Refugees part 3: 4 ways a Christian can miss the point on immigration

The news media is a problem for western Christians; not because of its bias against godly ethics but because of Christians wholesale ingestion of news commentary. I know, that was a broad statement and not true of every Christian. However, would you give it some thought? How many voices do Christians listen to (or read) in a given day? And what are the sources of these voices — dead men or the living God? I would suggest that many Christians have a problem parroting more of what they’ve heard on the news media than what they’ve heard through God’s Word. This problem is most evident when it comes to hot-button “social” issues such as immigration.

Now, the call to the Christian is to guard our hearts for what is coming in and out, and to let our speech be seasoned with grace (others can “taste” the grace in the words we use). We should be speaking as “other-worldly” people. Yet, so oftenScreen Shot 2018-08-17 at 1.43.48 PM when a difficult issue arises, opinion trumps grace. So, here are 4 signs which can test and reveal if we are dead-men’s parrots or life-giving prophets:

  1. The use of dehumanizing language: I’m probably going to explore this one with another post altogether. This sign is so subtle because it stays in the realm of “solving a problem.” You see, the immigrant people are more a problem to be resolved than a people to be restored. Look at how you talk about refugees or immigrants. What words are you using? Do you ever call them people, humans, human beings, image-bearers of God, or friends? Or, do you stay neatly in the realm of calling them immigrants, refugees, undocumented, illegals, foreigners, invaders, or threats? One of the tell-tale signs of a language and heart problem is the use of the word “these” —  these people; these immigrants; these foreigners. A worker in one of our camps was shocked when he saw the LifeLab we installed in action with our refugee friends. He exclaimed, “You spent all this money on these people!?” There is something despising in the use of the word these to classify people as lower and more akin to sub-human; something less-than-me.
  2. The defense of political policy first: a little flag goes up in my heart when I read Christians running to defend a civil policy first and foremost with no mention of the Gospel-need anywhere to be found. There’s a Gospel apathy which becomes evident when we label all people “lawbreakers” and we are referring to the State. Again, let me say, I am not advocating for transgressing the law, rather, is the civil law of my resident country the only filter I’m using to describe “these people”? That is not the filter the Father used when he sent us Christ Jesus — and thank Heaven, he did not, or all of us lawbreakers would be without hope. The motive of the Gospel was to love sinners first. The point of confusion often comes when we classify any and all immigrants as illegal lawbreakers. On the other hand, the Gospel tempers this tendency and compels us to seek out their humanity and to meet the needs of the stranger. Our natural disposition, however, makes it so hard for us to approach and understand those who are different than we are.
  3. The Lord’s church doesn’t factor as a solution: Following on from the last point, one of the things I have noticed in comments on Christian forums is the tendency not to see the local church as God’s welcoming and sheltering family, but rather, the church is more of a complication (a nuisance in the argument even) or maybe even a contributor to the social problem of immigration. In Italia, we have a dual crisis on-hand. First, we have the humanitarian crisis of the massive wave of immigrant people who are now trying to integrate into European societies. The second crisis, however, is more severe and has to be seen with eyes of faith. We do not have the churches which can serve all of the new people arriving in Italia. Indeed, this is a main reason why we are engaged in church-planting. We believe the Lord’s church is by far the best answer to the humanitarian crisis — simply for the fact that the foundational need of both indigenous people and immigrant people is to know the Lord Jesus. The church does not look at people groups as cattle to be herded or numbers to be pressed through a system. Rather, the church works to get down into each individual life and soul to lift-up Christ as the substance of the image we all bear. Christians and Christian churches miss the point (the Gospel opportunity) when we relegate all the answers and solutions to the State or societal institutions.
  4. The Great Commission isn’t so great: King Jesus ended his ministry with one last charge — Go into all the world and proclaim this Good News of me…!
    In a certain sense, it may be the church is not “going” enough, so the nations are “coming” in a glorious turn-about in modern history. For those intimidated or threatened by others who are not like them, this trend is not a welcome sight. But for those instructed by the King of all, this affords the church a beautiful opportunity.

