Entering 2021; A Plan for Reconnection at First Baptist Church

As we head into 2021, let me share some thoughts about the future. When the ball dropped on 2020, none of us could have predicted that we would be wrapped up in a worldwide pandemic three months into the year. The thought of schools, airports, businesses, and churches closing was unfathomable. The economic, emotional, and physical toll taken on our country may never be fully known. Some business owners have had to lay off employees, modify business plans, scale back services, and unfortunately close their doors forever. Schools have struggled with creating online platforms for learning comparable to in-person learning while ensuring students don’t fall behind. Students also missed out on the food, counseling, and other social services provided by school districts. Church leaders found their congregations dwindle due to stay-at-home orders and safety concerns. They witnessed ministries paused or canceled, and pastoral care became difficult and distant. The most significant harm to the body of Christ rests in one word: disconnected. As we enter approach 2021, the pandemic is not over. Businesses are still closed in parts of our country. Schools are still providing instruction through brick and mortar and online platforms. With a vaccine becoming readily available to the general public over the next few months, prayerfully, we are on the road to some sense of normalcy. With that being said, it is time for First Baptist Church to reconnect. 

To facilitate this reconnection, we will take two intentional steps. The first step is an adjustment to our Sunday evening schedule. Since March, we have not held evening services, and the easy thing would be to discontinue these services altogether. I don’t believe that is wise. Instead, beginning in February, we will move our evening service away from a single Bible study toward ministry-focused opportunities for reconnection through fellowship, service, prayer, family, and outreach. What will be the structure of these services? 

  • We will schedule some Sunday evenings as “off” – encouraging family time without the guilt of missing anything.
  • We will schedule corporate prayer meetings on some Sunday evenings.
  • We will organize fellowship events on some Sunday evenings to allow our people to gather and invite their unchurched friends and family.
  • We will dedicate some Sunday afternoons to serving our membership and neighbors who have needs.
  • Some Sunday evenings will be given to outreach and witness training.  

There are two goals in making this move. First, we want to take better advantage of Sundays- a day already carved out for “church.” Second, we want to include more of our congregation in ministries and opportunities that strengthen the body and promote individual growth. I understand that not everyone will agree with this move. I have been in the ministry long enough to know any change to an established schedule can be difficult and problematic. As I shared with our leadership team, I believe this is the necessary adjustment for this season of our church life. It may not be forever. My prayer is that our people will at least give it a chance.  

The second step is an increased focus from the pulpit on the importance of the body of Christ and the gospel community it fosters. In January, I will share a sermon series entitled “Gospel Community,” focusing on the barriers that slow it and avenues that allow it to flourish. In February, I will begin a sermon series that walks through the book of Ephesians. Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians, highlighting the beautiful connection between Christ, Church, and Community, is one we all need entering the new year. 

None of this will be easy. We have a long way to go. When the church’s work pauses for some time, there are significant challenges in its resumption. We will battle the urge to remain disconnected because we have grown accustomed to it over the past nine months. We will see some ministry volunteers not return right away due to health concerns. We will battle the pace at which we move forward, remembering we are still in a pandemic. Despite the challenges and uncertainty, I enter 2021 confident of the Lord’s presence among us and the work He wants to do through us. 

The Difficulty of Christmas

Today is Christmas – a day of birth. Luke 2 records the event: “10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” His birth is significant. It marks Jesus’ entry into this world – of whom the prophets spoke. It marks Jesus’ entry into this world – laying aside all royalty claims, living as a servant to all. It marks Jesus’ entry into this world – making the journey from the manger to the cross, securing for fallen and sinful man redemption and forgiveness. His birth is a reason to celebrate.

Our redemption and salvation began on this day. If there had been no birth, there could have been no earthly instruction about who God is and what He desires from us. If there were no instruction and teaching, there would have been no rejection by those Jesus came to reveal Himself. If there had been no rejection, there would have been no prophecy fulfillment, which solidifies our hope and assurance. If there were no rejection, there would be no crucifixion – no atoning death for the sins of man. If there were no crucifixion and death, there certainly would have been no resurrection. It is no secret that this is my favorite time of the year. I look forward to this season more than any other. This season brings with it a sense of amazement and child-like wonder. The carols, family gatherings, gift-giving, and the feeling of goodwill toward our fellow man only add to the enjoyment of the season. To God, I am thankful for this day of birth.

