Am I My Brother's Keeper?

There is a famous line in Genesis 4. It says, “Am I my brothers keeper?” The line comes after Cain brutally murders his brother Abel. God asks, “Where is your brother?” The only way Cain can think of answering is by “minding his own business,” and pointing the finger at the brother he just killed.

Most of us are familiar with this section of scripture and this verse in particular. What we’re not familiar with is how to handle it. It’s easy to take the side of Cain. In a culture of hyper-individualism we shake our heads in agreement that we are not our brothers keeper. We think to ourselves, “their business is their business. I don’t need to worry about what they’re doing or not doing.” And when we do poke into someone’s business, we’re often told, “mind your own business!” Maybe there are scenarios where we ought to mind our own business, but more times than not we’re simply abdicating a responsibility that is ours to keep. We are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper.

The church is the family of God (Mark 3:31-35). This means that if we are a Christian, our brothers and sisters are not only those who are related to us by blood, but are also those related to us by the blood of Christ spilled on the cross. To be a member of this family means that we care for one another. It means that we are in one another’s business–not for the sake of gossip, slander, shame, ridicule, or scorn– but for the sake of building up. It means that we care whether or not our brothers and sisters are representing Christ in their day to day lives. 

Jonathan Leeman, in writing about church membership, puts it like this: “Church membership is not about additional requirements. It’s about a church taking specific responsibility for a Christian, and a Christian for a church."*

“Church membership is not about additional requirements. It’s about a church taking specific responsibility for a Christian, and a Christian for a church."

The gospel of Jesus frees us to love one another in ways that we would not have previously. It frees us to celebrate with our brothers and sisters in their victories, and weep with them in their failures. It frees us to ask questions, and to have questions asked of ourselves. The church is to be a family like none other on this earth. It is God’s grace that we get to care for one another in such a way that doesn’t promote our individualism, but exemplifies his kingdom instead.

*Quoted from Leeman's book: Church Discipline.

It Is Finished

Today is Good Friday.

Year after year, as this day comes around, I can't help but feel the irony in it. How can it be called "good," the day Jesus brutally died on a cross in my place? But the longer I follow Jesus, and the more I become aware of my need for this sacrifice, the more the "goodness" of this day settles in. 

This morning, I sat down to read John 19–John's account of the crucifixion. I had to read it a couple of times. The account is so brief, yet at the same time filled with so much. I was struck by the authority that Jesus displayed throughout the ordeal. He tells Pilate, who believes he is the one with the power to crucify or release Jesus, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11). It's a reminder to me that Jesus was not coerced in dying for my sins, but rather sweetly surrendered to the will of his Father. He willingly–even joyfully–gave himself (John 19:30; Hebrews 12:2).

The moment which fills my heart with most joy on this good day, however, is the moment when Jesus declared, "It is finished." 

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), "I thirst." A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, "It is finished," and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

This is the truth that I pray sinks into my heart (and yours) this Easter weekend. The declaration of, "It is finished," means precisely that. All that's needed to be accomplished has been accomplished at the cross. There is nothing more for you or me to do. Salvation is complete, and all we do is now done in response to this beautiful reality. 

I ran across an article this morning that saddened my heart. The article, accompanied by video, displays devout catholics in the Philippines crucifying themselves and self flagellating. The article goes on to say that they do this for "luck or divine intervention, or in gratitude of previously miraculous help." The ceremony has a fifty year history behind it. This isn't what Christ intended when he said, "It is finished."

Today, as you contemplate the cross, remember the significance of those three words. It is in them that the horrendous nature of this day, as it occurred over 2,000 years ago, is remembered as a day that is "good."     

Remember The Saint

I’m a fan of Saint Patrick’s Day. Any holiday that has corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, a good dark beer (by that I mean something other than Guinness), as it’s main course, is a pretty good holiday in my books.

But let’s not forget, it’s important to remember the saint.

This morning, with my kids decked out in green,  we all gathered around the kitchen table to read about Saint Patrick. The story of his life is remarkable, and should be of great encouragement to any Christian.

