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.

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:

Books

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.

2013 Bible Reading Plans

This is the time of year that many think about making commitments to read the Bible more regularly in the coming year.  I highly encourage everyone who desires to radically follow Christ in 2013 to prayerfully consider ways to engage the Word of God more regularly.  One of the tools that many have found useful (including myself) is a Bible Reading Plan.  There are a myriad of plans available, and Justin Taylor just posted an article this week on the Gospel Coalition Blog giving lots of helpful advice about following a Bible reading plans, as well as several links to some great plans.  (see that article here)

Several years ago, I created my own Bible Reading Plan, and have been using it ever since.  Everyone needs to find a plan that will fit them, and since I didn’t find one, I created my own.  For those who are interested in it, you can find it on our website HERE

Here are the essentials of the Bible Reading Plan I created, and use:

1. It covers “about” 2 chapters a day 

2. it goes through a complete book of the Bible at a time (so you’re not jumping from book to book day after day).  When you start a book, you’ll stay in that book until you finish it.

3. it switches between OT books and NT books.  In other words, after you finish an OT book, then you’ll start reading through a NT book.

4. between books, you’ll spend a few (2 or 3) days in Psalms and Proverbs.  Some don’t like this but I like it for two reasons.  One, going through Psalms and Proverbs all at once is like drinking water out of a fire hydrant.  They were meant to be absorbed in shorter, more bite-sized sections.  Two, these days give me a moment to pause and reflect over the previous book, and spend time in private worship before moving into the next book.

5. It is a two-year plan.  In two years you will go through the NT (and Psalms and Proverbs) twice, and the OT (and Revelation) once.  Why?  Again, this is mainly just my personal Bible reading plan, and the NT books, and Psalms and Proverbs tend to be the ones that feed my faith the most and turn my affections toward Jesus the most.

If this plan works for you, great!  If one of the ones Justin Taylor suggests works for you, awesome!  If you want to try your hand at creating your own, fantastic!

My encouragement would just be to pick one, and start.  Don’t be legalistic.  If you miss a day, catch up if you can.  If you start to miss several days in a row, then just pick up where you should be on the day, and don’t fret the stuff you missed.  The key is not to complete a Bible Reading Plan, but to spend more time communing with Jesus.  So, use it as a tool to help you in that regard, but extend yourself some grace when you get behind (like I always do).

Let me know what has or has not worked for you…and feel free to share some stories about Bible reading in general and Bible Reading Plans in particular that might be helpful to others.

Grace!

Why My Wife Has Re-entered the Workplace

Today is Friday, August 17th, and while I’m recovering from an annoying case of vertigo, I have been reflecting on a decision my wife and I made about a month ago.  This afternoon my wife, Susan, will come home from her first week of teaching 2nd grade at a nearby school, the first job she has had outside the home in 17 years.  She is tired and yet she is excited about how the Lord is using her.

Not that she hasn’t been working.  For the last 17 years she has had the hardest job anyone could have, managing our home.  She has cooked thousands of meals, pushed grocery carts for thousands of miles, wiped noses (and other unmentionable areas of our childrens’ bodies) thousands of times, and picked up a thousand pairs of socks and underwear from the floor.  She has homeschooled all of our four sons at one time or another (none of whom are still in homeschool at present), and managed to transform a houseful of smelly, messy, testosterone-laden boys (present company included) into a home where the grace of God rests.  Oh yes, she has worked.

But this is the first time in 17 years she has worked outside the home.  We consider that to be a gracious blessing to our family.  Not everyone is able to have mom stay at home, but God has been gracious to make this desire a reality for our family.  He certainly required that we make sacrifices to make it work (financially and otherwise), but we don’t for a moment believe that living off of a pastor’s salary in a middle-class suburban context with 4 boys was our doing…no, it was our Sovereign God who made it work, and to Him we are so very grateful for this blessing.

But why the change?  Why now, after all these years is Susan jumping back into the workplace?  Great question!  For us, we always considered this to be part of the plan.  We knew that unless the Lord provided in some other way, Susan would need to get a job at some point in order for us to afford the looming expenses of sending four sons to college (which will begin for us in less than a year).  That provision had not come by the beginning of summer, and so we decided it was time to go ahead and start preparing for her to re-enter the workplace, and I am so proud of what she accomplished in taking courses and getting her Georgia teaching certificate re-certified.  Then, the arduous task of applying for jobs and interviewing.  As God would have it, a precious family friend notified us of a 2nd Grade teaching position at a school 7 minutes from our house.  Susan applied, had 2 interviews in a week, and received an offer the following week.  It all happened so fast, we found ourselves discussing whether or not to accept the offer before we really had an opportunity to pray about whether she should go back to work at all.  We just assumed that was what she was supposed to do.  After all, how else were we going to afford college?

