Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Would Jesus take in Syrian refugees?

"Would Jesus take in Syrian refugees" was the provocative title of a recent Washington Post article and a question definitely worth wrestling with. There is a lot of buzz among politicians calling for the U.S. to stop receiving all Syrian refugees, all Muslim refugees, or all refugees period depending on the state you live in and many Christians tend to agree. ISIS with its evil ideology had a minor "win" in Paris, but they going to have a much greater "win" if this situation starts causing Christians to hate all Muslims, to be fearful of Syrians, to mistrust all immigrants' motives, to back away from compassion/mercy, and ultimately to focus on self rather than Christ.

I have seen people many people on social media quoting "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves"; "anyone who does not take care of their household is worse off than the pagans"; "but if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason"; and plenty of Old Testament references along the lines of "Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?" Many of these passages are being used to help people justify their position of not wanting any more foreigners coming into the country and some even advocate going back to Old Testament times or the Crusades to take out the enemy in this "holy war".
(actual picture making the rounds on social media by some Christians)

On the other side of the debate are the many verses along the lines of: "The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself" "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" "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." "Mourn with those who mourn." The people sharing this perspective want to let compassion and love for the vulnerable trump their nationalism and to follow in the footsteps of Christ to love the "least of these".

So, what is a Christian to do? What do we do with this biblical tension of "Hate what is evil....cling to what is good"? What do I do as an American citizen whose first allegiance is to Christ and the kingdom of God before it is to my own country or political party? How do I hate the sin and love the sinner? How do I hold justice in one hand and mercy in the other? How can I tell if the motivation for the positions I am taking and my actions is "fear" or "wisdom/discernment"? Am I living for my safety and security or for God's name and His glory? Can I embrace foreigners and still be concerned for the well-being of my children and their children? Is it possible to hate ISIS ideology but love the people that have been deceived by it? What would Jesus do?

Mother Teresa's quote rings true biblically and seems true from experience as I have served the "least of these" in many countries. But then I turn on the news or see my social media feed saying not to be naive and comparing ISIS tactics to the trojan horse which will ultimately turn to the deconstruction of this country. Is that refugee "Jesus in disguise" or "ISIS in disguise"? I'm confused! I do know that I've been working with refugees for about six years now and know that the screening process is very thorough (see video below) and that not a single refugee in the entire 35 year history of the U.S. resettlement program has ever even been arrested for planning a domestic act of terrorism, much less indicted as such. I'm not advocating for naivety and agree that no one who poses a danger to the safety of a community should be given refugee status. But what if the best way for us to potentially help prevent another atrocity on American or European soil...whether it is a Columbine shooter or a suicide bomber.... is for the church in season and out of season to "love our neighbor" and "share Good News" with them.

Some argue we need to keep all the refugees out because we don't know which are the good ones and which are the bad ones. "If you had ten grapes and two of them were poisoned, would you eat any of them?" Makes sense, but I'm guessing the majority of the people using that logic probably love their right to bear arms and would push back on the people that say "we don't know which people are crazy and which ones aren't so no one should have guns". Let's continue to push for reform and debate on gun control and immigration but let's drop the blanket statements, generalizations, and everything that provokes fear and hate as there is no place for that in Jesus' kingdom. I'm going to take all of my mixed feelings and emotions on the topic and check them against Scripture to ask the Lord for his heart and guidance. It seems like a better use of time than the hours I have spent on social media and other news sources researching the topic. His Word is doing a better job of bringing comfort, peace, reality, and hope. It really is GOOD NEWS! Let's share it with others.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What is a Shema statement?

