Refugees Are A Gospel Issue

refugees

One of the convictions that shapes us at Restoration City is the belief that when our city, country or world is talking about something, we should too.  If we don’t, it creates the impression that there’s the real world on one hand and the teachings of Scripture on the other.  Restoration City doesn’t exist to be an escape from the world but rather a place to be strengthened, inspired and equipped to engage the world.  So, I felt it was important to address the current debate about refugees at our gathering this morning.  In doing so, my goal was to make three things clear:

  1.  The church has a tremendous opportunity to serve the national conversation simply by showing that it’s possible to disagree and remain civil.  Our culture is rapidly loosing that ability.  All too often, we vilify people with different views rather than engaging and discussing.  We toss incendiary nonsense around social media because we’ve learned that’s what gets attention.  We’ve replaced careful though with cheap soundbites.  And we’ve divided ourselves into narrowly defined camps that war with other narrowly defined camps.  Restoration City, please don’t give into that kind of lazy thinking or that kind of divisive rhetoric.  It’s not worthy of the sons and daughters of God.  Disagree, debate, engage but do it with respect and gentleness.
  2. Long before refugees ever became a political issue, they were a gospel issue.  The Scripture speaks clearly to our responsibility as Christians to welcome, love and care for refugees.  Often the Bible uses the words alien, stranger or sojourner instead of refugee but they all mean the same thing.  I say refugees are a gospel issue for three reasons:
    1. The central figure of all Scripture was Himself a Middle Eastern political refugee.  When Mary and Joseph took the Lord Jesus to Egypt to escape persecution under Herod, He became a refugee.  There’s simply no other way to describe it.
    2. The Bible speaks to our treatment of refugees in many places.  Consider just a few:
      1. Exodus 23:9 – You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt
      2. Jeremiah 22:3 – Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
      3. Matthew 25:42-45 – For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
    3. Our treatment of refugees demonstrates our understanding that we are aliens and strangers in this world.  1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Our true home is in heaven.  We are sons and daughters of an eternal Kingdom and this world is not our home.  We’re here as aliens and strangers.  The more we understand that, the more we will welcome those who come to our country as aliens and strangers.  The gospel puts each of us right in the middle of Exodus 23:9 – we also should know the heart of a stranger because we are sojourners in America.
  3. We should allow the Bible to shape our prayers.  We should pray for our leaders and for the flourishing of the church in America (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and we should pray for those fleeing their homelands to escape war, persecution and death.

My role as a pastor is not to make political statements.  It’s to teach the whole counsel of God and lead us into conforming our lives to the teachings of Scripture.  That was my goal this morning and it’s my goal in this post.  I’m praying for each of you as you shine the light of Jesus into our world this week.  Be bold.  Be brave.  Be respectful.  Be motivated by the glory of God and the good of humanity.

Parenting Is Discipling

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I love that our Sacred Trust series brought us to 2 Timothy 3:14-15 yesterday morning:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Talk about the perfect text for Mother’s Day!  My goodness, it doesn’t get any better than that!

So much of the trajectory of Timothy’s life was due to the influence of a godly mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).  Timothy’s father was greek and most likely not a follower of Jesus.  But these two ladies made sure Timothy grew up knowing the Word of God.  As parents, we must do the same.  The most important people you’ll ever disciple are your children.

Of course, that begs the question of how to introduce our kids to the Bible, especially with young kids.  Let me offer you three suggestions:

  1.  Discuss. This is the easiest one because it’s as simple as asking your kids what they learned during their time at RCCKids.  We aren’t just babysitting your kids on a Sunday morning, we’re teaching them age appropriate lessons from God’s Word.  Ask them about it.
  2. Model.  One of the greatest gifts you can give your kids is letting them see the example of you prioritizing time in God’s Word.  They aren’t ever going to take God’s Word seriously if we don’t.
  3. Read.  Laura and I absolutely love the Jesus Storybook Bible.  As a church, we give it to every family at our Parent Commissioning/Baby Dedications.  But owning one is no where near as good as regularly reading to your kids from it.  Make it part of their bedtime routine.

Every parent knows how much our kids watch and mimic us – it’s painfully obvious when we realize we’re the source of the new word they shouldn’t be saying!  How amazing would it be to take that potential and use it to raise a generation that loves the Word of God.

