Seeking Refuge – A Commonsense Look at the Syrian Refugee Crisis

It is with great trepidation that I enter this conversation because I recognize that I do so at my own peril.  There have been voices on all sides of this conversation, and unfortunately, people too frequently respond with vitriol.  My goal is to not create a forum for people to spew political rhetoric or make emotional appeals, but for evangelicals to think critically and rationally about these issues.  But first, let me detail my own bias.

I do not trust the Obama Administration.  The “most transparent administration in history” has been immersed in scandal after scandal.  From the State Department’s inability to secure email to the IRS targeting political enemies to the DOJ giving free guns to Mexican drug cartels to the  DHHS and their inability to build a website.  This is a short list of the most “non-contested” incompetencies.  We have a 7-year track record observing our President’s Executive Branch at work, and my honest evaluation has left me with zero confidence in this Administration.  That’s not political, it is just reality.  When it comes to the potential for terrorists to use the refugee population as a “Trojan Horse,” how can we honestly expect an incompetent, corrupt executive branch to be able to appropriately and thoroughly investigate potential refugees?  Though the investigation is ongoing, a passport found near one of the attackers in Paris suggests that the terrorist may have infiltrated the country as a refugee.  That fact is further affirmed as the news is filled with “Syrian refugees” being arrested with fake or stolen travel documents in Turkey, Honduras, Saint MaartenTexas and other locations that likely have not yet surfaced.  If you can’t tell, I’m a little leery of rolling out a red, white, and blue carpet for Syrian refugees.

However, I do believe it is possible to think through this issue biblically and rationally without interference from my own personal bias.  At the same time, I acknowledge that well-meaning people have fallen on both sides of the conversation.  When there is deep divides among believers on issues, it may very well be that the right path is down the middle.  My goal is to find the middle and shine more light on that particular path.

Authority & Purpose

As American Christians, we recognize that there are two very distinct jurisdictions in which we dwell.  The tangible jurisdiction is human government.  It manifests in various ways – from homeowners associations to the Federal Government.  In this particular issue, the Federal Government is the focus of our conversation.  In Romans 13:3-4, the Apostle Paul said, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.”  Paul suggests that government exists for “your good.”  To whom does that “your” refer?  He is obviously talking to the recipients of his letter, the Roman Church.  I’m quite certain that the emperor did not always get this right, but it is clear that God’s design for government is that is exists for the good of its citizens.  

Our own Constitution defines the purpose of our government thusly:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It is evident from the Preamble of our Constitution that the role of the federal government is to provide for the common defense and promote the general Welfare” for “ourselves and our Posterity.”  It is perfectly reasonable, therefore, for American citizens to demand that our government do things that are necessary to protect American citizens from those who would seek to do them harm.

The second jurisdiction in which we dwell is God’s Kingdom.  As Christians, our responsibility to this jurisdiction is ensuring that the good news of God’s Kingdom is spread to the ends of the earth.  This Good News ignores national borders and is unconcerned with national security.  It embraces people of every tribe and every language.  It is color blind and is unfazed by economics.  It is no respecter of persons.

We must recognize that these two jurisdictions coexist.  Most of the time, they coexist peacefully.  Sometimes, they contradict.

Because our feet are planted in both jurisdictions, we frequently make mistakes in our thinking.  Our first mistake is that we often forget that the government is not expected to do the job of the church.  The State cannot share the Gospel, baptize converts, disciple believers, plant churches, or send missionaries.  That’s not to say that the State can be unjust or unethical or that the State is free from the influence of the Church, but even the most just, ethical, moral governments are not able to fulfill the obligations of the church.  Likewise, the church is not well equipped to do the job of the State.   Though many Christians would gladly take up arms to defend the State, the Church does not have the authority of the sword that God gave to the State.  A second mistake is that we are prone allow our allegiance to the State to overshadow our allegiance to the Kingdom.  We are Christian Americans, not American Christians.  We are free to serve the State as long as the State’s requirements do not cause us to disobey the Lord, but in those times when serving Caesar requires that we reject King Jesus, we always obey King Jesus first.

