We are all bandwagon activists.

Hey.  Did you notice that we are one week removed from the attack on Paris, one day removed from the governmental leaders declaring their position on refugees, and even though IS had 170 hostages this morning at a Radisson Hotel in Mali, society has, by-in-large, already moved on?  The house has suspended Obama’s refugee placement program, so we can all rest comfortably again, so please enjoy this picture of my cat.  (Yes, I do have the two cutest cats around).

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I am impressed that we, as a nation, focused on the Syrian Civil War for nearly a week.  Did you hear that Charlie Sheen announced that he is HIV+?  The press, by in large, did not even let that bombshell outweigh our focus on the war, refugees and IS believing itself a major world power.  Well done, America.

Refugee placement services felt an influx of support nationwide.  I read that the Kentucky Refugee Ministries has received more support in the last week than they have in the last twenty five years of service, even as they welcome Syrians.  Did you know, however, that the Civil War started four and a half years ago?  Did you know that Syrians have been fleeing for their lives, by the masses, since that time?  Did you know that we have received Syrian refugees here in the US?  Not many, but already over 1,800.

Did you care two days ago?
Will you care tomorrow?
Probably not.  But we all sure cared yesterday.

Why?  Because we are all bandwagon activists.  The age of the internet allows us to hear the headlines of the news, read a few opinion articles and form a thirty-second opinion, and anyone who disagrees with us is uninformed and a irrational.  Forget the fact that many have given their lives to the study and development of international relations and foreign policies, and there are a very few who have devoted their lives to helping refugees learn a new life in a foreign country.

Sadly, this is characteristic of our culture and we, as Christians, prove ourselves to be just as guilty as the rest.  We cite Scriptures about loving our enemies, praying for the world, espousing devoutly how it is our Christian duty to care for the widow and the orphan.  But when was the last time you visited a widow or took care of an orphan?  You might nobly disagree with our nation at large and declare that we should help refugees, but did you donate money to those organizations who have a plan in place?  Did you go to the airport and pick up a family, help set up their new apartment, start teaching them English or help them in any way?

We have not progressed very far on the spectrum of sanctification.

We are chronically immature, selfish Christians who can get on the bandwagon vocally, but do not sacrifice our money, our comfort, our time or our energy to actually do something.

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress,and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

– James 1.27

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

– Matt 5.44

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

– Rom 12.17-21

These are steep commands.  These are steep commands against which our culture is squarely opposed.  No, not necessarily in value, but in action.  The elderly are considered irrelevant and we send them off to nursing homes because they get in our way and are a nuisance.  We confine orphans to foster care and group homes because we want to have our own babies and are not interested in the baggage that comes along with a child who has been through serious trauma.  We consider it honorable to turn the other cheek and practice patience, but cannot control our reactions well enough do so.  Our comfort and our security come first.  Justice – our own perception of it anyway – is rarely sacrificed for the sake of serving someone who just took advantage of us.  No, I [intentionally] don’t carry cash, so stop begging me for it at every intersection.

Our American Dream worldview has stunted our Spiritual growth.  Our expectation of and desire for immediate gratification has made us a bunch of pansies who cannot invest long term for a goal or persevere through trials.  We get depressed.  We take medicine to feel better.  We give up and find something easier.  We should enjoy our jobs, we should get paid that outrageous salary because I deserve it.  My life should be comfortable.

Scripture teaches us that Spiritual maturity comes through trials and tribulations.  We will not grow unless our faith is systematically tested by God:

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

God orchestrates situations in our lives to develop our faith into maturity.  The walk of the Christian is the process of becoming more like Jesus:  dying to our sin and our flesh, and taking on the persona of the Holy Spirit.  A person who is being led by the Holy Spirit is exemplified by the fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

So let us stop and consider our hearts and actions over the last few days.  How many conversations did you have about the Syrian Civil War, which is now going on five years?  How many conversations did you have about permitting Syrian refugees into our nation, and/or into your community?  How many times did you pray about it?  Did you actually do something, or did you just convey your wisdom to anyone who would listen?

This is a test, folks.  And we, as a church, are headed down the path of failure, if we do not seek God, ask Him how we should respond, and invest.  God many not be calling your church or your community to respond specifically to Syrian refugees.  You might live in Indiana where that family was diverted, mid-travel, to Connecticut because your governor refused them entrance.  But there is another widow or orphan that God wants you to care for.  She might even be your own grandmother.  There is another enemy to which you need to offer grace and love.  It might even be your own brother when you go home for Thanksgiving next week.

Let’s not be bandwagon Christians.  Let’s grow in perseverance and fight the good fight of faith.  Let’s do something, and not just talk about it.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

– James 1.22

The Refugee Crisis is Complicated.

complication

Six days ago, Paris was attacked by IS terrorists and the world took notice.  The day before, Beirut Lebanon was similarly attacked, and two weeks before a Russian jet was bombed down killing 224, but the world did not take notice.  The Civil War in Syria started on March 15, 2011 and has continued to ransack the Middle East, causing millions of people to flee for their lives, created the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, some seventy years ago.  Refugee camps have been established, many countries are accommodating refugees as they can, people are suffering, and terrorists are using the mass exodus as an opportunity to infiltrate countries they desire to terrorize and attack.

Some are citing the Jewish persecution to exemplify our human nature of resisting refugees and the terrible consequences that resulted, while others discuss the underlying reasons for their flight – namely, racial persecution vs. refuge from a Civil War.  Some are drawing on the heart strings of compassion while others are responding in fear for personal and familial safety from terrorists.  Some are personalizing the tragedy because of experience and exposure to Paris, Muslims, and loss, while others are systematically examining the situation and making logical arguments for how best we, as a country should respond.

I do not have the answers.  I am not an academic skilled in the study of foreign policy and military strategy.  I do not work with our government (or any government) on the intricacies of helping to settle those who are fleeing for their lives.  I have no answers on how to best screen those who need our help to assure that they will not come in and bomb marathons or shoot hundreds at a concert or football game.

I do know that these refugees are coming from a country that has been ransacked by war, their worldview is not one based on security and comfort, but on survival.  They know the power of a demonstration that turns into a revolt, that kills innocent people and leads to a battle for power.  Can we easily assimilate them into a culture that by-in-large adheres to laws and regulations and submits to the government (except in speech, of course)?  Can we house them, feed them, and educate them to a level where they can support themselves and become a part of our cultural system and way of life?

These questions are much bigger than all of us, and very few of us will be a part of the actual decision making.  If you do happen to find yourself in a position of authority and policy establishment on the topic, I pray for you and do not envy your position in any way.  But for the rest of us, we need to ask a simple question:  What does the Bible say?

None of the New Testament was written from a situation of political and religious safety and comfort.  We do not live in a Biblical culture.  Jesus was born into an oppressed Jewish culture that was functioning under the Roman Empire.  After His ascension back to Heaven, the Church exploded and immediately suffered persecution and the believers were dispersed across the known world, fleeing for their lives.  The New Testament was written to these believers, encouraging them to love their enemies, seek the salvation and well being of those who would persecute them, submit to the authorities – even though they were opposed to Christ, and to love.

It is difficult to apply the worldview of Scripture to our current cultural setting.  We are not the persecuted few, we are not running for our lives, we are not living in a situation where our livelihood, our houses, our families and even our lives could be taken from us simply because of our belief system.  Sure, we will reference the bakeries being forced to bake a cake for those with different beliefs and the rare church shooting, but our government and society protects us from discrimination in any way, and the moment we feel a twinge of intolerance, we lash out.

The early Christians, and Jesus Himself were hated and persecuted daily, for a variety of reasons.  And He taught us to love, even our enemy, lavishly.  The persecuted was to respond in love.  Not crying out for his rights, not pushing back against oppression, not using his voice to change policies, but to love.

Remember the Good Samaritan?  This story is so prevalent in our culture that we actually have a law written in his example.

“Jesus replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.  And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you’'”

– Luke 10.30-35

The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other.  We, as Americans, do not have a similar enemy whereby it is a given that every American hates and avoids every [given nation].  The two nations would not interact, they would not mix, they would not inter marry or eat at the same restaurants or do business.  This hatred was deeply rooted and irreconcilable.  Imagine the shock, then, when Jesus said that a Samaritan – one so hated – took care of the Jewish man who had been beaten and robbed when the most religious Jews ignored him.  He cared for him, bandaged his wounds, and paid for his care.

That is the level to which we are to love.

So my challenge today is simple.  Firstly, are loving our fellow Americans for their knee jerk reactions to the situation?  The United States is being polarized by response:  welcome refugees or refuse them.  The vast majority of people who are speaking out have no influence in the decision, and we are bitterly condemning those who respond differently than us.  Can you not understand their emotion?  Be it compassion or fear?  We must love our neighbor – our fellow American – as the Good Samaritan did.

Secondly, are we loving the refugees in their peril?  Again, most of us will have no say in the official decision.  But let’s say a refugee does show up in your community.  He has lost everything he knows and loves, including friends and family.  Are you ready to love him in the manner of the Good Samaritan?  Are you contributing to agencies that are seeking humanitarian relief for those who are stuck in the limbo of running – left in refugee camps, sleeping on the ground or starving?  Many organizations are on the ground trying to help refugees where they are.  If you have so much compassion, are you investing in this?  If you have fear of bringing them home, are you helping them from a distance to establish them, feed them, clothe them where they are?

Thirdly, are we loving our enemies?  Christian response to war has varied dramatically throughout the centuries, some espousing pacifism and others seeking the greater good by neutralizing a threat.  Just and unjust war is another massive topic that I will not seek to define here.  But whatever your position on warfare, we can evaluate our hearts and intentions by our love.  Are you loving your enemy like the Good Samaritan?  Or are you seeking vengeance, justice and retribution?  Do you hate him?  The Samaritan should have hated the Jew.  Culturally, it was not only accepted by expected.  But the Samaritan cared for and sought the good of the Jew.  Do you care for and seek the good of the IS terrorists?

Love is not easily definable, as often times genuine love must intervene and correct wrong doing and wrong thinking.  Love does not tolerate and accept unconditionally.  If it did, Jesus would not have had to die to pay the ransom for our sins.  God does not overlook sin and accept us in our sinful state, we must be covered in the blood of Jesus.  But love always seeks the best for the other person or nation.  So examine your response to the crisis today:  Are you responding in love?  Or are you simply reacting?  Turn to Jesus, and let Him transform your heart.  And be ready and willing to love your fellow American, the refugee and even the terrorist.  Because that is what Jesus would do.