.  I just don’t think it’s that bad now.

…and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…

It’s going to happen.  If you’re a Christian and hold on to the Word of God as the authority of your life, you basically have a large target on your back.  People will say things about you.  It will hurt.  It will suck.  It will cause you to question yourself.  But it is also a mark that you are a disciple of Christ.

If you are living righteously through Christ and no one can dig up any dirt on you, people will make stuff up to put you in a bad light.  It’s called slander, libel if it is published.  It happened to Stephen (Acts 6:9-14), Naboth (1 Kings 21), and Jesus.

Notice that I said if you are living righteously:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 1:12

Here’s my next point, and I’ll draw this from 1 Peter 4:14-16:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murder or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

I’m going to tell you something really quick.  If you suffer, are persecuted, and reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed.  However, if you suffer because you are an unloving jerk, then you deserve it.  End of story.

Folks, being persecuted and being reviled are two different things, but they yield the same result.  Both of them, if done for the sake of Christ, will give Christ glory and will remind us that we are not of this world.  Most “persecution” in American culture is mainly being reviled if even that.

Persecution

In essence, don’t be a jerk in the name of Christ.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. – John 15:18-19

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…

This is the promise for those who suffer by other people in the name of Christ.  You’ll have a great reward in the next life!  Isn’t that awesome?  At your lowest point, when Satan and others get you down and it’s hard to keep a smile on your face, know that you have a hope, your story is still being written, and that this world is not our home!  Keep preaching and presenting the Gospel, and don’t be a jerk about it!

(the apostles after being beat and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus)  Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  And every day, in the themple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. – Acts 5:41-42

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

Jon Pannell

Got questions, comments, or concerns?  Let me know.  Let’s talk.

Church, Be Like Jesus!

Church, I believe there is still hope for our nation.

Okay, call me an optimist, or maybe even delusional, but I truly believe that America can turn around and experience an earth shattering revival that reaches the world.  Why?

Because hope has a name, and His name is Jesus.

As you all know, there have been tons of stories and issues in the past few weeks from the news and social media:

  • ISIS continues to persecute and kill Christians and those who do not adhere to their radical faith and beliefs.
  • The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • The debate of the Confederate Flag; is it relevant, offensive, and necessary?
  • SCOTUS’s decision to legalize gay marriage in every state in the nation in spite of individual state views.
  • Stories of police brutality.
  • Stories of riots.
  • Instances of racism, whether real, perceived, or made up.
  • Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner
  • The Patriot and Freedom Acts

There have been a lot of contention and heated debates everywhere on social media, resulting in choice words, unfollowing, unfriending, and just flat out name calling.  People are slashing and wounding others within the safety of being behind their screens while the rest of us watch and weep as we attempt to make peace and seek unity.

There are also Christians who insist we are in the end times, that the events of Revelation, 1 Thessalonians, the Gospels, and Daniel are coming to pass.

“The Antichrist is soon coming,” they say, “and it’s (insert person here and reason why).”

“America is becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“This nation is going to hell in a handbasket!”

“There’s no more hope for America!”

But I believe that there’s hope for this nation, and His name is Jesus.

American Church

Church, we forget (and often!) that Jesus has already won.  Instead, we have a tendency to complain and speculate about the current events and issues in our nation.  We withhold love and grace that Christ and instead Bible bash.  We have these unrealistic expectations for nonbelievers and even fellow Christians to be holy as we, not Christ, are holy.  We get all uppity and hurt because sinners are acting like sinners; it’s in their nature.  In our pride, we tell God that we can do His job better than He can.

We mercilessly and remorselessly limit and manipulate the power of God to make it only “effective” through our “spiritual checklists.”  We make others put on a show to please God as we do the same thing.  Our testimony becomes irrelevant as our works and deeds seem to show a Christian life, but our spiritual and moral lives are bankrupt. It is a religious circus doomed to fail.

We judge others because they sin differently than we do.  We try to take the speck of sawdust out of other people’s eyes when we have enough planks in our own eyes to build a log cabin.

I’m working this summer at a Christian camp.  Here, we meet kids and staff members who have great relationships with Christ.  But we also have those who come from deep, dark stuff bringing stories of abuse, addiction, insecurity, and love withheld or revoked with them.  The staff and I encounter real questions and legitimate concerns.  Their brokenness breaks my heart, but we get to show them Jesus, the Healer of our hurts, the only One who can put us back together into something new.

All of a sudden, the desire to be right fades away.  Contention and chaos cease.  People are now seen as God sees them, as humans with flaws who have been wounded and are looking for answers and in need of a Savior.  This, Church, is where we can save the day, by bringing them Jesus.

Bible

Take a look with me to Matthew 9:10-13.  Here, Jesus reclines with His disciples as well as tax collectors and sinners:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when He heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus enjoyed having company with sinners…and we should too!