Today is Christmas – a day of death. I lost my dad on December 25th, 2012, after a brief six-month battle with lung cancer. It still doesn’t seem real. I remember the events of that day clearly. We were spending Christmas vacation with Terri’s parents in Tallahassee, Florida. Dad was in a nursing home in Tifton, Georgia, about two hours away. We had seen him the day before and knew his conditioning was worsening quickly. We received a call from my step-mother around 6:00 am. She said we should come now if we wanted to see him. We made the trip to Tifton. The Hospice nurse was in the room and shared what we could expect over the next few hours. I have sat with many, many families as medical professionals shared the same information. I admit it was very different being on the other side of the conversation. I had the privilege of being in the room alone with my dad when he took his last breath. To have been there to do so, I am very thankful.

The relationship with my dad was the best five years before his death. As I shared at his funeral, my dad battled many personal demons that led to great turmoil and distance. My dad was a Christian. He came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior through a faith-based alcohol treatment program at the rescue mission where he was living. For this, I am thankful. I miss my dad terribly. There are many things I would love to share with him. I would love to be able to introduce him to his great-grandchildren. I would give anything to join him at the Waffle House (his favorite restaurant) and talk over a cup of coffee. 

One day. Two profound events. Countless emotions. I am thankful that the baby born in the manger is now the Prince of Peace. More than ever, the words of Isaiah 26:3 ring true: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You. Because he trusts in You”.

Dear Kalli and Olli

kalliolliblog (2)These two beautiful people are my grandkids: Kalliahpe Adelaide (Kalli) and Olliver Ryan (Olli).

This letter has been on my mind for many weeks. At times I’ve tried to write, but the timing did not feel right. With the events of the past week in full view, the timing finally feels right.

You are far too young to understand what is going on in the world today. You may see images flash on the television while you play in the living room. You have no way to appreciate the stories behind the pictures. You may hear adults talking about how violent people have become. You are far too young to comprehend the magnitude of the current situation in the country in which you live. You are far too young to understand what words like racism, riot, protest, and injustice means. As far as you’re concerned, those words are no different than cat, duck, snack, or truck.

If you could understand what is on television, you would see people treated unfairly and differently due to their skin color. You would see people elected to protect us and make our nation safe, act selfishly, and prideful at times. You would see people not caring for their neighbors and each other. You would see different rules for different people. You would see the law and those sworn to protect it, like your daddy, ignored, ridiculed, and threatened. You would see a country at war with itself.

I’m thankful your world currently consists of fishing, toys, naps, dogs, cats, baby ducks, innocent laughs and smiles, Trolls, the Furchesters, and milestones such as walking, reading, the next tooth, potty-training, and the like. I’m thankful that through your innocent eyes, you see love modeled by your mommy and daddy, as well as others around you who care about you more than you will ever know. I’m thankful that through your innocent eyes, you see people as equal- regardless of what they look like, what job they have, or where they live. I’m thankful that you see simplicity through your innocent eyes, for the days will come that bring complications. I’m thankful that you see fun through your innocent eyes, for the days will come that bring difficulty and pain. I’m thankful that you see honesty through your innocent eyes, for the days will come that brings betrayal and deceit.

Babies, I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the world you’re growing up in will likely be more divided than when you begin Kindergarten. I’m sorry the grown-ups who are in charge sometimes act like your peer group. I’m sorry that you are growing up in a broken world. Please know this was not God’s intention. I’m sorry that you will have even greater challenges than I did growing up. I’m sorry I will not be able to shield you from the ugly and hurtful things you will see and experience in your lifetimes.

As you grow up, I want you to remember a few things. First, remember there is a God who created you, loves you, knows the number of hairs on your head, and desires you know Him in a personal way through His Son Jesus. Second, choose to see the good in people. I say choose because it is your choice. Never allow someone else to tell you how to treat or think about another person. Finding the bad is easy; looking for the good requires greater effort. Third, always run to the protectors- like your daddy. There are people in this world who choose to protect others’ safety and put others ahead of themselves. Fourth, never doubt your mommy and daddy’s love for you. Next to God’s love, there will never be a more powerful, consistent, and honest form of love than the one that comes from your mommy and daddy. Never doubt that.

