Refugees part 2: Legalities and Love

I published a brief article through the Gospel Coalition on our church’s direct experience with the refugee crisis in Italia which was meant to encourage the church at large that there is some good news out there! The surprising thing which took place both here in Italia and the US was how quickly the negative comments began to fill the conversations from “Christians” who were angered by our outreach.

One of the themes which arose was that our church was disrespecting national borders set up by God (so we were disobeying God), that we were illegal for helping “illegals” (so we were disobeying the state), and that the church shouldn’t be involved in politics like this (so we were disobeying political correctness).

In response, I would like to share here that we were not disobeying the first two and really don’t mind breaking the third. Rather, we are seeking in our approach to have Gospel centrality and to be careful how Christ is presented while at the same time not compromising with the feelings del giorno of man before God.

Are national borders important?cloud-3074621_640

I would answer yes to that question as borders define civil law of a national sovereignty, but I don’t sense that is the real issue, at least for the church. We have never preached to throw down national borders and haven’t really heard of that being presented in like-minded churches. If that is an issue for you and your church community, I would be glad to explore it more with you. However, what I do see is the following argument being used somewhat as a straw man fallacy. Any outreach to any newly arrived immigrant or helpful initiative seems to be met with suspicion and then we are categorized as one of “those churches who just want to throw down borders and let everyone in.” Or, another commenter immediately shared how God in his law honors borders — as if we didn’t and don’t love God and his law.

The point is each country has their own immigration and border policies — and as long as they are humane and do not cause immediate risk or damage to human beings, then they should be respected. It is also good, Gospel witness to help others who need to comply with immigration laws if they’re willing to do so. We have encountered some who are unwilling to legalize their status choosing to “hide for a while” until more advantageous times. To those, we patiently offered correction but not membership.

Italia (up to this year) has had a more humane and “compassionate” policy than many countries. For example, one does not need to “touch” the shoreline to seek asylum in Italia; a sea rescue is also sufficient. In recent news, we have seen a more hard-line policy where the sea rescues have taken place but the ports have been closed to entry. Yes, the numbers of refugees entering Italia has dropped dramatically, but the interesting statistic is that the number of deaths at sea has still remained high proportionately. Think of the irony of the situation when the many Mediterranean cruise ships packed with vacationers pass over the spots of hundreds of drowning victims just hours and days before. And to twist the knife into the sadness further, most of the refugees have paid dearly to get on those doomed boats. They’re paying to be drowned, yet the human traffickers are still sending them north.

What happens, then, to those who do reach the ports and shores? That is an important question because Italy places them in a status of semi-sequestration for up to two years until their documents are approved or denied. In our experience, the vast majority do receive their proper papers and enter the society. Some are ready to enter the workforce and many are not.

Please note here: I acknowledge, first, our experience is not a “uniform” experience across all of Italia. We are reporting from the north where hundreds of refugees continue to arrive and other regions may or may not be similar. Second, I am speaking only to their entrance into Italia at this point before they may have broken any laws. I realize that there are riots and attacks by migrants in various cities of Italy for a number of different reasons. The laws are indifferent to race when they are broken, and the judgments or penalties should be applied equally. 

Therefore, in a legal sense, the refugees do have a limited permission window to stay, and the large majority being granted longer term permissions to sojourn. This is where we come into direct contact with the refugees. They are already here, and they are provisionally legal. So, if the requirements of the law have been met, there is no “civil” reason why we should withhold the Gospel of life from them. We are neither disobeying the State nor disobeying God’s great commission.

However, if we do ignore them and take up the popular sentiment all around us that they are all illegal (which is untrue), we will definitely disobey the Father. The truth of the situation of popular sentiment is not that they are all illegal, but rather, they are all unwanted.

A better way

For that reason, our Cristocentric approach is to be ambassadors of Heaven; pointing them to a better land where they are invited to enter. They may be unwanted by many around them in this new, European land and that is exactly how Jesus identifies deeply with them. Jesus came to his own people, and they denied his status (John 1:11). The rest of the Gospel of John chronicles how many different ways he was rejected all the way to the final, unjust one in the Cross. This is the message of good news which follows in John 1:12 — to all who will receive him, Jesus gives them the right to be called children of God. This is law and love together.

