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.

For Life

life

Today is the annual March for Life here in Washington, DC.  For the 3rd time in a week, massive crowds will fill the National Mall.  I’ll leave it to others with more time on their hands to debate which crowd is largest.  I’m more interested in what these three gatherings say about our world and the role the church must play in it.

Jesus came as Light shining into the darkness of His day (John1:5).  And then He told His followers to do the same (Matthew 5:16).  We can only fulfill the command of Ephesians 5:8, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” by being robustly for life.  But, for me, that’s not a political statement; it’s a gospel statement.  All humans are made in the image of God and given a soul by their Creator.

A gospel shaped for life worldview is desperately needed and astonishingly rare in our culture.  It’s marked by at least three characteristics:

  1.  Not Selective.  Our world desperately needs the church to advocate a for life position that speaks for the unborn, for women, for minorities, for refugees, for the elderly, for the poor, and for the disabled with equal passion and vigor.  Our politics tell us we must pick between women and the unborn.  Jesus shows a radical love and affirmation of both.  All too often, we cherry pick an issue or two that generates political heat or social media sensationalism without seeing that our inconsistency undermines our best intentions.  If you stand for the unborn, you must stand for the refugee.  The gospel reaches across political lines to be a beacon for justice and righteousness in our world.
  2. Motivated By Grace.  Yes, we need to have the moral courage to say abortion is wrong.  But we need to do it in a way that people who have chosen that path still feel welcome in our churches this Sunday.  Jesus didn’t come to shame bad people.  He came to give life to spiritually dead people.  Jesus has as much grace and mercy for those who have chosen abortion as He does for their children.  Don’t ever forget, we represent a God who endured the murder of His Son so He could forgive those who have terminated theirs.  Our message is one of grace, of love, of forgiveness.  It’s a pro life orientation that melts stone hearts and revives crushed spirits.  We aren’t angry.  We’re agents of grace.
  3. Personal Engagement.  I have little patience for people whose social media engagement never translates into anything useful in the real world.  Tweet, post, comment, like and share as much as you want.  But then go do something.  That’s why we partner with the Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center and Casa Chirilagua at Restoration City.  We stand where Jesus would be – with the hurting, the marginalized, the afraid, and the broken.  Those are the places where grace does it’s deepest work and those should be the places where it’s most likely to find followers of Jesus.

In writing about Jesus, John says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (Jn. 1:4)  My prayer is that His church would carry that light well.  Our world needs it and it’s what we were made to do.

I Know Who Will Lead Us

Church In America

Over the weekend, CNN ran an article under the headline, “Who Will Lead Us?”  In it, Stephen Collinson was bemoaning the current leadership vacuum in American life.  He was essentially throwing his hands in the air and wondering out loud how we’re ever going to get out of the mess we’re in as a people.  It’s a good question.  And one that has few promising answers when you survey the landscape of political, cultural and moral leadership in modern America.

But if you bring the church into the conversation, you start to find hope.  When you bring Jesus into the mix, everything becomes possible.  Our country shouldn’t have to be looking around for hope.  We should see it flowing out of every church and out of every Christian.

This is the church’s moment.

 

America needs the church far more than the church needs America.

Yes, I enjoy the freedoms of religious liberty.  Yes, I like gathering with my church without any fear of arrest or persecution.  But most of us can’t imagine the church without America and that’s just wrong.  When you drop the church into the persecution of China, she thrives.  When you drop the church into the hardships of Africa, she explodes.  We don’t need to worry about the church – she’ll be just fine.  In fact, not even the gates of hell will prevail over her. (Mt. 16:18)

The question is whether she’ll thrive and explode in this American moment.

I believe she can and I believe she will.  The country is looking for hope – for people not afraid to talk about the deep wounds of racism, for people willing to confront the brokenness of humanity, for people who will point the way towards justice and peace, for people who have been deeply impacted by the message of grace.