Babies, I want you to know I pray for you. I began praying for you the moment I found out you would join this world. I pray that you will come to know the full weight of God’s love, and you will, in return, love, serve, and pursue Him all the days of your lives. I pray you both will do your part to make the world a better place. I pray for wisdom as make decisions early on that will undoubtedly shape your future. I pray your hearts will be guarded against the anger, hatred, confusion, and sin so commonplace today. I pray for discernment as you choose who to allow into your lives. I pray your future friends will be trustworthy and always have your best interests in mind. I pray that your future spouses will love the Lord and respect you. I pray you will always want to hold your mommy and daddy’s hand.

Finally, I pray for your mommy and daddy. For your mommy, I pray as she works inside and outside the home to help provide a stable, secure, and happy life for you both. I pray the Lord will strengthen her and that her patience to be great- for motherhood is a ministry from which there is no break. I pray she will love your daddy more and more every day. For your daddy, I pray for him as he works hard to lead your family and to build an environment where you feel safe and protected. I pray the Lord will strengthen him and increase his patience as he faces uncertainties every day. I pray he will love your mommy more and more every day.

I had always heard that grandchildren brought with them a special kind of love. I couldn’t believe that was true- until I met you. I love you more than words can express. I promise to be with you as you grow up, and I will carry you in my heart wherever the Lord leads.

Papa

Easter Sunday Sermon Notes – 4.12.2020

psdSource (6)

The Day Death Died

Luke 24:1-10

Surprise #1: The Stone Was Rolled Away. (Matthew 27:59-61, Mark 16:4)

Surprise #2: The Body Was Gone. (Luke 24:3)

Surprise #3: Angels Were Present. (Luke 24:4, 23)

The angel tells us that death has died; a truth revealed in the form of a question. It is a crucial one, for it redirects our thoughts and attention. What does this redirection look like?

  1. The Angel’s Question Redirects Us from __________ to ____________.
  2. The Angel’s Question Redirects Us from the __________ to the  ______________.
  3. The Angel’s Question Redirects Us from __________ to ____________.
  4. The Angel’s Question Redirects Us from Our ______________ to God’s _________.
  5. The Angel’s Question Redirects Us from ___________ to  ____________.

What’s So Good About Good Friday?

psdSource (7)The Friday before Easter Sunday, Good Friday, is when the Christian faith stops to remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. What makes it “good”? The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “But God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Paul’s words sound so simple, “Christ died for us.” This verse is pregnant with truth, love, and forgiveness. It is not until we understand how Christ died that we can even begin to appreciate what He did for us. 

At the time of Christ’s death, crucifixion was considered the most brutal and painful manner in which a person could die. The Roman soldiers were experts on the subject of death; they ate it, breathed it, slept it; they even seemed to enjoy it. For six hours that Friday, Christ’s body hung on the cross, bleeding with nails in His hands and feet. An internal torment takes place as the weight of man’s sin bears down on His body. His spilled blood secured our salvation. The sights, sounds, smells, and other-worldly activity made this day like none other in history. Coupled with Passover, death filled the air. Stephen Mansfield, in his book, Killing Jesus wrote: 

Not long after the sky blackens and Jesus begins wrestling sith something unseen, the horrible cry fills the air. It is eerie and low at first, but then it rises and haunts the hearers the rest of the day. It is the screaming of the lambs. This is the Day of Preparation. In these next hours, the sacrificial lambs will be slaughtered. Already men have been carrying their white, bleating offerings to the temple. The killings begin at three.

The Jewish religious leaders claimed to be the spokesmen for God and knew what it took to please Him. They were “good” people. They also hated Jesus because He claimed to speak for God. The leaders missed the fact that the Son of God was with them; He talked with them. He walked with them; He brought to light their sinfulness. If anyone should have known Jesus was the Messiah, it was them. The actions of both groups seem unimaginable.

What happened to Jesus was not “good.” However, a great good came out of it. Left alone and to ourselves, we are lost. Left alone and to ourselves, we remain far from God. Left alone and to ourselves, there is a purpose in life we will never recognize. The Friday Jesus died, the way for the sinner to know forgiveness and redemption was made straight, straight from the veins of Christ to the very throne of God. In our lost state, God still loved us. Paul said it so right back in verse eight, “God demonstrated His love toward us.” The good that happened on Friday was salvation, a rescue.