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [Deu 6:4 ESV]
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [Deu 6:5 ESV]
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [Deu 6:6 ESV]
You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [Deu 6:7 ESV]
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. [Deu 6:8 ESV]
You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deu 6:9 ESV]

This is the famous “shema statement” which is was one of the main recitation and meditations for Jews in the Old Testament.  Many Jews would pray this several times a day similar to how Muslims constantly pray and repeat “shahada”.  I was out sharing at Perspectives classes in Nebraska and started hanging out in this passage in Deuteronomy.  It gets back to basics, “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul mind, and strength”.  Jesus said that this sums up the Old Testament (law).  What impresses me is how YHWH wanted his people to diligently teach this to their children, talk about it at home, when traveling, when waking up and when going to bed.  He wanted them to write it on their hand, between their eyes, and on their homes and gates.  What I took away from this is that we need to constantly be reminded of our mission “love God, love others” because it is so easy to get distracted and wrapped up in other missions and distracted by the things of this world.

I had never picked up on the verses that immediately follow the “shema”:

"And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you--with great and good cities that you did not build, [Deu 6:10 ESV]
and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant--and when you eat and are full, [Deu 6:11 ESV]
then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. [Deu 6:12 ESV]

It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. [Deu 6:13 ESV] 

Sounds a little bit like America....at least my upbringing in an upper-middle class Suburban family where I lived in "good cities", "good houses", had "good things", and could "eat and be full".  The politics, entertainment, money, technology, food, information, and busyness of this "promised land" are brutal to staying "on mission" and keeping God's glory at the forefront.  God told Israel that they needed to be reminded over and over to "put first things first" because they were about to go into the Promised Land where life would be easy...."lest you forget!"  I find it much easier to get distracted in the US than when I was serving in mountain villages in Mexico with slow internet, no cell phone, no TV, no kids soccer practice, no fill in the blank...  What will it look like in the 21st century for me to have the "shema" as a part of my morning, my evening, my family, my coming, my going, and my household?  What have you found to be helpful in living a "shema" lifestyle in a context of so many distractions?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Am I an unsung hero?

So, I was nominated for something called an Epoch award and as a part of the process, we are supposed to write a blog response.  Their website says "Epoch 2013 honors the unsung heroes; the people who cross the boulevard or the world to serve where poverty, drought, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, homelessness, and fear reign. For these heroes, this is more than planting churches and discipling– this is life."  They have chosen a few people from non-profits in Atlanta and others around the country and world to receive grants totaling $50k at a ceremony in October and it is an honor to be mentioned.

I kinda wish we at Global Frontier Missions would have been nominated as an organization rather than me as an individual.  Honestly, the "unsung heroes" that make our work awesome is every one on our full-time staff that raises their own support to do this type of work; our church planters who develop relationships for years sometimes before seeing spiritual fruit; our short-term teams that give up their spring break or holidays to come love on the strangers living among us; the summer interns that actually pay to come alongside of us to share the good news of the kingdom; the missionary training school students who sit in class all day, read books all week and still have the energy to take a refugee to the doctors office; the bivocational indigenous laborers that put in 12 hour days at the chicken factory and still have time to make disciples; the supporters that give faithfully every month so we can do what we do; the prayer warriors that do the true work of this ministry on their knees and in their closets with little to no recognition; our homeschooling moms raising up the next generation of disciples; our families that extend grace as we occasionally spend late nights responding to emails, skyping, counseling, leading Bible studies, pouring into short-term groups, and ministering to internationals; the new believers that we interact with that undergo persecution that we can never imagine; our guys that pioneer works in new locations and go through lots of spiritual warfare to to establish outposts of light.  Those are the folks that deserve a black tie event in my book!

So, I raise a glass to all of my GFM family and say congrats to all of us for the labor of love and race we have been running.  Let's persevere until the end where we will lay every award, nomination, compliment, accomplishment, fruit, etc. at the feet of Jesus since it all came from Him anyway as we all join the great worship service in Rev. 7:9,10 where every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will be fulfilling the purpose we were all created or -- experiencing and declaring His worth!  You guys are the best.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fighting For God or God Fighting For Us: Which Is It?

I just received this from the Abandoned Times newsletter put out by the Student Volunteer Movement. http://svm2.net/abandonedtimes/ I wanted to share the whole article as it is something that I wrestle with constantly and strive to find balance between and want to challenge you with it as well.

