A Christian Response to the Refugee Crisis

This refugee crisis has exposed an “idol” in my heart; the idol of “security”.  I love the safety of our home and I’m grateful for the security our local police and Armed Forces provide for us each and every day.  But my love affair with “safety and security” has made me susceptible to fear.  The moment I begin to make decisions primarily out of fear, is the moment I must admit that I’ve made a god out of security.

If I’m honest, I don’t want to open the borders to the refugees from the Middle East because I am afraid.  I am afraid that there are ISIS soldiers who have infiltrated the ranks of the refugees.  I am afraid that our government won’t be able to adequately identify them.  I’m afraid that they will move in next door to me.  I’m afraid that they might harm my family or neighbors or community, like they did in Paris.

But I don’t want to react out of fear.  And clearly, the Lord doesn’t want us to react primarily out of fear either:

Matthew 10:28 – And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Proverbs 29:25 – The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

2 Timothy 1:7 – for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

But idols are tricky.  They often appeal to a noble or moral concern, and then twist it into an absolute.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to protect your family and neighbors.  We’re told to provide for our family (1 Tim. 5:8), and surely provision for one’s family would include the provision of safety from harm, as much as one can affect that.  We’re also told to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Luke 10:27), and if I wouldn’t open my home to a potential ISIS soldier, then how can I support a plan for my neighbor to do so?  Besides, with news reports surfacing of Syrian refugees with fake passports attempting to enter the US, is it really that implausible to suspect that ISIS-influenced terrorists may be among the refugees headed our way?  Are we really so naïve as to believe that our government will be able to fully vet and/or track these refugees once they’ve arrived?

So, there is a noble ethic at play when someone desires to look out for the safety and security of one’s family and neighbors.  But, at some point, that noble ethic becomes the all-encompassing absolute from which all of my decisions are made.  At that point, I’ve made safety and security an idol, and I’m at risk of operating out of my sinful nature, rather than out of the redeemed nature of one rescued by grace through faith.

And so, this issue is complex, not simple.  Simple answers are likely to have neglected thoughtful considerations such as these sobering questions:

To those in favor of inviting refugees in, are you willing to open your home to them?  Like literally, invite refugees into your home to live for several months as they wade through immigration paperwork and look for employment? What reason might you give for not doing so?  Not enough money?  Not enough space?  Not enough time?  Not willing to risk the safety of your teenage daughter?  If you succumb to any of these thoughts, are you being driven by sinful fear, or by an earnest desire to protect and guard your family?

Conversely, to those in favor of keeping the refugees in “safe havens” and helping from a distance, are you willing to go over and help them?  Like, literally, leave your home and job and spend a month in Greece helping refugees re-settle?  What reasons might you give for not doing so?  Not enough money?  Not enough time?  Not my problem?  If you succumb to any of these thoughts, are you being driven by a genuine desire to protect and guard your family and country, or by sinful apathy for the suffering of others?

Thoughtful Christians will see the inherent hypocrisy that is possible from both positions.

Security and compassion don’t always need to be antithetical.  Working to keep our families and neighbors safe and secure on the one hand, and showing compassion to those suffering are not mutually exclusive pursuits.  So, how can we do both?  How can we appropriately protect our family and neighbors from an evil intent on harming them, while at the same time displaying the kind of compassion Jesus expects of us?

At this point, we’re all just part of the conversation.  Sure, we can and should seek to influence the decision-makers (whether they be our governors, our legislators, or our President), but in the end a decision will be made either to open the doors to the refugees, or close them.  The critical moment for each of us will be what we do once that decision is made.  If the doors are open, what will we do to love, welcome, and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with these new sojourners while not letting down our guard to protect those people whom God has entrusted to us to protect?  If our country shuts its borders, what will we do to extend the reach of radical Gospel love across the seas to demonstrate that we truly care about their plight?  What will I do?  What will you do?

Until then, I’ll keep fighting against the idols in my own heart with the strength that Jesus supplies, and praying that God would grant me wisdom and courage to face this crisis with bold confidence, firm conviction, and genuine compassion.