That’s when the Lord urged both Susan and I to pause and pray.   The salary offered to Susan was such that it required us to seek the Lord’s wisdom.  Any lower and we would have been tempted to just decline the offer….after all, her working outside the home was going to have a major impact on our family and it needed to be financially “worth it”.  Conversely, if the offer had been any higher, we would have been tempted to just go ahead and accept it, seeing the higher salary as a “sign from God”.  Instead, the Lord was gracious to make the offer such that we really were forced to bring it to Him for discernment.  So, we brought the decision to the Lord, and He impressed upon both of us that we were looking at this decision from a “financial” perspective, instead of from a “missional” perspective.  This wasn’t a financial decision as much as it was a decision about what God wanted Susan to do with her life…in essence, what was His mission for her?

The real question the Lord caused us to wrestle with was, “Was God calling Susan to be a teacher?”.  If He wasn’t, then no amount of money would be worth her being outside of the will of God.  If He was, then no amount of money should stand in the way of her doing what the Lord was asking of her.  Boy, did that take the pressure off!  We simply needed to know what our Father’s mission was for Susan, and then trust Him with the financially aspect of how it would happen.  Once that became “the decision”, it was a fairly easy decision.  Susan’s heart has always been to teach children.  It’s what the Lord placed on her heart as a young girl, whether it be teaching our own kids in homeschool, teaching children at our church, or teaching in a traditional classroom, the Lord has created her to teach for His glory.  Once we were settled on her mission, the financial aspect of the decision became much easier.  Who were we to decline an opportunity to be engaged in what the Lord made her to do, just because it wasn’t going to completely satisfy all of our financial “wants”?  The Lord has always perfectly provided for us, as He has promised to do.  Were we now going to trust Him in this, or not?  We’ve discovered that after the Lord gives clarity to a decision and makes it more about whether we’re going to trust Him or not, the decisions get easier to make.  Ofcourse we would trust Him.

Now, I will readily admit that this has been an adjustment to our family’s life.  We have all needed to pitch-in and be more helpful around the house, but that has been a good thing.  The boys are learning more responsibility, and we are all looking at this as if our whole family is involved in the mission that the Lord has given to Susan.  And I think that’s pretty cool.

Let me encourage you not to make decisions like this based on the resources available to you, whether it’s time, money, or talents.  Instead, make it a decision based on mission.  Is the Lord asking you to do this…..or not?  And after He answers that question, then all you’ve got to do is trust Him.

Signs of New Birth

Tomorrow morning, we will be looking at Matthew 7:21-23…a sobering statement by Jesus that tells us that some will come to Jesus at the judgment seeking entrance into heaven, only to hear “I never knew you, away from me you workers of lawlessness”.

This message and this text will have each of us wrestling with the question, “Am I really born again?”

Rather than trying to give you insight on how to answer that question, I thought it would be nice to hear from a dead guy.  JC Ryle was the Archbishop of Liverpool from 1880 – 1900.  He is considered by many to be one of the last great Puritan theologians, and his insights and Biblical advice about this topic are worth careful (and prayerful) consideration.

Hear from Bishop Ryle…….

 

ImageAre You Born Again?

by J. C. Ryle

Are you born again? This is one of life’s most important questions. Jesus Christ said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

It is not enough to reply, “I belong to the church; I suppose I’m a Christian.” Thousands of nominal Christians show none of the signs of being born again which the Scriptures have given us—many listed in the First Epistle of John.

No Habitual Sinning

First of all, John wrote: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin” (I John 3:9). “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not” (5:18).

A person who has been born again, or regenerated, does not habitually commit sin. He no longer sins with his heart and will and whole inclination. There was probably a time when he did not think about whether his actions were sinful or not, and he did not always feel grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin; they were friends. But the true Christian hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, considers it his greatest plague, resents the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be completely delivered from it. Sin no longer pleases him, nor is it even a matter of indifference to him; it has become a horrible thing which he hates. However, he cannot eliminate its presence within him.

If he said that he had no sin, he would be lying (I John 1:8). But he can say that he hates sin and that the great desire of his soul is not to commit sin at all. He cannot prevent bad thoughts from entering his mind, or shortcomings, omissions, and defects from appealing in both his words and his actions. He knows that “in many things we offend all” (James 3:2). But he can truly say, in the sight of God, that these things cause him grief and sorrow and that his whole nature does not consent to them. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?

