Monthly Archives: January 2013

My Sensible Solution For Immigration Reform

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Immigration reform is a hot topic of conversation at the moment.  It was a key issue in the last election cycle.  There are many who argue passionately for amnesty being extended to illegal aliens already in the country and there are many who argue passionately that the word “illegal” still has meaning.  Unfortunately, there is far more heat than light being generated in most of the debates.

Politically, both parties seek to get an advantage with a growing voting bloc.  Both parties want to be seen as the champion for Latinos.  Both parties want to be able to trumpet that THEY are responsible for Hispanics gaining political clout in the United States.  And both parties risk losing part of their base voters who live in border states.  We live in interesting times.

Displayed on a plaque on the inner pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, is the poem, The New Colossus¸ written by Emma Lazarus.  It was a donation by Lazarus to a fund-raising effort to construct the base of the Statue.  She initially declined to contribute the work, but a good friend convinced her that her work would be of great significance to the immigrants who would sail under Liberty into New York Harbor.

While Liberty was not conceived and sculptured as a symbol of immigration, Lazarus’ poem has become exactly that.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We are a nation of immigrants.  Unless you hail from Native American roots, your ancestors “came” from somewhere.  As you read the history of our nation, people came here looking for a better way of life.  People came here looking for freedom.  People came here longing to worship in whatever manner they saw fit.

As a matter of historical fact, Native Americans were treated poorly and duped into questionable treaties by the Western Europeans due to naivete on the part of the Native Americans and European cunning and overwhelming firepower.  Some argue that the current political situation and argument is hypocritical at best.

Into the secular dispute, Christians must include a discussion of Biblical, Kingdom principles.  As Christians, which side of the debate should we support?  If it comes to a vote, how should we vote?

A Nation of Laws

Illegal immigration is a personally difficult subject.  I have good friends on both sides of the debate and even more importantly, I have personal who were born in the United States, but whose parents came here illegally.  The parents have never violated the law, have held jobs and (I assume) paid taxes, and lived quiet lives.  The entire family has a deep, personal, and active faith in Jesus Christ.  Each of them attends and supports the church with time, energy, and substance.  For me, simplistic answers are insufficient.

If I take the position that mercy should be shown to illegal immigrants and amnesty and citizenship should be given to those who arrived here illegally, but have not engaged in criminal behavior since their arrival, I compromise the rule of law and make it anecdotal.  The problem with anecdotal law is that it can change at the whim of any ruler.  The basis for the establishment of our nation was to escape anecdotal law and launch a system based on the concept that “all men are created equal.”

Illegal immigrants steal American taxpayer dollars through Medicare, Medicaid, and other governmental programs that provide “free” benefits and do not require citizenship as a basis for receipt.  “Theft” does not always happen at the point of a gun or result in an arrest and conviction.  Robin Hood is celebrated in folklore, but in history, he was a common thief.  Does then that immigrant family I know actually participate in “criminal behavior?”  And should the parents be deported?  Does anything less threaten the rule of law in America?

Those who argue for amnesty always use “grace” and “mercy” as their arguments.  Those arguments are not without merit.  Jesus had little use for the Pharisees and Sadducees who were the lawyers of His day.  He chided and condemned them for creating regulations that no one could keep and called them, “hypocrites” regularly.  Does that mean that we should lay aside our laws and simply welcome all who find themselves within our borders no matter how they arrived?

Mercy without a standard is meaningless.  If anyone who can geographically locate himself within what are now our borders, then our borders are meaningless.  What purpose do they serve?  If our borders are to be protected, if lives are put at risk and tax money is spent to do so, then our borders must be significant and citizenship must be significant also.

A Sensible Solution

I wonder what would happen if politics were removed from the debate?  Would there be so much name-calling and vehemence if illegal aliens who became citizens could not vote…ever?  It seems to me that caring for all those who are genuinely in need is a Christian mandate, but as a legal American citizen, I resent having my vote diluted and my resources reallocated to people who have broken laws without my consent.

The situation seems a dilemma until political advantage is removed.  Christians are, I believe, more than willing to assist those less fortunate.  It has been proven again and again, that America responds to needs from a disaster more generously and more quickly than any other nation.  I don’t think caring is the problem.

Don’t confuse a secular debate about law with a spiritual debate about “care.”  Jesus was clear that His Kingdom was not of this world.  He also said that while we are not “of” this world, we are “in” it.

I believe that if the church is allowed to be the church and the government stops playing god for votes, the debate between Americans becomes a profitable discussion and not a screaming match to gain an advantage.

