Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Refugees, Fear, and Love



I don't like what I'm about to write. There exists within me a significant part of myself that vehemently rails against these thoughts. I know many of you will not like what I'm about to write. So, I included this paragraph to tell you that I totally get it and I don't blame you at all. However, I have come to believe this is right, regardless of how I feel about it.

Like most of you, I have wrestled with how we should respond to the Syrian refugee crisis for a while now. I see the atrocities this huge group of people suffers and I want to help them. But, I also see the ease with which their ranks could be infiltrated by Islamic extremists seeking to gain entrance into other countries, into my country, and I want to keep them out. My heart has been grappling with love and fear. I have prayed about it and thought about it and worried over it.

Today, God clarified things for me. I should have been consulting the Word of God alone for my answer to how we should handle this, but I was allowing myself to be blinded with fear. In the midst of a great conversation with several ministers I respect, I realized that the answer is overwhelmingly and unmistakably to love.

We should not even have to look past Jesus' assertion that the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31) That wasn't enough to convince me, though. Because I want to be safe. I want to be safe, and I want my family to be safe. But, this command is written all over Scripture.

We see again and again that we are to love the foreigner. (Deut. 10:18, Lev. 19:33-34, Ex. 22:21, and this is NOT a comprehensive list.) Showing hospitality to strangers is commanded of us time after time. Hebrews 13:2 tells us not to neglect showing hospitality to strangers, because we may even be entertaining angles when we do. In 1 Timothy 5:9, Paul tells Timothy that his congregation is not to help a widow who doesn't take care of strangers. As Job lists his good works in Job 31:32, he includes providing lodging for the stranger.

When I look at the things that make Jesus angry in the Gospels, I frequently see him chewing the Pharisees out for setting up boundaries that keep people (often foreigners!) away from God.

I read the explanation of how Jesus will divide people who claimed to follow him on judgment day. He was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned. Oh yeah, and he was a STRANGER. Those who fed, clothed, cared for, visited him, and invited him (the stranger) in get to join him in Heaven. Those who did not go to eternal punishment. When each respective group asks when they had a chance to provide for these needs, he tells them that it was when they cared for (or didn't care for) the "least of these brothers and sisters" of his.

I can't find any Scriptural argument for turning the stranger in need away.

With such an overwhelming Scriptural case for loving these people in need, why do some Christians refuse to? Why do I want to refuse to? The main reason, if we're honest with ourselves, is fear. I am afraid of losing innocent people, loved ones, or even my own life if I reach out to help these people. I don't want to argue over the likelihood of this danger, because it doesn't matter. Christians are to be known for their love. We are to love our neighbors. We are to love everyone. We are to even love our enemies. When we refuse to do this, regardless of the reasoning, we oppose Jesus.

I've heard many times, "Yeah, we need to love the stranger, but we also need to be wise!" Really? When Jesus came to love people who were going to kill him in one of the most brutal ways possible, I would argue that love trumped wisdom. When Paul was planning to visit Jerusalem and found out that his enemies were planning to arrest him, I'm sure some people who loved Paul warned him to be wise and change his travel plans. He went anyway, continuing to spread the love of God until the government severed his head from his body. When Peter was beaten and warned not to preach, the warning never really sank in. In an unwise course of action, Peter preached until they crucified him upside down for it. When Christianity was outlawed, it would have been wise to shut up, pack up, and move out. Instead, Christians shared their faith until they died in many horrific ways, some of them even utilized as torches to light Emperor Nero's garden parties. When Bartholomew was warned to stop preaching, he unwisely continued until they crucified him. His lack of wisdom knew no bounds as he continued to preach until they skinned him alive. He continued preaching until they beheaded him.

Where did we get it in our heads that this faith was about trying to stay safe? Jesus didn't promise us safety. He didn't promise us comfort. He promised that we would be hated and that we would suffer. Walking with him and the promise of being with him eternally is far more than worth it, but we aren't safe here and now. Remember, when Mr. Beaver was asked whether Aslan is safe, he responded, "Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

I am astonished at how many Christians I see oozing with bravado as they face down the culture and show their courage in the face of "persecution" when people say mean things about them, or the government passes laws they disagree with, but when the rubber meets the road and it looks like loving people the way Jesus loves might actually cost us something, our courage fades to cowardice.

Take heart, brothers and sisters! Jesus has overcome the world! So what if some of them seek our demise? The worst they can do is give us a little temporary pain that will fade in the overwhelming peace of eternity. Don't fear those who destroy our bodies, but fear the One who can destroy both body and soul! Don't be controlled by fear. God didn't give you a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self control! There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

Here is the big reason you should let go of your fear and choose to love: Our struggle isn't against flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Our struggle is against the spiritual darkness which blinds and manipulates these people. Many of us never make it to a foreign mission field. Here is a plethora of people whose needs we can fill. This is a foreign mission field begging to come to us. This is an unprecedented opportunity to preach the Gospel and to show the love of Christ to the Muslim world. We can't refuse to engage with people and expect them to stumble across the Gospel. We have to take it to them. Will we stand by and ignore this because we are fearful? Will we choose to be Pharisees, erecting a boundary between people and God?

May it never be! Let's embrace the adventure that God has laid out before us! Sop worrying about physical war and embrace the spiritual battle! Lay down your lives for the sake of the Gospel! We Americans want to talk a big game on this all the time. Back it up! Love people with the same reckless abandon as the God who pursues us no matter how far he has to go! The only thing that can change these people is the love of God. (Awesome story about that here!) Some of our Syrian brothers and sisters have chosen to stay in that absolutely dangerous land desperately seeking to lead their countrymen to the love of Jesus. Let us not shrink from the potential threat of loving those who have fled.

I have seen another protest: "How can we help these people when we have plenty of homeless here already?!" To that, I say, "What are you doing about it?" If you are opening your home up to a homeless person, your complaint has merit. If you are regularly engaged in directly (not just donating to someone) helping these people, your complaint has merit. If you are unwilling to actually do anything to help, I think you should probably stop pretending you care. I'm not doing nearly enough in that area. But, I don't think my failure to live Jesus' teachings in this one area is a justification to give up in all areas.

God has been berating me nonstop this year about my need to start living the hospitality he requires of us. I've been yanked out of my comfort zone as he tears down the walls in my life between myself and the people around me. He is teaching me to love with his sacrificial love. I have often hoped that if it came down to giving my life for my belief, I would be willing to do it. So, I refuse to cower from this opportunity to live the Gospel.

I know many of you will disagree with this. I understand and I don't look down on you. I'm afraid, too. Fortunately, we are blessed to live in a place where our voices can be heard and we have some control over when our nation does. This is the way I choose to use my voice.

I encourage us to love until the fear is gone and until those who cause the fear are changed. Our faith has conquered empires with nothing but love. I'm not about to act like the Kingdom of God can fall under the minuscule weight of bombs and bullets. The gates of Hell won't stand against the Kingdom of God. So, storm the gates.