Back To School: 5 Things To Pray For Your Teenager

Today marks the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year in our County’s Public School System. Here are a few things that Christian parents of Christian teens can pray for as their students return to school:

1. Pray that you and your student will realize that true identity is in Christ
Middle and High School years are rough. Young people are discovering who they are for themselves. The world, classmates, and parents often send mixed messages about who they should be. If students aren’t guided, they can look to popularity, grades, and outward appearance for their identity. Parents, it’s your God-given responsibility to constantly and gracefully show your teen that true identity is found in Christ alone, not in their performance, their looks, or the acceptance of their peers.
(Proverbs 22:6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 2:9, Galatians 2:20)

2. Pray that your student will see his/her studies as an opportunity for worship
While a Christian student doesn’t find his/her identity in academics, academics still matter! For the Christian, all of life is an opportunity to make much of Jesus. If your student professes faith in Jesus Christ, show them how their love for Jesus translates into a pursuit of excellence in their academics. (Colossians 3:17)

3. Pray for (and cultivate) and atmosphere of honest conversation in your home
As your student is “in the world” he/she will encounter things that challenge a Christian worldview. Don’t panic. Have open and honest conversations about the truth of the Gospel vs. the lies of this world. Graciously and winsomely refute false worldviews. Teach your student to think for himself/herself and study the scriptures. Encourage spiritual disciplines that flow out of a robust faith in Christ. Be in the Word on a regular basis as a family. Take note: In order to guide your children in these things you must be grounded in a biblical worldview. You must have a robust and demonstrative faith in Jesus. Do you? (Consider walking through Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill in Acts 17 to see how Paul refutes a pagan worldview. Or consider THIS great resource.)

4. Pray for Christian community
Ask God to give your student close friends who love Jesus, share struggles, and encourage one another. Take them to Student Ministry gatherings; good ones where they hear the Bible and learn to properly apply it to their lives. Encourage times of fellowship with other Christians their age. (Proverbs 18:24, 27:17, Hebrews 10:25)

5. Pray for missional opportunities
If you are actively discipling your student, you should be showing them that their time around people who don’t know Christ has a purpose. Have you taught your student how to share the gospel? Have you encouraged your student to invite their non-Christian friends to church? Are you modeling this in your own life? (1 Peter 2:9)
I’m praying these things for the students and parents of NewBranch Community Church. Will you join me? Also, this is a very short list. What else would you add?

The Gospel and Homosexuality: Recommended Resources

In yesterday’s sermon we tackled the weighty issue of homosexuality. In my sermon, The Gospel and Homosexuality (Audio HERE| Manuscript HERE) I sought to answer four questions from three texts of scripture:

  1. What Is God’s Design For Human Sexuality? (Genesis 2)
  2. What Went Wrong? (Romans 1)
  3. What (Who) is The Remedy? (1 Corinthians 6)
  4. How Should We Respond?

As I mentioned yesterday, we only scratched the surface of the issue. Fortunately, there is a wealth of biblical resources available to us for further study. I wanted to point you to some resources that I think will be helpful:


Rosaria, by the standards of many, was living a very good life. She had a tenured position at a large university in a field for which she cared deeply. She owned two homes with her partner, in which they provided hospitality to students and activists that were looking to make a difference in the world. There, her partner rehabilitated abandoned and abused dogs. In the community, Rosaria was involved in volunteer work. At the university, she was a respected advisor of students and her department’s curriculum. And then, in her late 30s, Rosaria encountered something that turned her world upside down-the idea that Christianity, a religion that she had regarded as problematic and sometimes downright damaging, might be right about who God was, an idea that flew in the face of the people and causes that she most loved. What follows is a story of what she describes as a “train wreck” at the hand of the supernatural. These are her secret thoughts about those events, written as only a reflective English professor could.