So, Why Can’t I Date A Non-Christian?

Date

Our focus yesterday at Restoration City was on marriage, family and divorce as we studied Mark 10:1-16.  It’s a difficult passage that causes many of us to wrestle with some of the rawest areas of our hearts.  The message likely brought up some questions that many of us would rather avoid.  But that’s not how we grow.  So, I want to encourage you to engage the questions you have, press for answers, pray, think, discuss.  To help in that, I’m going to devote this week’s blog posts to answering some of the most common questions that came out of Sunday’s message.

So, let’s get started with, “Why can’t I date non-Christians?”  This question is interesting because it also frequently travels with a companion statement, “There’s no verse in the Bible that says I can’t date a non-Christian.”  If we sat down for coffee, here’s roughly how our conversation would go:

ME:  For the record, you’re right.  There’s not one single passage in the Bible about dating, yet alone dating non-Christians.  But there are several about who you should marry.  Let me give you the two that are most relevant to this question:

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:39)

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14)

So, it seems pretty clear that if you’re a follower of Christ, God’s will is for you to marry another follower of Christ.  In the first passage, Paul is reminding widows that it’s okay for them to remarry but clarifying it should be “only in the Lord.”  In other words, it’s fine for a widow to get remarried but only to Christians.  It doesn’t make any sense to say your second marriage should be to a Christian but your first marriage can be to whoever.  The second passage makes a broader point about the fundamental incompatibility of Christians and non-Christians in marriage by warning Christians not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers.”  Marrying a non-Christian is a formula for intense heartache and grief as you do your best to love Jesus in the face of your spouse’s apathy.  The Bible warns us to avoid the pain of heading to church while your spouse heads to the golf course or mall.

YOU: “Ok, fine.  I won’t marry him but what’s wrong with dating him?”

ME: Let me answer that question with two of my own:

Why is it so important to you to play with fire?

If you know the relationship isn’t going anywhere, what are you hoping to get out of it?  And why are you putting yourself in a position to fall in love with someone you’ll never marry?  By the way, it’s amazing how easily we forget about the “someone you’ll never marry part” when the “fall in love” part starts to happen.  You’re honestly just flirting with temptation.

How would your date feel if you told them there was no chance of you ever getting married?

If the answer is relieved, you’re already in trouble on a whole other front.  If the answer is disappointed, you’re being deceptive.  You’re not honoring God or the other person by leading them on when you know this is nothing more than a fling.

YOU: Ok, but I have a friend who dated this guy and he started coming to church and now he’s a Christian and they’re happily married.

ME: I also hear about people winning the lottery.  It’s still a really bad use of your money.

YOU: Don’t be a jerk.

ME:  Ok.  But just because it worked out well for someone is no guarantee that it’s going to work out well for you.  If anything, consider your friend’s story as the example that proves the rule not a reason to pitch the Bible’s wisdom out the window.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with befriending someone who isn’t a Christian (it’s actually a really good thing), inviting them to church, introducing them to your other friends and praying they follow Jesus.  If all of that happens, then, by all means, date them.  But it’s just not wise to make dating your first move.

Did I leave out any other questions you might have on this one?  If so, post them in the comments below and I’ll respond…or just share your thoughts.

Up next: So, what do I do if I’m stuck in a miserable marriage?

Processing Paris

Paris

We’re all grappling with the hateful events in Paris this weekend.  Once again, the world’s attention is gripped by unfathomable evil.  All of the sudden a city that many of us have never been to is in the forefront of our thoughts.  We want to hope, to believe, to encourage but don’t know what that really means in a situation like this.  Maybe more to the point, our hearts are struggling to respond.  If it’s helpful, this is how the Bible is helping me respond:

Pray

If our zeal for prayer was as strong as our desire to hashtag about prayer, it would be a beautiful thing.  Prayer is more than a warm feeling about a group of people.  It’s a blood bought privilege that we must utilize as followers of Jesus.  We have the ability to approach the sovereign Lord of all creation and ask Him to move with justice, compassion and mercy for the sake of His great Name. May we truly pray that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” would comfort Paris in all of her affliction. (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

Long

I’ve come back to Revelation 21:4 often since first hearing about these attacks, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  This broken world needs You.  Wipe our tears and declare the death of death.

Love

Until Jesus comes back, He accomplishes His work through His church.  We honor the victims of Paris and the call of God on our lives when we shine the light of Jesus into our homes, neighborhoods, campuses and offices.  Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  We are the overcommers, the salt, light and hope of the world.  Don’t be afraid to love, to draw near and to point to Jesus.  He and He alone can put the shattered pieces of Paris  back together into something even more beautiful than before.

All of our hearts are with the people of Paris.  I pray Jesus will be visible through His church in these days in Paris, in DC and all over our lost, confused and broken world.

The Bible Should Bother You

Bible

The only way not to be bothered by the Bible is to not read it.  But if you’re willing to crack open the pages of the most extraordinary book in human history, you’re going to be bothered.  Or at least you should be.

Jesus says some fairly shocking things.  He really seems to think we’re going to pray for our enemies.(Mt. 5:44)  He really does want us to consider others more important than ourselves. (Phil 2:3)  And then there are times when Jesus is just plain offensive.  Take, for example, Mark 7:27, “And He was saying to her, ‘Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’”  Fabulous.  A nice lady comes to Jesus, asks Him to help her daughter and He calls her a dog.  What the Donald Trump is He doing?!?!

Unfortunately, we don’t often allow ourselves as Christians to be bothered by the Bible.  We gloss over the hard to understand, challenging, odd or hard passages in search of a feel good promise to carry us through the day.  We want warm and fuzzy, not hard and challenging.  Now, don’t get me wrong – the Bible is filled with majestic promises that will carry us through the day.  But some of the greatest truths about God are found in the hard passages.  Don’t gloss over them.  Wrestle with them.  Pray over them.  Get some help.  Dig.

All of this is on my mind because I’m speaking on Mark 7:24-37 this Sunday at Restoration City.  We’re going to talk a lot about why Jesus is calling this lady a dog.  Why not spend the week thinking and praying through that passage on your own?  Here’s a hint: He’s not insulting her. He’s teaching in a parable.

Oh, how I long for us to be a church that grapples with the Scriptures.  Don’t splash around by the shore.  Swim in the deep water.  It’s where the greatest treasures are found!

Want To Grow? Take Notes!

NotebookDo you want to know the three things your pastor most wants you to bring with you to church this Sunday?  I know the cynics will say, “My wallet, a friend and a willingness to laugh at bad jokes.”  In response to that, let me go out on a limb and say that if that’s actually true, it’s time to find a new church.  I’ll also tell you how I would answer the question for the people I lead at Restoration City:

  • A Bible
  • A Notebook
  • A Pen

I know I’m running the risk of sounding like a cranky old guy but let me press it one step further: your plan to consolidate all three of those into one smartphone isn’t a good one.  You need to go old school on this one and use paper.  Before you totally write me off, I’ll let you know that I absolutely have the YouVersion of the Bible on my phone and love it.  I use Evernote and understand that I’m writing this on a blog.  And oftentimes my pens are out of ink.

But if you really want to get the most out of Sunday, you’ll bring a Bible, a notebook and a pen.  Michael Hyatt, one of the most successful distributors of electronic content in Christian publishing today, recently wrote a fascinating blog on the advantages of paper books over ebooks.  One of the advantages he writes about is improved memory.  In my experience, this is certainly true of studying the Bible.  I tend to remember things better from a paper Bible and be able to find the verse again easier in the future if I’ve had to flip to it in the pages of a Bible.

Note taking will enable you to get exponentially more out of a sermon.  If you come to the sermon with the expectation that God is going to say something to you, you might also want to come with a way to record that.  Jot down verses, questions, thoughts, action steps, key phrases, whatever impacts you.  Taking notes in a sermon is the easiest way to accelerate your spiritual growth this weekend.

Your Bible, notebook and pen are a tangible reflection of your attitude towards the sermon.  If you’re coming to be entertained, you don’t need them.  If you’re coming to learn, you wouldn’t consider leaving them at home.

Whether you’re part of Restoration City or another local church, there’s no greater sound on a Sunday morning than the rustling of pages.  Your pastor will love it.  And so will you!