All of my heroes seem to have blind spots. Martin Luther was inexcusably hostile towards the Jews. John Wesley was a terrible husband. Jonathan Edwards owned slaves.
These men and their tragic stories remind me that no one is perfect; no one has equal light on every matter and all are affected by the prejudices of their times.
That isn’t an excuse, it is a sad conclusion. Luther sinned in his attitude towards the Jews. Wesley sinned in his treatment of Molly Vazeille. Edwards sinned by owning other human beings. I know why they did it, but it doesn’t make it right. They were tragically and culpably enslaved to the values of their time and culture.
Every time I think about that I wonder what future generations will say about us. What are we missing? What seems right and acceptable and normal to us that future generations will judge us for? What things do we think and believe that we ought to be ashamed of as Christians?
I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t our attitude towards Muslim refugees. I have recently been disturbed by the attitude of some otherwise commendable Christian saints towards the influx of Muslim peoples from the Middle East. These dear saints, who might be well qualified to lead a prayer meeting, mentor young people or serve in Children’s Ministry, nevertheless seem blind to what the Bible has to say about refugees, mercy, and evangelism. They talk a lot about the increased dangers to public safety; they talk a lot about rape, terrorism and sharia law – but they don’t seem to talk about loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors or turning the other cheek.
It seems very much as though we have a blind spot.
It feels like we are coming at this whole issue of Muslim immigration in the wrong way. It feels like we are perceiving this as a threat to cultural privilege and personal safety. It seems like we’ve missed the fact that it is also the greatest opportunity for evangelism in modern history.
I think we need to hit the reset button.
I think we need to take a deep breath, turn off the news, ratchet down the rhetoric, read our Bibles, pray, and start again.
Towards that end I offer the following 5 thoughts about Muslim immigration.
Jesus Never Promised You Safety
Some Christians operate as if completely unaware that we follow a man who was executed. Our founder died on a cross. How does that story inspire expectations of perpetual safety and security among his followers? And yet it does, at least in North America. Many Christians assume that safety is their birth-right, but Jesus said: “they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9 ESV).
Where did we get the idea that we could pursue the Great Commission in relative safety? Jesus told the disciples: “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3 ESV).
The Christian mission has never been safe. It has always involved risk, uncertainty, suffering, hardship and tribulation. Who promised you safety?
North American Evangelicals have wrongly assumed that if something isn’t safe then it must not be God’s will. But God sent his Son to DIE for our salvation. He sent his Son on a mission that he knew would end in his death. Clearly this is not a God who absolutizes personal safety. This is a God who lives in the heavens. This is a God who knows the beginning from the end and therefore this is a God who calls on us to take up our cross and follow him. As Dietrich Bonheoffer said: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Are their terrorists hiding among the masses of innocent refugees? Almost certainly. Will we see more deadly attacks here, like the ones we’ve been witnessing in Europe, if we let more Muslims come here? Almost certainly. But when has the Great Commission ever gone forward without a price to pay in terms of personal safety? It wasn’t safe for William Carey to go to India. It cost him an infant son and the mental health of his wife. It wasn’t safe for Adoniram Judson to go to Burma. It wasn’t safe for Hudson Taylor to go to China. It wasn’t safe for Jim Elliot to go to Ecuador.
Evangelism isn’t safe.
It isn’t safe when we go there and it isn’t safe when there comes here.
Who told you that it would be?
You Were Refugees Once Too
The Bible frequently reminds the people of God of their lowly origins: “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9 ESV).
You know the heart of a sojourner. You remember, or at least you should remember, what it was like to be weak and poor and powerless. You remember being at the mercy of evil forces. You were a slave. You were as good as dead. You were trapped in darkness. But God took pity on you. He set you free. He led you through the wilderness. He brought you into a land of promise and he gave you peace, security and a future.
Think about that and act accordingly.
