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Refugees, Immigrants, and the Law of Love

Turkey syrian refugees kurdsa recent post for the IMB – Dr. Jeff Warren

North Dallas is known as a place of prosperity, posterity, power, and position. Though not as endearing, some would add privilege, even pretention to that list. I serve as the senior pastor of an amazing church in the center of North Dallas. The Park Cities Baptist Church is located in the township of University Park, one of the most affluent zip codes in the nation.

Now, come with me on a trip less than two miles to the east on Northwest Highway and you will experience another neighborhood of North Dallas. Go past North Park Mall, across Central Expressway, and we will come to Vickery Meadow. Take a walk around the neighborhood and you will meet people from around the world. As you pass by the aging apartment complexes, you will likely hear one of the 50 languages spoken here. Listen and you will hear songs in Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Burmese, or Hindi. You’ll catch the aroma of Ethiopian, Indian, and Mexican food unlike anything you’ll find in the upscale restaurants, of the Park Cities or Lake Highlands, just minutes away. No wonder this slice of North Dallas is known as the “Little United Nations.” 35,000 people live in this 3.3 square mile area, the highest density of people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Nearly every resident lives in an apartment and 60% speak Spanish, though only 10-15% are from Mexico. Vickery Meadow has the highest population of U.N. resettled refugees in the U.S.. 99% of the people live below poverty level and over 50 different languages are spoken at Conrad High School. It was here that the Ebola virus first showed up in the United States, contracted by a Liberian man visiting immigrant family members. It is here, as Teri Heard, one of our ministry champions in this area noted, “God is bringing the nations to us.”

The rule of love

In light of recent debate over issuing bans and building walls, our church family has been faced with the very real question: What is the Christian’s response? How do we live in this tension between upholding the law and displaying love to the most vulnerable among us? Augustine spoke of the profound unity of Scripture, reflected in his famous “rule of love”? According to Augustine, whoever “thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation on them that does not tend to build up the twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (Christian Doctrine, 1.26.40). Love of God and love of neighbor is our final exegesis. It is, in fact, the final proof that we are followers of Jesus.

We must always follow the rule of law while always practicing the law of love.

Jesus’ challenge to “render unto Caesar”, challenges us to ask two questions: “What does not belong to God?” And, “Doesn’t Caesar himself belong to God?” I’ve told our congregation that we will leave the security and safety of our nation to our governmental leaders. But we do not need politicians to tell us how to treat outsiders. 1 Peter 2:14 says that those who govern over the nations are “sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” The first priority of government is the safety and security of its citizens. We believe that we must live in a land of law and order. There must be a rule of law.

Chosen leaders are called to protect their citizens.

As Christians, we know too that we are citizens of another kingdom and we are ambassadors of another King. Exodus 23:9 says, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” Jesus told us we are to invite the stranger in. We are to give to the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger who is sick or needs clothes to wear. In fact, He so identifies with the outsider, He says when we serve them, we are serving Him (Matthew 25:25-36). Galatians 5:14 says, that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul tells the church to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).

The rule of law and the law of love

John 13:34-35 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are filled with the Spirit, united in the Spirit and we love all people as Christ has loved us. Exodus 34:6-7 says, “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…” The rule of love has order built into it.

Our church family is constantly confronted with the fact reality, “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). One of the core values that drives us is, “overflowing generosity”. Our church is filled with generous Christ-followers who are eager to give away and to share with others. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Our members have been serving the Vickery area for over 30 years. I t all started as God prompted a few of our members to start a Bible study for a small group of Spanish-speaking women. After years of ministry in the area in a variety of ways, we began a Bible study in our mission office that soon grew into it’s own service and finally became one of our five venues on campus every Sunday morning. It is a bilingual service, but the members are integrated into our ministry programs, mission efforts, camps, Wednesday night opportunities, and Connect groups. In every way, this a portion of our congregation, are valued members as much as any other group within our church family. We have several deacons who have come out of the “PCBC En Espanol” portion of our congregation. They are a vibrant part of our family who are teaching the rest of our congregation how to pray, serve, and worship the Lord with great passion and energy.