Web Sites Articles:

  • Homosexuality, Christianity, and The Gospel by J.D. Greear Part 1| Part 2| Part 3| Part 4
  • Dr. Robert Gagnon’s website: Full of free articles, videos, and lecture aduio.
  • Living Out: Hear Sam Allbery’s testimony as well as the stories of many others. From the website:

    We want to help Christian brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction stay faithful to Biblical teaching on sexual ethics and flourish at the same time….To help the Christian Church understand how they can better help those who experience same-sex attraction to flourish….To help the wider world hear and understand that there is more than just one viable script for those who are same-sex attracted.

Sermons/ Lectures:

  • Sexual Devolution: A lecture from Dr. Albert Mohler tracing the downward spiral of sexuality in western culture over the past 50+ years.




Devotional Resources for the Christmas Season – 2013

This past Sunday, we began a new sermon series during this Christmas season entitled “Shine The Light”. (Listen to the first message in this series here)

Since this is going to be more of a sermon series about the missional aspect of Christmas, I wanted to pass along some recommendations for you and your family to use that will help us focus on some of the things we more readily associate with the Advent season. Advent officially starts today, so this is a good time to start.

Scripture readings for all four gospels – Although we typically turn to the gospel according to Luke for the Nativity narrative, all four gospels speak about the first advent of the Messiah; from different perspectives and focusing on different aspects of this beautiful story. Petar Nenadov, who serves on staff at Lakeside Christian Church in Akron, Ohio, has provided a series of Scripture readings from all four of the gospels.

Good News of Great Joy, by John Piper – John Piper has compiled a collection of daily devotional readings based on a variety of passages from the Bible, focusing on the birth of Christ and it’s ultimate meaning and purpose. This ebook is a free download from desiringgod.org.

Behold The Lamb of God, by Russ Ramsey – This resource is a retelling of the Biblical narrative of the birth of Christ. Not necessarily a devotional resource, but a wonderful way to be immersed in the story of the first advent of Christ. Follow the link above to a short review of this book on the Gospel Coalition blog.

Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson – A great resource for family devotions.

Gospel-Centered Advent Devotionals – Another great family devotional resource, but this one is FREE, and can be downloaded immediately.

May The Lord lead us to think intently on the birth of His Son during this season, and how that wonderful truth can make a difference in how we live for Him today.

Serve Medford 2013


This Saturday a team of 10 from NewBranch will fly up to Boston, MA (Medford, to be exact) for Serve Medford 2013. Serve Medford is a week long outreach of Redemption Hill Church to the local community. There will be a lot going on during the week, which means a lot to pray for. Here is a list:

NewBranch Team:

Dawn Koehler, Alex Koehler, Griffin Holloway, Lori Bleth, Brandon Mitchell, Reece Nobles, Kevin Sanders, Tim Sherwood, Bowdie Jenkins, and Ken Rucker.

Churches Participating and Their Travel:

  • Cave Spring Baptist Church, Roanoke, VA
  • Crosspoint Church, Clemson, SC
  • FBC Pickens, SC
  • FBC Owensboro, KY
  • New Branch Community Church, Dacula, GA
  • Renewal Church, Greenville, SC
  • Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Durham, NC

Ministry Opportunities: 

  • 8-9 Medford Parks (cleanup/construction and engaging families)
  • Kids Camp at Willis Ave.
  • Programming and Cleaning/Organizing at the Boys and Girls Club
  • Serve local businesses in Medford Square (cleaning, organizing, construction)
  • Give away 10,000 invites to Redemption Hill Church (T and Bus stops)
  • Hang 2000 door hangers inviting the community to Community Fun Night
  • Give away 5,000 invites to Community Fun Night**
  • ESL Class at Willis Ave.
  • Community Fun Night on 8/2/13 (last year we had over 700 people come)
  • Boldness among all of the teams to clearly display and declare the gospel. Pray that we would all live that week (and every week to come) with eyes wide open to the physical and spiritual needs of those around us and engage as the Spirit provides the opportunity.

