To listen to the full audio message entitled “God’s Word on Refugees,” click on the play button at the bottom of this post or go to our iTunes [Grace Exposed] podcast channel. This message was delivered at North Park Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI on Sunday evening, Nov. 22, 2015.
Last Wednesday evening, Hudson and I arrived home just as the late autumn sun was gently setting across the horizon. All day long a pattern of dreary weather wore on with cold drizzle and wind. But just before dusk, the heavy ceiling of nimbostratus clouds pulled back like the opening of grand theatre curtains. Bright red, orange, purple, and yellows hues danced across the sky. The stark backdrop of lofty clouds created beautiful yet strange looking formations…
Hudson peered up at the sky with a look of wonder and worry, “Papa! Look at the clouds…at the sky! They look different. It’s looks weird…I’ve never seen it like that before!” Hudson paused for a moment, then shouted out, “I’m scared!”
You and I would probably not be scared about an unusual cloud formation (unless it was a tornado). Yet seeing something new, different, out-of-the-ordinary, outside-our-creature comforts often brings up a bit of fear or worry within us.
Over the past several weeks the news headlines have been ripping into our society with volley after volley of tragedy, terror, and devastation. The terrorist attacks on Paris. ISIS advancement. Jihadists trickling into American society. Governmental unrest. And perhaps loudest of all: The Syrian/Middle Eastern refugee crisis.
Yet for me, grief gripped my soul several months earlier when I encountered this picture of a little boy dead on the seashore.
3-year-old Aylan drowned at sea when the boat carrying his mom and 5-year-old brother capsized off the coast of Bodrum. Only his father survived. Justin Moyer provided the details in the Washington Post. This young Kurdish family’s hopeful destination was Canada, where another family member was attempting to sponsor their immigration.
A following picture shows the Turkish policeman carrying little Aylan away from the waves. One can’t help but notice one Velcro strap on his shoe has come undone, just like my own son’s small sneakers. And as Moyer points out, “though we can’t know what the policeman is thinking as he carries a dead child from the ocean, one thing is clear: He is looking away.”
Thousands more are attempting to flee their native homelands of Syria and Iraq as ISIS continues to leave a wake of destruction and terror.
Amid the firestorm of debate over the last two weeks about the refugee crisis certain questions rise to the surface:
Is it natural to have some feelings of fear about the idea of refugees coming in mass numbers to America? Certainly.
Should our country carefully screen all refugees via a thorough immigration process? Absolutely. (Note: it’s already quite exhaustive, see HERE)
Would it be difficult, hard work to assimilate refugees into our society? Definitely.
Will some of the people be dangerous or criminally-minded? Yes.
How many refugees should the USA welcome to our shores (if any)? Well…
With all these questions swirling around, we viewed this short film from Samaritan’s Purse about what some Christians are doing to provide love and care for refugees:
I can still hear their muffled cries. The sound won’t leave my ears.
I can still see their mud-stained tears. The sight won’t leave my mind.
I can almost smell the faint aroma of the seashore…
The Best Question
While we may have myriad questions about the politics and economics involved in this refugee crisis, as Christians the most important question is not if they come but when they come, how does God want us to respond? Wherever they are in the world, how should we respond to the sojourner, the refugee?
DEFINITION: ref·u·gee noun
- a person who has been forced to leave their country of origin in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Political pundits on both sides of the refugee debate tend to ignore God’s Word. But we’re not going to do that. God spoke on this issue long ago and His truth still rings true today. As followers of Jesus let’s carefully, prayerfully, and biblically wade into the choppy waters where American Christians, politicians, bloggers, and refugees seem to be drowning in a swirling riptide of anger, sadness, fear, and compassion. Yet let’s anchor the conversation in God’s Word, which I firmly believe will guide us to a safe and peaceful shore.
Our guide for all of life, faith, and practice is not Fox News, CNN, or USA Today, but God’s Holy Word… which always cuts right to the heart of the issues we face. So let’s journey together in God’s Word to see five guideposts along the trail of how we should respond to refugees.