Believing in Christ

Second, John wrote: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (I John 5:1).

A man who is born again, or regenerated, believes that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour who can pardon his soul, that He is the divine person appointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and beside Him there is no Saviour at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness. But he has full confidence in Christ, and trusting in Him, he believes that his sins are all forgiven. He believes that, because he has accepted Christ’s finished work and death on the cross, he is considered righteous in God’s sight, and he may look forward to death and judgment without alarm.

He may have fears and doubts. He may sometimes tell you that he feels as if he had no faith at all. But ask him if he is willing to trust in anything instead of Christ, and see what he will say. Ask him if he will rest his hope of eternal life on his own goodness, his own works, his prayers, his minister, or his church, and listen to his reply. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?

Practicing Righteousness

Third, John wrote: “Every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him” (I John 2:29).

The man who is born again, or regenerated, is a holy man. He endeavors to live according to God’s will, to do the things that please God and to avoid the things that God hates. He wishes to continually look to Christ as his example as well as his Saviour and to prove himself to be Christ’s friend by doing whatever He commands. He knows he is not perfect. He is painfully aware of his indwelling corruption. He finds an evil principle within himself that is constantly warring against grace and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence.

Though he may sometimes feel so low that he questions whether or not he is a Christian at all, he will be able to say with John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?

Loving Other Christians

Fourth, John wrote: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (I John 3:14).

A man who is born again has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for those who share his faith in Christ. Like his Lord and Saviour, he loves the worst of sinners and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. He is never so much at home as when he is in their company.

He feels they are all members of the same family. They are his fellow soldiers, fighting against the same enemy. They are his fellow travelers, journeying along the same road. He understands them, and they understand him. They may be very different from himself in many ways—in rank, in station and in wealth. But that does not matter. They are his Father’s sons and daughters and he cannot help loving them. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?

Overcoming the World

Fifth, John wrote: “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” (I John 5:4).

A man who is born again does not use the world’s opinion as his standard of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the world’s ways, ideas and customs. What men think or say no longer concerns him. He overcomes the love of the world. He finds no pleasure in things which seem to bring happiness to most people. To him they seem foolish and unworthy of an immortal being.

He loves God’s praise more than man’s praise. He fears offending God more than offending man. It is unimportant to him whether he is blamed or praised; his first aim is to please God. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?

Keeping Oneself Pure

Sixth, John wrote: “He that is begotten of God keepeth himself’ (I John 5:18).

A man who is born again is careful of his own soul. He tries not only to avoid sin but also to avoid everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He knows that evil communications corrupt the heart and that evil is more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. He is careful about the use of his time; his chief desire is to spend it profitable.

He desires to live like a soldier in an enemy country—to wear his armor continually and to be prepared for temptation. He is diligent to be watchful, humble, prayerful man. What would the apostle say about you? Are you born again?

The Test

These are the six great marks of a born again Christian.

There is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks in different people. In some they are faint and hardly noticeable. In others they are bold, plain and unmistakable, so anyone may read them. Some of these marks are more visible than others in each individual. Seldom are all equally evident in any one person.

But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted six marks of being born of God.

How should we react to these things? We can logically come to only one conclusion—only those who are born again have these six characteristics, and those who do not have these marks are not born again. This seems to be the conclusion to which the apostle intended us to come. Do you have these characteristics? Are you born again?

Sunday Service: 1/22/12 (and some tips…)

Sermon Text: Matthew 7:21-23

Set List:

  1. Redeemed, Restored, Forgiven by Matthew Smith
  2. Our God by Chris Tomlin
  3. Come Thou Fount by Robert Robinson (David Crowder version)
  4. Amazing Grace by John Newton
  5. Grace Greater Than Our Sin by Julia Johnston and Daniel Towner (version by Adam Crawford. His hymns CD is FREE)

 

Tips on using these blog posts for your spiritual growth…

  • Listen: Find the songs online and load them on your ipod or mp3 player. Then listen throughout the week in preparation for corporate worship. Also, if you listen to music while you work you can use a free online playlist like grooveshark to stream these songs.
  • Read: the sermon text each day in addition to your devotional reading.
  • Pray: Ask God to open your spiritual eyes to truths in the text and scriptural truths within the songs. Pray also for others who may be in the congregation this Sunday morning.