Refugees and Neighbors

There is much so brokenness in the world. The events of last weekend hammered that home in a heartbreaking way.

One of the results of the terrorist activity in Paris is bringing a spotlight to the Syrian refugee crisis that has been going on since 2011. A small percentage of these fleeing refugees have made it to the United States, but there is a growing fear that ISIS may be sending some of their own with these refugees. There is a fear that by welcoming these refugees, we’re putting ourselves at risk for tragedy similar to Paris.

Many United States governors, mine included, have made statements saying that Syrian refugees are not welcome within their states. Citing the safety of American citizens, they’re calling for President Obama to make a similar move in halting the flow of Syrian refugees to our shores.

I understand the desire for safety and security. And the evil acts of violence against innocent civilians by ISIS terrorists should rightly be decried and stopped. But what then ensues is a shunning of the evacuees of oppression. We are closing our doors on the victims of the terrorism propagated by ISIS, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

engraved on the Statue of Liberty

Christians have risen on both sides of the issue, some with bleeding hearts, some with cold indifference. But how should we react? As people of the cross, people who now view everything in light of the cross, how should we respond?

I think we respond by welcoming the refugees with open arms. By feeding them, clothing them, befriending them, housing them, and helping situate them here.

Why? Because that’s a physical description of what has happened to us spiritually.

Jesus was once asked asked by a lawyer about how to inherit eternal life. The man knew the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” But who, asked the lawyer, was his neighbor? Jesus told a parable, the one we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan. He spoke of a Samaritan, an enemy of the Jewish people, who had compassion on a beaten and bloody Jewish man in need. The Samaritan put himself at physical risk and took on the financial burden of caring for the man he found on the road. And at the end of telling this story, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these proved to be a neighbor to the man who had fell among robbers?” The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Christian, you and I were on the side of that road. Ever since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden, we have been spiritual wanderers and exiles with no home. The Bible even describes us as enemies of God, alienated and unlovable. And then, at the right time, the Father sent the Son to reconcile us to Himself and show us perfect love and mercy. We who had no hope, no home, were welcomed by God into His household and given a hope imperishable. We who had no family have become part of the family of God because of Jesus.

 Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”

Ephesians 2:12-13, 19

This is our story. This is our motivation. This is the gospel. We didn’t deserve mercy, and yet God lavishly showed us mercy. Those fleeing oppressive areas may not deserve mercy, but we show it because we have been undeserving recipients ourselves. We welcome the refugee because we were spiritual refugees that God welcomed in. This reality supersedes our fear of the unknown.

Safety is important, and we should vet and screen the refugees who seek asylum in the United States. But closing our doors on those who would need our help, who need safety, isn’t part of the Christian narrative. The love of Christ compels us to sacrificially love and care for those who are in need. It allows us to give freely to those who would take from us. It gives us the grace to take risks, at the cost of our own safety, to show mercy.

It seems simple enough. But the lawyer had asked Jesus who was his neighbor. Jesus turned the question onto the lawyer and asked him who acted like a neighbor. The lawyer was trying to reduce “neighbor” into a narrow definition, but Jesus says it’s not about who they are, it’s about how you act and respond and show compassion!

I had an opportunity to visit Turkey last year and meet several Syrian refugees who had fled next door, and I was reminded of this truth: our God is described as a father to the orphan and defender of the widow, close to the brokenhearted and embracing the exile. If this is our Father, how much should we seek to be like Him!

Christ came and had compassion, even to the point of it costing His life. As a rescued and redeemed people, we have the opportunity to show compassion and love to those in need. We have the privilege of being neighbors. Let the gospel compel us to live this out.

Loving God and Loving People

I opened my Twitter Friday morning as my plane landed at LaGuardia in New York and witnessed my newsfeed blow up with the news of the SCOTUS decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. Simply put (in case you’ve lived in a hole the last few days) the Court ruled marriage as a fundamental right for all couples, regardless of orientation, gender, or state residence.

On one end, people cheered and applauded the decision as a step of progress for human liberty. On the other end, some Christians bemoaned the decay of morals and our country’s supposed religious foundations. Many just didn’t know what to say.

The ruling should really come as no surprise. The culture has been shifting for quite a while now, and we’re probably at the beginning of a post-Christian America. For better or worse, this is the cultural milieu we are in.

