Pastor Ryun Chang (AMI Teaching Pastor, Ph.D.) will present a series of blogs, dealing with various issues raised in the recent election that showed a deep divide, impacting both society at large and the church. The thoughts presented are processed through the lens of the Radical-Middle (both/and), personal narratives, and pastoral concerns. Your rational feedback is welcomed.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the respective views of AMI pastors.
Devotional Thought for Today
Introduction 2: “Seeing Gray in a World of Black & White,” or is it “Seeing Black & White in a Gray World”?
Romans 14:5-8a, 10, 12 (ESV)
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. . ..
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. . .. 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
I first saw the image of the infamous duck/rabbit in a book touting the merits of postmodernism, a worldview that sees the world as ambiguous, as shades of gray; unsurprisingly, the book saw the picture as not a duck or rabbit but both. The other image shows a world of black and white, colors that represent an unambiguous world with absolute objective truths and values where things often cannot be true simultaneously. One or the other must be true or false.
How do you see the world? Most of us reading this blog see the world as black and white. You may protest, but if your answer to “Is Jesus the only way to salvation?” is “yes” (Acts 4:12; Jn. 14:6), then you do. Nonetheless, today’s passage indicates that not all issues are that clear. These are called “disputable” matters and believers are instructed to treat two or more opposing positions as equally rational. In the church in Rome, the two disputable matters were, first, whether to eat kosher (the traditional Jews said “no” while the liberated ones said “yes”), and second, whether to observe certain Jewish holy days. Paul then reminds the believers, each having formed a position based on his or her own conviction, not to belittle or despise those with whom they disagree; ultimately, it is God who will judge them all and the views they hold.
What about social issues? While the scriptural positions on matters such as abortion (Ps. 139:13-4) and homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-7; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10) may seem quite clear, the recent election highlighted several social issues that are not clearly delineated in Scripture. Two election issues that riled up many Americans were President-elect Donald Trump’s stances on “illegal immigration” and the inflow of Muslim refugees. Certainly, dismissing Trump’s generalization that “illegal immigrants are killing thousands of people” is easy, but is it xenophobic to oppose illegal immigration itself? It is good that we understand Muslim Americans who feel threatened by Trump’s proposal to create a Muslim registry, but is it Islamophobic to desire better security measures to discourage some Muslims in the US from becoming violently radicalized and keeping the radicalized ones from entering America?
How should Christians think concerning these matters? Should we care? Yes, of course, for there are over 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US, half of whom come from Mexico; there are over 2.6 million Muslims in the States (2010) whose population is expected to more than double by 2030.
While illegal immigration and keeping radicalized Muslim refugees from entering the US may be a law and order matter to politicians, we must also bring our hearts into such issues—that is to say that understanding intellectual as well as emotional matters in such controversies are both important. Having lived in Mexico for a decade and preached in several Hispanic churches in America, I have friends in Mexico who were deported, losing everything in the process; I’ve shared meals with illegal immigrants in the States who live in constant fear; I even stayed an entire week with a lonesome family in Mexico without a household father because he had long left home in search of a job in America. As for Muslims, I have travelled to several Islamic countries multiple times, which has led me to sometimes disagree with those who say Muslims are particularly more violent. All I saw were regular people busy making a living, presumably to put food on the table for their kids.
As we explore these and other matters as part of January devotionals, I hope you give some serious thought and prayer to such things and perhaps even begin a dialogue with unauthorized immigrants and Muslims in your neighborhood. The world is changing; thus, it’s imperative that we respond biblically and compassionately—armed with God’s eternal truth, led by the Spirit, and undergirded by the love of Christ.
Prayer: Father, as our nation is going through many tumultuous changes, please help us, the believers, to be clear minded and not “think” only emotionally. Please help us to be wise and cogent when it comes to thinking about social issues. And help us to love and respect those with whom we disagree. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: 2 Kings 2
Lunch Break Study
Read John 16:33 (ESV): “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.”
Mt. 10:34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Heb. 11:6a: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists.”
Ps. 14:1a: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
1 Cor. 13:9-10: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (I agree with John MacArthur who sees “the perfect” as heaven.)
Questions to Consider
- Which pair of the above passages is a matter of both/and, that is, statements which appear to be contradictory but are to be accepted as equally true?
- Which pair of the above passages is a matter of either/or, that is, if one is true, then its opposite is necessarily false?
- Based on 1 Cor. 13:9-10, should we believe that our own view is always right while those of others are not?
- Both John 16:33 that says in Jesus we may have peace (since his atoning death appeased God’s wrath aimed at sinners—Rom. 5:1), and Matthew 10:34 that says Jesus came to gives us a sword (i.e., “God opposes the proud”—James 4:6), are to be accepted as equally valid.
- While Hebrews 11:6 that says “God exists” is to be accepted, its opposite, “There is no God,” is to be rejected as invalid. Note that the more essential an issue, the Scriptures pronounce that a matter of either/or.
- We must realize that while living on earth, our knowledge is limited by human finiteness and sinfulness. We know some things but not everything, and what we think we know is not always accurate or complete. Stay humble.
Before turning in the night, ask God for a compassionate heart toward those who live in fear (and not just illegal immigrants or Muslims). If you are that person, remember that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18) and God’s love for you is perfect.
Ask God for wisdom to really grapple with these disputable social issues. Make a request to the Lord for a right attitude that does not unfairly judge those with whom you disagree over disputable matters. Remember what the apostle Paul says under the Spirit’s inspiration: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).