What About Syrian Refugees?

refugees

Ever since last week’s terrorist attacks on Paris, debating the issue of Syrian refugees has been all the rage in the news and especially on social media. While I appreciate good debate about controversial topics and feel that there is wide room for differences in opinion, I do believe as a Christian that one’s faith should be foundational in the forming of thoughts and opinions in regard to this sort of sociopolitical issue. Bearing the name of Christ is a privilege and a responsibility, and those that are truly His followers will submit every aspect of their lives and person to that relationship.

Unfortunately, many Christians have never allowed their worldview to be impacted by their relationship with Christ and therefore they view “non-religious” issues through the same lens that the rest of the world does. All of this goes to say that my concern is not so much with what one’s opinion is on the refugee issue (or any other for that matter), but with the thought process that got them to that opinion. Though a topic like immigration may seem to be strictly sociopolitical in nature, there are numerous biblical principles that should affect our thoughts on the matter.

Perhaps most importantly is the foundational Biblical teaching that a Christian’s citizenship is in heaven. The world of the physical is neither the home nor primary concern of a Christian. This is a common New Testament theme. In Philippians 3:20, Paul tells believers outright that “our citizenship is in heaven.” He was contrasting this mindset with that of professing believers who had their mind set on earthly things, a practice he specifically condemns in Colossians 3:2 where he says to “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” None of this was original with Paul, though, because even Jesus instructed His disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God.” As we consider any issue or topic such as immigration, we must be sure that our priorities are those of the heavenly kingdom and not an earthly one. With that being said, here are a few kingdom principles that we must consider:

  • Compassion is not conditional. We are to love others as Christ loved us, without condition or regard for how He was treated in return. There may be times that I must decline to offer benevolence, but I should do so with a loving and compassionate heart. We must love our enemies and be compassionate to all who are hurting even if this could bring us potential harm. That is how Jesus loved, and it is what He expects of us.
  • We are not to be ruled by fear. Believers should not make decisions or form opinions based on fear. God is bigger than what might happen. He is bigger than the evil in this world, and we must be ruled by His Spirit alone and not the fear of all that is in the world around us.
  • We must desire the salvation of the nations. Many of our opinions form around those things that we desire. Our desires reflect our values. As a believer, what we should value the most is the salvation of souls. We must view life first and foremost in terms of opportunities to spread the gospel.
  • The gospel opposes nationalism. While there is nothing wrong with appreciating an earthly nation, we must remember that our allegiance is to Christ who removed racial and nationalistic divisions. It is sinful to value any nation above another or to promote a nation’s interests above those of God’s kingdom.
  • Honor authority. Though we must not be nationalistic, we do have a Christian obligation to honor the authorities that are above us. We are supposed to honor, obey and even respect our earthly government because God has placed them in authority. Regardless of what our social and political opinions may be, we must hold and express them in a way that is not disrespectful toward authority.

My desire in expressing these principles is not to attack anyone or to stir up controversy, but to call believers to view the world as God does. We must allow our faith in Him and our commitment to Him to impact every facet of our lives – even our sociopolitical opinions.

Advertisements

When Terror Strikes

paris-87211_1920

All eyes have been on France this weekend as Paris suffered what will likely be considered the worst terrorist attack in Europe in more than ten years. Responsibility was claimed by Islamic State, which is the current name of the extremist, Islamic, militant group formerly known as ISIS or ISIL. Though Islamic State has been brutalizing Syria and Iraq for some time now, the wide spread attack on Paris has gained the attention of the western world.  As President Obama said, we feel as if an attack like this “is an attack on all of humanity.” Though most of us are unaffected in any direct way, we feel as if we too have been somehow violated.

As these feelings surface each time a large-scale tragedy happens, my thoughts always turn to questions of the proper response. I don’t mean the proper response of a nation or government. Though I do believe that God has given governments the authority to carry out justice through military action, I also know that the decision as to an official national response is one that I will never influence. The response I find myself pondering is that of individuals – particularly Christians. How should we think and feel about the events of this weekend and others like it? Can we do anything? Should we say anything? What should I desire as an outcome? Is there even one right response?

In considering these types of questions I have come up with a few thoughts that I want to share, though, true to personal form, they are pretty random.