A Double Crisis

The Syrian refugee crisis touches in both jurisdictions.  This is why there is such a deep divide, particularly among evangelicals.  The State is obligated to protect her citizens, but there is more than little evidence that the current refugee population may pose legitimate security risks.  FBI Director James Comey said in a congressional hearing last month, “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this.”

Likewise Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper said, “I don’t, obviously, put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees, so that’s a huge concern of ours.”  He called the potential for ISIS operatives infiltrating the refugee population “a disaster of biblical proportions.

In spite of the guarantee of a thorough vetting process by the Administration, the actual law enforcement officers involved in the process have expressed legitimate concerns.  If the State is responsible for the security of her citizens, then there are legitimate reasons to believe that bringing Syrian refugees to the United States is a risky move.  We need to remember that President Obama suspended an Iraqi refugee resettlement program in 2011 amid similar security concerns.

At the same time, the refugee situation falls within the Kingdom jurisdiction.  There are few Christians among the refugee population. Therefore, the refugees represent a group of people who desperately need to hear the Gospel.  They have lost their homes, their homeland, and have been displaced  into places and cultures that are completely unfamiliar. They are struggling through physical needs and the church stands well equipped to help those very real physical needs and even better equipped to meet the spiritual needs of the thousands of refugees.  Just like those affected by natural disasters or other crises, we know that we have an amazing opportunity to give hope to the hopeless through Jesus.

Therein lies the conflict.  In the government sphere, it is completely reasonable for the State to take actions that ensure the safety of its citizens.  When the State refuses to take those necessary actions, then the citizens of that State have a right to question the intentions of the governing authorities.  In the Kingdom sphere, we should find ourselves eager to love and serve the nations, even as the nations are relocating to our own backyard.

This means both sides have a point…

This means that government officials who are nervous about bringing in refugees because of the security risks are right to think that way.  That is not being unChristian or lacking compassion, it is simply being sensitive to the situation at hand.  If a government entity or official is acting out of their God-given and Constitutionally mandated responsibility to protect the citizens of the State from the demonstrable risk of terrorism, then it is wrong to vilify them.  It is certainly your prerogative to disagree with them, but not to demonize them.

But this also means that Christians who are acting out of compassion who wish to “rescue the perishing” are also right.  In fact, one could fathom, in this particular situation, a Christian member of Congress who is opposed to bringing Syrian refugees into the United States and sponsors legislation to stop refugee resettlement, but at the same time gives a generous financial contribution to his church’s efforts to evangelize the refugees who are already here.

What is inappropriate is when an official of the State acts against prudence and endangers the citizens of the nation.  Likewise, when a Christian allows fear and/or prejudice to cloud his Kingdom vision for spreading the Gospel, then a needed correction should take place.

How Should We Respond?

First, we need to have all the facts.  As with most criminal investigations, the story develops over time as more facts are known.  We are quick to reach a verdict without having all the information.  This story is still ongoing.  French police are still conducting raids.  Arrests are still taking place.  We honestly don’t know how polluted the refugee population is with jihadis.  It is good to have all the information before we rush to judgments.  Likewise, we need to listen to trustworthy experts and reliable media.  Just like I have a bias against our current administration, much of the media that people trust is biased in the other direction.  This is only prudent to do so

Secondly, we must stop making emotional appeals and encourage people to listen rationally to the truth.  Placing pictures of Syrian children on social media does not help bring people to a well-reasoned conclusion.  There are children sleeping in rotten places all over the world.  A trip to your local DFACS could likely yield a picture that is just as heart-wrenching.  The President accusing Republicans of being afraid of Syrian widows and orphans only serves to deepen the divide, not come to a responsible compromise.  Accusing people of fear and islamophobia only creates resentment and comes nowhere near anything helpful.