The Life of Patrick

Saint Patrick is believed to have lived from 389-461 A.D. He was born in Britain, and lived on its western coast–a part of Britain that was always susceptible to attack from Irish pirates. Inevitably, it happened. One day, at the age of 16, while Patricks parents were in town, the Irish raiders attacked, capturing Patrick and thousands of others from surrounding villages. They would all be dragged back to Ireland and forced to be slaves.

Initially, Patrick was infuriated. Nearly starving and always cold (and certainly without corned beef and beer), he hated the Irish and wanted only to get away from them.

But after some time, Patrick’s heart began to change. Though not entirely sure of what was happening, he was suddenly and painfully aware of his own sin and unbelief. The truths his parents taught him about God as a child were churning in his mind. The Spirit was working deeply in his heart, showing him his own need for salvation. As Patrick’s heart grew softer, the anger and bitterness that he once experienced was replaced with a deep awareness of the unwavering grace and hand of God which had sustained him through the difficult life he was now living. It was in this season of darkness that Patrick experienced the loving hand of the Father and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

After six years in the northern part of Ireland, Patrick finally had the chance to go back to Britain. Though risky, he snuck onto a ship that would carry him back to his homeland. Patrick was excited to be home and rejoiced at the opportunity to reunite with his family and friends, but life was not the same. Patrick couldn’t get the people of Ireland out of his mind.

One night, while Patrick was sleeping, he dreamed that the people of Ireland were asking him to come back. Another night he dreamed that the voices asking him to come back to Ireland was actually the voice of Jesus telling him that Ireland was where he was to return.

For the next several years, despite the disapproval of family and friends, Patrick trained, studied, and prepared to return to Ireland as a missionary to the Irish people.

When Patrick returned to Ireland, he experienced almost immediate success. A local ruler, by the name of Dichu, heard the gospel and was baptized. After him, thousands more followed, turning away from worshipping pagan idols to worshipping the true and living God. Patrick’s mission wasn’t easy though. As time went on, he met regular opposition and anticipated his death on an almost daily basis. Patrick was robbed, beaten, taken back into slavery, and nearly killed on 12 different occasions. He did not waiver though. Patrick said, “Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, but I fear none of these things. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty, who rules everywhere...as the prophet says, ‘Cast your cares upon God, and He shall sustain you.’”

Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, but I fear none of these things. I have cast myself into the hands of God Almighty, who rules everywhere...as the prophet says, ‘Cast your cares upon God, and He shall sustain you.

Patrick’s life as a missionary to Ireland made a lasting impact. He fought fiercely against the Irish slave trade, and persisted in preaching the gospel. In Patrick’s 40 years as a missionary to the Irish, thousands upon thousands of people became followers of Jesus. His life is an example to us of the life of sacrificial service that Christ has called each of his disciples to.

Remember The Saint

Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

Saint Patrick is a man of great faith who has gone before us. He was one who lived what Jesus taught, and gave himself for the sake of others. Patrick understood the words of Jesus: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).

So tonight, I hope you enjoy your corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and beer. I know I will. But as you do, don't forget to remember the saint.

Little Moments

Last night, our Gospel Community gathered, and we concluded our discussion with this: it isn't up to us to save the world.

That might sound like a no brainer way to conclude a discussion. We're certainly well aware of this reality. We know that Jesus is the world's only hope for saving the world, but this doesn't stop us from thinking that we need to figure out some way–some really big way–to save it ourselves. 

The question that sparked this mind-blowing conclusion was, how can we display generosity in a practical way that begins to influence and change our city with the gospel? After a few moments of silent thinking, a few answers were given, and then finally the golden answer, "We don't need to figure it out right now."

Little Moments

Our tendency in life is to think we need to do something big, and that we need to do something big right now. It's a "go big or go home" mentality that, more times than not, leads to nothing getting done. But this isn't the way Jesus intended for his disciples to function.

Jesus wants us to be aware of the little moments. 