The grace of Jesus will inspire people to do what no law can command.  It’s in response to an infinitely rich God who became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9) that we start living generous lives.  It’s in response to a God who died for us while we were enemies that we find the courage to love our own enemies. (Romans 5:8 and Mt. 5:44)  It’s in response to the cross that we find the strength to fight for justice.

This isn’t a time for the church to be quiet.  This is a time for us to hold out the hope of the gospel.  The hope of a God who forgives all.  The hope of a God who changes hearts.  The hope of a God who will one day make all things new.

This boldness can’t just come from the pulpit.  It must flow from our lives.  We, like Paul, must not be ashamed of the gospel.  Why?  It’s the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).  We must take up our calling to be ambassadors of Christ.(2 Cor. 5:20).  Be salt and light to our world.(Mt. 5:13-16)

Don’t feel bad or embarrassed that you follow Jesus.  Be thrilled that you know the One who is hope.  Delight in the privilege of being His child.  Be bold, be wise, be loving, be gentle.

Just don’t run from the world.  Run to it with hope, grace and the name of Jesus.

 

The Danger Of Silence On Ferguson

Four months ago, I had never heard of Ferguson.  Today that St. Louis suburb dominates the headlines, trends on Twitter and hangs over all of our heads.  I was one of the millions who watched as the grand jury’s decision was announced on Monday night.  I’m one of the millions struggling to make sense of it all.  And I’m one of the millions whose struggle has led to silence.  I’ve wanted to tweet, update my status or blog.  I just haven’t known what to say.  So, I’ve said nothing.

As a pastor, I’ve come to believe the danger of silence is greater than the danger of saying the wrong thing.  I fear silence could communicate three equally dangerous messages to my congregation:  One, the church is totally oblivious to what’s happening in the real world.  Two, the church should steer clear of difficult conversations, especially racially charged ones.  Three, the gospel offers no hope to a culture looking for answers.

In wanting to say something, I’m confronted with just how easy it would be to say the wrong thing and do more harm than good.  I fully aware of just how limited my knowledge is.  I don’t know all of the evidence presented to the grand jury.  I don’t know what it’s like to grow up under the cloud of suspicion that seems to follow young, black men in our culture.  I don’t know the sacrifices men and women in law enforcement make to do an incredibly difficult and frightening job.  I don’t know what it’s like to lose a son.  I don’t know if the grand jury’s decision was right or wrong.

All of that “not knowing” makes silence look pretty attractive.  But silence mutes what we do know:

  • Our World Is Broken.  Self delusion might be the single greatest epidemic in America.  We’re terrifyingly good at ignoring economic, cultural, political, financial, social and international problems.  We are desperate to believe the lie that people are fundamentally good, our world is a happy place and everything really is okay.  We need the smelling salts of Ferguson to awaken our consciences.  Whatever you think of Ferguson, let’s be honest enough to admit the injustice of racism still exists in America.
  • The Fight For Justice Is A Christian Fight.  The God of the Bible is a God of justice.  Consider Deuteronomy 32:4, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”  The cross of Christ is an announcement that God is stunningly just, even in His forgiveness of sin.  If God just swept over sin, He wouldn’t be just.  The death of Christ allows God to be perfectly just and infinitely forgiving.  That’s what Paul is getting at in Romans 3:26, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”  God calls His church to be a beacon of justice in an unjust world.  Our mission is to live in such a way that the helpless would find hope and injustice would shut her mouth (Job 5:16).  The pursuit of justice in an unjust world isn’t comfortable work but it is the right work for a Christian.
  • The Gospel Reconciles.  I’ve worshipped in post-genocide Rwanda with Hutu and Tutsi brothers and sisters in Christ united in the same church.  I know the promise of a gospel where “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:11)  The gospel offers a hope our politics never will.

I believe Dr. King was right when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Ferguson matters to me as a Christian.  I don’t pretend to have all of the answers but I do know where to look for hope, for justice and for a better tomorrow.  My prayer is that we as Christians would respond to the wounds of Ferguson with the hope of the gospel.