I don’t want to debate about whether homosexual practice is a sin or not. If you believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, then there is no escaping the fact that it prohibits homosexual activity, unless you do some hermeneutical gymnastics. Scripture tells us that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, sin began its destructive ripple, wreaking havoc through all of creation, including a fallen sexual condition. The temptation to be sexually promiscuous for the heterosexual is every bit an evidence of the fall as is the sexual attraction between people of the same sex. God didn’t “make” anyone gay, it is just one of the many ways sin presents itself. But just as the Bible instructs me that obedience to God means sex is to be enjoyed in the confines of marriage with one woman, it instructs us that obedience to God means not engaging in same sex intercourse. It promises us that Jesus offers healing for all of our sexual brokenness and that living in obedience to Him gives us our greatest joy and His ultimate glory. Our sexual ethic is defined by our King Jesus, not our desires or what culture endorses. (Important to note here is that same-sex attraction isn’t anymore sinful than it is sinful for me to be attracted to women. The act is what is sinful, whether it be in the mind (lust) or body, because it is a distortion of the image of God and the union of Christ and the Church. More resources and information will be provided at the end of this article.)

Christians are faced with two challenges in this, the first being that God, in his Word, has expressly forbidden homosexual practice in the Old and New Testaments. This is not a case of us being inconsistent with the commands of the Bible, and contrary to rising popular opinion, the teachings aren’t as ambiguous as proponents of same-sex marriage advocate.

The second is that most of us have friends and loved ones who experience same-sex attraction and struggle through it in a way most of us will never understand. They’ve experienced deep hurt and pain and betrayal and rejection because of their orientation, and it is heartbreaking. They are real people who didn’t just “choose” to be gay.

Most Christians, when faced with these realities, tend to drift toward one of two extremes, both of which are wrong. The first is expressing anger and hatred toward the LGBT community. Bible verses are spit out without love, condemnation is cast, and verbal/physical abuse may occur. There is an insensitivity toward the LGBT community because of a lack of understanding and a gag-reflex because it seems so abnormal. People on this end tend to view homosexual behavior as very high in the hierarchy on the totem pole of sin. They believe they’re being faithful to God and the Bible in calling out sin, but they usually respond without the grace, love, and compassion we’re called to, remembering our own inherent depravity and sinfulness.

The other extreme is being so pulled by compassion that you decide homosexual activity really isn’t that big of a deal. Bible passages are reinterpreted or ignored because they seem outdated. People on this end irresponsibly make the charge that the Old Testament forbids things like eating shrimp and wearing clothes of two materials, which we do, so homosexual practice also must be okay since we’re “ignoring” those other laws. They say Jesus never explicitly taught on homosexuality, so how do we know he wouldn’t approve of it? It is the original trick the serpent used in deceiving Adam and Eve: “Did God really say…?” They begin viewing conservative Christians as bigots and hypocrites, and they do all this because they believe they’re being faithful to a Jesus who does not condemn but calls us to love all people.

Sometimes it seems like you have to pick one extreme and go with that, but I think the tension is actually a good thing! Jesus tells us that all of the law is summed up into these two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. We’re called to live in the tension! We love God and what He has revealed to his through His Word, and in light of that, we love His image bearers, however broken they are. Love does not mean we approve everything someone does. It is not loving for my brother to not tell me if something I am doing is hurting me or others.

So what does this look like? It means to stay faithful to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage because God created both and ultimately defines them; they are not merely sociological terms. It means to love the LGBT community in a sacrificial way, listening to them, caring for them. It means that we don’t separate truth and love, but speak the truth in love and in a compassionate, gracious way. It means that our churches should be lights shining in the darkness. Russell Moore may have said it best:

We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life.

This is what I think Jesus would say to the person caught engaging in homosexual behavior: I think Jesus would look into their eyes in love and compassion and say, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”

Christians, let us be the church. Let us be identified as those who love God and love His people.

Here are some further resources:

Why the Church Should Neither Cave nor Panic About the Decision on Gay Marriage – Russell Moore

Reaction to the Supreme Court Ruling – ERLC

5 Biblical Responses to Homosexuality – Sam Allberry (Sam is a minster who experiences sam-sex attraction, but because of his love for Jesus, remains celibate.)

Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency – Tim Keller

Is God Anti-Gay? – Sam Allberry (book)

Is Same Sex Attraction a Sin? – Sermon

Something Greater Than Marriage – Rosario Butterfield and Christopher Yuan

40 Questions for Christians Now Waving the Rainbow Flag – TGC

Review of “God and the Gay Christian” – Tim Keller

the people of the cross: how we respond

On Sunday, a video purporting to show ISIS beheading 21 Egyptian Christian men, “people of the cross,” was released by groups claiming loyalty to the Islamic State. In it, the men are dressed in orange jumpsuits as they’re led along a beach, each with a masked militant in tow. After a message by one of the militants, the Coptic Christian men are beheaded simultaneously, face down.

Murder is heartbreaking and wrong, but there is something gut-wrenching about being a Christian and hearing of the murder of 21 fellow Christians. Fellow brothers in Christ. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and in his resurrection, we who have put our faith in him are, in a very real way, part of the family of God, adopted as children of God, and co-heirs of the kingdom. We are literally family.

The names of the 21 men (via @spulliam):

21

There are many emotions Christians are feeling right now: righteous anger, sadness, and confusion. These are all appropriate responses to such a heinous crime, and now is a time to mourn for our departed brothers and their families. But even more so, now is a time to pray. When we pray, we remember and acknowledge our helplessness and need for our great God to intervene.

Pray for their families, that they may experience the great grace of God.

Pray for the persecuted Church, for their safety and that they may persevere. There are many who face the threat of torture and death every day.

Pray that our faith would be emboldened to live as these men, sacrificing everything for the name of Jesus. Oh that we would see that Jesus is better!

 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”

Jesus, John 15:18-21

Pray for those who murdered our brothers, that the Lord would save even among them! The apostle Paul, before he became a follower of Jesus, was one who stood by and approved the execution of Stephen, the very first Christian martyr. Saul (as he was known) went on to ravage the Church, dragging men and women into prison, intent on destroying the Christian movement. He was so feared, that even when he became a believer of Jesus, many Christians were wary and still afraid. And it was this terrorist that Jesus found and saved. It was this Saul who went on to become one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever seen. Oh that this would be a modern story! Would you pray with me that God would radically save a Saul from this evil group to radically transform the Arab world!

Our response as Christians is not violence against Muslims or mosques. Ours is not a struggle against flesh and blood and people. The members of ISIS are not our enemy. We war against cosmic powers over this present darkness and spiritual forces of evil. (Ephesians 6:12) This is spiritual warfare and the enemy is the devil.

Amid this tragedy, we have hope. The book of Revelation isn’t a sci-fi map of the future, but tells the reality of how the war is already won. This is not a cosmic tug-of-war where the victor is still unknown. The enemy is defeated. What Jesus began in his death and resurrection, he will finish when he comes back and puts the enemy under his feet and restores all things. There will judgement upon all wickedness and unrighteousness. The dragon, the serpent from the Garden of Eden, is still writhing, trying to take down people with him because he knows his time is coming up.

In Revelation 6:11 and 20:4, we see a picture of those who lost their lives for the sake of Jesus, including those who lost their heads in chapter 20. The end of Hebrews 11 mentions those who suffered great injustice, torture, and death for the sake of the gospel, “of whom the world was not worthy.” (v. 38)

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

Revelation 12:11

Conquerors. Overcomers by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony. They loved not their lives, even unto death.

Jesus puts heads back on and restores all things. We look forward to the day King Jesus returns to restore creation and make all things new. Until then, we pray and push back the powers of darkness.

One of the greatest ironies is that, historically, the killing of Christians has never slowed down the Church; it has fueled her growth. What’s meant as a deterrent and attempt to dissuade “people of the cross” has done the opposite.

We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.

-Tertullian

Let us mourn, brothers and sisters, and let us pray. May the Church grow and the name of Jesus be advanced! May the justice of the Lord come quickly.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

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Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image…

Revelation 20:4

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When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

Revelation 6:9-11

Fifty Shades of Abuse

It wasn’t too long ago when I first began hearing about the newest book to captivate women. I remembered the Twilight craze and how women pined after the sullen, sparkling Edward Cullen.