Jesus left us a command in the Lord’s Supper to remember Him. Tragically, we require a reminder to remember the One who gave His life for us. The actions of that Friday were indeed not “good.” However, the results of that day are priceless. It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming. 

Christmas: A Day of Birth and Death

Slide1Today is Christmas. It is a day of birth. Luke 2 records the event: “10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” His birth is significant. It marks the entry into this world, the One whom the prophets of old had spoken. It marks the entry into this world, the One who would lay aside all claims of royalty and live as a servant to all. It marks the entry into this world, the One who would make the journey from the manger to the cross securing for fallen and sinful man redemption and forgiveness. His birth is a reason to celebrate.

Our redemption and salvation began on this day. If there had been no birth, there could have been no earthly instruction as to who God is and what He desires from us. If there were no instruction and teaching, there would have been no rejection by those Jesus came to reveal Himself. If there had been no rejection, there would have been no prophecy fulfillment, which solidifies our hope and assurance. If there were no rejection, there would be no crucifixion – no atoning death for the sins of man. If there were no crucifixion and death, there certainly would have been no resurrection. It is no secret that this is my favorite time of the year. I look forward to this season more than any other. This season brings with it a sense of amazement and child-like wonder. The carols, family gatherings, gift-giving, and the feeling of goodwill toward our fellow man only add to the enjoyment of the season. To God, I am thankful for this day of birth.

Today is also a day of death. I lost my dad on December 25th, 2012, after a brief six-month battle with lung cancer. It still doesn’t seem real. I remember the events of that day clearly. We were spending Christmas vacation with Terri’s parents in Tallahassee, Florida. Dad was in a nursing home in Tifton, Georgia, about two hours away. We had seen him the day before and knew his conditioning was worsening quickly. We received a call from my step-mother around 6:00 am that if we wanted to see him, we needed to do so. We made the trip to Tifton. The Hospice nurse was in the room and shared with us what we could expect over the next few hours. I have sat with many, many families, as the same information was shared. I admit it was very different being on the other side of the conversation. I had the privilege of being in the room alone with my dad when he took his last breath. To have been there to do so, I am very thankful.

The relationship with my dad was the best five years prior to his death. As I shared at his funeral, my dad battled many personal demons that led to great turmoil and distance. My dad was a Christian. He came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior through a faith-based alcohol treatment program at the rescue mission where he was living. For this I am thankful. I miss my dad terribly. There are many things I would love to share with him. I would love to be able to introduce him to his great-grandchildren. I would give anything to be able to join him at the Waffle House (his favorite restaurant) and talk over a cup of coffee. One day. Two profound events. Countless emotions. I am thankful that the baby born in the manger is now the Prince of Peace. More than ever, the words of Isaiah 26:3 ring true: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You. Because he trusts in You”.

Choose Thanksgiving

thanksWhen we stop to think of Thanksgiving, certain things come to mind. Eating turkey, watching football, and a short work week are a few. Thanksgiving is a time set aside to reflect on those things for which we are thankful. I believe that thankfulness is a choice we make. We can choose to take everything for granted and believe it is our right to have, or we can be genuinely thankful for what we have, realizing many don’t have what we enjoy. Thankfulness is something we learn.

God’s Word gives us a story that shows this principle in action. Jesus told us of ten lepers who cried out to Him for relief of their condition. He heard them and told them to go and show themselves to the priest. The Bible tells us they found healing while on their way to the priest. Of the ten, only one came back to show his gratitude. Jesus then asked if there were not ten, and why did only one come back. I want to share with you here what I shared with our people this past Sunday night. I believe that we will learn to be grateful when we have a good understanding of certain things.

1. We learn to be grateful when we think about how desperate our situation was before we met Jesus.

2. We learn to be thankful when we think about what we have gained in Christ.

3. We learn to be grateful when we consider what was done for us could not have been done by us.

4. We learn to be thankful when we think about how much our ingratitude grieves the heart of God.

As you enjoy the Thanksgiving holidays this year, take time to remember and reflect on the impact that Jesus has had in your life. When we do, the choice to be thankful is easier.