God’s Word on Refugees
1. We show our love for God by loving what He loves.
God instilled a heart to care for sojourners in His people. Here’s how He explained His character and His command to the Israelites:
His Character: “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”
His Command: “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:17-19)
Now be careful, just because we are Christians under the New Covenant does not mean we are to forget about displaying the character of God, as detailed in the Old Testament. God’s heart for the refugee-sojourner is replete across the Old Testament (see also Exodus 22:21-22; 23:9; Lev. 19:33-34) and God’s command to love and care for refugees isn’t merely a guideline buried in that particular historical context with no bearing on how we are to live today.
The church isn’t Israel nor is America the church. But God’s law for Israel concerning His love for the foreigner has a timeless truth for the church. Just as Israel was to be a light to the nations, so the church is now to bear Christ’s light to all nations. God’s people across all time are to display God’s love for refugees.
2. We express God’s compassion when we give refuge to refugees.
The righteous man, Boaz, followed God’s love for refugees when he welcomed, protected, and provided for Ruth, the Moabitess. After Boaz initiated specific care for Ruth as she gleaned from his fields, Ruth responds:
“Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’
Boaz replied to her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.” (Ruth 2:10-12)
Ruth considered herself a nokria (“foreigner”), the lowest of the low – even perhaps considered a harlot, an outcast from Jewish society. Yet Boaz viewed her the way God saw her: one seeking refuge under His wings. Boaz didn’t just communicate truth about God, he expressed the compassion of God by giving refuge to Ruth.
At a different point in history but declaring the same truth, the nation of Judah was to provide refuge for Moab against the constant attacks of Assyria:
“Let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer.” (Isaiah 16:4a)
Why should a good and godly Israelite do such a thing? Because it not only expresses God’s compassion but also displays a foretaste of the coming kingdom, ruled by the Davidic King, Jesus Christ:
“When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased, and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land, then a throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.” (Isaiah 16:4b-5)
One day Christ the King will bring perfect justice and righteousness to earth. But until that day comes we, as followers of Christ, are to demonstrate the character of that coming kingdom.
3. We are most like our God when we love people who hate God (and us).
Even ISIS! Yikes. Even refugees who may or may not be “safe”? Yes. Jesus makes this point strikingly clear:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
Now just so you know that I’m not going doctrinally liberal or crazy, the strongly conservative pastor John MacArthur said nearly the same thing, in reference to the passage above: “[Christians] are most like God when they show love to people who hate God.”
Jesus ups the ante. To follow His path of discipleship means we love (in tangible ways) and pray for those who may label us their enemies. To “be sons of your Father” doesn’t indicate we earn our way into the family of God through loving our enemies but that we show we’re in God’s family by loving our enemies. We look like our Father! For this is precisely what God in Christ did for us:
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10)
4. We demonstrate the righteousness we’ve received in Christ by showing the righteous reign of Christ in our lives.
Jesus Christ gave His disciples a glimpse of the judgment line between the righteous and the unrighteous:
“Come…inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. . . . Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me. . . . Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:34-46)
When Christ returns to make all things new, His reign will proclaim justice and righteousness, grace and truth. So when we feed, clothe, house, and visit the refugee we are showing the reign of Christ in our lives. These actions are evidence of God-given righteousness by grace through faith, not the method of obtaining righteousness (cf. Rom. 3:20-23; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5; Eph. 2:8-9). Therefore, God’s people should be mobilizing not weaponizing to prepare to display Jesus Christ (i.e. glorify God) to those coming in massive migration from Northern Africa and the Middle East. Let’s give them a foretaste, an appetizer of the coming kingdom…
5. We find true life when we lay down our lives to live out Christ’s life.
When we die to our safety, reputation, and desires we find life as it was meant to be lived: glorifying God by enjoying God. Our initial reaction to this might be somewhat like Peter’s response to Jesus’ talk of “suffering many things…being rejected..and being killed” (Mark 8:31). Peter pulled Jesus aside and rebuked the Messiah (see v. 29) for saying such outlandish things. This talk of suffering and dying wasn’t in the plan! Was it?!
