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.

Hillary, Donald & Division

Flag in Field

Well, it’s official. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the major party nominees for the Presidency of the United States of America. What seemed like such a joke a year ago has become reality. And, like most Americans, I find myself fluctuating between disbelief, horror and embarrassment. If you happen to be a genuine fan of either one, fine, but it seems like the nicest thing I ever hear about either one is that they’re the lesser of two evils.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a political junkie. I was a government major in college and follow politics the same way others follow sports. I care about this stuff, it fascinates me and I believe it matters. So, I’m a guy with strong political opinions. But I do my best to keep them out of the pulpit and off social media. That’s partly because I believe the gospel is the central issue for all of our lives and the message God has called me to proclaim. And it’s partly because I pastor a church in Washington, DC made up of people with a wide range of political beliefs. But, increasingly, I’ve felt the need to say something. Not in spite of the two factors I just mentioned but because of them.

I’m determined to avoid three traps in this election cycle: division, distraction and despair. By God’s grace, I would like to lead our church away from these traps as well. So, I’m going to blog about avoiding those traps this week and then I’m going to move on and do my best to avoid them for the next 97 days.

Trap number one is the one I’m most concerned about: division.

I’m talking about division in the church based on which candidate we support. I believe Satan would love nothing more than to use this election as one more issue to divide the bride of Christ. And I believe a lot of Christian leaders are taking the bait. We all do it anytime we say something along the lines of, “I can’t understand how a real follower of Jesus could support Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump/a 3rd party candidate/a write in candidate/not voting.” We have got to understand that well meaning, Jesus loving Christians are going to differ with one another in this election. Just last week, Wayne Grudem wrote an essay advocating for Donald Trump and Randy Alcorn wrote against him. Over the last months, Thabiti Anyabwile has written in support of Hillary Clinton. Russell Moore has written extensively about voting 3rd party. And the list goes on and on.

In recent years, it’s become increasingly difficult to find an obvious candidate for Christians to support.  That is certainly true this year.  Hillary Clinton’s positions on abortion and same sex marriage but her on the wrong side of Scripture. Donald Trump’s positions on immigrants and refuges do the same. Both have alarming character flaws. Both have long track records of questionable judgment. To pretend that one is the obvious choice is to misunderstand just how inadequate they both are. So, come November, there are going to be people so horrified by Donald Trump’s ineptness that they vote for Clinton to keep him out of office. There are going to be people so concerned about the future of the Supreme Court that they vote for Trump. There are going to be people so fed up with both that they vote 3rd party, write someone in or don’t vote.  And there will be some who enthusiastically vote for Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump.

We’re all going to have to figure it out for ourselves based on one simple question, “Who is going to do the most good and the least harm to our country over the next four years?” We’re not all going to answer that question the same way and that’s ok.

I’m not saying the decision doesn’t matter. It does. But it shouldn’t divide us. The real tragedy in all of this would be allowing two candidates to divide the church. We can disagree politically, especially this year, and stay united in Jesus and the mission He’s given us. So, maybe it’s time to tone it down on social media. Maybe it’s time for thoughtful conversations with friends. Maybe it’s time to ask the Lord for wisdom. Maybe it’s time to ease up on each other just a bit.

And we have to if we’re going to avoid the trap of distraction. We’ll tackle that one tomorrow.

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.