You Did It Unto Me…

The Bible compares the global church to a single human body, with many distinct parts that are each important to the whole. When one part of that body suffers, Paul writes, every part suffers with it.

The horrific reality is that many of our brothers and sisters around the globe today are suffering as they are persecuted for the name of Jesus. At the hands of governments hostile to the Christian faith and, increasingly, non-state terrorists, Christ-followers have been martyred. In fact, Open Doors USA’s analysis suggests that 2015 may have been the most violent year for Christians in modern history.

To stand in solidarity with the persecuted church, we ought to do all we can to stop these horrific situations of persecution. Whenever possible, we should strive and pray for circumstances such that Christians would not be forced to leave. When they make the decision that fleeing is their only option, though, local churches in receiving countries also must do everything possible to welcome these refugees.

About 340,000 professing Christians of one tradition or another have been admitted into the United States as refugees between 2003 and 2015, more than of any other religious tradition. Many of them have been persecuted particularly because of their faith in Jesus.

Imagine that you were forced to flee your country because you insisted on following Jesus. Wouldn’t you hope that a Christian brother or sister in the country to which you fled would be there to welcome you, to help you adjust, and to lament with you what you had lost?

In the end, this is not just about standing with our brothers and sisters. It is about standing with Jesus Himself. Jesus takes personally the persecution of His church. When He confronted Saul, who had persecuted Christians, on the road to Damascus, He asked him, “Why do you persecute me?” He explained to His disciples that, at the final judgment, those who had fed, clothed, and welcomed “the least of these” brothers and sisters will learn they had done so to Jesus Himself.

Reflection Questions:

1. Imagine that you were forced to flee your country because of your Christian faith—where would you go? What would you take with you? How would you hope to be received in the country in which you sought refuge?

2. What practical steps could you take to serve refugees who are persecuted for their faith?

Go and Make Disciples…

Shortly before ascending into heaven, Jesus left His disciples with a final charge: to make disciples of all nations. As recorded in the book of Acts, Jesus clarifies that this command has both local and global implications: while the church can and must cross international borders, we also must live out the Great Commission in our own neighborhoods. The arrival of refugees into our communities presents a remarkable opportunity to live out the Great Commission.

That opportunity is not an accident: Scripture makes clear that God is sovereign over the moment of people towards an end: so that people whom He created and loves would find their way into relationship with Him. God has a sovereign purpose in the migration of people, and He invites His church to join Him in that work.

God is at work in multiple directions through the migration of refugees and other immigrants. On one hand, many of those who migrate are already strong believers, and they became powerful agents of mission, sharing the good news with those in their own ethnic communities and beyond.

Others, though, are not yet Christians. In fact, by one analysis, there are more unreached people groups present within the boundaries of the United States than in any other country besides India and China—and many of those individuals arrive as refugees. As we love, serve, and advocate with these refugees, we will often be asked what motivates us, and we can point people to the hope within us that comes from a transformative relationship with Jesus.

This opportunity underscores why it is so important to examine the realities of refugees and migration through a biblical lens. A recent survey from LifeWay Research suggests that most American evangelical Christians are missing this opportunity: only a minority said that the arrival of refugees or other immigrants presents “an opportunity to introduce them to Jesus Christ.”

Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers few: there are many who do not yet know Jesus right within our communities, but too few of their neighbors ready to live out Jesus’ Great Commission locally.

Reflection Questions:

1. When you think about the arrival of refugees, have you seen an opportunity? Why or why not?

2. How could you extend welcome and kindness to refugees in such a way that might open opportunities to share your faith?

Jesus on the Margins

The Bible has much to say about how to treat refugees, but it is also, in some sense, a story of refugees. Many heroes of the faith were themselves forced to flee persecution at one point or another, including Jacob, Moses, David, and Elijah. But there is no more important refugee than Jesus Himself.

Our nativity scenes and Christmas pageants usually include the gift-bearing magi, but often stop the story there, just before Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were forced as refugees to flee the tyrannical government of King Herod. The biblical text provides few details about how Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were treated once they arrived in Egypt. We can only speculate: Were they able to find shelter? Were they welcomed, or harassed? Did local carpenters gripe that Joseph was driving down their wages? Was Jesus suspected of carrying disease?