  • All life is valuable and should be treasured. This is one of the most important things to remember in a time of tragedy. All mankind is made in the image of God and as such each and every human life is of great value. This should make me thankful for every breath that God blesses me with, but it should also remind me of the precious value of every human life. Christians should be at the forefront of defending and protecting human life. As I consider a tragedy like that in Paris, I should respond with vocal and confident affirmation that God values each and every human life.
  • Loss of life is tragic and should be grieved. Though we cannot let grief control or overwhelm us, in the light of the value of human life it is proper to grieve the loss of life. We ought to hurt with Paris and grieve their loss. It ought to affect us. It should make us sad when there is such senseless killing.
  • Do not become callous toward death. One of the things that struck me about the recent Paris attack is that many similar events have happened in the past few months and have not received much attention. One of the unfortunate side effects of the ease of access to information in our culture is that death and destruction is somewhat commonplace. Though we cannot avoid hearing of many of the events that take place around the globe, I challenge you to ask God to give you a compassionate heart toward those who suffer. Though it is less painful to be callous, it is more Christ-like to hurt with those who are hurting.
  • Desire justice, not death. As we have already stated, life is precious and the taking of life should always be seen as tragic, even when it is right and necessary. Though it might be natural to wish for the death of the murderers who took so much life, we must be cautious that we do not become desirous of death itself. In the words of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, “Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends.” It is unbecoming of a believer to wish for the death of anyone, even if they happen to deserve that fate.
  • Take every opportunity to point to the hope we have in Christ. There is a temptation to pile despair upon despair and as believers we should fight against this tendency. We need to be a voice of hope in the midst of grief. We should be a light in the darkness of despair. We know that God is in control even when things seem to be out of control. As those around you wonder about all that is going on, take the opportunity to point them to Jesus.

It is never easy to deal with loss and tragedy, but I hope that as Christ-followers we will respond differently than the lost world around us. Though we may not have all the answers, when terror strikes we can offer peace and comfort that is beyond the scope of this world.

Keeping Christ in Christian

3033304775_dc87d4b238_z

With another Halloween in the books, temperatures dropping and Thanksgiving just around the corner, we know that Christmas is soon to be knocking on the Holiday door. With the fast approach of Christmas comes the annual persecution complex of many in the greater Christian community who seem to think that anyone who does not celebrate Christmas just as they do must hate God and His followers and probably worships Satan between shifts at the Starbucks or Barnes and Noble.

Generally, these accusations result from a business failing to use the term Christmas in their advertising campaigns or personal greetings in the place of business. This year, however, all it took in the case of Starbucks was the decision to use a solid red cup rather than one with snowflakes or some other more festive design. Since we all know that red is the color of both Santa and Satan, it is obvious that all good Christians should avoid drinking their coffee. To be safe, you should probably post something on social media boldly proclaiming your indignation. How dare they attack Jesus with their pagan red cups?!

In case you are unsure of my position, I think this whiny persecution complex is ridiculous. First of all, we should not be so easily offended. Second of all, there are people in our world facing genuine persecution – actually dying for Christ – while we complain about coffee cups and Christmas card slogans. Lastly, I don’t think my Savior cares one bit about the color of a coffee cup or how many times a retailer might use His name in an advertising campaign.

Jesus didn’t live and die to establish a holiday in His name! He lived and died to redeem a people for His glory. Unsaved people abandoning Christian tradition is of far less concern to God than His own people abandoning Christian conduct. Whether or not you personally get caught up in these anti-political correctness shenanigans at Christmas, I hope you will pause for a moment to think about what a wonderful opportunity this time of year can be to fulfill your purpose of manifesting the love of Christ for His glory.

Instead of berating the man that wishes you a “Happy Holiday”, perhaps you could wish him one back and talk about your source of happiness. Instead of angrily ranting about those who want to keep Christ out of Christmas, you could lovingly discuss what you’re doing to keep Him in it. Instead of refusing to give your money to anyone that doesn’t promote Christmas, why not donate to a charity that helps those that don’t know Christ at all? Instead of being the stereotypical angry Christians, let’s shock the world by being the kindest, most generous, most loving people they come across this Christmas season.

I’m certainly not against keeping Christ in Christmas, but I think it’s high time that true Christians put more effort into keeping Christ in Christian than trying to make the world keep Christ in Christmas.

Sunday Supper November 8, 2015

 In a feature reminiscent of my childhood in which Sunday supper consisted of a smorgasbord of leftovers and a random assortment of other foods, I bring you a collection of random items of interest from the past week.

 

What Does Paul Mean by Baptism for the Dead? The Bible is quite clear in its core doctrines, and even little children can understand the gospel. However, there are also a great many difficult passages that lead to hard questions. Dan Doriani,  professor of theology at Covenant Seminary, deals with one such difficult question in this article on Paul’s reference to baptism for the dead.