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 9

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

This past week I was engaged by a person on Twitter who took offense to a post I shared. The post highlighted the biblical fact that God cares about all races of people and that His church will be made up of people from every tribe and nation. It went on to say we cannot lift one nation over other nations. The response was swift. A professing Christian told me:

You support illegals just waltzing in here playing dumb victims. They play the game for gain. I’ve been around these ppl. Been to El Salvador. These ppl have NO respect for our country. They’re racist and envious. The Bible says follow the law of the land. You are confused. And I can’t believe you run a church.

This response is not that far of a departure from the position I believe many Americans hold toward immigrants and immigration. We assume erroneously that the actions and attitudes of a subset are reflective and indicative of the whole. We think we’re better because we live in the United States. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your country. Lest I be accused, I am proud of my country. I volunteered to serve her and fight on her behalf. When it comes to the value of life, American lives are worth the same as the Honduran, the Guatemalan, the Mexican, the Chinese, the Turk, or the Iraqi. Because we live in the United States, we enjoy blessings these nations do not. Hence the desire and longing of millions to be a part.

You may ask why I chose to title this series, “The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners.” To demonize is to “portray as wicked or threatening.” Is there a demonization occurring today? I believe there is. The person who engaged me online used language portraying immigrants and as wicked and threatening. Mild language compared to much of what we hear and see printed every day about immigrants, refugees, and foreigners. It is difficult to watch as millions of non-native born people in this country are viewed as a step below everyone else. It is difficult to watch the same people who risk personal safety and possible imprisonment to provide a better way of life for the families treated with disdain, disrespect, and suspicion. It saddens and angers me to listen to our current administration refer to these people as “animals” and other derogatory terms in an attempt to portray them as somehow less than human.

The treatment of immigrants (documented and undocumented) and immigration policy reform are areas where I disagree with the tone, tenor, and direction of our current administration. Whether intended or not, the current administration is portraying itself as anti-immigrant, in my estimation. Steps have been taken, and threats have been issued to punish immigrants (documented and undocumented) and make their lives increasingly more difficult. Note the following:

  • In July of this year, the current administration tightened restrictions on asylum seekers at America’s southern border than were believed to be too far-reaching. 1
  • In July of this year, the current administration considered capping the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2020 at zero; in essence, ending the Refugee Resettlement Program. No decision yet. 2
  • In March 2018, the current administration ended DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA allowed undocumented children (Dreamers) who came to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own to remain in the country while citizenship applications were processed. 3
  • This past month the current administration threatened to end birthright citizenship – protection guaranteed by the 14th amendment. 4
  • This past month the current administration advocated allowing migrant families to be detained longer than the previous 20-day period pending case review. 5
  • This past month the current administration announced a new “public charge” rule expanding the government’s ability to reject green cards for immigrants using or deemed likely to use food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid, and other forms of public assistance 6. This policy affects legal immigrants – those who did everything right.
  • This past month, the current administration eliminated protection that lets immigrants remain in the country and avoid deportation while they or their relatives receive life-saving medical treatments or endure other hardships. 7
  • This past month, the current administration issued a confusing update to US Customs and Immigration Service policy stating “some” children of U.S. government employees and service members who live abroad may not be considered to be residing in the U.S. for the purposes of automatically acquiring citizenship. This guidance replaced the previous language saying any child born of a U.S. government official or service member abroad would automatically acquire citizenship. 8

I understand there is more involved in the above policy decisions than I have covered. I also understand security was/is a likely factor in these decisions. When taken as a whole, a portrait emerges of an administration who appears impatient with, and increasingly intolerant toward those who desire to call America home. Our words, actions, attitudes, and decisions tell the story of our life. You may say, “You’re a Christian pastor. You shouldn’t criticize the president and other government leaders. You should pray for them.” I am. I’m not. I do. To disagree with is not the same as to criticize. As a Christian, I have a fundamentally different position on this subject than does the president. To openly disagree is a freedom we enjoy that many around the world do not.

The intent of this article is to highlight the person of the immigration debate. I hope I’ve done that. There is grave danger in the use of the word “all” in discussions like this one. To say, “all immigrants are criminals” and “all immigrants and refugees are here to take and steal jobs” casts an unfair shadow on those whose motives are pure and right. Regardless of a person’s government-issued status, they are first and foremost image-bearers of God worthy of respect. If professing Christians refuse to demonstrate concern, love, compassion, and common decency to someone because they may be undocumented, we say something to them the Bible does not. We need laws. We need borders. We need a new awareness of the human being. We need to look over the walls and through the detention facility fences and see each one as a human being created in God’s image longing to live free and pursue happiness.  Let’s start there.

__________________

1 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-administration-announces-major-crackdown-on-asylum-seekers

2 https://thehill.com/policy/international/453908-trump-admin-considering-cutting-number-of-refugees-accepted-into-us-to

3 https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/trump-dreamers-daca-immigration-announcement-n798686

4 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-renews-threat-birthright-citizenship

5 Ibid.

6 https://www.insider.com/trump-administration-public-charge-reject-green-cards-immigrants-government-aid-2019-8

7 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/immigrants-with-special-medical-status-ordered-to-leave-us/2019/08/26/8ba36488-c81c-11e9-9615-8f1a32962e04_story.html?noredirect=on

8 https://www.foxnews.com/politics/uscis-policy-citizenship-children-government-employees-born-overseas

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 8

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

My previous two posts have explored a bipartisan solution to the ongoing immigration problem offered by the Evangelical Immigration Table. Their Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform contains six principles believed to be necessary for meaningful immigration reform. So far, we have explored:

  1. Respecting the God-given Dignity of Every Person
  2. Protecting the Unity of the Immediate Family
  3. Respecting the Rule of Law
  4. Guaranteeing Secure National Borders

Principle #5: Ensuring Fairness to Taxpayers

Of the many concerns over immigration, the negative economic impact on U.S. citizens is one of the foremost. Meaningful immigration reform must be fair to U.S. taxpayers. Scripture teaches us to care for and provide for the most vulnerable of our society: orphans, widows, children, the disabled, the elderly, etc. Beyond this, everyone is expected to pull their own weight and provide for themselves. We would be correct in expecting immigrants and refugees to work and not depend exclusively on government programs.

About immigrants, it is common today to hear such things as “They’re only here to steal our jobs.”, “They’re only takers.”, “Why should we have to pay for them?”, “We should take care of our own citizens first.” Statements such as these assume the motive of the immigrant- both documented and undocumented. Comments such as these come from the place of anger, hatred, and ignorance and are inflammatory, misleading, and partially biased. In short, many believe immigrants of all statuses are a drain on the U.S. economy at the local, state, and federal levels. Simply not true.

Overall, immigrants have a higher labor participation rate than native-born U.S. citizens. 1 Matthew Soerens wrote, “Most immigrants are paying taxes- taken out of their payroll checks for Social Security, Medicare, and income tax, as well as sales tax and property taxes- thus their presence involves an input of funds into the governmental coffers. It is estimated that half of the undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes, but because undocumented immigrants are not eligible for most federal benefits, undocumented immigrants have heavily subsidized Social Security without being able to benefit from it.” 2 Undocumented immigrants paid $12 billion more in payroll taxes into Social Security Trust Funds than what they were qualified to receive in benefits in 2010. 3 A Florida study found that the average immigrant paid about $1,500 more in taxes than they received in benefits. 4 Much of the attention is on the immigrant taking advantage of the system. It is the high point of hypocrisy to criticize the working immigrant who may utilize the few government services available to them and not criticize the able-bodied U.S. citizen who does not want to work and is dependent on government services.

The fact still exists that some undocumented immigrants have not fully paid their taxes, which is, admittedly, not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. Meaningful immigration reform should address this issue on several fronts. First, a path to legal citizenship should ensure taxpayers are treated fairly through a process of restitution on behalf of the undocumented immigrant. I will share more about this in the next section. Second, employers who knowingly employ undocumented immigrants to gain an unfair labor advantage should face fines and penalties proportionate to their violation. These unscrupulous employers are the real disservice to the U.S. taxpayer.

Principle #6: Establishing a Path Toward Legal Status and/or Citizenship for Those Who Qualify and Who Wish to Become Permanent Residents

If it were possible today to stop all illegal entry into the U.S. through border crossings and overstaying visas, the issue remains – the fate of those already in the U.S. There are only two viable options for remedy. First, mass deportation of all undocumented immigrants. This draconian nuclear option would be the ultimate logistical nightmare, as well as an economic impossibility. Newsweek published an article in 2015 detailing the cost of deportation. The numbers are staggering:

Based on previous analysis from the Center for American Progress, a mass deportation strategy would cost an average of $10,070 per person, for a total of $114 billion to remove 11.3 million people. This figure includes the high costs that would be required to find each and every unauthorized individual. Finding every single person without legal status would be a logistical nightmare that would cause significant social and emotional damage to entire communities. CAP’s $114 billion estimate also includes the cost to detain these individuals while they wait for removal, to process them through the immigration courts and to transport them abroad. While $114 billion represents a startling sum of money, it is only the direct cost of physically deporting unauthorized immigrants. The cost to the overall economy would likely be far more. The conservative American Action Forum, or AAF, has argued that it would take 20 years to accomplish a mass deportation program, with a full cost between $420 billion and $620 billion. Beyond being prohibitively costly and morally unsustainable, removing so many individuals from the country—and from the labor force—would devastate the nation: The Bipartisan Policy Center calculates that deporting all unauthorized immigrants would shrink the labor force by 6.4 percent over two decades, which AAF estimates would decrease U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, by a full $ 1.6 trillion. 5

The second option is a pathway to citizenship for those who are already here. I am not referring to amnesty. Amnesty is the forgetting of an offense. To grant amnesty to the millions of undocumented immigrants who are in the U.S. would be pretending they had not broken the law. To do so would violate the principle of the rule of law. Meaningful immigration reform must include an earned legalization process that honors the law, is fair to taxpayers, and seeks to keep families together.

This earned legalization process should include some form of restitution. Immigrants who are in the U.S. without documentation should be allowed to come forward, acknowledge breaking the law, and pay a fine proportionate to the time in the U.S.  Having come forward declaring their desire to come out of the shadows and become a citizen, the next step would be a criminal background check. Those found having committed violent crimes would be deported. Immigrants successfully passing background checks should then be allowed temporary legal status for a period time while fines are paid and self-support is secured. If all requirements are met after a specified time, they would be able to apply for permanent citizenship.

For “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, the restitution should not apply since they did not make the decision to come to the U.S. illegally. According to a recent Lifeway Research poll, more than two-thirds of American Evangelical Christians support an earned legalization process coupled with improved border security. 6 In “Thinking Biblically About Immigrants and Immigration Reform”, the Evangelical Immigration Table wrote:

Were elected officials to pursue a restitution-based legalization process for qualifying immigrants, it would give these immigrants the chance to earn their way back into right standing with the U.S. government, which would be a tremendous relief to them and a reaffirmation of the importance of the rule of law. An earned pathway to legal status would legitimize the long-term presence of these immigrants in their communities. This process would invite the formerly undocumented to participate fully and completely in American society, finally being able to add their strands of colorful fabric to the great and beautiful tapestry that is the United States of America. 7

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1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, “Foreign-Born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics – 2017,” May 17, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/forbrn.pdf

Soerens and Yang. Welcoming the Stranger. p.129

Stephen Gross, et al, “Effects of Unauthorized Immigration on the Actuarial Status of the Social Security Trust Funds,” Social Security Administration Office of the Chief Actuary, actuarial n.151, April 2013, www.ssa.gov/oact/notes/pdf_notes/note151.pdf

Emily Eisenhauer, et al. “Immigrants in Florida: Characteristics and Contributions” (Florida International University, May 2007), 7,34

https://www.newsweek.com/how-much-would-it-cost-deport-all-undocumented-immigrants-364316

6 LifeWay Research, “Evangelical Views on Immigration,” February 2015, http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Evangelical-Views-on-Immigration-Report.pdf.

“Thinking Biblically About Immigrants and Immigration Reform” (Evangelical Immigration Table) ebook.pdf 27.

The Demonization of Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreigners – Part 7

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests his hand on a fence at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix

Principle #3: Respecting the Rule of Law

We are a nation of laws. Laws that are written, distributed, enforced, and amendable are the hallmark of a civilized society. They provide boundaries and allow for punishment when an individual or organization operates outside prescribed boundaries. Laws keep the train on the track, the plane in the air, and the ship afloat. Our society operates under a principle known as the rule of law. According to the United Nations, the rule of law is, “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”1

Laws should consistently be enforced and should apply to everyone all the time. No one is above and beyond the reach of the law. Without the rule of law, chaos resides. Without the rule of law, power can be bought and brokered. Without the rule of law, there becomes a hierarchy of laws – some will be enforced, and some will not. When applied to comprehensive immigration reform, this principle deals with the response to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally.