Thirdly, we have to stop misusing Scriptures.  I have never seen so many misquoted, misrepresented scripture texts.  It’s like we looked up every biblical reference on hospitality and taking care of the poor so we could use it in the arsenal of our arguments.  Christians are expected to exude hospitality – but that doesn’t mean that you are required to open the door when the thief comes knocking.  Nations are in a different boat.  They certainly aren’t prohibited from open borders, but they aren’t required either.  Remember, the United States is NOT the nation of Israel.  Israel caring for the sojourner is not a biblical commendation for a weak immigration policy.

Finally, we must take advantage of every opportunity to share the Gospel.  The only hope a refugee has is to trust Jesus Christ as Savior, not just as a prophet.  Apparently, 2,000 or so refugees have already resettled in the US.  If you live near one of these refugees, then you have got to ask yourself the question, “How do I love my new neighbor?”  Loving them supremely means doing what you can to keep them out of hell.  If we ignore them, then the reality is they will likely never assimilate into our culture.  When that happens, then it is easy for these unassimilated communities to become hotbeds for radicalization.  Even if you are opposed to refugee resettlement, you are not exempt from doing what is necessary to love your neighbor.  So if your church does some sort of mission work focused on refugees, you must not allow political opinions to cloud your judgment of that work or prevent you from participating.  We are not exempt from the Great Commission simply because we disagree politically with the decisions that opened the door for ministry among a refugee population.

A Middle Ground

I mentioned earlier about trying to illuminate the middle pathway.  The middle ground in this case means not moving refugees around the world.  In my mind, this makes a lot of sense, especially when one considers the high birthrate of Muslim populations.  There is an inherent risk to host populations to relocate large numbers of Muslims, particularly when those large numbers do not assimilate into the host culture.  The Center for Immigration Studies, recommends keeping refugees close to their homes.  They said in a recently published document entitled The High Cost of Resettling Middle Eastern Refugees: 

  • On average, each Middle Eastern refugee resettled in the United States costs an estimated $64,370 in the first five years, or $257,481 per household.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has requested $1,057 to care for each Syrian refugee annually in most countries neighboring Syria.
  • For what it costs to resettle one Middle Eastern refugee in the United States for five years, about 12 refugees can be helped in the Middle East for five years, or 61 refugees can be helped for one year.

From an economic standpoint, more refugees can be helped if that help happens closer to their home.  When the conflict is finished, then they can return home and begin rebuilding.  If they are resettled in developed countries, the reality is that these refugees will frequently be dependent on the welfare system, becoming a greater economic strain on the host nation’s fiscal wellbeing.  That certainly cannot be the only consideration in the conversation, but it is one that needs to be had.  When a country is approaching $19 trillion in debt, real conversations about fiscal responsibility are needed before taking on additional fiscal liabilities.

We simply need to remember prudence in the conversation.  Prudence does not equate fear or fear-mongering.  It equals, what the Center for Immigration Studes calls a “wise welcome.”  There’s nothing unChristian about looking for wisdom.

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Seeing Red (Cups…from Starbucks)

I don’t really like Starbucks – other than the occasional cinnamon dolce latte or the chestnut praline latte during the Christmas season.  If you said, “Let’s go grab a cup of coffee,” I would rather head to Dunkin’.  I’m sure Dunkin’ Donuts has their own share of corporate sins, but let me just remain in the dark for now.

I’m not a huge fan of Starbucks’ coffee.  I’m really not a fan of their CEO, Howard Schultz, either.  His support for “marriage equality” and other liberal social policies flies in the face of my conservative, evangelical values.  Then again, no one asked my opinion about Mr. Schultz when he was made CEO.  It just so happens that I am writing this on a Mac, while sending out the occasional iMessage from my iPhone.  Both of which are produced by a tech company that shares many of the same corporate values as Starbucks.  Just a hunch, but I don’t expect that too many evangelicals left their iPhones at the front door of Apple’s Cupertino HQ after the SCOTUS ruling this summer.

