By Craig Carlson
May 06, 2017

Acts 17:26-27 - “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

We live in a world filled with racial issues, ethnic divides and a struggle to understand cultural and religious differences.  I find this passage a welcome reminder that this has all been planned by God and we need to remember and apply this teaching from Paul.

There are two incredibly significant statements contained in this reading.  The first statement, that “from one man he made all the nations” tells us that God’s world is for everyone.  The second statement, that “he marked out…the boundaries of their lands” supports the first statement and adds a twist that He intended for His people to live in different nations.

I believe the first statement speaks to physical differences, those of complexion or color for example, and signifies that while we may look different now, we started from the same blood.  Therefore, the treatment of anyone in God’s kingdom based on physical differences is not to be condoned by any means.   I find that most (though sadly not all) Christians agree relatively easily with the concept that the color of one’s skin makes no difference in the eyes of God.

The challenge and the revelation for me can be found in the second statement, which speaks to different nations and lands.  This likely refers to differences in customs or beliefs.  This is where society tends to get more uncomfortable.  But if God has laid out the world intentionally into different lands and boundaries, he has done this knowing that such geographical boundaries would lead to different ways of thinking that lead to different customs, beliefs and even religions.  

The reading goes on to say that all these people should seek Him and reach out to Him.  So if all people, regardless of complexion or color OR even beliefs or customs, are to seek Him, shouldn’t we also be accepting of them?  I believe this to indicate that all the people of the world are our brothers and sisters, regardless of our differences.  I find it revealing, and even inspiring, that God planned for such differences so specifically!  

I pray that I can be more accepting of those from other lands that may look, think or act differently from me.  I pray that as a society we can look past such differences and accept all the children of God equally.  Amen.
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By Jim Larson
May 05, 2017

But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out." Acts 16:37

 The apostle Paul, unjustly arrested and abused, strongly objected, demanded redress, and so received justice. 
 Most of us at some time in our lives have experienced what Paul did. Hopefully not to the degree that Paul suffered. A teacher's accusation of cheating, an unwarranted traffic stop are but two examples of injustices that may have happened to you. And like Paul, I am sure you protested loudly and demanded justice. 
 Be, let me ask you a question. What if you were witness to the unjust treatment of someone else? If so, did you speak up, protesting loudly and demanding justice? 

 Rural Steele County Minnesota, School District 28, maybe ten or twelve students, year 1945, Mildred Hankerson teacher, that sets the stage. Perhaps Mrs. Hankerson should not have been a teacher. She was quick to anger, lacked empathy, and was very impatient with "slow" learners. 

 La Von Ripka was a "slow" learner. Not that she was stupid, she just needed more time to make a concept clear. Mrs. Hankerson picked on La Van a lot, not in private, but out loud in front of all the kids.

 One day, after Mrs. Hankerson's tongue had reduced La Von to tears, one of the kids stood up and protested loudly. Interspersed with expletives, he demanded that Mrs. Hankerson back off, stop picking on La Von, treat people fairly, and so on. All this delivered in as loud a voice as a sixth grade boy could muster. 

 Retribution was swift. Abuse was piled on the blasphemer. I remember things; like Reform School, be expelled, and many other dire threats. I remember the villain's younger brother going home from school crying because Jim was going to reform school and he would have to do Jim's chores. 
 Well, reform school didn't happen, neither did the expelling. Mrs. Hankerson didn't change. She still picked on kids. But, she didn't come back the next year. 

 What do you think the Apostle Paul would think about this story? 
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By Dennis Fernandez
May 04, 2017

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10: 36, 37

These verses come from The Parable of the Good Samaritan. A man walking down the street in a very bad part of town was beaten, robbed and left to die. Could have happened right here in LA. Three different guys see this dying man in desperate need of aid. First, the Priest (like Andy or Lee) does not stop but crosses to the other side of the street and keeps on going. Next, the Levite (churchgoer like you and I) quickly walks by on the other side of the street ignoring the man’s necessity for help. Finally, the Samaritan (the guy you would least expect) not only helps him but takes him to an inn, cares for him, and pays for his whole stay and more.

Jesus then asks a no-brainer question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer answers, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus then responds, “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus’ statement is very simple and to the point – Be a neighbor. Our calling from God is this – to love God and be a neighbor to others by meeting their needs. To love God means to show mercy to those in need. Neighbors should not be determined by race, religion, nationality, sexuality or gender; neighbors consist of anyone in need. Jesus would not want us to rule out certain people as neighbors.

Even though Jesus’ message seems so simple, we still struggle with being a good neighbor. We often, like the Priest or Levite, are too busy and hurried to stop and help. Sometime we fear being injured ourselves or getting sick from touching or assisting the needy. Or the neighbor is not like us so we avoid engaging with them. The bother, the situation or discomfort stops us from helping.

