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?

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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?

God’s Heart for the Vulnerable

When the Old Testament talks about God’s justice, it often does so by highlighting His particular concern for those most vulnerable to injustice. Three particular groups are highlighted repeatedly: the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner (or, in different English translations, the stranger, alien, sojourner, or immigrant).

Not only does God love and provide for these vulnerable groups of people, He also commands His people to do the same. As we saw yesterday, God even instilled policies to ensure that these vulnerable groups has the means to provide for basic needs such as food.

Later, God sent prophets to rebuke those who had failed to protect these vulnerable groups. Jeremiah and Malachi warn of God’s judgment for those who failed to keep these commands, listing mistreatment of the orphan, widow, and foreigner alongside sins such as adultery, sorcery, lying, and shedding innocent blood.

The Bible also takes these three groups—widows, orphans, and foreigners—as metaphors for how God rescues each of us in the midst of our vulnerability. The Prophet Isaiah compares God to a husband, redeeming a widow. In Galatians, Paul describes our salvation in Jesus as a process of being adopted as God’s children. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that those of us who are Gentiles were once strangers and aliens to God’s covenant with the Jewish people, but that by Christ’s death, we can be naturalized in as citizens of God’s kingdom, reconciled to Him and also to one another.

God deeply loves the vulnerable—and, at least in a spiritual sense, that includes all of us.

Reflection Questions:

1. How could you practically serve and reflect God’s love toward those who are vulnerable in your community?

2. How might recognizing your own vulnerability—and God’s grace in redeeming us in the midst of it—inform how you respond to those who are vulnerable as widows, orphans, or foreigners in our society and around the globe?

You Were Once Foreigners…

As God’s people, the Israelites, were finally about to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert, God reiterated a warning he made shortly after they had first fled from Egypt a generation earlier: once you’re settled in your new land, you must not forget your history. Remember that you(or your ancestors) were foreigners in Egypt, mistreated by Pharaoh, and that it was my grace—not merely your own efforts—that brought you from that place of desperation to where you are now, to this land “flowing with milk and honey.” Because, if you do forget, you may turn to the foreigners who seek refuge in your new land and treat them just as terribly as Pharaoh treated you.

How many of us have stories in our families that are similar? In the United States, for example, nearly everyone can trace their lineage back to somewhere else, whether those ancestors came on the Mayflower or a slave ship, through Ellis Island in New York Harbor, across a border, or through an airport. Most Americans have at least a basic awareness of their ancestral origins, often maintaining some cultural traditions or family recipes.

Too often, though, we’ve forgotten precisely what God warned the Israelites not to forget: the challenges and mistreatment that many newly arrived immigrants faced, such as the “No Irish Need Apply” signs of the mid-19thcentury. Most are likely unaware of the violence and legalized discrimination against Chinese immigrants that culminated in the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, legally prohibiting all Chinese immigrants for more than a half century. We tend to forget the resentment faced by the Southern and Eastern European refugees and other immigrants who came in through Ellis Island around the turn of the 20th century, or Benjamin Franklin’s incredulity that the Germans arriving in colonial Pennsylvania could ever assimilate.

The lesson of the Israelites is to remember our history—not so that we can treat those who come after us just as badly as our ancestors were treated, but so that we can do better, responding with the love and welcome with which we would want to be received.

Reflection Questions:

1. Are there refugees or other immigrants in your family history? Do you know what their experience was as newcomers?

2. How might remembering your family history inform how you respond to those arriving as newcomers today?

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

We tend to think about refugees and other immigration issues through the lens of what we view on television, hear on the radio, or see shared on social media. However, if we regard God’s word as the authority for our lives, we also need to think about refugees as a biblical issue, because the Bible speaks repeatedly to God’s heart for refugees and other vulnerable foreigners. In fact, the Hebrew word for a “resident alien”—ger—appears 92 times just in the Old Testament. We’ll look at several of those passages this week, with some specific instructions from God to His people about how to treat “the stranger in the land.”

Even before we encounter any specific biblical injunctions concerning how to treat the refugee or other foreigners, we find that each human being—refugees certainly included—is made by God and in His image.

It is because each human being (regardless of ethnicity, gender, legal status, disability, or any other qualifier) is “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Creator God that each has inherent dignity. We value and protect human life because we believe it is precious to God. That commitment to life compels us to do all we can to shelter and protect refugees, who in many cases have been forced to flee to preserve their lives.

That each person is made in the likeness of the Creator God also suggests that human beings have remarkable creative potential. Take Sergey Brin, for example: as a six-year-old, he and his family fled discrimination in the former Soviet and came as refugees to the United States. Using a God-giving creativity, he went on to co-found Google, which is now among the world’s most valuable companies, providing tools most of us use on a very regular basis and employing many people in the process.

As resilient and entrepreneurial people made in the image of their Creator, refugees have remarkable capacity to contribute, and we deny the image of God within them when we speak of them (or anyone) merely as a burden.

Reflection Questions:

1. What has been the primary influence on how you think about refugees? Have you ever before considered what the Bible might say on this topic?

2. How does the teaching that refugees are made in the image of God inform how you think about and respond to them?