We are so excited to be serving in Malawi. We invite you to take this journey with us. Keep the beautiful people of Malawi in your prayers, and us too.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Syrian Refugee Crisis - So What?

You may know me as a guy with a heart for the nations, a life and ministry in Malawi, on a home assignment for a year.  During this home assignment, the Lord has opened my eyes to many more things regarding His kingdom work. My main focus of this year has been to inform and mobilize future workers to go to foreign lands to bring the gospel to those who know Him not.  Yet...right now we have thousands of foreigners 'who know Him not' coming to our land in the form of refugees.  I have seen them every day, even in Dupage County where there are huge buildings housing hundreds.  They are changing the face of our community.  I was talking with a World Relief leader today about the opportunities/challenges right here in America facing us, and I feel moved to share my thoughts about it all with you, if you care to listen.

With a heavy heart I write this letter to you because I care 
I’d like to preface this with 3 points:

1.  My heart is full of gratitude for the incredible sacrifices that our troops have made and continue to make daily in the fight against terrorism.  Their service to protect this great country is extremely important and I do not take that for granted. 

2. In no way do I want to put forth the idea that the USA should just accept any person in this refugee crisis. There is great need for extreme caution in the process of resettling refugees, especially when refugees are coming from places where the majority are hostile to America and the Gospel.  That said, not every Syrian is a terrorist and we should be very careful not to generalize them all into one boat.

3. I don’t think it’s very helpful to discuss whether the refugees should come or not because much of that is not in our control. The government that God has instituted and is the Lord’s tool to do good and protect the people (Romans 13) is still under the sovereign hand of the King of the nations.   There are many differing opinions across the Body of Christ on this complex issue that I don’t even begin to attempt to settle.  So, I don’t seek to put forward a political view on this. 
I do not want to minimize the importance of the three points above

We as Christians must see that this specific immigration issue as two-fold:
   1.    What is the government doing and should these people be let in?
   2.    Once the refugees are here (many of them already are), how should we as the Body of Christ act towards them despite our fear of them and the possible harm they can cause?
My focus is on the second point above

With all of these realities in front of us, there is something that we as the Body of Christ must deal with:  The fact that we don’t have much say in whether the refugees come or not.  Talking with a World Relief worker today confirmed to me the futility of many of these governors’ attempts to keep Syrian refugees out.  The World Relief worker’s words were, “From the intel we have as of this morning, most likely, there will be thousands of Syrian refugees being resettled into urban areas across the USA. Whether we like it or not, there is a high likelihood that our government will help these people at a national level that will not be thwarted at a state level. Even with the S.A.F.E. bill signed today. And my prayer is that the church will stand up in a unified way and be the first to welcome these people.”

The issue
As you know, the world faces a crisis involving men, women, and children fleeing Syria for refuge in other countries, including our own.  Meanwhile, terror groups seek to take advantage of this situation to infiltrate the West and orchestrate attacks like the one that ravaged Paris last Friday. This puts us in a seemingly impossible situation as believers. If we open our borders to all the refugees, we may very well also be welcoming men intent on attacking us; if we refuse the refugees, however, we may miss out on an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ to people who have never heard the Gospel preached.

Messed up from a 6-year old
Over the past week, we’ve been praying for all those affected by the horrific acts of terrorism in Paris.  As I’ve prayed with Becca and Lyzee, I noticed a trend in my conversation with God.  It was actually pointed out to me by Lyzee.  I had just prayed, “Lord please stop these wicked men from destroying lives….Please Lord! Stop them at all costs.  Even if it means stopping their hearts.  Stop them!”  After finishing my prayer, I noticed tears running down Lyzee’s cheek and beginning to make a wet spot on her pillow.  I said, “What’s the matter, baby?”  And her response is what shook me up.  She said, “Dad. Why did you just pray that they would die?  They don’t know Jesus. These people are made in the image of God.  Shouldn’t we pray that God saves them instead of praying that their hearts will stop beating and they go to hell?” She was no longer the only one weeping.  The Lord spoke through my little one directly to me.

Then last night, I read in Acts 9 and the book of Colossians about how there was once a guy named Saul who hated Christians.  Then, God uprooted his entire life and sent him to believers in Damascus, modern day Syria.  One of the first men to demonstrate Jesus’ love to Paul was a Syrian named Ananias. Ananias took a scary and dangerous step of faith to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a man who terrified him.  He welcomed the stranger, the one who was hostile toward God, and he witnessed God perform a miracle to transform Saul into Paul. The time is coming when we will be asked to take similar steps of faith with people who terrify us. Oh, that we would see miracles! Though Paul was an enemy of the cross and a potential risk to their lives and safety, the Jesus people welcomed him in because the Spirit of God inside of them spoke God’s words into their hearts like Romans 10:14, “and how can they hear without someone preaching to them.” As we know, Saul changed his name to Paul and found himself in prison because people were hostile to the Gospel.  This is what he wrote to a group of Jesus followers in AD 62…

Colossians 1:21 – “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He (Christ) has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death in order to present you before Him holy blameless and beyond reproach.”

If we are in Christ, then just like Paul, we ‘were formerly alienated and hostile in mind’.  If Christ did not shed His blood on the cross and open up our eyes to His glorious truth, we could be a sex slave trader in America or a jihadist in Syria.  Our hearts are desperately wicked above all things!  But God reconciled me through His blood and I am washed. 