A long-lasting legacy of love

Out of this single Bible study years ago has come multiple Bible studies, women’s groups, and mentoring for children through the years. Annually we have served the community at the beginning of the school year. Most recently we provided 1,200 backpacks, 350 teacher supply boxes, 300 eye exams, 100 athletic physicals, and 500 immunizations. We have had 15 different teacher appreciation lunches and breakfasts in Vickery Meadow schools. We have distributed food backpacks on the weekends for the most needy children. We also provide a kind of Spring cleaning, refurbishing, and landscaping. We currently support eight refugee congregations: Burmese, Nepalese, Kenyan, Indian, Arabic, and several Spanish-speaking congregations.

God’s love for this community is leading us to the completion a 6,500 square feet, Community Care Center for training refugee and immigrant pastors, ESL classes, after school care, church planting, healthcare, women’s groups, and a ministry among the Royhinga people group, of which, there are no known believers. Jana Gardner, one of our church members, started Healing Hands, a Christian clinic for the uninsured. Last year Healing Hands served 12,000 patients, nearly all refugees and immigrants. Over 100 people have come to Christ, and they are ready to plant a church for the new believers.

Most recently, our church hosted a city-wide leaders’ meeting for those who serve refugees and immigrants. Our purpose was to equip ministry leaders with accurate information, resources, and best practices for caring and serving those in need. Among the leaders present was Mike Rawlings, the mayor of Dallas, our county judge, pastors, ministry organizers, volunteers, and others who simply want to get involved. It was a wonderfully diverse gathering that brought factual information to many who are misinformed. We also heard from a refugee family, the struggles of a father and his children, who were present as well. Leaders shared best practices and we provided opportunities to get involved. We experienced again, the very presence of Jesus, who told us that when we serve the most vulnerable among us we are actually serving Him.

I challenge every pastor, church planter, ministry leader, and every church to pray, look around you, and see if God is calling you to serve refugees and immigrants. We care and serve, all in the Name of the One who was Himself an immigrant, living in a foreign land. He came from the very top, all the way down to where we are, to lay down His life so that we too might live. The Gospel drives us to go do likewise. May we follow Him, and none other, to be salt and light to the misplaced and marginalized, to the immigrant and refugee.

 

 

 

 

 

The Key (and almost always overlooked) Ingredient to New Year’s Resolutions

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45% of all Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, while only 8% actually achieve them. The more troubling number is the 55% who make no resolutions at all. Goal-setting is the beginning of a pathway to growth, improvement in certain areas of your life, and the accomplishment of greater things in the coming year. If you have not set goals for the coming year, let me help you begin by focusing on what matters most.

If you are a Christian, you are called to follow Jesus every day, always motivated by the Gospel – that is, what He has already accomplished for you. This is critical:

The most important goals that you could ever set or achieve for yourself, have already been achieved for you, by Christ Himself.

Jesus lived the perfect life on your behalf, suffered the punishment for all of your sins, and He died your death on the cross. He rose again from the grave to conquer death and hell, so that you could live the resurrected life now, and into eternity. So, the key question you face as you set your eyes on the coming year is this:

Now that Christ has already done everything necessary for your salvation, what will you do?

This question sets up all the hopes, dreams, and goals for your life in the coming year. If all that really matters has already been accomplished, you can now live without fear of failure or a need to gain the approval of others. It means that all you need to do is worship Him daily and follow Him as His Spirit leads you, one day at a time. You are now free to love others without any need for love in return, because all the love you need you have already found in Him. So, as you set more specific goals in the freedom and rest of the Gospel, begin with these key truths:

  • As you pray for blessing, remember that Jesus Himself is the Blessing.
  • As you pray for guidance, remember that Jesus Himself is your Guide.
  • As you pray for rest, remember that Jesus Himself is your Rest.
  • As you pray for joy, remember that Jesus Himself is your Joy.
  • As you pray for success, remember that Jesus Himself is your Success.
  • As you pray for direction, remember that Jesus Himself is the Way.
  • As you pray for truth, remember that Jesus Himself is the Truth.
  • As you pray for life, remember that Jesus Himself is Life.