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“The Miracle Moment” 20 Years Later

January 17, 1993

William Jefferson Clinton was preparing for his inaugural, the Cowboys beat the 49ers, and God showed Himself powerful and contemporary in a Sunday School class at Houston’s First Baptist Church in Houston, Texas.

The lesson that morning was from Psalm 103, primarily verses 1-5.  David is talking to himself and instructs himself to “Bless the Lord” which means give praise or thanks to God.  He then lists some reasons for himself to do so.

He (God) forgives all my sin; He heals all my disease; He redeems my life from the grave, the pit, destruction; He crowns me with love and compassion, loving kindness; and He restores my youth like the eagle.

I stood to teach the class of 150 or more on that morning.  I had never been more emotionally drained than I was that morning.  I had never had less faith than I did that morning.  The pit David described was swallowing me.

But God (aren’t those great words from the Scripture?) changed everything.  Let me explain…

The Back Story

In 1990, I was serving as the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas and had been for some time.  First Baptist was a great church and an historical Southern Baptist Church. In January, I contracted a flu virus that ultimately penetrated the mylan sheath of my vocal folds and damaged the nerve tissue beyond repair.

Over the next three years I was seen by over 63 specialists and their teams (totaling over 200 doctors) as they tried to diagnose and treat me.  I had been left with a voice that sounded like the worst case of laryngitis you have ever heard, and could only make that if I screamed at the top of my lungs.  My daughters were both students at Baylor and I could not even call their dorm because I sounded like an obscene phone caller.

Though the congregation had been incredibly patient with my disability, I had resigned for obvious reasons in 1991.  Everything I had ever done to earn a living had been connected to my ability to speak and suddenly my “tool kit” was gone.

We had moved back to Houston and my wife had become the primary breadwinner in our family.  A dear friend gave me a job as a private investigator working in an area where my voice was unimportant, but I ached to do the ministry to which I had been called.

The Catacombs Class

First Houston had a Sunday School class that had first met in the basement of the church, hence “The Catacombs.”  A wonderful group of folks that I had been privileged to teach before I went to Brenham and with whom contact was never lost.  When they learned that we were moving back to Houston, they came to Brenham with bodies and trucks and moved us…or, as one of our directors said, “Retrieved” us.

It was to Houston’s First Baptist Church that we returned and to that class as members.  Their support and fellowship was (and is) more valuable than words can express.

In April, 1992, the teacher of the Catacombs had to take some time away for personal reasons.  Our directors (a husband and wife) asked if I would fill in while a permanent replacement was sought.  I protested that I was too hard to understand which was met with “we’ll listen REALLY carefully.”  I have come to understand that they asked, not because I was such a profound teacher, but because they loved me and knew how desperately I needed to teach.

The female half of our director team was persistent about me becoming the permanent teacher even when the educational staff of the church expressed their reservations because of my voice.  She told them that she was as certain that God wanted me to teach that class as she could possibly be and they ultimately relented.

Little did she, they, or me truly know what God was preparing.

The Moment

As I mentioned before, I was in a horrible pit as I took to the platform that morning.  Two days previous, I had sat for hours in my living room with a shotgun in my mouth and I had come to the end of myself.  “Blessing the Lord” was difficult for me.  In truth, the only reason I was there was because I could not find a substitute and I could not simply not show up.  So my teaching that morning was perfunctory, nothing more.

As I began the outline I discussed the word “all.”  It literally means “every single one without exception.”  Christ’s forgiveness of all my sin is what makes the Good News GREAT.  I had no problem with that discussion.

But, when I began to talk about healing, my words were, “I still believe God heals,” while my thoughts were, “but why not me?”  I moved through that discussion as honestly as I could and began my third thought…”He redeems my life from the pit.”

I began my discourse, “I have had, and you have had, in times past, pit experiences.”  On the word, “pit,” the pressure that had been in my throat for three years was gone as if someone had removed their hand from choking me.  I continued, startled, “We’ve all had times when our life seemed to be in a pit, in a grave, and we didn’t have an answer for the pit we find ourselves in.”  While I was speaking, I was swallowing choke-free, and I’ll never forget my thought…”is that what I think it is?”

Since Then

Doctors confirmed that it was what I thought it was when I saw them the following days.  My voice has been totally restored, and to quote my lead physician, “I can’t find any evidence that you ever had a voice problem.”

The event happened on January 17, 1993, the third Sunday of the month…today.  The event was caught on tape in the most casual way.  The event changed my life and has affected literally millions of people worldwide.

The Catacombs Class started recording lessons decades before that Sunday.  In a large group, 100% attendance is impossible.  In order to be of service, a cassette recording was made no matter who taught, and one or two copies would be made available the following Sunday.  The cassettes would simply be on the back table and if you wanted one, it was there.  When I say, “no big deal,” I mean, “no deal at all!”  But in that church with over 20,000 members that was the only class that recorded their lessons.  Anywhere else would not have had the impact that God intended.

I didn’t ask to teach the class, our director fought to have me teach.  I didn’t write my own material, I was using what used to be called, “Bible Book Series” material that was used Convention-wide.  And, don’t forget, I didn’t want to be there.  Coincidences?  I think not.

From that day to this I celebrate the restoration of my vocal ability.  I wrote of the experience the following week and described it in terms that likened it to Lazarus coming from the grave.  My gratitude and my emotions have not waned in 20 years.

I have crisscrossed this country and the world telling the story of that moment.  God has used me as an object lesson of His grace and power.  I have appeared on the Oprah show and have shared my story with one little lady in a nursing home who could not speak, but wept as I related the timeless story of His Goodness.  I still go wherever the opportunity is given to share the story and I will do so until I am physically unable to do so.

If you would like to hear The Moment for yourself, go to our website, www.nuvoice.org.  It can be heard on our Home Page.  Listen and believe this…if God could do that for me, He can solve whatever problem you have in your life.  He loves you every bit as much as He loves me.

We’ve been saying it for 20 years….and counting.

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Therefore, Be It Resolved…

Resolve

We’re a week into the New Year. How many of your resolution are still unbroken? Resolutions are easy to make, but difficult to keep. Most of us make go through the exercise of making resolutions for the New Year. Based on last year’s performance, we resolve to do better. We resolve to lose weight, to get in shape, to make more money, to be kinder, to give more to charity, and many others. Unfortunately, most of our resolutions don’t last more than 24 hours, if that. We don’t make the commitment necessary to achieve the success we wish in whatever area.

“Resolved!” The word just feels strong. By definition, resolve is, “to make clear or understandable.” In legal documents, the word heads the paragraphs that follow the “Whereas” clauses. What is resolved is what is decided and promised based on the stated premises. Resolved indicates a commitment to a particular course of action. The key word is “commitment.”

The word “resolve” has another definition that may not be as familiar to you. It is, “to break up, to separate, to change by disintegration.” We observe both definitions on display when Jesus stood before Pilate. Pilate did all in his power to make Jesus dis-integrate, but Jesus made Himself very clear and understandable. He kept-it-together when it most mattered. As we face a new year, we I challenge you to exhibit the same kind of resolve that Jesus had.

Expediency Lacks Resolve

After listening to the charges against Jesus, Pilate announced, “I find no fault” in the man that stood before him. The trial was illegal under Roman law. The charges were falsely filed and prosecutors were corrupt. But political expediency clouded Pilate’s judgment and the execution of an innocent man proceeded unabated.
We see expediency in politics every day. The recent “fiscal cliff” was a manufactured crisis that created an expediency issue for Congress. The phrase “kicking-the-can-down-the-road” is a description of what elected representatives do in order to avoid hard choices that will be unpopular and therefore not expedient. The motivation for their choices is no different than that of Pontius Pilate.

Businesses use profits as an excuse to cut corners and make expedient rather than principled decisions regarding the contents and safety of their products. Jobs are sometimes shipped overseas because manufacturing costs can be reduced even though the quality of the product suffers.

Teachers’ union leaders are more interested in protecting the jobs of the members who keep them in office than they are in providing the quality educators that our children deserve. It is more expedient for the leadership to “fight” for their members than to improve the professionalism of their members.

Let’s face it, the resolve that allows one to stand in the face of adversity and not flinch, not dis-integrate, is a rare commodity these days. The resolve that Jesus showed is based on integrity and personal commitment. Jesus knew who He was, why He was there, and was prepared to “endure” the moment for the “joy set before Him.” The resolve He demonstrated is principled, and principle is rarely expedient.

More Than Conquerors

Many challenges and opportunities await you in 2013, anticipate them. Some of the God’s best opportunities will come disguised as overwhelming problems, expect them. You will be tempted to make compromising, expedient decisions because the alternative, principled decision will be “hard.” I dare you to trust God and show your resolve.
When the crisis comes, when the decision choice is hard, when you have the opportunity to do the right thing, you will if you have committed beforehand to allow Christ to rule in your life.

Paul told the believers in Rome that no matter the challenge before them, that an “overwhelming victory” belonged to them through Christ. The promise is still valid.

Whereas, He has loved us with an everlasting love, and,
Whereas, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and,
Whereas, nothing can separate me from His love,
Therefore, be it resolved, that I commit my life, my decisions, and my eternity into His Almighty care.

Have a great 2013!!!!!

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