When the disciples were arguing about what it means to be great, he tells his disciples that greatness is defined by service, and not just service, but serving little children (Mark 9:37). Jesus's point is that serving those who are easily and quickly overlooked is a big deal in the economy of his kingdom. 

In another instance, Jesus says:

'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

In other words, Jesus is saying that his Kingdom is about intentionally slowing down and serving in the seemingly insignificant and often unnoticed little moments of life.

Today, as you seek to be generous with your time, talents, gifts and possessions, ask God to help you notice the little things that lead to little moments that end up having a big impact for the kingdom.     

God Is On The Throne

I was given a new devotional for Christmas. It's Tim Keller's, The Songs of Jesus, a year of daily devotionals through the Psalms. I'm only day two into it, but am already deeply encouraged and challenged. I encourage you to buy this little devotional and allow it to help you soak deeply in the Psalms. To encourage you, I will share what I read this morning. The way the devotional works is there is a Scripture, a brief commentary, and then a prayer. 

Psalm 2:1-4. Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, "Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles." The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD scoff at them.

No Intimidation. Each day the media highlights new things to fear. The "powers that be" in society tell us that obedience to God shackles us, limiting our freedom. In reality, liberation comes only through serving the one who created us. Those people and forces that appear to rule the world are all under his Lordship, and one day they will know it. God still reigns, and we can take refuge in him from all our fears. So to be intimidated by the word (Psalm 2) is as spiritually fatal as being overly attracted to it (Psalm 1).

Prayer. Lord of the world, people resent your  claims on human lives. I fear to speak of you for fear of ridicule of anger. But you are not intimidated by the world "powers," nor should I be. Help me to know the joy of obedience and the fearlessness that goes with it. Amen.

May the reality that God is on the throne encourage you to live fearlessly this year!  

Learning To Trust In The God Of All Comfort

A couple nights ago, the Times News held a community forum about the CSI Refugee Program. I thought it was well done, very informative, and helpful. There's been a lot of really poor and false information circulating (you can't believe everything you read on the internet you know), so the wealth of well resourced information was a breath of fresh air.

As I've reflected on the event with family, friends, and church family, the one thing that continues to stand out is people's desire for comfort and safety. Repeatedly, people are presenting their  concerns about the "safety of our citizens." (Never mind the safety of the rest of humanity across the globe!) What's more, is that people aren't only requesting safety, but they're requesting a 100% guarantee on that safety. And then the logic that follows is, "if the government can't 100% guarantee safety from terrorists disguised as refugees, then why let them in?"

I don't know about you, but I've never felt that my safety is guaranteed. Never.

At any moment my life, or the life of someone in my family, could be thrown into perilous danger that I will have no power to protect them from. This doesn't mean that I'm not proactive in providing safety where I can (my house has locks, and my car has airbags), but at the end of the day, there is no guarantee. Not in this life anyways. 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who omforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; emphasis mine). 

Paul is saying that our comfort is not, and cannot, be found anywhere in this world. In this world we will face affliction (Paul lists a few in 2 Corinthians 11), and our only hope of getting through that is if our comfort is found in the God of all comfort.

This guarantee of comfort is not for all though. It's only for those whose eternal hope is in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul says, "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (2 Corinthians 1:5). Jesus left perfect comfort and endured the ultimate form of suffering on the cross. Not only was this through his physical death, but also in his separation from the Father. It's this reality that enabled Paul (and Christians throughout the centuries) to love all humanity from every tribe, tongue, and nation regardless of personal danger to ones own self. It's this truth that continues to motivate followers of Jesus to do the same today. 

My comfort and safety is not based on the level of security I'm provided by my government, the locks on my door, or the airbags in my care, but on the reality of the finished work of Jesus which truly does give me a 100% safety guarantee!

I believe the Department of Homeland Security is doing what they can to keep Americans safe. Are they going to do this perfectly? No. But we should never hold them to a standard that only Jesus can fulfill.     

 

What Is Your Voice Saying About The Refugee?