    In the late 4th century A.D., Augustine wrote a series of works called The City of God where he dealt with the real invasion of the Visigoths of the north and the sack of Rome. Remember, at the time of his writing, the modern world was in a state of shock that the impossible-to-happen, just happened (a surprise theme repeated often in history). In this large work, he has many things to say about the impact of the unseen city of God upon the seen city of man. While Augustine’s main motive was to refute the blame placed upon the Christians for the sack of Rome, he simultaneously challenged Christians to live more for the City of God and to live in the perspective of eternal Heaven than that of what was happening around them.

    In the same way, with such a massive, modern issue (also and often called a “ruinous invasion”), we Christians need to strive to begin with the Great Commission and see to it that the Commission really is Great in our hearts, speech, and decisions. There is enough parroting of the voices of dead-men’s media. Our churches and homes don’t need any more of that. Rather, we need delightful, risk-taking, self-sacrificing, and eye-popping Gospel perspectives which honor our King and his Commission. Please don’t miss that point on immigration no matter where you live in the city of man.

If you would like to read part 2 of this series on refugees, please click here.

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Life as Extraordinary

A little catch-up:

It has been a while since I have sat down and written here at HM. Some have asked me when I would start again. All I can say to that effect is that I have eagerly desired each and every day to write something I’ve newly discovered in this glorious gospel to share with you. However, over the last couple of years, ministry life and responsibilities have dramatically increased for me which has netted the result of a high desire to share and a low output rate. I hope to match the two a bit more this coming year and that all of it will be a blessing and encouragement to you.

Now for some cibo (food) in the gospel and community

There is a line of thought which is often expressed in our churches from well-intentioned Christians (at least in Europe) that goes something like this:

I can’t do very much for God, and I don’t have much to offer God:

  • I’m not wealthy.
  • I’m not a leader.
  • I’m not talented.
  • I am timid.
  • I don’t have time like others do.
  • I’m not as smart as others.
  • I’m more of a private person.
  • My career prohibits me.
  • Nobody listens to me.

What our friends are expressing is an exaggeration of the ordinary; living with the gospel at an unreachable distance. The main problem with allowing our inner voice to talk like this is twofold.

First, it is poor theology which puts pressure on the mind and heart to try to generate something useful for God. Grace does not work that way. We do not generate-up good works in the hope that they will be something profitable that will satisfy God. In fact, this kind of thinking causes us to feel like we are never doing enough. God is rarely, if ever, happy with me. Instead, a true Christian is provided every day with the fountain of grace and providential goodness to live in the glory of Christ who gives his child good works to walk in (Eph. 2:10). For example, yes, it may be that God opens the door for you to visit with a neighbor about Jesus and grace, but it is also a God-glorifying work to respond with patience when your children won’t get ready for school in time during a hurried morning. Both situations require the Gospel and both are an opportunity — not to generate-up something useful — but to give-up something glorious back to the Lord who guided you into that very situation.

Second, this negative response creates a sense of desperation or fatalism because it is a response based too much on the circumstance of today and not governed by the reality of Jesus over us now and for eternity. Simply, this kind of thinking is poor theology because it denies who we are in Christ Jesus now, and who we are becoming in Christ Jesus tomorrow.

Applying the extra to the ordinary

holy_spirit1Here is how we need to help each other “get back to” the gospel and live it. In Acts 2, we see the marriage ceremony of Jesus to his bride. He brings his church into himself and collocates her to himself in Heaven before the Father. This is the privileged position of being united together in Christ.  The temple veil was torn and God the Holy Spirit is rushing out to indwell his people from all over the world! The physical sign of this was the beautiful manifestation of the flaming tongues of fire and the good news invitation of Jesus shared across the languages. These fire-tongues were both sign and signal that his people were now in him, and if Jesus is the new temple then they are also representative temples with the specific presence of God in them.

The follow-on results in Acts 2:42-47 do not strike us as spectacularly as the first wonders do in the early verses with the rushing winds and hovering flames of fire. No, on the contrary, we see people are doing quite ordinary things but with a completely new position and perspective. Yes, there are signs and wonders, but Luke does not elaborate on those and seems to emphasize the Christians’ desire to know more about Jesus, to praise Jesus both publicly and privately, to share food by eating together in Jesus’ name, to sell their possessions for those in need, and to invest in caring gestures toward each other. It is still Jesus directing his church, but he is not doing it through human greatness or achievement. Rather, he is guiding his church through service and care.
And here is the delightful response of Jesus to his bride as they live this ordinary-extraordinary life of the gospel:

And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47

So, the point for true Christians (I’m not speaking about cultural Christians) is that the reality of being married to Christ is the same for us today as it was for the early church. We are directly under and in the temple-reign of the Lord Jesus — right now.