Well, here we are.  November.  The pumpkins have given way to twinkling lights.  The malls have erected the thrones on which Santa’s stand-in helpers will sit for the next 6 weeks.  Companies, just like Apple and Starbucks, are looking to make a fortune.  Marketing specialists have been gearing up store displays to lure in shoppers.  Sales are planned. Inventories are stocked.  It is Capitalism on steroids.  And the likelihood is high that evangelicals will join in all the fun.  Starbucks, a company ran by a liberal, Jewish, Democrat, has decided to tap into the holiday hysteria by replacing their normal white paper cup with…a RED CUP.  It is a subtle change.  The color of the cups will blend in so well with the traditional Christmas hues of red and green.  There’s only one catch.  They don’t say Merry Christmas.  There’s not even a reindeer or an elf or a bough of holly.  We can’t even get a snowflake.  Just red.  This has left a lot of evangelicals seeing red.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a conservative.  I am fairly confident that I am on some government watchlist because of my conservative values.  But are we really bent out of shape over this?  Really?  Let’s put this in context.

Starbucks is ran by a liberal Jewish man.  He is in no way obligated to celebrate Christmas as a person or to lead his company to recognize the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  In fact, he could put a menorah on the cups and it would be a more accurate reflection of his religious persuasion.  But as a CEO, he wants to make money and make his shareholders happy, happy, happy.  Why not tap into the cash-cow called Christmas with a festive-colored coffee cup and make more money?  But knowing what we know about Schultz, why would we expect him to celebrate the birth of Jesus?  After all, he’s not looking for evangelicals to celebrate Hanukkah.  Unfortunately, this feigned outrage over coffee cups has left us looking rather ridiculous.  Think about it for just a moment.

What about Hobby Lobby?  The Green Family are outspoken evangelicals.  They have rightly defended their faith all the way to the Supreme Court.  They can make whatever decision they want to about what to sell in their stores.  I’ve been in Hobby Lobby many times and I have never once seen a Ramadan display.  Muslims aren’t protesting Hobby Lobby because they don’t recognize one of the pillars of their religion.  If they don’t like it, they don’t shop there.

Chick-fil-a?  They close every Sunday – even in the mall restaurants – even during the Christmas season.  That’s money left on the table.  But the Cathy Family isn’t worried about it.  They’re content with 6 days of revenue (and pent up demand from everyone having a CFA craving on Sunday afternoon).  No one is demanding that they open on Sunday.  And if a mall demands that they open, they’re more than happy to close the store and take their business elsewhere.

If the government came along and told Hobby Lobby that they had to sell Islamic-themed merchandise or told Chick-fil-a that they were being forced to open on Sundays, evangelicals could be rightly upset.  Is our outrage over a company putting their coffee in red cups really appropriate?

If we would put our outrage in a global perspective, we might find ourselves a little less offended.  For example, in Syria, Christians are being beheaded, burned at the stake, and crucified by ISIS.  I suspect when one is nailed to a cross, a venti chestnut praline latte in a red cup is not in the forefront of one’s mind.  Besides, they would have to travel all the way to Kuwait, Turkey, or Israel to find one.

We have got to learn a very critical lesson as evangelicals – we cannot be bullies and expect people to respect the message of the Gospel.  That’s not to say we don’t stand up for what we believe.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do everything we can to defend religious liberty in our country.  But religious liberty requires that Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-a, and Starbucks can run their companies on whatever religious basis they choose.  If Starbucks decided to put Satanist symbols on their cups, that’s their prerogative.  Probably not the best business decision, but it is their business, they can run it how they want.  Then we are left with the “first-world-problem” of where to purchase our expresso.