Now, set specific goals for the coming year in light of these life-changing truths.

“… Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:11

Jesus: the God-Man

Jesus raised questions as soon as He appeared on the public stage. Since the first century the questions have continued: Who is He? Where does He come from? How can He speak with such authority? Believers, skeptics, the curious, and opponents continue to debate the answers. 2,000 yrs. later, Jesus remains the central figure of history and still the dominant influencer of our culture. A recent updated TIME magazine lists Jesus as one of the “100 People Who Changed the World”. He’s on the cover with the Beatles, Mother Teresa, Hitler, and others.

I remember, many years ago, at the turn of the century- the millennium- TIME ran it’s normal “Person of the Year” cover story and then added, the “Person of the Millennium”. Guess who? You got it: Jesus Christ. I remember thinking, “Yes, and the millennium before that, and the one before that, and the millennium to come, and the one after that one…” Jesus is the central figure of all of human history.

So, “Who is Jesus?” remains the key question. Many Christians don’t realize that Jesus made His identity the focus of His teaching. Think about it: the central focus of His teaching was not a certain principle or truth, (in fact He said that He IS “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”). He personified Truth. Who He claimed to be was the central focus of His teaching and ultimately, their reasons for crucifying Him. This is why His question from Matthew 16:15,  “Who do you say I am?” echoes through time and space into our hearts today. This is the big question. And it’s a very personal question He’s asking: Who do you say He is?

Through the years it seems that we have drifted away from the biblical Jesus and preferred a safe, ethereal, sanitized Savior. It seems this has left many with no choice but to conclude that the stories about Him are myths and legends. For some, He doesn’t seem real or “now”.

This is not a new thing. Rudolf Bultmann, an influential German theologian and New Testament scholar – a prominent liberal voice in the 1800s – is best known for his concept of demythology – which was actually not what it sounds (a divesting or a “getting rid of”) the so-called mythological approach to the historical Jesus. Instead Bultmann advocated that theologians need to interpret, what he called, the mythological elements in the New Testament existentially. Meaning, he contended that faith in the kerygma or “teaching” and proclamation of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus. Or to say: You don’t need the historical Jesus to have faith.

But without the historic Jesus, He’s just a fairy tale. N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop and today’s leading New Testament scholar, said, “It’s been said often enough, but it bears repeating: without the real human (historical) Jesus of Nazareth, we are at the mercy of anybody who tells us that “Christ” is this, or that.” So through the eyes of the historical Jesus we see God for who He is – the sent and sending God. He is the God who is on mission, “up close and personal” in our world, throughout history, and is at work today. We say Jesus was the God-man. Perhaps the more accurate expression is that Jesus was “the God, in man”.

And indeed, a man with flesh and bone and blood running through His veins, given the name, Jesus. Non-Christian historian sources reveal the historicity of Jesus. The First Century Roman historian, Tacitus, others like Suetonius, wrote about Christus (Christ) and His crucifixion. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian writes of Jesus, as does Thallus and other government officials like Pliny the Younger, the Emperor Trajan, the historian Hadrian, and more Gentile and Jewish sources all wrote about Jesus and the emergence of the early church. Not long after His crucifixion (and resurrection), they immediately began gathering and worshipping Him as God. In fact, without the historical Jesus and His crucifixion there is no way to explain the birth of the Church in the First Century. There is no other explanation for it.

Without the historical Jesus, we tend to sanitize and tame Him by encasing Him in abstract theology. The idea is this: Let’s get our Christology right and then determine to put everything else at its service. In other words, let’s make sure that we understand who Jesus really is and then recalibrate who we are and all we do according to His character, His Person, and His life in us. In fact, let’s get our Christology right and then dare to place our deeply held desires for how to do church at its service. Not vice versa. Are we fundamentally aligned with Jesus’ purposes and His will for His community on earth? Let’s recover the absolute centrality of the Person of Jesus in defining who we are, as well as what we do.