Therefore, when we hear each other say that we can’t do much for God, we must be active to remind and challenge each other that — you say you cannot do much for God, but what you must see is that if you are in Christ, every thing you do is already done for God! Yes, each ordinary thing is given to you by Jesus. You think you have a powerless, ordinary life because of what you feel you can or cannot achieve. However, you have an extraordinary life not based on what you do, but based on who you are — on who Jesus has made you to be.

You simply have a choice to make in every action and circumstance. You will have to decide whether you will acknowledge that, “…this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” and give it back to the Lord Jesus in honor for his glory or whether you will claim it for yourself. But if we can see that God’s mission is not simply “out there“, but rather, being providentially directed from “in Him in here“, it is truly extraordinary to think of what Jesus will do with our ordinary-extraordinary lives when we care for him and for each other in this gospel-centered way. The challenge is to realize and appropriate who you are in him — right here & right now.

God parla “Son”

Check out this glorious gospel insight from Hebrews 1:1-2

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

parlo Son

Verse 1 says long ago, God used many times, ways, and voices to get his message across to humanity.
Verse 2 says that now God speaks Son. Literally, the construct in the Greek says, “God spoke once for all – to us – in Son.” (for readers who have fun with Greek — the verb is aorist, the preposition is “en”, and there is no definite article before huios speaking to the nature or kind of speech)

A Taste of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews teaches about the Messiah-community here on Earth and how God is speaking the Son language to them and through them. Hebrews unpacks the language of Jesus that the Father speaks through Jewish references, stories, and metaphors. One of the main Hebraic themes of the book is about the new Messiah-community in a glorious “wilderness wandering” similar to the one of the Israelites. The first wandering was a foreshadow and a time when God would woo his bride, Israel, to himself and away from the lovers of Egypt.
Today, however, the difference lies in the fact that Christians are led by the ultimate Moses and ministered to by the superior Aaron from the true Tabernacle. Jesus has emerged from the shadows and become the reality (the “heir” of all things; the ultimate truth the whole world is searching for). The new covenant and new identity binds Christians to Jesus and indelibly writes the Son language all over our lives. This new relational identity in Jesus works through God’s people like never before as Christians walk with one foot in this world and the other in the heavenly sphere because of their union with Son.

What Do You Speak?

As mentioned, God now speaks Son through his new covenant to his covenant people. The new covenant is the last one God will ever make. It is also a new kind of relationship, in that, it is a liberating covenant which permits us to please God a thousand different ways instead of offending him repeatedly. This new covenantalism brings his people (the covenant community) into the law of love to serve God and one another thus demonstrating that God’s presence is with his people. And that is why the Hebrews preacher can declare so confidently that God has fulfilled his promise by saying, “I AM their God, they are my people…” Hebrews 8:10
So, God spoke Son to you, and if you have received his new relationship, he now speaks Son through you. In fact, everyone in the new covenant will speak this new language as they are being conformed to the image of his Son. This is not a theory to try, but rather, a way of life. The Father is expressing Son through us. God is invading this world with Grace. This is wonderful news because it also means we don’t have to make up our own language to try to make sense of this world and life.
Therefore, permit me to spice things up and provoke you with a few questions:
  • When you gather together in Christian community or when you do any activity with your friends, what language do you speak?
  • Is it cruciform and does it resemble “Son”?
  • Does Son language go away when you are with certain groups of people at various times?
    • some friends were recently sharing with us that years ago they felt it was an obligation (“un dovere” in Italian) to speak Son to others around them. However, now the life of Son has so filled them that curious friends and acquaintances frequently want them to talk about Jesus and spiritual things. In other words, those who don’t yet know the Father are asking for our friends to speak more Son!
  • Do you hear the Son language calling out from the communion table, “Justice is done. Come and receive mercy again and again!”? Does that excite you and invite you, humble you and enthrall you all at the same time?
  • How has the Father been teaching you Son lately?

Shalom! and as we say in Italia at this time of year, “Buone Vacanze!”