Conservative non-partisan estimates place the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. between 10.7 and 12 million. 2 A little more than half crossed a border illegally, while an estimated 4.5 million entered legally on temporary visas but overstayed their visas. 3 Is it possible for Christians to show love and compassion for the illegal immigrant while respecting and obeying the law of our land? That is one of the questions at the heart of the immigration debate.

Scripture speaks to the importance of the rule of law. Paul told the church at Rome that every believer is subject to the governing authorities God has ordained. He went on to explain how government should appropriately function, namely to serve the common good, maintain order, and punish those who do wrong. 4 Christians should be sensitive to the reasons why individuals/families choose to violate immigration laws. These reasons are often economical. Other reasons include physical safety and family reunification. Regardless of the reasons and means of entry (border crossing or overstaying a visa), intentional violation of the law is not the answer. What then?

When laws violate the conscience and Word of God, believers are admonished to choose God and not man. Scripture records the stories of Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego, Daniel, and the Hebrew midwives of Exodus who chose God over the government. To compare dysfunctional immigration laws to the call for idol worship in Nebuchadnezzar’s days is unfair. However, there are laws within the immigration system that could be considered unjust through the lens of Scripture.

Discussing federal law, in 1830, American lawyer, politician, and orator Daniel Webster wrote, “It is the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people.” With ignoring the violation of law through amnesty a dismissal of the rule of law, reform is the only viable option. Few would argue that current immigration laws are sufficient and just. Respecting the rule of law includes advocating for the change of laws that are unjust and do not function properly. Every attempt should be made to deter illegal immigration (secure borders, clearer enforceable laws, etc.) and facilitate legal immigration (streamlined citizenship processes, clear pathways to citizenships, etc.) Respecting the rule of law should also include honoring the nation’s laws that offer asylum to those who possess a well-founded fear in their home country. The U.S. cannot admit everyone who comes to the border; I understand that. But, to respect the law and dignity of every person, each one with a fear of harm if returned to their home country should be given a fair hearing. This practice is in keeping with the best of the values of the United States.

Principle #4: Guaranteeing Secure National Borders

Christians want to be part of a nation that is compassionate toward and welcoming of immigrants. Christians also want to be safe. Comprehensive immigration reform must find a way to balance the two concerns. Citizens should expect their government to ensure the borders of our nation are secure; capable of keeping out those who would want to inflict harm. This position is consistent with the government’s role, as described in Romans 13. Immigration reform that secures our borders must include elements such as physical barriers and walls, funding for increased technology to track violent individuals, an increase in the number of border patrol agents, immigration judges and lawyers, and detention facilities. However, protection should not mean isolation. Those fleeing persecution and threat of loss of life should be allowed, as the law prescribes, to request asylum and submit to a rigorous vetting process. To arbitrarily declare an individual cannot seek asylum at our nation’s border is a violation of long-standing law, as well as an infringement upon the principle of the rule of law.

The best way to reduce illegal immigration is to replace our current failing, dysfunctional immigration system with a healthy, functional system capable of handling the numbers of families seeking entry into the U.S. and ensuring the safety of our citizens. I would dare say a long, dangerous, and expensive trip across the Mexican border would not be the first and best choice of anyone. Who willingly says, “I want to get caught by border patrol agents. I want to be confined to crowded and unsanitary detention facilities. I want to be away from my family for an unknown number of years.” Our nation’s current policies, systems, and under-staffed immigration facilities often make this the only option for a person seeking a better life. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m saying many in this position are left to make the best wrong choice.

A functional immigration system that streamlines the overall process, encourages legal immigration, and respects the dignity and worth of the individual while allowing our federal agencies to improve border security is the best answer for the safety of Americans.

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1 – https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/what-is-the-rule-of-law/

2 – Bryan Baker, “Estimates of the Illegal Alien Population Residing in the United States: January 2015,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, December 2018, https://www.dhs.gov/sites/ default/files/publications/18_1214_PLCY_pops-est-report.pdf.

3 – Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin, “The 2,000 Mile Wall in Search of a Purpose: Since 2007 Visa Overstayers Have Outnumbered Undocumented Border Crossers by Half a Million,” Journal on Migration and Human Security, 2017, https://cmsny.org/publications/jmhs-visa-overstays-border-wall/.

4 – Romans 13:1-4