 

Church, Stop Doing So Many Good Things! We’ve all heard that good is the enemy of great and that is certainly true in the Christian life and church. There are lots of good things that we could be involved in, but we must use God’s wisdom to determine which good things he wants us specifically involved in so that we can best serve him.

 

That Vital Moment in Every Preachers Week Some great thoughts for preachers on the importance of trusting God for the results of our labor.

 

How the Doctrine of Election Fueled Jesus’ Work An interesting look at how Jesus’ life and ministry manifested confidence in the doctrine of election.

 

My Spouse Is My Best Friend His perspective is certainly worth considering. His main point is basically this: “Men and women need best friends of the same-sex. I find it a real pity when the spouse takes the place of those necessary relationships.”

 

5 Things Every Small to Mid-Sized Church Struggles With This is some great insight into the problems that often prevent growth and effectiveness in a small church.

 

Enjoy this random collection of stuff and be sure to let me know what you’ve been reading or watching that is interesting, enjoyable or helpful.

Free Indeed

person-371015_1280

The month of October has marked one year since the difficult decision was made to resign the pastorate at my former church. It is truly amazing to see how God has worked in our hearts and lives in the course of one short year. Looking back, it is obvious that He had his hand on us and was guiding us into His perfect plan all along.

At the time, however, this decision resulted in conflicting emotions. On the one hand, there was sadness at the loss of employment and friendships and stress at the thought of an impending move. On the other hand, there was a clear sense of peace, joy and freedom at being released from a very dark period of ministry. As one might expect, the sad feelings waned over time and the positive feelings grew stronger until months later I would look back and view my time of ministry as a prison of sorts from which I was set free by my resignation.

I am extremely grateful for the renewed joy and peace I have found over the last year, but I’ve come to realize that my feelings of imprisonment were unnecessary and entirely due to a mistaken perspective on my part. I was dwelling on the dark and painful circumstances that I was facing instead of on the peace and freedom that I had already been given. The truth in regard to this matter is found in Galatians 5:1, where Paul said that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” When Christ set us free, He set us free in reality and totality. We are no longer a slave to sin and we are no longer a slave to our circumstances and we are not even any longer a slave to our own desires and emotions. We are free!

Yet the fact that Paul continues with the instruction that we should “not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” indicates that we can -and often do- choose to live as if we are still slaves. It was not the abuse, lies and slander that were holding me prisoner while I was in my former ministry. It was actually my own decision to dwell on my circumstances instead of Christ that was holding me captive. And it was not a change in my circumstance that set me free. Christ did that once and for all when I trusted in Him as my Savior. I was free all along, but I only experienced the feeling of freedom once I finally shifted my focus back to God and focused on him.

To be clear, this focusing on God is not a fluffy, lip service kind of change in perspective. It is instead an acknowledgement that I am free from sin, death, hell, addiction and my own flesh because I belong fully to Him. To experience the freedom He has given, I must trust fully in His goodness. I must embrace His ways as right and commit to living them out in my life. This often means forsaking certain behaviors and attitudes that I might enjoy or feel I need. It probably means I will need to do something I might not want to do – like forgive or confront or show kindness to an enemy.

The path will look differently for each of us, but it always begins with submission to God, to His Word and to His plan. If you are feeling trapped or imprisoned, I beg you to turn to Jesus and let Him set you free. In Him, nothing can enslave: nothing can imprison. You cannot be held captive by a sin, a circumstance, a substance, a person, a feeling, a desire or anything else you can imagine because “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).”

Sunday Supper November 1, 2015

 In a feature reminiscent of my childhood in which Sunday supper consisted of a smorgasbord of leftovers and a random assortment of other foods, I bring you an assortment of random items of interest from the past week.

 

“Ironically, a pastor can be so busy caring for his people that he never makes time to stop and pray for them.” – What Is the Most Common Ministry Priority Neglected by Pastors?

 

Mission Agencies Send No One – There is a big difference between a church that “has” missionaries (like a budget item) and a church that sends missionaries. Sending is purposeful and should be done with care.

 

Thresholds of Violence is a long but interesting article about the history of school shootings.

 

One of the sweetest attributes in an individual is gratitude, but it is not all that common. Here are Six Ways to Cultivate Thankfulness and Joy.

 

Here are some thoughts about the morality of Daily Fantasy Leagues.

 

Forgiveness Is an Act of Worship – “Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.”

 

We all face seasons of difficulty and suffering in our lives. Here are 4 Ways to Live Faithfully While in Exile.

 

Enjoy this random collection of stuff and be sure to let me know what you’ve been reading or watching that is interesting, enjoyable or helpful.