It is certainly disappointing to see our world attempting to remove any Christian nuance from the celebration of Christmas.  No matter how you change it, for Christians, Christmas will always be about Christ, even if it is celebrated in secrecy in some future that has been sanitized of all public displays of religion.  Evangelicals must remember, the Kingdom of God is not defined by snowflakes or gingerbread men on a coffee cup.  If you’re bothered by Starbucks actions, you are certainly entitled to that opinion.  In the same way, you are entitled to buy your coffee elsewhere (or brew your own and give the money you save to a missions agency).  But we had better beware of our Capitalist hypocrisy.  If you’re sending ugly Tweets about Starbucks from an iPhone, consider yourself busted!

Lastly, before you make a video of yourself trolling Starbucks, think about how the world will watch your video.  Will your actions draw people to faith in Christ, or push them away?  From what I’m seeing on Twitter, no one is really impressed with our outrage.

Oh, by the way.  If you’re buying your cup of coffee from Starbucks, and you tell them your name is Merry Christmas, just remember this.  You may be offended by the lack of snowflakes and Santa’s, but you’re ensuring that Howard Schultz will have a very merry Christmas…all the way to the bank.

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Comet Catching for the Glory of God

On Wednesday of this past week, we witnessed a monumental moment in the history of scientific discovery: the European Space Agency landed a man-made spacecraft on a comet.  I must admit, I was (and still am) impressed.  Scientists flew the Rosetta Spacecraft for ten years, over hundreds of millions of miles through the solar system, using gravitational boosts from Earth and Mars to give the craft the speed necessary to intercept Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  Rosetta’s mission was to escort the comet on its journey around the sun.

If that isn’t enough, Rosetta also carried a landing module with it.  The Philae landing module is roughly the size of a washing machine and is equipped with “harpoons.”  Those harpoons are designed to spear the comet to keep Philae secure on its trek around the sun.  On Wednesday, Philae landed.  Engineers believed the craft bounced twice before finally coming to rest.  By Wednesday evening, Philae had sent the first photograph of a comet’s surface back to earth.   Considering the Wright brothers historic “first” flight took place merely 111 years ago, catching up to a comet near the orbit of Jupiter and landing on said comet this week is astonishing.

But why?  The Rosetta mission has involved some 2,000 individuals, and has cost in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion.  Some have given more than a decade of their lives to this mission.  One of the European Space Agency’s stated goals for this mission is to seek answers to the question of life’s origins.  Perhaps, if they can find organic molecules on the comet, then they can validate the theory of “comet seeding” – that comets provided the raw organic materials necessary for life to begin on our planet.

I am impressed with the faith of anyone who is willing to invest that much of their life and expertise to chase such a far-fetched theory.  Even if organic molecules are found on a comet, there is still a colossal leap of faith to get from carbon on a comet to people on a planet.  Personally, I am a fan of space exploration.  Captain Kirk said it best on Star Trek: that we should “boldly go where no man has gone before.”  But in exploring “strange new worlds,” we are not going to find an answer contrary to the one that God has already given us.

Mankind has spent innumerable resources in an attempt to answer the question of our origin.  From the Large Hadron Collider built in Europe at the cost of nearly $10 billion to the $1.6 billion Rosetta spacecraft to the countless other experiments performed over the last century, they have all left scientists unable to come up with any reasonable answer to the two most important questions – where did the stuff of the universe come from and how did living stuff come from non-living stuff.

Thankfully, the answers to those questions can be found – not buried in a comet – but in the first sentence spoken to us by our Creator God – “in the beginning, God created the heaven’s and the earth.”  Out of nothing, He created everything.  You see, I’m all in favor of landing spacecraft on comets – not so we can find a different answer than the one God already gave about our origin, but to see the Heavens declaring the glory of God from a front-row seat.

In Christ,

Pastor Brian

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Has the Church Helped Break Marriage?