Fighting For God or God Fighting For Us: Which Is It?
It is crucial for believers to learn the fine line required in partnering and co-laboring with God. Living the life of spiritual victory and kingdom advancement is a combination of us fighting (spiritually) and God fighting for us. We rely on Him and He requires action on our part as well.

It is common to find believers relying on themselves and their efforts in the Kingdom of God instead of allowing God to take His rightful place as leader and Lord of every spiritual work He has initiated.

Conversely, many find themselves waiting on God to do all the work and don’t step out in faith themselves. Neither stance is the correct, Biblical one.

Those who want God to do everything for them never accomplish anything. Those seeking to do everything themselves, will ultimately fail. It takes spiritual maturity to walk the correct, balanced way between the two.

God has called us to a living, cooperative partnership in the work of His Kingdom. He wants us involved and we cannot attain spiritual success without Him involved.

It is a fallacy to buy into the notion that God doesn’t need us. He has chosen to set up His Kingdom in partnership with true believers. Though we are frail, weak and often untrustworthy, He chooses to mature and develop us, all the while advancing His Kingdom purposes through us, out of incredible love.

It is also untrue that in our ingenuity and human wisdom we can be fruitful for His Kingdom. This is pride and humanism. God requires we give up on the self-life (self-will, ambition, reliance, sufficiency). To be useful we embrace a lifestyle seeking His Kingdom purposes above all else. We deliberately choose His will and receive the inheritance of spiritual wisdom and revelation He has waiting.

To walk this fine line appropriately we need experiential knowledge of God’s ways, wisdom and spiritual understanding. It is not natural to learn the secrets of being yoked with God in His Kingdom work. To do so, we need more of Him available through increased Bible study, prayer and intercession and abiding in His presence.

Though He will do very little to advance His Kingdom outside of partnership with the body of Christ, it is still His power that is the source. He is the one doing the bulk of the work. We are like a baby ox yoked together with a massive, all powerful ox. That big ox is the one doing all the pulling, but we get to be involved in the process too.

And God looks at our part as important. If we fail to do our Spirit-led, God-ordained and initiated part, we are not being faithful to God and His advancing Kingdom.

We need to get rid of the incorrect sentiment that if something is of God it will go smoothly and be free from problems. God’s leadership is perfect but our capacities to follow Him rightly are anything but.

The partnership between the living God and sinful (yet redeemed) humanity is far from smooth. It is always exciting and exhilarating, but fraught with periodic frustration and misunderstanding. The more closely we follow Jesus, the better it will go because we give up on our own understanding and embrace His Kingdom ways.

In the Scripture when God’s people drifted from the correct balance, they were defeated. We join the fight recognizing full well our inability to win the fight if left to our own devices.

Question: Which of the two are you prone to most? What may God be asking of you to become more balanced in spiritually progressing rightly?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Right or left? How would Jesus vote?

With the election upon us, it seems like everyone has an opinion.  There is a lot of mudslinging between the right and the left political wings with very little hope of them coming together in the middle for the common good.  It seems like all parties and candidates really need to let people know where they are different rather than what they have in common.  I know that we need to know the different stances so that we can make an educated decision as to who we should vote for, but the country might be paying a great price for this type of polarization.

I see the same thing happening in the church.  It seems like the conservative and liberal ends of the Christian spectrum seems to be running farther and farther away from the middle and taking very strong, dogmatic stances on most issues and pointing fingers at "the other side" and labeling them as "heretic" or "Pharisee" depending on which side you are on.  Are we shooting ourselves in the foot and hindering the move of Christ around the world by using the same style of politics and arguments that play themselves out in the media and bringing those inside the church and putting Christian labels on them?  Why do the walls of my Christian friends look like a religious version of Fox News vs CNN?

The same thing plays out on the mission field as well.  Some are obsessed with making sure that we don't water down the gospel while others are trying to be as sensitive and relevant to the cultures we are reaching out to as possible.  There are whole books and conferences out there to bash the other side and their stance on everything from Bible translations to contextualization to mercy ministry vs evangelism/discipleship.  It seems like a lot of these debates are hundreds if not thousands of years old.  So, are we just destined to throw down between the right and left year after year, topic after topic, or are there ways to bring things together?