Would you look at that?  Jesus hangs out with the outcasts, the undesirable, and the lowest of the low.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners are some of His favorite people.  If Jesus was born and living in this day and age, I think He would be in a homeless shelter, talking with the people there.  He would have coffee and conversation with someone in the sex industry.  I would even say that He would share a meal with corrupt business men.  He would be the one who would hug people at a gay pride parade/festival.

I would go even further to say that you would rarely see Him at church.

Before you dismiss me, let me clarify.  The church in the Greek does NOT mean a building.  The church is a living and breathing organism of a people called out that meet together to build one another up and to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus often went to dark places to shine His light.  I mean, He cast out demons for crying out loud!  Now that Jesus is not physically on this earth, we as the Church (universal) have a responsibility to go to those dark places and do what Jesus did; love what He loves and to be the light of the world.

I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. — Isaiah 45:3

Church, darkness rarely finds its way to the light.  Let’s stop praying for people to come to church and instead be the answer to that prayer by doing something!  Let’s go into those dangerous places and shine our God-given light!  After all, if Christ is for you, who can be against you? (Romans 8:31)

The religious took notice…and asked “Why?”

The Pharisees are interesting people.  They know the Word, they’re zealous, follow the commandments, and are often leaders of their time.  In a way, they’re just like you and me.

They’re also like you and me in the sense of hypocrisy.  Some of Jesus’ harshest words were for the Pharisees and religious officials.  These guys upheld the rules (613 statutes of Mosaic Law) and traditions of men over love, justice, and mercy.  They honor God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him.  They shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  They are blind guides leading the blind.  They withhold love and grace from other people and expect them to act according to their standards of holiness.

Want to take a quick test to see if you’re a Pharisee?  Replace the mention of Pharisees with yourself.  Take some time to reflect, pray, and repent.  I’ve been guilty of this as well.

The religious look at those who are living for Christ and ask others, and God, “Why are they doing this?  Don’t they know about this person or that place?  God won’t even go near them!”  They claim to be God’s spokespeople.  Don’t be that person.  Ever.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. — Galatians 6:1

Who needs a doctor? The well…or the sick?

It’s interesting how Jesus presents this statement in verse 12.  Obviously, you need a doctor when you’re sick.  If you have the life-threatening sickness of sin, then you need the Great Physician, who is none other than Jesus.  The people Jesus built relationships with were sick:  the demon-possessed, the prostitute, the dishonest, etc.  The Pharisees were sick as well, but with a different and dare I say worse illness.

Self-righteousness.

The Pharisees thought they were the special group that’s going to get all the glory from God when they passed away.  They kept the law and saw themselves as more righteous and holy for keeping the law than the layperson.  They looked down on sinners.  They were prideful and competitive.  They had the whole “holier than thou” mentality.

The similarity between the sinner and the self-righteous is that they are both sinners, sin has made them sick and they need the healing power of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

The difference between the two is that the sinner acknowledges their sin and seeks Christ while the self-righteous deny that anything is wrong with them.

It’s amazing to know how sinners can see the face of God and repent while the self-righteous see the face of God and not even feel remorse.

Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. — Matthew 21:31-32

Mercy, or Sacrifice?

The Pharisees were notorious for stepping over people to accomplish the Law.  In essence, they sinned while trying to get people to not sin.  They tie up unbearable burdens on other people, but are not willing to lift a finger to help them (Matthew 23:4).  They think that God wants sacrifice over mercy and that justify their actions.  In other words, God will grant you mercy if you follow the Law and traditions of man with no help from us.

But Jesus flips it.  Instead of forcing people to conform to our expectations, we should see people as God sees them and have compassion on them.  He gave us love, grace, and mercy in our brokenness and sin; why not do the same thing to others?  It’s God’s job to remake us into His image and set us apart.

So what?

With the nuttiness going on around this nation, we need to stop living our couch-potato, lukewarm, defeatist, fatalistic, and self-righteous “Christianity”:

  • We cry “Injustice!” but do nothing else.
  • We are “slacktivists,” where we throw some of our money at a cause, but do nothing else.
  • We obsess over the end times and wait for Jesus to come back, but do nothing else.
  • We debate over doctrine and theological issues while attempting to shun heretics, but do nothing else.
  • We read the Word of God, but do nothing else.
  • We obsess over getting ready for Christ to return, but do nothing else

As Christians, we are called to be Christ-like in everything we say and do.  When we meet people, they should encounter Jesus who says, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  We need to get up, repent, and get our hands dirty as we win souls for Christ.  Let’s jump into this harvest.  Let’s venture into the dark places.  Let’s get out of our hypocrisy, get away from our computer and phone screens, and make disciples.

Don’t. Give. Up.

People should hate you because of their hatred for Jesus, not because of you being a jerk.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see this nation have an encounter with Christ and for true revival to break out!  Who’s with me?

Until next time, be hidden in the shadow of His wings,

Jon Pannell

P.S. — Enjoy this song from Casting Crowns. Also, let me know if you have any questions!