Having begun His earthly life on the margins, throughout His ministry Jesus demonstrates concern for the marginalized, such as the Samaritans. Samaritans were not “good” in the minds of the average Jewish listener: they were considered heretical foreigners. At one point, some of Jesus’ disciples actually suggested calling down fire on a Samaritan village, an idea Jesus promptly rejected.

Jesus’ approach to these marginalized foreigners was countercultural: he “had to go through Samaria,” even though there were other, less direct routes that some Jews may have preferred in order to avoid contact with Samaritans. When He does, He interacts compassionately with a Samaritan woman, revealing Himself to her as the Messiah and equipping her to be among the first evangelists. Elsewhere, when a Samaritan is the only one of ten lepers who returns after being healed, Jesus praises a Samaritan as a model of gratitude.

Most notably, Jesus presented a Samaritan as the model of neighborly love. In one of His most well-known parables, this “Good Samaritan” sees a vulnerable traveler beaten on the side of the road and has compassion on him. Jesus command us to “go and do likewise.” That there may be risk or cost involved—as there certainly was for this Samaritan—is not relevant to the mandate to love.

Reflection Questions:

1. How do you think Jesus’ experience as a refugee might have informed his own ministry to those on the margins?

2. Who are the vulnerable neighbors whom Jesus might be calling you to love?

How to UNCOVER God’s Word:

ASK – God to connect with you here. In prayer, start by slowing down, inviting God to be present. Begin with focus and openness to see what God has for you.

READ – the selected section of Scripture slowly. Take note of the words and phrases that intrigue you, reading them a second time if necessary.

REFLECT – on what grabs you. What connections do you see at this point in your life? How might God be speaking to you through these words? Stop long enough to let this take root and thank God for engaging you.

RESPOND – to the Scripture. Speak directly to God about what’s on your mind and heart. Look for ways to live out what you’ve uncovered – individually and with your church. And look for ways to bring what you have discovered to others.

Finding God Part Six

It’s hard for us to admit we have sinned against God. We’d like to think his love will cause him to ignore our short-comings. But let’s think about this from God’s perspective.

By way of analogy, if you’re at the top of a cliff, it doesn’t matter if you take a small step or a flying leap off the edge. The end result is the same. So it is with our sin. Whether we have sinned a little or a lot, we have all abandoned God, and the end result is horrifically tragic.

Because God is infinitely holy, the consequence of our fall is also infinite. We cannot pay the price ourselves. Without God’s help, we are doomed. We need a Savior.

Finding God Part Four

God has a plan. What is it?

Is your life hard? God said, “I’ll carry your burdens.”
Lonely? “I’ll never leave you.”
Guilt getting to you? “I’ll take it away.”
Life after death? “I can handle that for you. I promise.”

God loves you as his child, and wants you to enjoy a relationship with him. He is the answer to your search for that ultimate relationship. He will fill the hole in your heart. He is the one Creator of the universe and all it contains, including you. You won’t be complete inside until you have a personal relationship with the God who created you.

Water Baptism: A Public Declaration of a Changed Life

Water baptism is an important way to publicly declare your salvation. Water baptism celebrates the ending of an old way of life and the beginning of a new one. Jesus taught the importance of water baptism to His disciples just prior to His ascension to heaven after the resurrection. He said,

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

Throughout the New Testament, there are countless stories of believers being baptized. Water baptism holds significant symbolism to both the one being baptized, and those observing. Water baptism publicly illustrates: the ending of your former way of life by being immersed down into the water; the beginning of your new life in Christ by coming out of the water cleansed, purified and a new creation in God.

Luke 3:3 represents water baptism as a “baptism of repentance,” and emphasizes the importance of publicly declaring we’ve turned away from our old life and sin. While water baptism does not save us nor cover our sin, it does represent a critical part of our Christian life – a declaration that you’re a new creation, a changed life! If ever there was someone who did not need to make this declaration, it was Jesus, who lived a sinless life here on earth. But Luke 3:21 says,

“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.” Luke 3:21

Jesus was baptized so that we would follow His example. The importance of water baptism cannot be overstated. If you have not yet been water baptized, you should consider making water baptism a priority. The Bible instructs us to make a public declaration of our salvation, and most Bible-believing churches provide many opportunities to get water baptized. Following Jesus’ example is always a winning proposition. God will richly bless and reward you for your faithfulness and obedience to Him!