But what about safety?
Paul and Jesus didn't disregard safety at all cost. We must be wise here, not putting our lives and the lives of our families in harm’s way if we know that the person in our neighborhood is a known terrorist.  But, Paul certainly didn't shy away from dangerous situations. Frequently, Paul shared the greatness of Jesus with hostile groups of people and didn't run. After being beaten up and left for dead, he actually went back to the people of Lystra (Acts 14). I'm not saying we should seek out persecution here. What I am asking is that we love those who don't love us and not consider them as filth filtering through our borders. Refugees are coming. That's the reality. As Lyzee reminded me of, “they are created in the image of God” and we don't know who is going to respond to the Gospel.   So, we as the church do not treat them as Slovakians did on the day the refugees arrived to the boarder of Slovakia seeking help. See photo below

Many Slovakians respond

If you are safe, we can talk
We should not subconsciously adopt the view of a friend of mine who told me today that, “I’ll wait for non believers to come to me and my family to prove to us that they are safe before we invite them over for dinner.” I don't see anywhere in Scripture this idea of passivity and waiting in sharing the Good News until it's safe for me and mine. People came to me and set their affections on me where I was at in my sin. Initially, I hated them but the love of Christ in them melted my hostile heart. The core of the Gospel is Christ coming to hostile sinners.

Possible applications for the Christian: 
Will you join me in taking scary and dangerous steps of faith like the Syrian man named Ananias (Acts 9) who didn’t consider him own life more valuable than a lost person’s life.  He welcomed in the stranger.  The one who was hostile towards God. He boldly proclaimed the truth in love to Saul and the rest is history.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know that we should be looking at this situation through the lens of Acts 9, Col. 1:21, Romans 10:14, and all of Scripture. With these things in mind, I invite you to join me in the following:

   1.    Pray for the leaders in our government; that they might have wisdom and discernment to know who to allow into the country and who to keep out.
   2.    Pray for the genuine refugees who are twice suffering at the hands of the jihadists; first in their own countries, and now as they find themselves homeless and unable to gain asylum.
   3.    Pray for the jihadists in Syria and around the world. Yes, pray that their evil actions would be stopped, but also pray that their lives would be transformed by the power of Christ, who died to pay the penalty of their sins and was raised that they might walk in newness of life.
   4.    Please think deeply about what we post to social media. These things impact many and there are far too many followers of Christ posting things that preach nationalism and ethnocentrism on Facebook more than Jesus.  The USA is not Israel and we have to be careful about how subtly this type of thinking has crept into the church today in the USA.
   5.    The odds of you meeting a terrorist and bringing them into your home are very slim.  But for any refugees that do make it to our backyard, welcome them. Love them. Work past those feelings of fear that we all possess and be the hands and feet of Jesus to them. Who knows, the love of Christ through you may be just what it takes to transform that Saul into a Paul. If you are interested in reaching out to these desperate people and you want the Body of Christ to be the first to meet them at the airport, here is a way to get connected:  http://worldrelief.org/US      World Relief is resettling refugees all over the country (even in Sacramento and Modesto)  This is an opportunity!
   6.    Please consider involving yourself, your family and church in the lives of refugees.  They are all over the USA, coming from horrific backgrounds.  They need the people of God to surround them.   If you are too far away, don’t underestimate the power of praying for their souls to be healed by the Lord.  If you are interested, I encourage you to start with World Relief.  Becca and I have volunteered with them and love their evangelical Jesus-centered vision.  They want the adopted children of God to be the first ones to meet these people as they fly into the airports in the USA.  Just as Christ came after you, go after them.  It’ll be messy, uncomfortable, and maybe even dangerous, but worth it.

Get on your knees and put it all before the Lord who cares.  He cares for the Syrian refugee child trying to not fall out of the boat right now and he cares about your child right now.  He cares.  So let’s take our deepest fears and cares to Him.

Will you join me and my household and say, “We will pray for and love the hostile alien because that’s exactly what we were.”  In Acts 9, Ananias welcomed the terrorist into his house and, because of it, we have the Gospel today in ours.

I don’t have all the answers but I did find one last night in God’s Word that helps me navigate through this difficult and incredibly complex situation.

This video was very helpful to me as well.  Certainly worth the 7 min to watch:   https://vimeo.com/145958631

I’m not trying to change minds but hopefully just point people to Christ. The sovereign Lord is on the throne and He is able to save anyone anywhere.  But is this movement of Syrians to America an act of His sovereignty to enable them to hear the Gospel and be welcomed by Christians here?   

For the glory of Christ,

Syrian Refugee boy in Lebanon camp
A dear brother and friend of mine shared this quote from John Piper with me yesterday: 

"Suppose you 
die and you’re standing before Jesus Christ, who surrendered his body to spitting, shame, torture and death so that undeserving sinners (like you and me) might be drawn into eternal joy, and he inquires how you handled the people who asked you for money – you know, panhandlers, beggars, street people, drunks, drifters, [immigrants]. What would you say? I suggest that you’re not going to feel very good about saying, "I never got taken advantage of. I saw through their schemes. I developed really shrewd counter-questions that would expose them so I hardly ever had to give anything." Do you know what I think the Lord Jesus is going to say to that – the Lord Jesus, the consummately, willingly abused and exploited Jesus? I think he is going to say, "That was an exquisite imitation of the world. Even sinners give to those who deserve to be given to. Even sinners pride themselves on not being taken advantage of."

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