We want to show them how much they are wanted and how the Savior has already met the law, broken down the dividing wall, and thrown open his city gates — for them! This is news they have never heard before, and after the horrific experiences many of them have endured, it is truly good news.

To read part 1 of this series, please click here.

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What Makes Your Church Attractive? Part 2

Continuing from part 1, we shared that entertainment or recreational-propelled worship is the wrong kind of attraction to the church community than what the Scriptures call for. It’s not a missional-oriented approach because it is man-centric. While deliciously tempting to fall into, an attitude of let’s change this to attract more people can actually become an affront to God, all while using his name. So, how do we maintain our missional edge and a holy attractiveness at the same time?

"Coming Attractions"Are You Serious?

It’s radical devotion to the rules of the gospel and living our new identity in Christ that makes us so beautiful. We need to be serious about our active piety. It is our devotion which points to the real, radical center of Jesus. How can you tell when a church is flowing in this attractive sense of devotion? Tim Keller recently shared that one sign occurs when new guests come to your church gatherings. They will notice a number of familiar forms about church (things they expect to see) but they will also see a people (young and old) who practice them with a serious, new life. Prayer has power and passion, forgiveness works, and the community is filled with hope of the kind that welcomes the good reign of God and its final coming.

The Attractive City of Love

Jonathan Edwards called the church, The Glorious Society of God. Edwards’ emphasis was that God wills himself (his perfections and wonders) to be known through the power of a redeemed people on display. The church, therefore, becomes a reflection of Heaven; what Edwards also called The City of Love.

Therefore, we can’t “make our church attractive” or the story and glory would be all about us. Attractiveness, therefore, is a by-product of the shared, communal pursuit of Jesus and the practice of active love. We could describe it as a people who are actively falling in love with Jesus, but that phrase is so vague and dried-out by modern meanings. Instead, our concentration is serving the Lord by serving others and attractiveness will happen often without us even recognizing it — and definitely not by forcing or generating it.

Because the church is the alternative city, it should and it will portray the image of the City of Love. In Heaven, you never have to try to fit-in. A person will never experience the want of being accepted. In Heaven, right now and forever, love emanates outward. Waves of love greet the child coming Home. From the enthroned epicenter, through the Apostles, outward from the great saints, coursing over the multitude of the elect, raced along by praising angels, cascading down into the thousands on Earth gathered in God’s family, received by us in the church, and spread around the world to the last, the least, and the lost, this is how we experience the path and power of God’s love.

We as God’s children are surrounded by a great cloud of saints, all compelling the farthest to come into the banquet, and never to be separated from the love of God by anything. Holy Minestrone! Now that’s attractive!

So, I would say that we shouldn’t throw out the word ‘attractional‘ but we should be careful what we apply it to.

7 Lessons of Gospeltality

Jesus is invited to a meal where he takes the opportunity to disciple two sisters in hosting and communing. The story is found in Luke 10:38-42 just before he trains his disciples to pray. The intent of the passage is to have both sisters banqueting at the feet of Jesus. In this case, however, the quiet and resting Mary acts as a foil to her agitated and busy sister, Martha. And that is where we see the discipleship lessons of Jesus coming into play. The presence of the Good News (Gospel) coupled with the activity of teaching and training in a meal setting (hospitality) is where we combine the words to get Gospeltality. On a lovely side note, isn’t it great that Jesus is discipling women and also how he disciples them through their home and everyday lives? By doing it this way, Jesus went beyond the cultural norms (women weren’t discipled) and did it so that it wouldn’t be scandalous to others (informally at a meal setting). 

Our gratitude goes out to Sister Martha who represented us so well. We needed these discipleship lessons:

  1. We need to make sure that we understand who the host is correctly. Jesus said in verse 42, “…this one thing is necessary…” He is the one thing.
  2. We need to understand what is being hosted. The bigger picture of Jesus is why we serve. He is the living meal of God; the one, good portion that will never be taken away.
  3. We need to get our attitude right about our circumstances. If the presence of Jesus is there, then we need to recognize it and rest at his feet.  
  4. We need to forsake the kind of hosting that gives pride to our cooking, cleaning, and homes (our stuff). Otherwise, that will become all that we are about.
  5. We need to help people interact with Jesus. People should be able to see and hear Jesus when they intersect with our lives. If Martha doesn’t learn this, people will always see her. Mary got it.
  6. We need to give-way to Jesus to do his ministry in our every-day world.
  7. We need to allow the marginalized to host us. Jesus came to his own and was unwelcome (Jn. 1:11-12). There were plots to kill him. Jesus had no home, and he was poor. He also made himself the marginalized King by leaving heaven to be the friend of the broken and the least. And so, Jesus says, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40).  We have so much to learn from those who are on the outside. We also have a great opportunity to be humble because we will be constantly surprised how Jesus enters our homes and our worlds. If Jesus doesn’t host us, we will always be the host, rival him, and make ourselves superior to others.

Martha3

Food and Ministry: Problem 2

Jesus_feet_house_of_simon

“I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet…You gave me no kiss…You did not anoint my head with oil…he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Jesus (Luke 7:44-47)

How we conduct our meals and share our food does reflect on how we practice and give the Gospel. The passage above is from the account where Jesus is invited to Simon’s house. In the end, Simon does not have the good news of forgiveness (his meal conduct illustrated that), and Jesus does have the good news of love and forgiveness (his meal character revealed that). Both how we eat and who we eat with are ministry practices of grace.

Problem #2: Food-Pride

What’s the last meal that you sat down to that left you saying, “Hmm, that just wasn’t all that good?” The last meal like that which I can remember had chicken involved — I think it was chicken (kind of tasted like chicken). Now, I can whip up a great bowl of cereal or a tasty bag of chips, but cooking isn’t my forte. Eating is my forte. I’ve studied and practiced it for many hours over the course of many years. And, living in Italy is like eating in the big leagues. 

However, one hindrance in utilizing our food for ministry that I’ve encountered is that of a certain food-snobbery. The Italian kitchen does have bragging rights. Each region merits an appreciation for how it takes every-day ingredients to a whole new level. But when it is made evident at a meal that the pasta wasn’t cooked to the optimum consistency or a certain sauce lacks an ingredient or the after dinner coffee just doesn’t have the taste like mamma mia’s coffee — we are entering the realm of personal acceptance and gracelessness

Ministry Impact

Through the years of ministry, we have noticed that more of our Italian brethren have struggled with this problem. What happens when we concentrate on the standard of the food is we are communicating that we are just there for the superiority of our culture. Often, the message is subtle but it is there that you are not one of us. Anybody can practice this when they take too much pride in the food they have prepared and how they have prepared it. A meal that shares the ministry is one of inclusion. As Christians, we need to communicate that our table is open. Grace shows favor, welcome, appreciation, and forgiveness (pretty much like Jesus). Using food as an instrument of pride shows exclusivity, superiority, and how to be a jerk (pretty much like Simon).

Recommended Solution:

We should humble ourselves before others — through food. This means allowing the food to be what it is. If food becomes the focus, then simpler is better here or we will really close the doors on future opportunities to bring friends to Jesus because we want them to praise us first.

See the meal as a means of acceptance and of being equals at a table. The Christian church is greater than any one culture and our tables can model that. Talk more about the qualities of the persons at the meal than the qualities of the recipes and ingredients of the meal. Enjoy the people God has made more than the food or how it has been prepared.

 

The Ingress Principle

Something to keep in mind when opening small groups and planting churches (among different cultures) is that people feel most at home and accepted when they are around people who are like them and things that are familiar to them. In other words, people (generally) will be more at ease when they don’t have to cross- out” of their culture to be a welcome part of a group. This might also be called the principle of homogenity. However, the reason that I call it the Ingress principle is because of the type of welcome that is involved. A Gospel welcome involves believers who are culturally like the guests with accompanying tastes, sounds, colors, smells, music, and even slang (or ways to say things that are particular to their culture).

If you have a group of Germans, it will be difficult to welcome Chinese people  — until there are one or two Chinese who are spending time with the German group AND the Germans make efforts to really affirm, adapt, and understand the Chinese. This really takes some time, energy, and understanding. It sounds missional, doesn’t it?

Remember, in this illustration we are not trying to conform the Chinese to the Germans even though, at first, the Germans are the predominant group. We are saying, because of the Gospel, the Germans are willing to be uncomfortable and uncultural in their way of life for the sake of the Chinese welcoming other Chinese.