If you followed the news at all over the past couple of weeks, then you know that the Supreme Court refused to hear cases stemming from several states’ same-sex marriage bans.  By refusing to hear these cases, the rulings made by the lower Federal courts that turned over the bans now stand, giving same-gendered couples the immediate right to seek marriage licenses in their respective states, as well as in the states under the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts.  This is a big deal – especially as cases are heard in both the 11th Circuit and 5th Circuit.  For those of us who live in Georgia, this means that there is a three-judge panel that will soon decide to maintain a traditional definition of marriage or change it to suit the culture’s demand for change.  As Christians who are called to be salt in light in our culture – even if the culture is growing ever darker, how should we respond to this issue?

As you pray about these developments in our country, I think It is important that we recognize three important realities.  First, as much as it grieves us to see people make lifestyle choices that are in opposition to God’s word, we must recognize that it is their choice to make.  We can speak the truth with them, share the Gospel with them, plead with them to repent, but ultimately, sinners have to choose their pathway in life.  Some will choose life, some will choose death, but all must choose.  The homosexual, the fornicator, the thief, the alcoholic, and the addict must make their choice in life just as you did. Christians should not have disdain for sinners, but should lovingly plead with them to choose Jesus, not their sin.

Secondly, we have to recognize that evangelicals are at a clear impasse on this issue.  Homosexuality has been around a long time.  But modern societies have never sought to legitimize it as they are today.  The more homosexuality is mainstreamed, the more it will come into conflict with Christians who are seeking to live their lives, run their businesses, educate their children from a biblical perspective.  Already, homosexuality is being integrated into secular educational curriculum around the country.  We have already seen business owners forced to sacrifice their religious liberty to facilitate the marriages of homosexuals.  These business owners simply chose not to participate in those marriage ceremonies due to their Christian consciences.  They suffered social, political and judicial persecution as a result.

Thirdly, we need to recognize that the RAPID movement toward same-sex marriage is only the most recent symptom in a disease that we have been suffering with for a long time.  We have created a climate where marriage has become little more than a social contract.  It is very difficult for Christians to claim moral high ground in the marriage debate because we have allowed marriage to become a fairly flimsy institution in our own rank and file.  As we have watched over the last century, we have seen our own divorce rates match the divorce rates of nonbelievers.  We have tolerated (in some cases, celebrated) the cohabitation of our young adults.  Not to mention our problems with adultery and fornication that go unchecked.  We are very loud critics of the homosexual agenda, without having much to say about our own marriage problems.  It is a wise time for the evangelical church to own these issues, lovingly engage in church discipline to help correct these issues, and publicly repent for worrying more about the splinters in the eyes of those outside the church while ignoring the rather large planks protruding from our own eyes.  Marriage may be getting “redefined” by our judicial system, but the church has unwittingly contributed to the new definition.

If this latest cultural development does anything, let it first cause us to redouble our efforts to improve the health of the evangelical marriage.  Let our children see the benefit of a dad and mom who are madly in love with one another.  In all things, let the church’s example to the culture reveal how much better things are when done God’s way – including marriage.  The first step to transforming the world is transforming ourselves.

In Christ,

Pastor Brian

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Goodbye

facebook-bullet-holeIt’s over.  We are THROUGH!  It’s been fun, but it really isn’t working out anymore.  Yes, it is true – I’m breaking it off.

No, I’m not breaking up with a high school sweetheart.  I’m not severing a troubled friendship.  I’m saying goodbye to something that I have had an on-again, off-again relationship with: Facebook.  This is a personal decision, not one that I encourage others to make without careful and prayerful consideration.  But it is my decision nonetheless.  Over the last few weeks, I have found myself increasingly frustrated with the global social empire and its intrusion into my life.

There are both spiritual and nonspiritual reasons for this decision. First, the nonspiritual.  Facebook is greedy for my information.  They want to use my information so that advertisers are able to target me with incredible specificity.  Recently, Facebook asked for permission to use the contact database in my phone and to have unparalleled access to the functions of my phone.  Facebook wanted to be in every aspect of my life.  No. Thank. You.

