The 2020 Census and the Breaking Down of the Dividing Walls of Hostility

Fundamentally, Christians should align with Christ, and nothing else.

The 2020 Census reveals a story of changing demographics in the United States. It should hardly come as a surprise that the story is diversity. “Over the past 10 years, people who identified as Hispanic, Asian or more than one race accounted for larger shares of the population….”[1]

I suspect we could say the same thing about many a decennial consensus over the history of the United States. I grew up learning that the United Stated if America is a melting pot. We learned about the influx of immigrants from various parts of the world at various times: the English, the French, West Africans (almost entirely against their will), the Germans, the Italians, the Irish, the Chinese, the Eastern Europeans…

In some ways this news is simply the continuation of the same story that is America. It is an uniquely American story, though rhetoric in the 21st Century might suggest otherwise. The new census may reveal a plot twist of sorts, though: a “pivotal moment”.

Whereas the American story of the past was primarily an European story, the plot is tending toward greater diversity. The population of “people of color” are increasingly “younger and growing more rapidly” then their traditional American counterparts with Eurocentric origins.

The population growth since 2010 “was made up entirely of people who identified as Hispanic, Asian, Black or more than one race”. We can speculate on the reasons for this major shift, but the fact remains that people of color are increasingly making up a larger percent of the population, and that trend will more than likely continue.

My thoughts, as always, turn to the impact on the Body of Christ and how the Church is responding… and should respond… to the times. These times are a changing, crooned Bob Dylan in my youth, but they are always a changing.

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Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs

A scorpion stings. That’s what they do. That is their nature.

Joel Furches recently posted the following on social media:

“The Aesop’s Fable I have come to most appreciate over the years is ‘The Frog and the Scorpion’ If you’re not familiar, it’s about a scorpion who asks a frog to swim him across the water. The frog doesn’t want to, because he’s afraid of getting stung. The scorpion points out that if he stings the frog, they will both drown. So the frog swims him, the scorpion stings the frog, and they both drown. Why? Because it is the nature of scorpions to sting.

“The moral: things act out of their nature, even at the expense of their self-interest. Or as my dad used to say, ‘a person will never do something that person wouldn’t do.’ Which, I suppose, could be rephrased, ‘A person’s always going to do what that person does.’ (My dad would say ‘peoples are peoples’)” 

A more modern phrase that conveys the same idea might be: “the tiger cannot change its stripes”; or “the leopard cannot change its spots”. The idea is that a person cannot change his or her essential nature or character.

My “take” on the frog and scorpion fable is that we shouldn’t expect people to be anything other than who they really are. Despite what the scorpions tells you, the scorpion IS going to sting you. That’s what they do. That’s who they are.

Fables are meant to teach life lessons. The wise, theoretically, learn from them without having to experience those lessons firsthand. In reality though, it seems most of us have to learn our life lessons from experience.

These fables are still helpful by allowing us to crystallize those hard learned lessons in graphic ways that we can remember and pass on – if only people would listen. Right?

But what is the lesson? We might “walk away” the next time someone hurts us with a lie swearing under our breath, “Once a liar, always a liar! I will never trust him or her again!”

Fables teach us something about human nature, but fables don’t always give us specific guidance tailored to our own dilemmas. We still need wisdom to apply the lessons in our particular circumstances. “A word to the wise” requires wisdom for its application in our own lives.

“Truth is truth” (wherever it may be found) is a “truism” I like to repeat. Aesop may have been a very wise man (if there really was an Aesop), and Aesop’s fables carry with them the ring of truth, but truth is often more complicated than we like to think it is.

Just when you think you understand the laws of physics, quantum mechanics comes along and turns everything upside down. Further, the wisdom needed to address our particular circumstances doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with knowledge and awareness.

The Frog and Scorpion fable rings true, but Scripture gives us a different angle on the truth of this fable and guidance that we need to deal with the scorpions in our lives. That lesson may not be immediately clear if we limit ourselves to the fable, itself.

Continue reading “Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes? A Tale of Scorpions and Frogs”

Jesus, Justice and Bruised Reeds

God’s justice is characterized by His preference for mercy.

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:18-21 ESV)

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4) that Jesus fulfilled according to the Gospel of Matthew. They are echoed in the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven spoke and said: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

Of particular note to me is the statement that Jesus came “to proclaim justice to the Gentiles”, and he will “bring justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope!” For the past two years, I have read through the Bible from start to finish focusing on the theme of justice (among other things).

The theme of justice is everywhere in scripture when you look for it! Justice is particularly embedded in the messianic prophecies and promises. The coming, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus is all about righteousness and justice.