Over the last several months, a strong opposition has arisen in Twin Falls against refugees and the CSI Refugee Program. As I've watched, listened, and interacted with people on both sides of the argument, I've found myself perplexed, and in many cases, appalled at what's being said. I'm astonished that people want to shut down something that has brought refuge to those who had none and diversity to a city that otherwise had very little. What I've found to be most disturbing, however is not the opposition itself but that the primary dissenting voices are from within the church.* Now, I know that not all opposing voices are Christian voices. I also know that not all Christians, churches, or religious people in Twin Falls share the same sentiment as those who are being most vocal about their desire to stop refugees from coming into this city. But as a follower of Jesus and a pastor in Twin Falls, my concern is with how the church has taken center stage in this debate, even making statewide news, and how what's being seen and heard has done more to be offensive and dishonoring to the name of Jesus than it has done to be helpful.

The refugees coming to Twin Falls (no matter where they are from) are people to fight for, not against. It's because of who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he has sent us to do, that we must believe this.

Who is the refugee?

The debate at hand begins with asking the question, who is the refugee? Countless times I've heard them referred to as "those people"–the term being thrown around in more of an animalistic way than a human one. And if the reference isn't, "those people," then it's, "those Muslims"–the indication being that because they're Muslim, they are to be discarded as less than human in some way. The Bible however, does not allow us to look at the refugee like this.

The Bible says, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). It is this image bearing quality that makes all humanity unique. People are the image bearers of God. Not trees. Not animals. People. This is the reality of all humanity regardless of ethnicity, social background, or religion. All of us, though very broken, are image bearers of God, and it is in this way that we are to see the refugee. If we don't view them as image bearers, then it becomes all too simple for us to leave them in harm's way to perish. And if we, Church, would have the heart of God, then we would not desire that any would be left in harm's way to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

On a simply human level, if we as a city and if we as the church in the city are given the privilege to provide refuge for those who have none, who are we to stop it? Furthermore, why would we?

Loving our new neighbors.

In the Gospels, Jesus was asked, "Which is the greatest commandment?" (Matthew 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25–28) He answered,

"The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29–31).

This is where Jesus' kingdom ethic becomes far too challenging and uncomfortable for many. Jesus is saying that the command which supersedes all others is that we are to "love God." He then seamlessly extended this love of God into the reality that an overflow of truly loving God will lead to loving our neighbors. Many of us want to ask, who is my neighbor? Jesus however, doesn't allow us to ask this question. In the Gospel of Luke, a Jewish lawyer asked Jesus this very question, and Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, teaching the lawyer the lesson that our neighbor (and thus the person we are to do good to) is not merely the person in close proximity to us and is not merely the person who shares the same or similar beliefs as us. Jesus' teaching was far more extreme. Our neighbor is every human being.

This means that the refugees coming into Twin Falls—no matter where they come from—are our new neighbors, and we who call ourselves followers of Jesus don't get to make the decision of whether we love them or not. We must. Rather than kicking them out or preventing them from coming in, we gladly welcome them with open arms. We listen to their stories. We serve them. We love them like humans—like image bearers of God.

Of course you might retort: "Muslims are dangerous." "They're our enemy." "They're terrorists." "They're a threat to our freedom." "They won't assimilate." "They won't leave their religion." And on and on and on.

Once again, listen to the words of Jesus:

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27–28).

Those are some hard words to squeeze around. Jesus is clear—love everyone regardless of what they do to you or say about you and to you. In fact, go beyond that, and be a blessing to them! Pray for them. Do good to them. Welcome them. Love them.

Why would we do this, you might ask?

Because of Jesus.

Because of Jesus

A little over 2,000 years ago, when Jesus was living on this earth, he was born into human history during a time of great oppression and terror. In fact, his first two years of life were spent in hiding because a wicked king wanted him dead. And if you don't remember the story, the way that wicked king tried to kill Jesus was to issue an order to kill all male children under the age of two, living in Bethlehem and the surrounding region.