If we do not recognize Jesus in His humanity we will see Him as distant, almost fictional, a kind of super hero or mythical character whom we may worship, but we will never follow. Some of us do not approach the Gospels in order to emulate Jesus but only to read stories about Him. A good place to start with a proper Christology is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

Transformed by His love, may we behold Him. And in-so-doing, be transformed by Him.

Christmas Presence – The Presence of Our Need

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Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift.

As a kid, you know it’s getting serious when mom says, “Wait until dad gets home.” At other times dad shows up when a child is in need or, as we’re older, when we have car trouble or a financial need. Dad shows up when there’s a big announcement or a surprise. Sometimes dad shows up just to save the day. When the Father has to show up in person, it’s always a big deal. Think about it: at that first Christmas, God had to show up. He came in Person, to set things right. He didn’t come angry (“for God so loved the world”), but He did come to bring justice, to set things straight – not to punish us, but to rescue us from our sin.

But He had to show up in Person? Christmas begs the question: Why? Why did Jesus come? Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:15-17:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift. “The true value of anything is known only when it is wanted.” J. B. Stoney

What did Jesus do? “… Christ Jesus came into the world…”

Matthew 1:23 says, He will be called, “’Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:14. This is Christmas presence. God showed up in Person.

Why did Jesus do it? “… to save sinners…” Christmas and the resulting Gospel, is not a gentle exhortation towards a more fulfilling life. It is the announcement of divine rescue from a life of self-destruction and an eternity in hell. The Good News of the Gospel is not that there is hope for you to change yourself, it’s that Jesus has “saved” you. This is why it’s not incidental that this story of redemption is called “Good News”. If it were merely information or a program for self-improvement, it would be called something else, like good advice or a good idea, or good enlightenment. Instead, Jesus came to SAVE sinners. Not improve them.

Reason and morality cannot show us a good and gracious God. For that, we need the Incarnation.

Why did He come in the flesh? - (Why the Incarnation?) Why did He have to show up in person? Couldn’t God (from heaven) just fix things? He came in the flesh:

  • to show us that God exists - How do you know God exists? He came here in person to tell us so, to show us that He does and how He would live “IN PERSON”
  • to empathize with us - to understand, to identify with us

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15 He came to sympathize with us- so that we would TRUST Him.

  • to live the perfect life on our behalf - He came not simply as our good example, He came as our perfect Substitute. He lived the perfect life FOR us, because we could not. God demands, not our progress, but perfection. And only in Christ is He satisfied.
  • to physically die on the Cross – This is why our Message is not, humanity and it improved, but “Christ and Him crucified”. Christ is not just our good example; He is our perfect Substitute.

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22

  • to physically be raised to life again
  • to be glorified in bodily form – Death results in the separation of the body and the soul. Our bodies go to the grave and our spirits go to the Lord. The separation continues until the resurrection. But w/ the Lord, He rose again, with a glorified body, the same as it was before & is now into eternity- and we will follow Him one day, at the final resurrection. He had to come in the flesh- to be born like us, to live, to die, & to be raised again, and to reign forever as the Risen King.

D.A. Carson: “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.”

What is my response? “… of whom I am the foremost…” Like Paul, we recognize our sinful state and humble ourselves before God. We will never truly celebrate Christmas until we realize how sinful we are. We will never be truly transformed by the Gospel until we realize how desperately we need a Savior.

