Apr 22, 2015

Immigrant Reform NOW!

Rarely does a personal situation collide so violently with asinine federal regulations (outside of tax season, of course). This is one such case:

One of my former youth picked up a DWI conviction last year. This is not uncommon among 19-year-olds; drugs and alcohol form the backdrop of far too many of out teenagers' formative years and teenagers are wont to do dangerous and stupid things. This young lady, on the advisement of her Public Defender, plead guilty and paid her dues. She squarely faced the consequences and has not done something that stupid again.

The difference between this young lady and her friends, all of whom have grown up together since she was three years old, is that she was brought to this country illegally when she was two. She did not know she was brought here illegally until she was a junior in high school, meaning that for a decade and a half she thought she was an American like you and me,

Now this young lady is going to be deported to her home country, a place where she barely has any family left, a place she has not been since she was two, a place where she does not even speak the language. Why? Because that DWI makes her ineligible for a visa. One mistake. One voluntary guilty plea on the advisement of a PD who didn't think about the immigration implications. One life tossed aside by the violence of asinine federal rules. One girl who grew up at my church, who thought she was American, who worked her way from Elementary through High School as a patriotic and hard-working young lady, who served in our church children's ministries for years, who was, in her mind and in reality, at home among us, who is a hard-working person not on any kind of public assistance, who wants nothing more than to work and go to school, who is as loving, caring, kind, compassionate, and gentle of an individual as I have ever met; to her we say:

Bye-bye. See you. We don't want you. Go away. You are not worthy of staying here. We don't value you as a person. We don't want your hard work. We don't care that you grew up here. Too bad.

This Is Our Fault

That is what we are saying, friend. That is what YOU are saying. We do not have the luxury of living in a system of government wherein we can say "well the government does such-and-such..." We live in a representative Democracy, meaning however much you might feel disconnected from the government, you are a part of it: you, by your choosing to vote (or not to vote), are participating in making rules that directly affect the lives of the teenagers to whom I minister. Our inaction over immigration has lead to this. Are we not better than this, American Christian? Friend?

An Objection: She Did It...

She got the driving conviction, after all. It is her fault!

She did mess up, yes. But so did the former youth with a cocaine conviction who is going to get community service. So did the former youth with a marijuana conviction who paid a fine and walked away. So did the former youth who committed burglary and now is merely under probation. So did the kids I've known with various convictions ranging from simple misdemeanors to egregious felonies. They all did wrong, faced their consequences (most of them without the honesty with which this young lady faced hers) and moved on with life.

She did mess up, but she faced the punishment out government considers appropriate for that mess-up. Now she is going to face a lifetime ban from the only community she has known in addition to those appropriate consequences. She is being exiled, a punishment we once held out only for political prisoners an suspected terrorists.  

National Sins

Scripture seems to indicate in the Prophets that some national behaviors trickle down to implicate the individuals in a given country, heaping judgment on the heads of the citizens of a given nation for what the government and people as a whole did. Israel is indicted for how it behaved as a nation, and that indictment reached down to the individual level as well. Isaiah 1 is one such example of a national indictment pouring down to the local level. This kind of judgment is not exceptional for Israel: God judges nations based on behaviors, and that judgment reached down to the individual level. Nineveh felt this most acutely, both from Nahum and Jonah. Other nations heard from the voice of the Lord throughout the minor prophets. There seems to be such a thing as national sins: indictments on nations that affect and heap judgment on the occupants of those nations. Nahum 3: 5-7

“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty.
    “I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness
    and the kingdoms your shame.
I will pelt you with filth,
    I will treat you with contempt
    and make you a spectacle.
All who see you will flee from you and say,
    ‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’
    Where can I find anyone to comfort you?”
...and Nineveh didn't event live in a representative democracy! I am convinced that we American Christians will face judgment alongside every other American over our inability to love and care for the world around us. My list of perceived national sins surely differs from others, but this one seems pretty clear cut: we have the wealth of the world in our hands, but we are unable to lend assistance to the foreigner in our midst and unable to offer grace to the prisoner who reforms. This is on all our heads.

Our fundamental incapacity to lend grace to illegal immigrants is a national sin. I have no idea what to say to this young woman now other than "I'm sorry." Should she go back to her 'home' country (though it has never once been her home), I will try to connect her with some missionaries there and hope she settles in well enough with hew new, foreign life. She is facing this time with bravery and hope, viewing it as a potential adventure. I wish I shared her attitude; I only feel anger

Apr 16, 2015

The Utter Necessity of Confession

One of my least and most beloved daily practices (well, if we are being honest - attempted daily practices) is confession. I sit down as part of my morning and afternoon prayers (again, in an ideal day) and tell the Lord the wrong I've done, where I am emotionally and spiritually, and what I hoped to do but did not do. I love this time because it refreshes my soul every time. I finish with a cleaner conscience and a renewed hope for the day. I hate this time because it involves admitting sins I'd rather distract myself from by reading sports websites or watching youtube. Confession is grueling work of the heart and mind, a time of admitting things I'd rather not, a humiliating exercise. I sit and blabber to the Lord and am ashamed of my wrongs that I find myself repeating far too often.