But there are spiritual reasons as well.  My prayer is that my struggles can encourage you, or at least give you something to think about in terms of your social media use.

I have noticed in my life a dangerous propensity toward pride.  The Lord used Facebook to truly shine a light on it.  I found myself posting and participating in an attempt to make more of myself while I should be making more of Christ.  Pride is when I magnify myself instead of magnifying Jesus.  When the ice bucket challenge was going on.  I found myself motivated to participate, not by compassion, but by pride.  I appears that I wasn’t the only one.  It seems frequently, many people kept trying to use colder water, bigger buckets, more dangerous stunts to “outdo” the person who nominated them.  One guy even posted a video of himself dumping liquid nitrogen over his head!  Keep in mind, I can only judge my own heart and motives, not the motives of the millions of people who dumped ice water on their heads.  However, in my judgment, I found pride lurking dangerously in the recesses of my heart.

I have also noticed a very critical spirit in my life.  If you know me, you know that our government, politicians, and culture frustrate me greatly.  I have found that social media provides a public forum for me to be super critical with people who are like-minded.  Instead of praying for those in authority over us, we blast them on Facebook and cheer one another on while doing it.  That doesn’t mean that I have become a fan of our politicians, but it does mean that I am trying to learn to pray for them before I level criticism against them.

I have also noticed that Facebook is becoming a place for argumentative people to argue without discernment or discretion.  Keyboards and LCD screens give us a troubling sense of security and invincibility.  Somebody posted publicly on Facebook a few weeks ago a rant against another driver who cut them off on Hwy. 154.  They listed the vehicle description and the tag number in the rant.  Did the poor driver make a mistake? Certainly. But I have a feeling that the complainer wouldn’t have had the same tone in a face-to-face conversation.  I miss the good ol’ days – when you actually had to deal with real people to settle disputes rather than their electronic avatars.

I won’t be deleting my account as it is tied to our church’s Facebook page.  That is still a meaningful way of engaging folks.  But if you need me, feel free to email me, text me, call me, OR actually speak to me in person.  I’m unplugging just a little bit.  It may not work for you, but it is certainly the direction I need to go!

In Christ,

Pastor Brian

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Religious Liberty Sunday

Many folks are interested in Religious Liberty, especially as they wait to hear how the SCOTUS rules in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby.  There are numerous groups that are working to protect our liberties, particularly our religious liberty.  In today’s culture, religious liberty questions are most commonly being raised in regard to the homosexual agenda and right-to-life issues.  Many have likened the homosexual movement as the new front on the Civil Rights Movement.  The inherent danger in this is that the bible never condemns on the basis skin color, BUT it is very clear on the problems of sexual sin – fornication, homosexuality, adultery, etc.  DesiringGod.org posted a fantastic article explaining why homosexuality is particularly threatening in today’s culture.  You can access that article here.

Southern Baptists have been, and I hope will continue to be, adamant defenders of Religious Liberty.  Section 17 of the Baptist Faith & Message explains the SBC’s commitment to religious liberty.

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

If you would like to read more about religious liberty, and the fight that is taking place in the court system to defend religious liberty, I would commend the following sites to you…

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Family Research Council exists to defend a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.

The Alliance Defending Freedom is a division of the FRC that helps provide legal counsel and representation to individuals and entities who are victims of religious discrimination.

ReligiousHostility.org is a database that has collected of more than 600 cases, detailing religious bigotry throughout America — most of which have occurred within the past 10 years.

Focus on the Family exists to help educate people in matters of marriage and family from a biblical perspective, and provide a biblical answer to many of the cultural problems pertaining to the family.

FamilyFacts.org is a site put together by the Heritage Foundation explaining why traditional families are critical for the upkeep of a civil society.

The Heritage Foundation is a think-tank that defends many conservative values, not just family and religious liberty.

The Institution of Faith, Work, & Economics is a Christian research group that studies the role of freedom in the marketplace.

The Acton Institute is a Catholic organization that also exists to help protect religious freedom.  Though their theology is not in alignment with Protestantism, their commitment to religious liberty is sound.

There are plenty of others, but these are a few of the groups I pay close attention to.  I have even learned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has begun to become increasingly concerned about religious liberty.  The reality is that any person of faith – regardless of what that faith is – should be concerned about it.  If you know of other think-tanks or ministries that are keeping up the fight to defend religious liberty, post their link in a comment.  I will post the best ones.

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Agency D3 – Defending Truth

Agency D3

Welcome to Agency D3.  This year’s VBS theme is full of secret agents and investigating the truth.  In a culture that prides itself on relativism and half-truths, this VBS theme is as timely as it is fun!  We’ve even gotten a “threat” from a supervillain by the name “Doctor B” who has threatened to sabotage our VBS in order to distort the truth.  Hopefully there will be a special agent that rises to the challenge to thwart Doctor B’s evil plan and ensure that the truth is preserved for all the children learning during Vacation Bible School.

Every year, our VBS leadership does a fantastic job of putting together a top-notch outreach.  It is always important to remember that VBS is about getting the Good News of Jesus into as many hearts and homes as possible.  While decorations are exciting, snacks are delicious, and crafts are, well, artsy, the ultimate goal is that people are introduced to Jesus and accept Him as Savior.

This year, I found myself a little discouraged leading up to VBS because we don’t have a monopoly on the VBS calendar for this week.  In fact, there are at least 9 churches from our Association doing VBS this week.  And not all of those churches are on the other side of the county either.  In fact, Mills Chapel, Macedonia and Heatherwood are all doing VBS this week.  Why did this discourage me?  Because I realized that with three of our closest sister churches doing VBS at the same time that our numbers would be seriously deflated.  I have to admit that it is very exciting to have our church full of kids for VBS.

And then the Lord began to deal with my discouragement.  He helped me see the blessing of sharing the week with our sister churches – even if it meant fewer kids in attendance.  Allow me to explain.

One of the problems with VBS is that we tend to pick up a LOT of kids to attend other evangelical churches.  It isn’t that we don’t love those children, but in reality, if they are faithful and happy participants of another church, then they are not the “target” of an outreach like VBS.  If those kids happen to become Christians during our VBS, we rejoice in that decision – but we still encourage their home church to take care of the necessary followup through baptism and discipleship.  Perhaps a fishing analogy will help explain: If I’m fishing for bass, it isn’t that I mind catching a catfish from time to time, but that’s not my target.  And if I spend all my time, effort and resources on catfish, then I never have the opportunity to catch the bass.  Therein lies the problem with VBS – catfish.  Understand?

When our VBS is filled with kids whose families are faithful and happy participants at other churches – then we spend a lot of our resources on families that really aren’t our target, and we end up missing the unchurched family that happens to be with us for the week.  With multiple VBS’s happening simultaneously, then we reduce the number of catfish in the pond, and we can pay closer attention to the bass that we’re fishing for.  Always remember, VBS is about growing THE Kingdom, not OUR kingdom.  This week, we can have a real opportunity – even if we have fewer kids – to see more children and families reached with the Gospel.

One of the best things you can do this week is help your kids identify unchurched families in your neighborhood and invite them to come and have fun this week.  I promise you, they will hear the Gospel while they’re here.  While this is true particularly during the week of VBS, it is generally true all year long.  Unchurched people will typically only come to church after multiple invitations by a friend, family member, or neighbor.  75% of all reported church growth is due to people leaving one church to go to another one.  This kind of growth is a zero-sum game because the Kingdom doesn’t grow.  But when unchurched people repent from sins and give their life to Christ, then there is real Kingdom growth and the angels in heaven rejoice!

Happy VBS!

Pastor Brian

 

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