For many of us, our greatest problem is not our badness but our goodness. We’ve concluded that “good people” are those who “do good” and “bad people” are those who “do bad”. Even our good works are done with sinful motives. Ironically, as theologian John Gerstner points out, “The main thing between you and God is not so much your sins; it’s your damnable good works. ”

Consider sin, not so much as breaking the rules, but putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge- through your own self-salvation project, it puts you in control. Sin is not as much about bad behavior up against good behavior. Sin is a condition of the heart. This is why we cannot rescue ourselves. Romans 3:23- “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, but that doesn’t stop us from measuring distances. We’ve forgotten that God demands perfection not progress. And He still does. Jesus came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. We say that we’re not saved by works but by grace, but many of do not believe that we’ve been saved by grace alone. We could say that we are saved by works, just not our own – we are saved because Christ fulfilled all of the crushing demands of God’s Law and He lived the perfect life on our behalf. In Christ, you are not defined by your past. You are defined by Jesus’ past. And His is perfect. Consider the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son. The older son was kept from the feast of salvation, not because of his remorse over his bad deeds, but pride in his good deeds.

When was the last time you realized your need? When was the last time you were truly broken over your sin? When was the last time you expressed your need for Him or thanked Him for it? The only thing that we bring to the table, is our sin that makes Christ’s sacrifice necessary for us.

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one?” – Romans 3:9-12. Christmas begins with the recognition of our great need for a Savior. Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift. It all starts with a recognition of our need. J. N. Darby, (a theologian/author in the 1800s) said it this way: “Wisdom and philosophy never found out God; He makes Himself known to us through our needs; necessity finds Him out. The sinner’s heart- yes, and the saint’s heart too- is put in its right place in this way.

“Necessity finds Him out.” Only in your need for God do you find Him. Do you live with a constant realization of your need for Him? If so, I know this about you: you are a worshipper. You live in constant gratitude for God’s grace to you. Let’s let Christmas Reminds you of your Greatest Need and your Greatest Gift. Christmas brings forth worship.

Paul’s response was worship: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” When you have an awesome dad, you know what you do- when he shows up to save the day? You praise him, you thank him. You talk about him. You tell all of your friends about him. You want everybody to meet him. God came in the flesh and the response of the angelic host was worship. Luke 2:14 says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

Christmas Reminds Us of Our Greatest Need and Our Greatest Gift.

We know whom to thank.

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Have you heard the one about the atheist who, on Thanksgiving Day, suddenly realized he had no one to thank? Thanksgiving is explicitly, a theist’s holiday. But it’s a good day for everyone to pause and to, “Know that the Lord, He is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture” Psalm 100:3.

The atheist must acknowledge that you cannot get something from nothing. It’s simple logic and it’s scientifically impossible. Nor can you get living matter from non-living matter. Scientifically impossible. Simple cause and effect is proof of the existence of God. Every effect must have a cause and God is the Cause of all things. This means that He has created us and we are His. God has created us to seek Him and to find Him. We were created to worship Him.

Herein lies the challenge for the atheist. To acknowledge God ultimately means you are accountable to Him. For many, this comes as bad news. Initially, for all of us, this is bad news. Because we all know intuitively that, if there is a God, He is holy, just, and all powerful. We know God exists but we do not want to acknowledge Him. Romans 1:21 says, “Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” But to those who understand the Gospel, this is Good News. Though He is holy and demands perfection, we know that Jesus has lived the perfect life on our behalf. He has fulfilled all of the crushing demands of God’s Law for us. He died on the cross for our sin and became the perfect sacrifice for all who would receive His gift of grace. He rose again, conquering death and hell so that we might live in power over sin and experience the freedom of living as God created to, all to His glory.

We know whom to thank. Don’t miss this. In the midst of all that is Thanksgiving, enjoy all the great gifts of God’s grace, but pause to acknowledge Him as the Giver of these gifts. The greatest of which is the gift of Himself in the Person of Jesus. May thanksgiving give rise to great hope that the God who has so richly provided for us will continue to reveal His grace to us as it continues to increase for all eternity as He shows us “the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2:7.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”- Ephesians 1:3. The grace we’ve seen thus far is only a taste of the grace that is to come. Practice your thanksgiving now. Be ready for much more to come. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever”- Pslam 136:1.

Happy Thanksgiving.