Thoughts on Thanksgiving, Refugees, and Scripture

There’s been a ton of memes going around and articles and name calling on all sides of this Syrian refugee issue. These will just be a few observations from little ol’ me.

I am prepared this Thanksgiving season for two main ironies (not that there won’t be more, I’m sure, but these will be in context of this article).

First irony – those who passionately oppose the Syrian refugees coming into our country on the possibility that terrorists might get in and yet celebrating a holiday where the Pilgrims were saved by native peoples and everyone supposedly learned to get along.

Second irony – those who passionately oppose any arguments against allowing Syrian refugees. These will quote scripture, even, shaming any and all who question vetting methods, etc. And they will also be the ones who in the past, or even this holiday season, will post articles detailing how evil and horrible those Pilgrims are and how those Pilgrims raped and pillaged and destroyed a great culture.

On the issue as a whole: I don’t see a preponderance of conservative Christians trying to keep out Syrian refugees altogether. I’m not saying I agree with the idea we need better vetting, but that’s been the main concern. Many of the Republican candidates have used the refugee issue as talking point and gone more radical on this issue than even many conservative Christians are comfortable with. Every potential candidate has the right to their beliefs and opinions, but they are placing doubt in some of their traditional voting base by reacting in a more extreme sense.

The only other observation I have are with those that argue that it is Christian to take care of refugees and use the Bible to make this argument. I agree, to a point. From the Old Testament to the New, the idea of taking care of the stranger or those in need (pure religion is orphans and widows, that kind of thing) is absolutely consistent.

Two things, though. On the one hand, I find it interesting how many publicly shaming other Christians with scripture from the Old and New Testament are also the ones who, when a conservative quotes a scripture clearly supporting something against the liberal position, the answer will invariably be, “Oh, and the Old Testament says _________________(some harsh thing about stoning or something), do we do that, too?” And refuse to address said issue reasonably.

On the other hand, if we bring in the Bible, then let’s be biblical. All those scriptures are teachings to individuals to open their homes, their lives, their own pocketbooks to show compassion. There was no expectation that a larger, central authority would carry out these mandates (whether the nation of Israel or Rome, also a republic, under NT teaching).

It is bad biblical teaching that we take what is clearly directed as individual and voluntary morality and then apply it to a large institution.

The point, in all of that teaching, is relationship. If we believe the Bible, then the design is that we personally get involved by inviting refugees, the poor, those in need, into our lives and care for them. In that personal relationship, then transformation happens. A terrorist will not change because of institutional policy, even good or bad. He or she is more likely to change if someone takes them into their home, feeds them, clothes them, and shows them love. That’s the design, and I will always support that, as dangerous as it may or may not be, because that is the Kingdom.

Peace.

Superhero Church part 1

Alternate title: The Church According to the Justice League (or X-Men, or Avengers, etc.)

so you're a superheroAs many people know, I am passionate about discipleship and the ideas of the new creation and the Kingdom of God. Hence this blog. Over the years, God has shown me different ways to express what I see, to try and relate somehow to a church that I love but needs to realize who we are in Christ.

I love comic books. I don’t “collect” them anymore, but I was really into DC and some Marvel over years and years. I spent a lot of money every month keeping up with my favorite spandex-wearing super dudes and dudettes. With this recent surge of superhero movies, I am like in little kid heaven … or maybe big kid heaven.

Going along with my “research” into superheroes, I’ve decided the church has a lot to learn from superheroes and the Justice League (or any of those other team-oriented books).

The biblical truths and theology is there. We don’t have to look to superheroes to see the reality, but maybe it will help bring out what God has designed and intended his redeemed people to be. Or, more accurately, who we truly are already.

Let’s take an individual superhero. The general origin story goes like this – he or she thinks they are a regular person. And then they discover one day – BAM – they have a superpower. They have an ability no one else around them has. Also, there is usually a tragedy as a part of their story (a loss of parents, other family members, etc.). Out of that broken story, they discover they have a superpower.

Now, this person has to deal with their own identity. They have to come to terms with the fact they are different, special, and the problems that arise from that – other people will mock them or be afraid of them. What happens when people know?

Then, after coming to grips with the reality that they have this superpower, what will they do with it? There are three possibilities here: First, they can do nothing. They can hide it or sit and eat Cheetos and drink orange soda all day while watching Ellen on TV.

The second option is simple. They can use this power for their own selfish ends. They can gain power or influence or money or whatever. The people who make this choice become the villain.

Third, they can use their powers to help people. They can realize that they’ve been given this power for a reason, for a purpose, and that purpose is to help others, the innocent, the downtrodden, the victims. They will have to put themselves in danger to help others. This is the definition of a hero.

This is the origin story of heroes and villains.

Let’s look at what the scripture says about who we are in Christ, those who are His followers.

“The same spirit that raised Christ from the dead is in you.” “You have been born again of the Spirit.” Jesus said, “Those who follow me will do greater things than I have done.” “You are a royal priesthood.” “You are partakers of the divine nature.” “You have been translated from darkness to light, death to life.” “Everyone has a spiritual gift for the good of all.”

I’ll stop there, but the list could go on and on. And on. When Paul is dealing with a church that is seriously messed up in Corinth, he continually reminds them of their identity in Christ, who they already are. “Don’t you know you will judge angels?” “Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?”

The first step for anyone “born again” is to realize we have a superpower. We may have a broken past. We may not feel worthy. In fact, we most definitely won’t. But that does not change the reality of who we are in Christ, because it is not dependent upon us. The power and identity comes from Him when we repent and commit our hearts to follow Him.

Yes, it makes us different. The world will hate us and mock us and seek to kill us. It will feel unfair and we will be persecuted.

After realizing these spiritual superpowers have been downloaded into us, the question becomes, what will we do with them?

Let’s look at the first choice of the superpowered person. We do nothing. We sit and claim superpowers, sing about them, do Bible studies on them, take Cosmo-type surveys to tell us what our superpowers are, but then we sit and eat Cheetos, drink orange soda, and watch Ellen. Our “churches” become consumer-driven self-help seminars.

It would be like the Justice League sitting around at the Hall of Justice and showing off their powers to each other, playing games, having coffee, hearing what great heroes they are and going through how they can be more successful at their regular jobs.

The second choice is scary. We take these things given to us by the God of the universe, and we think we are supposed to use them for our own gain. And then we try to do that.

Let me make this clear. God has a purpose in giving us spiritual gifts, and it is not for us alone. God is out to save the world. And when we instead use these gifts to bless ourselves, get better jobs, more wealth, live the American dream. But that’s not what they’re there for. They are for the good of others, to be a light in darkness like he was.

When we use our spiritual gifts for our own sake, for ourselves, we become villains.

The Bible uses different terms, of course. False prophets. Carnal thinkers. Contentious men. Villains.

Third choice is what we all want. To be heroes. Don’t we?

We decide that helping others is worth the risk. That our true identity is not our day jobs but helping those that need help. Our true identity, more than anything else, is using our spiritual gifts, our superpowers, to save and help others.

We constantly keep our ears out and check for people that we can help, that we can spread light to, or even cooler, we can help them become superheroes, too.

Do we get that? Ultimately, what we can do with our superpowers is to help others get superpowers, too. That’s even cooler than any comic hero I can think of.

Because saving the world, tackling the big villains, is not something we can do alone. And we were not meant to. We were meant to team up with other superheroes to save the world.

And since this post is too long already, I’ll finish it up next week.

Peace.