I believe that modern Americans have a warped view of what justice means, biblically. We tend to view justice as retributive and punitive. Justice in a popular sense tends to mean people getting their just desserts, but that isn’t what we see in Scripture.

The prophets warned God’s people about two main things: idolatry and failing to do justice. Obeying God’s commands fit more or less into these two broad categories of worshiping God alone and doing right by people.

These are the two great categories of the ten commandments. Thus, the law is summed up this way: love God and love your neighbor.

When God executed judgment on His people in the OT in keeping with the warnings spoken by the prophets, He always did so in hope that His people would turn from their wicked ways. Judgement as a subset of justice was redemptive. It’s aim was to guide people back to right relationship with God and to each other.

Overarching God’s justice is His preference for mercy, because His ultimate desire is for relationship with us. He desires also that we would have healthy relationships with each other (love your neighbor) in the same way. A right relationship with God and with our other human beings (and the world we live in) is the essence of what it means to be righteous and just.

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From the Image of God to the Likeness of God: from the Old Self to the New Self is a Matter of Choice

In Genesis 1:27, we learn that God created human beings in His image:

God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

In his letter to the Ephesians 4:24, Paul urged them (and us),

to put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Thousands of years have passed between those two statements. God has been working out His purposes in the heavens and the earth from before the beginning. Creating man in His image and establishing man in His likeness has been central to that purpose.

Reading the words of Paul in Ephesians, which clearly echo the description of God’s creation of human beings, got me thinking about the difference between the image of God that built right into human beings from the start and the “new self” that we are urged to put on that has created in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness of truth.

What was the image of in God which we were created?

What is the new self that has been created in the likeness of God that we must put on?

Why must we put on a new self when human beings have already been created in the image of God?

I try not to lean on the assumptions that come first to mind when approaching Scripture. I often go back and work through text looking for things I haven’t seen before. As I write this, I don’t know exactly what I will find. I was intrigued by the echoes of Genesis in Paul’s and prompted to dig into them freshly.

Continue reading “From the Image of God to the Likeness of God: from the Old Self to the New Self is a Matter of Choice”

The Life and Death Reality of the Gospel

From hatred to love, from death to life

I murdered him for Allah but God raised him up to forgive me…. SHOCKING STORY OF REDEMPTION!! One for Israel: Israeli Arabs and Jews. United in the Gospel

The Gospel is a matter of life and death. A religious person might understand that statement in a metaphorical, “spiritual” sense. A non-believing person might understand this statement in the sense that is important to the believing person. Neither sense, however, captures the utter significance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the testimony to follow about a Muslim who hated Christians and Jews, and the one after that about a Jew who hated Muslims, the utter significance of the Gospel is brought home in a way that abstract ideas simply cannot do. The Gospel is Living Water in a wasteland of hatred and death.

The following testimony of a Sudanese Muslim who hated everyone who was not Muslim will make your skin crawl as he speaks of a brutal, unprovoked attack by him and others against a Christian classmate that left the man broken and bleeding on the threshold of death. His reaction was pride in what he had “done for Allah”.

An encounter with two Coptic Christians whose prayer healed his cousin who lay on his own deathbed opened his eyes to a new reality. When they told him, “The real miracle is that God wants to change your heart,” his world changed forever.

The decision he made to embrace Yeshua who lives cost him his family and life as he knew it. He was dead to them. They even performed a ceremonial funeral for him. The life that he knew was over, but he received new Life.

You will want to watch and listen to him tell his story in his own words, not just to describe this journey. You will want to hear him tell the rest of the story about the man he left for dead. The power of the Gospel is so much more than a matter of mere metaphorical importance.

In the following testimony of her life, this woman grew up in a world in which Arabs “were the enemy”. She grew up in the complex political struggle all around her or war and death. She did not live in a safe world.

She was terrified of Arab people who lived in villages surrounding the settlement in which she grew up. The Arabic language was a reminder to her, when she heard it, of shooting, rocks flying and people dying. She learned to hate Arabs.

The Rabbis painted a picture of the God of the Bible as “a very cold and distant god, almost robot-like, a type of God that wouldn’t think twice before he would strike you down with a lightning bolt if you dared to tear a little piece of toilet paper on Saturday, which is forbidden in Judaism”. What she saw of God in the Bible, however, seemed different to her.

She grew up in a world of hatred and fear. When she was introduced to the God of love and hope, her world changed completely. She no longer hates or fears Arab people. The Lord of life is the God of Arabs and Jews alike.