Thursday, September 24, 2015

Refugees, Immigrants and Aliens

I grew up in South Florida during the height of the Cuban and Haitian refugee crises. I now live in Texas which is one of several states facing an immigration crisis from Mexico. In the news we see images of a massive exodus of Syrian refugees. It seems that at any given point of time, many in our world are transient. While growing up, and into a good part of my adulthood, my family moved an average of every 3-4 years.  There was a period of two years in which my wife, my daughter and I moved six times! We have lived where we are now for eight years: the longest any of the four of us (including our son now) have lived one place.

God commanded Abram (later Abraham) to get up and go without knowing where he was going. God told him that He'd let him know when he got there. Abram ended up in the Promised Land, the land of Canaan after he allowed his nephew Lot to have the land of his choice. However, if you know the story, then you know that Abram's descendants would not stay there. Abram would have Isaac and Isaac would have Jacob and Esau and then Jacob had twelve sons, one of which was Joseph. Joseph, ended up in Egypt by way of a plot of his brothers. Joseph's presence in Egypt was God's providence for the Israelites (Abraham's descendants) in the midst of a famine.  The Israelites ended up in Egypt for 400 years before they would have to be delivered by God and then they ended up wandering as a nomadic people for another 40 years due to their disobedience. Israel was transient.

Even when Israel entered the Promised Land, they had difficulty following through with taking possession. One reason for this was that they became comfortable with what they had. They did not press on toward obtaining the full promise that God had made. Another reason was that they forgot what God (the only true God) had done for them and they began to serve the false gods of the other nations in the land: the people they were supposed to destroy (not because they were a different nationality, but because they were pagan and refused to follow God).

When God called Abraham, He made a promise:  "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice" (Genesis 22:18).  This promise and the story summarized above was the beginning of God's plan to offer salvation to the world. If you follow the bloodline of Abraham, you will eventually arrive at the birth of Jesus Christ. This was the advent of God coming to earth in human form in order to die on the cross to pay for all sins of all people for all time. This is the offer God makes to mankind, but it is a gift that has been offered. It must be received by each individual in order to enjoy the benefits.

However, once the gift is received, it displaces the one who receives it. You see, the one who comes to God, must come as one who needs refuge (a refugee).  Why refuge? Because we have offended God by sinning against Him. Because He is a perfect and righteous Judge, His wrath is pointed at us while we remain in our sinful state. So we run to Him for refuge from Him. It's an unusual relationship because the One who was offended (God) by our sin, is the very One who provides the refuge through forgiveness provided by Jesus' death on the cross (Romans 5:9).

Once we run to God, then we become citizens of His kingdom and instantaneously become aliens of this world (Ephesians 2:19, 1 Peter 1:1, 1 Peter 2:11). A "separation" forms between a follower of Christ and those who do not follow Him. Pay attention closely though: this separation is not an elevation. Christians are not better than non-Christians, just different. Christians are called to be holy, which means to be set apart, different (1 Peter 1:14-16).  That is why many non-Christians are uncomfortable with Christians: because we are attempting to display God's holiness and when we are successful, we remind them of their sin and that is an uncomfortable feeling. I know I don't like it when I am doing something wrong and it is obvious to those around me.

However, believers must be careful that in attempting to live a holy life, we do not project the idea that we can or have accomplished this by our own ability. We must constantly stay close to God in His Word (the Bible) and in prayer so that we can accurately reflect His holiness. He puts it in us, we don't achieve it. The moment we start looking away from God, then we become prideful and self-righteous.

While believers are to strive for holiness, we must be sure to remember that we cannot expect someone who is not a follower of Christ to live like we live. We can only expect that person to live like we did before we surrendered to Christ, according to our own desires.

Think of it this way: When you visit a foreign country, you cannot go into their country and demand that they speak your language or conform to your cultural norms. You go in understanding that you will have to adapt to their cultural norms. In some cases you may even prepare beforehand so you can communicate effectively with the people of that country. However, you usually don't stay long enough for their norms to become comfortable to you.

On the other hand, if while you are in that foreign country you meet a new friend that is native to that land and you see that they have a need that could be met if they would return with you to your country, then you can invite them. You would work to prepare them for what they will need to do in order to adapt to the cultural norms of your country. However, you still cannot expect them to accept those changes if they have not first accepted your invitation.

With this imagery in mind try to develop this mindset: If you are a Christian, you are an alien in a foreign land and while you may not be able to, nor should you, adapt to all the cultural norms of the land, you can see the particular needs of the people around you and show them (through Scripture) what those needs are and invite them to come home with you. Your home has unlimited resources as well as a perfect, benevolent King who desires to lavish His love upon all who will come.

So, don't get comfortable here. Keep striving toward the full promises of God and invite as many as you can to return with you so they can benefit as well.  There are blessings far beyond what we can see or even imagine (Ephesians 3:201-21).

If you are not a Christian, what keeps you from accepting the offer of God's unlimited grace and the inheritance of His kingdom? If you are a believer, what have you become too comfortable with during your stay here? What do you need to do to prepare for your trip home to the Father's kingdom?

Feel free to leave comments or contact me via email:

For God's Glory,

Chris S. Sweet

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