Rome was the empire reigning over Israel. As a result, the Jewish people were constantly looking over their shoulders and living in fear, because they never knew when Caesar might blow a fuse and decide to kill thousands of Jews all at once. Now, the hope of Israel was in their anticipation of the Messiah (King) who would set them free from this oppression. When Jesus' public ministry began, word quickly traveled that he might just be this long awaited King who would finally free Israel and the Jewish people from the oppression. From our vantage point in history, we know that he was. Mark begins his gospel by telling us that he was writing about the Messiah (Mark 1:1).

The problem, however, is that Jesus wasn't the Messiah everyone was expecting. What everyone wanted was a Messiah who would come into Israel, rally his troops, overthrow the Roman government by force, and set up his kingdom right then and there. This is not what Jesus did. Instead, he loved the poor, the marginalized, and the outcasts around him. Those whom everyone else was rejecting, Jesus was loving. Those whom everyone else was trying to get rid of, Jesus was telling, "Come. Follow me." He loved the Roman terrorists; he loved the “Gentile sinners;” he loved those called unclean, and he even spoke in a way that honored and loved the Roman emperor who would eventually allow his crucifixion. Jesus, more than anyone else in human history, provided (and still provides) refuge for the refugee!

Jesus didn't enter human history to create a holy huddle of people who were afraid of anyone who looked a little bit different or had a different cultural and religious background. Rather, Jesus came to create a people for himself from all the nations of the world. "Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?" (Mark 11:17). In other words, Jesus came to cast out fear and enable the nations,—all ethnic groups from all over the world—to live together in such a way that had never before been experienced. That way would be under his Kingship and authority.

He accomplished this by dying a brutal sinner’s death by crucifixion. Though he was sinless, he died on a cross, was buried, and rose three days later. In so doing, he defeated Satan, sin, death, and Hell, and now in light of this resurrection, Jesus calls his followers to do the same. He calls us to love all humanity unto death, even if it means our physical death (See Mark 8:34–38).

So why, Church, do we love the refugee?

We love the refugee because we have first been loved by God in and through the person and work of Jesus. We bless the refugee because Jesus has been a blessing to us. We serve the refugee because Jesus has served us. We give refuge to the refugee because Jesus is our Refuge! And yes, we do all of this knowing that our physical death might one day be the result. But what does it matter? We are believers in and followers of the One who conquered death. Therefore, we have nothing to fear. We know that we will one day inherit a kingdom that is imperishable, and loving the refugee now is a small glimpse of that day.

Your Kingdom Come

Our role, Church, is to pray that God would build his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 5:10). We are to pray that God would build his kingdom here in Twin Falls as it is in heaven. If our prayer is that the refugees would leave, then we greatly misunderstand the gospel and what it means to be a citizen of God's kingdom. If our prayer is to shut down the refugee program, then we greatly misunderstand what it means to welcome the stranger and "to learn to do good; seek justice, (and) correct oppression" (Isaiah 1:17). If our prayers are to do anything but be a blessing to all nations, then we defame the name of Jesus.

One day, God's kingdom will be established here on earth (Revelation 21:3), and on that day, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be singing songs of praise to the one true God. The memories of terror, war, racism and other atrocities will be gone. "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4). My prayer is that we would believe that Jesus died for the restoration of all things, and that we would get a small glimpse of his kingdom in Twin Falls, Idaho now. My prayer is that our churches would be filled with people from all over the world. That our seats would be filled with all ethnicities, social backgrounds, and economic statuses. And finally, that the world would look upon us with a perplexing gaze and wonder who it is that has caused such a sight, who it is that has enabled such love, and in the end, that Jesus would be seen and made known, to the glory of God.

In the midst of such a time as this, it is imperative that we, the church, not lose our first identity as followers of Christ and mistake patriotic allegiances as synonymous with an allegiance to King Jesus. The nations are being brought to our neighborhoods. It's not time for us to fold in fear, or fight in terror, but to be a blessing. Let's not miss our chance.

Christ Is All!

*When I say "church" in this article, I am referring to the church as those who claim to be followers of Jesus as a whole. This article is not in reference to any specific local church.