I often struggle with judging or challenging those begging or looking for handouts. Do they really need money; are they really homeless living on the streets? In front of Carl’s Jr in Montrose I was approached by a man who rode up on a bike. He said he was hungry and asked for money to buy some food. I don’t like to give cash so I asked him what he’d like at Carl’s, then proceeded in to purchase a burger and fries. Coming out to provide a needed meal and feel good inside for helping a neighbor, the man was nowhere to be found. This just compounded my distrust for beggars and the needy.

But then I’m reminded again by this parable, Jesus says “Go and be a neighbor” – no matter when, where, who or how.
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By Andy Wilson
April 15, 2017

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

- Revelation 7:9-10

Throughout Lent we’ve focused on the dire needs of refugees and immigrants. Let’s remind ourselves once again of the facts.

First, we’re currently witnessing the largest mass migration of people since World War II. There are more refugees in the world today than there have been at any other time in history. And a huge number of those refugees are escaping from places where, if they returned or were ‘repatriated’ by force, they would be killed or would live in abject poverty under the thumb an oppressive government.

Second, the general trend among developed nations over the last few years has been to tighten border security, severely limit immigration, and admit a small fraction of the refugees seeking asylum. As a result, millions of refugees are barely getting by in dismal camps and slums in developing nations bordering the nations from which they have fled.

Throughout Lent we’ve also been asking ourselves: What is the Lord’s message to his church as it relates to immigrants and refugees? What is his message to each one of us? The Bible tells us again and again to welcome the stranger in our midst and to care for those who are most vulnerable.

But isn’t that naïve?

Many well-meaning people (including many Christians) think so. They believe the risks these days are just too great, and that restrictive immigration policies are necessary in order to protect our economy, our culture and our lives.

Probably we can all agree: every nation has a right and an obligation to protect itself from bad characters, especially those who seek to kill innocent people and sow terror. Moreover, in an age of terrorism, vetting procedures need to be sophisticated and rigorous. Border control is essential.

Yet history teaches us that immigration, over time, brings many blessings. Most immigrants struggle when they first arrive. But as they begin to put down roots, their presence leads to increased economic and cultural dynamism, as well as a strengthening of church and family structures. The people of Israel learned those lessons as they obeyed God’s commandment to welcome the stranger. And so have we in America, where, after all, the vast majority of us are the descendants of immigrants.

Today’s Lenten reading gives us a glimpse of the kingdom that is to come. There people of “every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lord’s throne. This signals to us that God loves variety, and that the glory and strength and joy of his kingdom are derived, in part, from the fact that everyone there is an immigrant – everyone there has arrived as a foreigner from a foreign land.

The reading ends with a reminder that salvation is from God alone. It’s good to keep that in mind when we’re faced with divisive issues, and we’re gripped with fear, and our instinct is to hunker down and take care of our own. Salvation is from God and not from us. Therefore, it always makes sense to obey his Word and trust his promises.
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By Darren Pollock
April 14, 2017

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 1 Peter 2:13-14 
Many of the Scripture passages from this year’s Lenten blog have addressed the responsibility of those at the center of a society towards those at the margins. Here we have an example of a counsel directed toward the exile himself. 1 Peter is addressed to Jewish followers of Christ living in exile in Asia Minor. Peter writes throughout the letter of the need for continued obedience to Christ in the midst of the various trials that this community was suffering. If the letter was written in the mid-60s, then the emperor referred to would have been Nero—no friend to people of faith. So we have God’s people living as refugees in a land that had been conquered by a foreign power that was ruled by a tyrannical king—the last thing we might expect Peter to say to this persecuted community of believers is for them to submit to this authority that had been imposed over them. Indeed, as Calvin writes of verse 13, “It seemed an unworthy thing that God’s children should be servants, and that the heirs of the world should not have a free possession, no, not even of their own bodies.” So why would Peter, then, include this counterintuitive advice? One reason is that he views the witness of this community to be more important than their rights and their freedom to do as they please. As we saw in the previous verse (2:12), the conduct of this community is to be such that their Gentile neighbors (even their oppressors!) might be moved to give glory to God.

How should we receive this message—we, who (while “exiles” in a theological sense) are mostly pretty secure in our societal position? How might Peter have framed this message for us, being as we are in a radically different social context than his diasporic readers? One key theme that I believe would predominate is the importance of living in such a way that those who don’t know Christ are moved to glorify him—and to prioritize this over our instinct to protect our own rights and freedoms. When God’s people were the exiles, this meant submitting to the authority of those exercising dominion over them; when the Christ-followers are the ones in the position of cultural dominance, might this mean willingly submitting ourselves to the needs of the exiles among us?
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