Peter didn’t know the meaning of life. He was flat wrong. His mind was not focused on “God’s interests, but man’s” (v. 33b). Jesus then turned to all the disciples and called the whole crowd together to tell them about true life as it is meant to be lived:
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34b-35)
We are not promised an easier, safer life than Jesus, our Master and Teacher (Matthew 10:24-26; John 15:18-25). But His life is real, abundant life. His life alone satisfies our deepest longings and needs.
So don’t be afraid. Live by faith, not by feelings or fear. Fear cripples faith but faith motivates mission. Fear is driven by self and a focus on self drives out compassion. Yet our God calls us to the path of faith. His way provides strength, courage, tenacity, and boldness to stare into the faces of refugees and our enemies… and to reach out with love.
Here’s a note from someone loving refugees right now:
“[I] just read an update from a friend that said they offered a blanket to a refugee in the name of Jesus. The man said, ‘Who is this Jesus? Since I left home he has given me food, a place to stay and now a blanket. I want to know him.” (via Chuck Wade)
Faith or Safe?
We don’t see any thoughtful person saying our government shouldn’t carefully screen all refugees through the process of immigration. One role of government is the protection of its citizens, “both foreign and domestic” (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-15). However, as followers of Jesus, our primary motivations are not derived from the government but from the Word of God. We are not called to what is safe but what is of faith. This doesn’t mean we throw wisdom to the wind. But it does mean we must set our minds on God’s interests not man’s. We must deny ourselves (even all our earthly comforts), take up our crosses, and follow Jesus.
We are not called to what is safe but what is of faith.
Many people told the missionary greats of the past that they were throwing wisdom to the wind, i.e. Hudson Taylor, William Carey, Amy Carmichael, Adoniram Judson, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, etc. Yet history proves who was really speaking the true words of wisdom.
The fruit of the gospel is not found in a life of earthly ease, comfort, safety, and modest respectability, but in laying down our lives to live out Christ’s life here on earth.
May His will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
Key Action Steps:
When was living by faith ever promised to be safe? Never. God has always called His people to do out-of-the-ordinary actions to usher people toward his extra-ordinary grace. Let’s not wait for them to come to us, let’s go to them.
- Ordinary Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching churches (like North Park Baptist Church) who believe the life-transforming truth of the gospel may prepare to welcome 1-2 refugee families into the community with food, clothing, education, and housing.
- Our city, Grand Rapids, is 4th in the USA for cities equipped and active in settling refugees.
- If you’re a pastor or church leader and interested in joining together on this mission, I want to talk with you! Please go to the contact page and your message will be sent directly to my email inbox. You can also go to North Park Baptist’s Facebook page and send a message: https://www.facebook.com/NorthParkGrandRapids/
- Directly support Samaritan’s Purse International Relief as they minister to refugees in Greece and other locations right now.
- Directly supporting ABWE’s GAP Ministry through George and Deb Collins, which has team members on the ground working with refugees to provide medical care, food, clothing, and gospel witness: GAP MINISTRY #0820013
- Be involved in encouraging and supporting missionaries like Jon and Kris Shepherd (and family) with Global Gates, who are touching unreached, unengaged people groups in major USA cities (currently in NYC). These people groups are predominantly immigrants from West Africa, the Middle East, and SE Asia.
Let’s take the faith-step, not necessarily the safe-step. Let’s show them Jesus.
For Further Information:
Chances are if you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this post, you’re a person who enjoys reading and researching. Here are some links to other helpful, biblical articles written by pastors and theologians you can trust (a couple of whom are friends of mine):
- Building His Church in a Refugee Crisis by David Crabb at www.DesiringGod.org
- Stop Pitting Security and Compassion Against Each Other in the Syrian Refugee Crisis by Dr. Russell Moore
- Immigration Policy Must be Based on More than an Appeal to Compassion by Kevin DeYoung at www.tgc.org
- Eight Words from Jesus in a World of Refugees by D. Glenn at www.DesiringGod.org
- John Piper: 20 Principles for How Christians Should Relate to Muslims (and those of other religions) by Justin Taylor at www.tgc.org
- Why Evangelicals are Torn about Admitting Refugees to the US by Trevin Wax
- Something Christian Millennials “Don’t Get” by Klinton Silvey
If we are genuinely pro-life and living out Christ’s life, then we must genuinely care about these lives: