As the arguments over the refugees and ISIS continue to unfold across my Facebook feed and in media around the world, as new attacks begin in other distant places, and fears rise over possible attacks here at home, I have tried to sit quietly and listen. As I often do when the world becomes very complex, I sort of sit and let all of it wash over me to listen for God’s direction through the noise. There is a lot of noise, in the political world, in the media, and from within the body of Christ. There is a lot of vitriol and condemnation from within and without the body. There is a lot of misfocused attention that is feeding the confusion and helping the seeds of evil to flourish in anger and fear. But, as is always the case, in the middle of the things the enemy means for evil, God is always present and speaking to His people.
This turmoil in the world has come a particularly difficult time in my own life, where in the last few months my own place and role in the body has been cast adrift from what it was in preparation for what it will be. At first, that made dealing with the need to see and think and speak to this increasingly urgent crisis within the body harder. Uncertainty in our own lives always seems to make it appear ineffective or inappropriate to speak to larger issues. Yet, it strikes me that in a way, when the world and our lives are at their most chaotic and complex it actually becomes easier to see and hear God if we have prepared ourselves for it. When the challenges we face are so large that there is no answer to them, we are suddenly faced with only two options, giving up in despair or giving up our illusions of control and fully seeking God’s direction.
It is into that space of surrender that God finally speaks. He has done so through prayer and Scripture, and the thoughts of a few others who are seeking something beyond our feeble human answers and one dimensional responses to this growing violence and evil in the world. So I will share what He has placed in my heart and pray that something in it brings clarity and peace to those who read it. First the misfocus.
Amidst the calls of Christ’s command to help those suffering from oppression and welcome the stranger, we have forgotten a critical part of that call and as a result we are looking to the wrong place for the answer to the problem. Christ did not call the Sanhedrin or the Roman authorities to welcome the stranger or give relief to the oppressed. He called His disciples, each individually and as a body, to be the embodiment of His grace in the world. We as Christians must stop looking to our politicians, our governments and our media personalities to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. It’s not their job. Their job is to serve God by providing order in society that will allow the people of God to do the work He has prepared for them. Stopping or increasing the number of refugees the government decides to allow into our country is not the issue one way or the other. The issue is what we are each called as individuals to do in response the the evil in the world around us. And only we as individuals and communities of faith are able to effectively understand and answer the call to that work, and only God can accomplish it.
Second, the understanding of our faith as Christians. We are not called to safety, we are called to build the body. As David Crabb pointed out in his article over at Desiring God, no matter what the intention of ISIS, Islam or our leaders may be, God is doing a work in the midst of this crisis. Our job as Christians is to trust His plans no matter how dark and scary things may look, and seek His direction for us in those plans with obedient hearts. That means prayer, lots of prayer. That means setting aside our own understanding of things, setting aside the either or divisive mentalities of the world. That means not proof texting Scripture to support our own personal pet philosophy. That means not losing heart when God answers the prayers of His people through things that look like disaster from our own limited point of view. As Christians, it is imperative in this moment, and every moment, that we live the conviction that Christ is King, He is on His throne, and no power on earth or in heaven or under the earth can stop His plans or separate us from Him.
Third, the understanding of the body. We are not all called to the same roles and tasks within the body of Christ, and we must stop slamming each other for our differences in outlook and focus. There are some who the Spirit has equipped to serve in public office. Their focus will by necessity be on maintaining order within our nation in accordance with God’s law and man’s. Their gifts will run to leadership and administration, and yes even to battle. There are others who are equipped to serve as leaders within our church. Their focus will by necessity be on speaking and seeking God’s will in the midst of this. None of us alone is capable of the balance required for such an endeavor, so by necessity God has raised up many voices with many insights and many experiences. Pray for God’s voice to be heard by those leaders and by those they are called to speak to. There are others who are equipped to be shepherds of their own sphere, mothers and fathers, teachers and bosses, friends and coworkers, who are called to protect the people of God from the things that would do them harm and help them grow in faith so that they can go out and do His will. Pray for them to stand strong in their faith, and to seek justice and be tempered by mercy. There are still others who are called to be the hands and feet so many are calling for, they are equipped to face the differences in culture and understanding with compassion and faith that transforms the lives of those who do not know Christ. Pray for their safety and their strength as they seek to reach the suffering, uplift them as they go about their work.
This third point is probably the most difficult thing right now in the body of Christ. As Matt Walsh pointed out in a recent article, we have grown to feel guilty or to make others feel guilty when we do not all agree on what God calls us to be. The Apostles set the example for us in Acts though, when they recognized that not all of them were called to feed the widows and orphans and deal with the day to day outreach of the church. They understood that some of them were called to be teachers and evangelists, some were called to be leaders, and others were called to be administrators. They sought to send each person to the task God had assigned to them according to the gifts the spirit had given them. And so Stephen and 6 others were appointed to see to the feeding of the hungry and the rest went about the other business of the body God had called them to. We need to remember this example of the division of labor in the body of Christ, and work toward building up every part of the body because all of it is essential.
The last two things in this are two messages for specific segments of the body. To those who are currently seeking to limit and refuse the influx of strangers into our land. Strangers who we know come from a culture that seeks to harm us. Be of good courage. Listen for God’s direction. Prepare to defend the flock, and know that God is present in the situation. Stop being afraid, whatever may come. Yes, your fears from a worldly standpoint are valid. Yes, we as a people need to exercise wisdom. Yes, there are those who seek to do harm to your country, your family, and your churches. Yes, the world is a fear-filled and dangerous place and in this moment in time, evil seems to be gaining the upper hand. But, you are children of God, called for such a time as this. Wrap yourself in His Word, cloth yourself in prayer, and allow Him to cloth you in the power of His Spirit to be your guide, your comfort and your shield. And pray for those who are called to reach out to these lost souls, because as Sheridan Voysey mentioned on his blog, prayer and kindness are powerful weapons, and will be required if you truly wish to protect those you love from the coming darkness.
To those who are currently seeking to open the doors to as many refugees as possible, stop railing against your brothers and sisters who are providing the caution and seeking to protect you from the dangers of such a ministry. Stop condemning them for not operating outside the role God has assigned them and the gifts He has equipped them with. They are not called in this moment with these people to be the hands and feet, they are called to be the shield. Focus instead on your own call and your own gifts. You, by the words of your mouth that see these heart broken masses as people in need of the love of Christ, are the ones He has currently called and equipped to be His hands and feet. Pray for Him to reveal to you how He wants to use you to reach the lost and dying. Prepare yourselves not to call on the government to do the work of Christ, but to open your homes and your lives to those who are broken. Prepare yourselves to live your faith so fully that when you draw these broken souls into your presence to offer them shelter from harm and rest from the evils of the world that they will see in you a faith lived so fully their hearts will be opened to the true salvation of the soul that Christ brings, not just the easing of their physical needs. Refugee camps and resettlement programs cannot accomplish the task of being the hands and feet of Christ. Only those called by God and given a broken heart for these people can accomplish that by His power, His presence and the relationships He can and will build. Be willing, even as the rest of the body must be willing to stand ready to aid you by prayer, fellowship and teaching to help you fulfill your call.
Pray always and glorify the Lord.