[Excuse the grainy picture taken with my iPhone from a distance in the dark]
Over the past two days, I have attended the Move Conference at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marrietta, Georgia. This has been one of the best church-based missions conferences that I have ever been too and I highly recommend attending next year if you can (early March, 2017). Yesterday, Dr. Russell Moore came and spoke about ministry to immigrants and refugees. I typed out these notes as a summary (not direct quotes, necessarily) on my phone and wanted to reproduce them here for posterity. I do not claim that these are Dr. Moore’s words verbatim, so if there is anything out of place, it is my fault, not his. He preached a truly incredible message.
Listening to @russellmoore speak strongly on the global migrant/refugee crisis from Luke 10:25-37 – the Parable of the Good Samaritan at Johnson Ferry Baptist’s Move Conference in Atlanta.
What is your gospel? The lawyer seeks to put Jesus to the test, just like the devil did when tempting Jesus in the Wilderness. Jesus responded by pressing the lawyer until he reached a crisis. The lawyer sought to justify himself. He said he wanted eternal life, but he didn’t. He actually wanted the life he is living now with the same priorities for eternity. God won’t let that happen, though. We all want our agenda, our priorities, and our safety forever. – and we have sanctified that in Bible Belt spirituality in the South. The lawyer wants all of his same priorities and life until he dies, and then he wants Heaven at the end. The lawyer thinks he has done everything right. But, the man’s sin nature is keeping him from God and Jesus breaks through that by exposing him to the needs of others. How will he respond?
Our response to Jesus is demonstrated in how we respond to the most vulnerable around us. The presence of migrants/refugees in our midst is a way that we are given a chance to either respond to God in faith or to reject Him. “As you have done to the least of these, my brother, you have done to me.”
Who is my neighbor? The priest and the Levite ignore the man beaten on the side of the road because of common sense – they had every reason to believe that they would be attacked next. There might have been theives and robbers hiding in the caves waiting for them to assist the beaten man so they could then attack them. The road from Jerusalem down to Jericho was notorious as a dangerous road filled with theives waiting to attack travelers. So, fear and common sense led them to keep going. Fear causes us to bypass the vulnerable and those in need, like refugees.
Who is my neighbor? But, a Samaritan came by and cared for him. Jesus didn’t answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” He flipped it around to “who is the neighbor to the beaten man?” We always assume that we are the central actor in our story. The Samaritan is a character in the beaten man’s story. The refugee, migrant, sojourner, poor, vulnerable around you are NOT bit characters in YOUR story. YOU are characters in their story – you will either be one showing mercy or you will be one walking by because of fear. The Samaritan shows extravagant grace to the beaten man. He gets involved, bandages wounds, and provides till his return.
Who is my neighbor is not a question that I get to define. God defines it for me by putting people in my path who are in need. The Samaritans were considered enemies of the Jewish people. They did not give aid to Israel when they could have. They were heretical. Jesus uses THAT man as an example. The Great Commission means that we are joined with God’s mission. His mission does not begin at Pentecost – we are joined to God’s mission at Pentecost. We can avoid God’s Mission by hyperspiritualizing it and making it only about speaking the gospel to people. But, we are to also love our neighbor as ourselves. We do that as we love them completely and holistically. Yes, we speak the message of the gospel to them, but we speak the gospel while we also help them with their physical and emotional needs. We love people by caring for them in whatever situation they are in. We enter into people’s sin and rebellion against God and we are so confident in our gospel that we are able to love sacrificially and tell them and show them Jesus without fear.
Are we to be afraid of people of other religions or who are sinful? No. Jesus came for the sick and sinners, not the “healthy” and the “righteous.” Everyone that we meet, no matter what their situation, is someone made in God’s image who has the potential to be a co-heir with Jesus if the gospel would go to them and they would receive it. The Lawyer asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” There is another man who asks that – – TheThief on a Cross. Jesus not only tells a story about a man who joins with the vulnerable, but He IS that man when he is on the Cross next to the Thief. Jesus meets the vulnerable – meets us – and calls us to join Him. How much of our gospel is just theology and how much is the power of God? We will know on the Day of Judgment when God separates the Sheep from the Goats (last half of last sentence mine).
We need to do more work on this issue. The Bible talks about ministry to immigrants, migrants, sojourners, and refugees at least 92 times directly and dozens more time indirectly. I am coming to believe that Immigrant/Refugee Ministry is a legitimate subset of missiology, ecclesiology, and even soteriology and our sanctification as God is telling us something significant through the presence of sojourners and His commands to us regarding our response to them. I am coming to believe that how we treat the sojourners is directly related to how we see God and how we walk with Him. There is also a Matthew 24 Principle related to violence, disaster, persecution, and false teaching leading to open doors for the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom that needs to be unpacks. Genesis 12. Acts 17. Revelation 7. Over and over again we see God saying something that is easy to miss if we don’t have eyes to see. It is time to unpack that.
My friend, Father Patrick Driscoll, a Catholic priest in Montgomery, recently wrote an OpEd in our local paper, the Montgomery Advertiser, on a Catholic perspective on the Immigrant/Refugee. I was able to assist some on this in the editing and I was glad to do so, as I learned so much more about what Catholics teach on this issue. From that experience, I really believe that we need to work through this more from a theological perspective that goes beyond simple compassion and pity for those in need. I plan to do that.
Thankful for Dr. Moore and Fr. Driscoll and so many others working through these things from different perspectives.