Note: being protestant, I don't subscribe to the necessity of confessing to a Priest, but I do think God's expression must look something like this when I pray over my sins. And I look something like Homer, too...
So what is confession and why does it matter? Why did I write that confession is utterly necessary for Christians? 

Confession is Admission of Guilt... And More

This is a simple definition - admitting guilt - but it is insufficient when we consider Christian confession. The mere admission of guilt can take place in numerous contexts for various reasons, and few of these admissions of guilt would truly match what Scripture covers when it talks about confession. "I did it," can be said by the murderer to escape the death penalty, by the child who is faced with overwhelming evidence, by the tax cheat negotiating a lower payment, and so on. Admitting guilt is a mere acknowledgement of facts. 

Confession in the Biblical sense always integrates an admission of guilt (fact) with an expression of regret (feeling). So in Psalm 38:
I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
Nehemiah 9:
Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.

Mere admission of guilt could be interpreted as bragging; this is what psychopaths do when they confess to killing their dozens of victims. Mere admission of guilt (fact) without regret (feeling) does not reveal a contrite heart. Merely feeling bad (feeling) without speaking the truth (fact) does nothing for the Soul and denies the effectiveness of the Gospel for forgiveness. The union of fact and feeling in the presence of God creates a true atmosphere of repentance and opens the door for forgiveness of sins. So I would say:

Confession is admission of guilt to God and experience of regret in the presence of God.

Surely someone could wordsmith this better, but that'll do for now.

Confession is Necessary for Forgiveness

Confession is necessary for repentance - one might say it is the "action" of repentance - and repentance is necessary for salvation. We must repent in order to believe the Gospel, so without initial confession (fact and feeling), we cannot understand the necessity of the Cross and therefore the full meaning of the Gospel. We must admit we are sinners to believe the Good News. So we read the familiar text from 1 John:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
I am not saying that God's forgiveness requires our confession of every single sin: Christ died for our sins regardless of our capacity to ask for forgiveness for them, and every one of us will enter into the afterlife with unconfessed sins. Our hearts are too dark to delve into every sin. We who have faith in Christ have confidence that Grace is sufficient for all our sins, confessed or unconfessed.

What I am saying is this:

1. We cannot be saved without a repentant heart and an initial confession of sin; and
2. We cannot experience freedom from guilt as Christians without ongoing confession.

Confession Always Works

Why do we not confess? I imagine the reasons are as many as the sins we commit. We do not want to speak our wrongs out loud. We are lazy, too, which is another sin for which we must confess. We also do not want to confess because we do not want to stop doing the sins we enjoy; in other words, we do not confess because we do not want to stop sinning! So we let our guilt and regret mound up while doing the thing that feels good to us and distracts us from the necessity of confession.

I think there is another reason, too, a lie we hold onto rather tightly that is a product of the way the world works: we think that if we confess, we will not experience forgiveness and grace. Or, perhaps, we are not good enough for grace. We think God is sitting on the other side of our time of confession waiting to get us:

This picture was too cool for me no to find a way to shoehorn it into this article.
But look again at the James 1 text: this is a definitive statement of assurance. This is an "if... then" that is totally predicated on the first part; a guarantee that the second half (then...) will occur when we do the first (if...)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
You will experience grace through confession. You will be forgiven. These are not "mights" and "maybes."

Confession Requires and Results in a New Life

But do not stop there! Do not think that confession ends with "I did this, God, and I am quite sorry about it..." This was the way of the ancient Israelites as they gathered time and again to confess then lived life as though they had said nothing. This is "cheap grace." This is a false repentance. 

Consider the words of John immediately after his assurance of forgiveness:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin... And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him... By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Bonhoffer puts it thusly: In contract with the cheap grace that says "I am forgiven... la dee daa..."
costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Go back to that word confession. Delving deeper, confession  as a word is interesting, because while the primary connotation involves speaking or admitting guilt, in the Christian context, a confession also means a statement of faith or doctrine. The same word that almost always means "admission of guilt" also means "formal profession of belief." So we "confess our sins" but also "confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord."

I find this linkage important because in my mind, the two actions of "confessing my sins" and "confessing Christ is Lord" are inextricably linked. Oddly enough, I confess because I confess. I confess my sins because I confess Christ is Lord, and therefore after I repent of my sins, I pick myself up and follow after Christ a new, seeking to follow in his steps, walking as he walked. Confession leads to a new life.