NewBranch And Boston

This mission trip is unique for NewBranch as we prepare to send my family to Greater Boston to plant a church. Our projected timeline for departure is Spring 2015. This trip provides the opportunity for our church to catch the vision for church planting in Boston and serve alongside an existing church plant. For more information on church planting in Boston, visit the SEND Boston page over at NAMB.

Thank you in advance for all of your prayers. We can’t wait to get back and share testimonies of what God did during Serve Medford.

Stay updated via Twitter during the week by following pastors @kenrucker and @knsanders

Free Easter Resources

I’ve been noticing a lot of good free resources floating around on the internet as we begin Holy Week. Use these resources to set your heart upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Raised: Doubting The Resurrection by Jonathan Dodson (ebook)
Available in Kindle (.mobi) iBooks (.epub) and .PDF format

Love To The Uttermost by John Piper (ebook) A devotional for Holy Week
Available in Kindle (.mobi) iBooks (.epub) and .PDF format

The Truth of The Cross by R.C. Sproul (ebook)
Available in Kindle (.mobi) iBooks (.epub) and for Logos Bible Software

Did The Resurrection Really Happen? by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett
Available in Kindle format (.mobi)

Hallel Songs by Cardiphonia (Free Album Download): ‘”Hallel Psalms” is our sixth “flash mob” compilation. This collection of songs meditates on Psalms 113-118 often called the “Egyptian Hallel.” They were traditionally sung during passover, were sung by the disciples at the last supper, and make a fantastic set of texts to guide worship and devotion during Holy Week (March 25-30). ‘ You can download all of Cardiphonia’s albums HERE

Page CXVI is a project of a band called The Autumn Film. Their desire is to reintroduce ancient hymns of the faith to the church today. You can download  ALL 11 of their albums for FREE for a limited time.

He is Risen: A New Old Song

We are introducing a new song in our congregational singing this month (starting this Sunday). I would like to give special attention to this song because of it’s focus on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we approach Easter Sunday, I pray the lyrics of this hymn text will encourage you to celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For without the resurrection, our faith is in vain (1 Cor. 15:14-17)

I greatly value hymns of the Christian faith for both personal and corporate worship. A couple of years ago, wanting to dig a little deeper into hymnody, I purchased Our Own Hymn Book compiled by Charles Spurgeon. I began reading it as a devotional, marking texts that caught my attention. One of those was Ye Humble Souls That Seek The Lord by Phillip Doddridge. It’s a hymn encouraging believers to look to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ and joyfully celebrate his victory over death. I thought, “We should be surveying the wondrous cross AND the empty tomb!”

So I got to work on an original melody and some added choruses. I wrote, re-wrote, prayed, and so on until completing the finished product. You can read the original text HERE. The following is the version we will be singing in our gatherings (Note that I didn’t change much!)

He Is Risen
Oh, humble souls, that seek the Lord,       

Chase all your fears away;

And bow with joy your head to see

The place where Jesus lay.

Here, low the Lord of life was brought;

Such wonders love can do:

Here, cold in death his heart did lay,

Which throbbed and bled for you.

He is risen, He is risen

Weary souls rest in His name

He is Risen, He is risen

He has conquered the grave

So raise your eyes, and tune your songs,

The Savior lives again:

Not all the bolts and bars of death

Could Conqueror detain

Above angelic bands He rears

His once dishonored head;

And through unnumbered years He reigns,

Who dwelt among the dead.

The grave has no victory

death has no sting

Christ, the Lord is risen

He has set the captives free

With joy like His shall every saint

His empty tomb survey;

Then rise with His ascending Lord

To realms of endless day.

I’ll leave you with this quote from R.A. Torrey
“Gospel preachers nowadays preach the gospel of the Crucifixion, the Apostles preached the gospel of the Resurrection as well. (2 Tim. 2:8-Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead, according to my gospel.”) The Crucifixion loses its meaning without the Resurrection. Without the Resurrection the death of Christ was only the heroic death of a noble martyr; with the Resurrection it is the atoning death the Son of God. It shows that death to be of sufficient value to cover our sins, for it was the sacrifice of the Son of God.”

He is risen!
He is risen indeed!