One side is yelling "sound doctrine and right theology" and the other side is yelling "love, tolerance, and grace".  Both would adamantly say their view is "more Biblical" or "more Christian".  Jesus said that "a kingdom divided against itself will never stand."  Is there any chance of the church coming to the middle and focusing on what we agree on...things like the Great Commandment and the Great Commission or a simple slogan like "Jesus is Lord"?  Or have we made some of the minor issues out to be major and any coming together or move towards the middle would be considered "compromise"?

It seems like God was able to take things like wrath and mercy which seem to be polar opposites and bring them together at the cross.  So, maybe there are other things that seem to be at odds with one another that can be overcome in Christ?

Just thinking out loud and trying to figure out if there is any way out of this mess.  What do you think?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Does networking count as missions?

I spend a lot of my time in meetings and in the office doing email and phone calls.  Some days I wonder if all of this admin work and networking is making any global impact and if I should just drop all of the minutia of running an organization and just make disciples of nations.  This week I got to see a glimpse of some fruit from all of this administrative labor and it involved several people working together which wouldn't have happened without a lot of networking and building relationships with different ministries.

On Thursday, I was at a meeting where a lot of the ministries in our local context were sharing updates about what was going on in the community.  One of the leaders expressed concern about an Iraqi family who they have been pouring into for quite awhile who has decided to leave Atlanta and move to Jacksonville.  They were burdened about who was going to follow up on this family.  I told them that we just had two short term mission groups that came from JAX and fell in love with refugees and the idea of reaching out to the nations that have come here.  There is also another ministry that we have built a relationship with there that does a great job of teaching English and sharing the gospel.  So, I shot a few emails out and within 24 hours those ministries had touched base with an Iraqi church planter in the area that was going to follow up on the family.  It turns out that this Iraqi family from Atlanta moved ONE BLOCK AWAY from the Iraqi church planter in Jacksonville and a visit had already been scheduled! 

Now, that's the body of Christ working together for kingdom purposes.  I guess I will continue attending meetings, building relationships, networking with like-minded ministries, sending emails to people looking for direction, answering phone calls and coaching people into next steps for missions.  It seems that part of Paul's apostolic call was to make sure that there was good collaboration between the Colossians, Corinthians, Macedonians, etc. and to ensure that there were always people in place to continue discipleship in all the places where he planted the gospel.  He spent a bit of time writing as well, although most of his was from a jail cell, so I'll find comfort that all of this may be be making an eternal difference and that God is getting lots of glory as we are obedient to Him and people are coming into the kingdom.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What is the greatest mission field?

Some of Jesus' last words were to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and then to be his witnesses in Jerusalem AND Judea AND Samaria AND the ends of the earth.  It isn't an either/or commandment but a both/and proposition.  Jesus wanted his disciples to live out and preach the kingdom in all of those places.  I hear a lot of people say "why go to the ends of the earth when there is so much spiritual need right here in America" and I know us missionary types have been guilty of telling everyone that we all need to focus on the ends of the earth because America at least has a chance to receive Good News.  The truth is that the Great Commission should be translated "as you are going, make disciples...", so all mission fields are valid and important.

It think it really all boils down to intentionality and going where the Father says and doing as the Spirit leads.  I feel like if we were really in tune and listening to the Lord that there would be a lot more than 2% of the mission force working among unreached people groups in the 10/40 window and many more people at home living a missional lifestyle reaching out to neighbors, co-workers, and the foreigners that God has sent to live among us.  What would happen in the US and the ends of the earth if we did what Jesus said and waited for the Holy Spirit to come and then went out witnessing to the world everything we know about Christ and His kingdom in Jerusalem AND Judea AND Samaria AND the ends of the earth?  Let's be missional; the time is short and we only get one life to steward well.