Fifty Shades of Grey  by E. L. James seemed to be another book in that genre, offering a love story for women to relish and long for. This book was different, in that the central male loved BDSM, a topic I admittedly know near to nothing about. But as more and more people began speaking out about it, and with  the movie premiering this weekend, I thought I would take a look and read through it. I’m a fan of literature, and I gave Twilight a shot, so I figured I would give Fifty Shades a chance too. I will admit, I have not finished reading it, partly because I think it reads like a 7th grader wrote it. But the real reason I didn’t finish it was because of some of the content disturbed me — a lot.

The story centers around Anastasia Steele, a girl about to graduate college, and Christian Grey, a young and enigmatic business magnate. They meet coincindentally, and the rest of the story involves the relationship between the two. What caught me off guard was when Grey begins stalking her — but I figured this could potentially be viewed as a sign of endearment or pursuit. But then came intimidation and humiliation. Nevermind the kinky stuff that this book attempts to explore; there are multiple cases of sexual aggression. When she doesn’t want to do something, he threatens to tie her up and gag her. He is frequently described as controlling, one of the reasons Ana doesn’t want to get involved with him, and yet he makes her submit. He forces her to do things she doesn’t want to do.

I’m not the first person to say this, but Fifty Shades glorifies abuse and harmed identity. Studies show that nearly every interaction between the two main protagonists (if you will) is emotionally abusive, and Grey displays classic signs of being emotionally distant and sexually abusive. Most of the sexual encounters between the two read frighteningly a bit like rape; she doesn’t give consent, and even when she says their “safe word,” Grey continues. In real life, this is called rape. A recent study, although limited, has possibly linked reading the book to unhealthy behaviors in its readers, including eating disorders or having a verbally abusive partner. This isn’t to say that if you read the book or watch the movie you’ll develop bulimia or suddenly find yourself a victim of abuse, but the statistics are worrisome and shouldn’t be ignored.

There has been so much outcry, especially recently on the treatment of women, and I’m glad we’re speaking out on when women are abused! It is never okay. However, this book perpetuates the abuse of women by calling it love — and the majority of readers have bought into the lie. If we saw this described anywhere outside of an erotic novel, we would reject it readily. My fear is that female readers of the book, or watchers of the movie, will come away longing for a Christian Grey to spice up their love life. The sad reality is that there are already an overabundance of arrogant, emotionally distant, and abusive men out there. The sad reality is that women who have been sexually and emotionally abused are in no shortage and are very clear that there is nothing exciting and romantic and satisfying in the experience. The sad reality is that the victims of domestic abuse are all too aware that “Christian Grey the hero” doesn’t exist. Most of the men who exhibit such a disregard for consent and abuse of power turn out to be those we warn women to stay away from. I worry that readers will think that this is the kind of man they have been waiting for. That a lack of consent in the marriage bed (not that Grey and Steele were married, mind you) is okay, and maybe even desired.

This image of domination has also been perpetuated by the pornography industry. Most of porn is men doing whatever they want to women — even if it’s against their will. The women are depicted as appreciating the degradation and wanting more of it, when this is never the case. Pornography is a massive problem for men (and women for that matter), and it is sending the message to men that whatever you want is okay, and she will always be okay with it — in fact she wants it. Not only is this clearly unhealthy and wrong, my fear is that guys, already bombarded with this skewed view of sex from porn, will look at this book, this movie, and be more convinced than ever that women want someone to assert themselves on them, especially power. That it is okay to do whatever you want to women. That the sexual experience you lust for is greater than any fear or trepidation she may have. That you take what you want if you’re a “real man.”

What’s interesting is that this book has been lauded as being progressively empowering to women, especially by those who demonize the Bible as being repressive. And yet where Grey prides himself on his physical and emotional domination of Steele, the Bible tells husbands to love their wives by laying down their lives for their wives, as Christ laid himself down for the Church. (Ephesians 5:25) The Bible calls the man to protect and love and serve — something you don’t see in Fifty Shades.

I implore you, readers, don’t go watch Fifty Shades of Grey this Valentines weekend, a weekend our country uses to celebrate love. Don’t watch it any weekend. Don’t encourage others to watch it. Spread the word. This is not just harmless fun — this is perpetuating unhealthy emotional, physical, and sexual behaviors in men AND women. This book and movie is giving us a false notion of love. It is a twisted, insidious lie.

And I hope you remember the example of love that Christ gave us: not abusing his unfaithful bride, but of loving, pursuing, and serving her. By laying down his life.  That is love. That is romance.

race and reconciliation

The world is broken.

On the eve of our annual holiday of celebrating what we’re thankful for, our country lies divided over what has transpired in Ferguson, Missouri. In August, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer, which prompted riots in the city, and outrage around the nation. Last night, a grand jury decided to not indict officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s death, and the tension in America is palpable.

I don’t want to enter into a debate of guilt or innocence or safety or facts. I wasn’t there and I don’t know every single fact about the case. My heart is heavy and breaks for both sides. What I do know is that this is not the only situation where there has been an outcry of racial injustice. Being a brown man, I am certainly not a stranger to racism. But even then, I had always assumed that if you don’t give people a reason to distrust you, you’ll be fine.

And then I began having conversations with my black friends about how they often get pulled over while driving and questioned. Frisked and treated gruffly, sometimes shoved against their cars — without citation. Suspiciously eyed and accused of shoplifting when walking through stores. These friends aren’t thugs, they look and talk a lot like me! And strangely, these are not conversations I’ve ever had with my Indian, Asian, or white friends. I get “randomly” screened a lot at airports, but I’ve never been pulled over for suspicion of possession. I’ve driven many a late night and I’ve never had a cop ask me why I’m driving around this neighborhood this late at night. .

This is not an accusation of police officers; on the contrary, I am incredibly grateful to the men and women who daily put their lives on the line so that the rest of us can live in safety. What they do is something we all take for granted, and I thank them. I also do not think most white people are racist; most of the white men and women I know have shown me otherwise.

What I am saying is that everyone’s experience of “freedom and justice for all”  has certainly not been the same. We’re all viewing these situations differently because we’re all viewing these situations through the lenses of our own experiences. And our own experiences are very different. That is something we need to address.

Black people are often accused of turning everything into a race issue. Most of the rest of us don’t understand because we haven’t been subjected to systemic prejudice the way our black brothers and sisters have. Most of us don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t trust a civil servant because most of us have never had a reason to not trust a civil servant. We don’t want to talk about racism because we want to think we’ve moved past it. Clearly we have not.

The frightening thing is that most of us may not actually have racist thoughts or biases… and yet still choose to walk on the other side of the road by failing to acknowledge or ignoring the beaten and bruised Samaritan in the street. Ignoring our hurting brothers and sisters is not loving our neighbors as ourselves.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

So how do Christians respond to this? I think the first step is to speak less, and to listen more. Instead of looking to CNN, Fox News, or Facebook for perspectives and “facts,” let’s engage people in dialogue. Instead of ranting about justice or lack of justice, pick up the phone. Ask your black friends why they’re so hurt by what’s gone on in Ferguson. Listen to their stories of their experiences of being colored in America. Ask yourself why communities are rioting and why people are mourning. Observe the pain, and ask why?

This is not just an issue of “facts”. Uncovering “facts” will not heal wounds because these wounds are emotional wounds, and they have their context in each person’s story. Healing begins when we sit side by side with our hurting brothers and sisters and understand where they’re coming from. Healing begins when we come along side them and mourn with them and pray with them and advocate for them. Christians, we must step in.

Let’s pray for the family of the victim. They’re hurting in so many ways. Let’s pray for those who feel betrayed by the justice system. And we must also pray for the officer and his family. They may be in danger for a long time, and for the rest of his life, Officer Wilson has to live with the fact that he killed someone. Let’s pray for healing and safety for them.

In all of this, one thing is certain: the problem is sin. The solution is the gospel. All of us (black, white, Indian, Asian, Latino) are broken people capable of incredible evil. Michael Brown was broken with sin. Wilson is broken with sin. You and I are broken with sin. The only thing that can ultimately fix us is the gospel of Jesus Christ that we all so desperately need. Not laws, not anger, not punishments, not education, not government. Let’s remember that as we talk about Ferguson and how to move forward. Let us be a people who seek the repentance, love, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation that are all possible in Christ Jesus.