Jesus told a story once about the attitude of God toward people with short memories and hard hearts. It’s not a terribly encouraging story, as stories go. It’s known as the Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant. There was a man – a lowly servant, who squandered and lost a great deal of his master’s money. The master was angry and was well within his rights to have the man and his entire family thrown into debtor’s prison, but the servant begged for mercy. And the master, being a kindly man, forgave the debt in its entirety. The man, however, quickly forgot the mercy that he was shown:
But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (Matthew 18:28–34 ESV)
According to the Bible God expects the memory of our indebtedness and our experience of God’s mercy to motivate us in extending undeserved pity and mercy towards others. Failure to do so invites the anger and judgment of God.
Think about that and act accordingly.
God Is Sovereign over Everything
Its hard to deny that God is ultimately Sovereign over everything that happens on planet earth – at least its hard if you take the Bible seriously. The Bible says: “‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39 ESV) and “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6 ESV).
The Bible teaches that human beings are morally responsible; they make real decisions for which they are finally held to account. And yet nothing happens that does not ultimately serve God’s plan and that includes terrorist attacks and the mass movements of people.
Let me bring this down to street level. There can be no doubt that God is the ultimate author of this present mass migration of people. That is not to say that he is the author of the evil of ISIS or the Taliban but it is to say that the heart of kings and tyrants is still like a watercourse in the hand of the Lord – he moves it wherever he will.
God is ultimately responsible for this unprecedented movement of people out of the Middle East and into Europe and North America. Underneath and behind evil human agency lies the mysterious providence of God. He is doing it. He is moving these people and a thinking Christian wants to know why.
Here is a thought we should at least consider: Could it be that God is bringing us masses upon masses of people who have seen the worst and suffered the most under the demonic religion of Islam?
Could it be that God is preparing for the greatest mass conversion of peoples EVER in the history of Christian mission? Could it be that he is doing it not by sending missionaries there but by bringing the mission field here?
We could be standing on the cusp of the great movement of the Spirit for the conversion of souls in human history. Will you oppose it? Will you close your door to the sojourner who has fled the land of oppression? Or will you let them in? Will you give them shelter? Will you give them Christ?
History watches for our response.
There Will Be People from Every Tribe, Tongue, And Nation Worshipping God in Eternity
The Bible guarantees that every single people group will be represented in the New Heaven and the New Earth. The Apostle John was given a glimpse of the final worshipping community in Revelation 7; he said:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10 ESV)
All tribes, peoples, and languages.
I think we can reasonably assume that there will be Syrians, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Lebanese, Libyans, Iranians, Iraqis and Kurds in that crowd. I wonder how many of them will be there because of the warm welcome they received from North American Evangelical Christians? I wonder how many will be there because their kids were welcomed into Children’s Ministry at our churches, they were taught English, they were taught to skate and hit a ball and play Minecraft while playing with our children? How many will be there because of our cheesy church suppers and our sociable Small Groups? I hope for many. I hope God can still use middle class, over fed, over privileged white evangelical Christians us to accomplish his purposes in all the earth.
I hope we don’t opt out – out of fear and self entitlement – of the greatest missionary harvest in human history.
Heaven And Hell Are Forever
Life is short. This world is not our home. If you could ask yourself 40 billion years into eternity how you should feel about the absolutely minuscule increase in risk to your present personal safety represented by this massively significant gospel opportunity, I cannot help but wonder what you would say. When you reflect upon the souls of those who perished in ignorant defiance of the living God, I wonder what you will think and say? We do not forget the damned in eternity; not according to Isaiah 66:
For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.
And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (Isaiah 66:22–24 ESV)
I think that I’ll want to know when I go out to look upon the dead bodies of those who perished in their rebellion that none of them perished because I was obsessed with my personal safety. I think I’ll want to know that I cried more about their place in eternity than my peace on earth. I think I’ll want to know that I poured out my life to the dregs because Jesus poured out his life for me.
Christian friends: this is the hour of decision. We are on the cusp of a great opportunity. These people will come. They are penned up in Europe and they cannot stay and they cannot go home. They will come. And the world watches to see how you will respond.
Young people are watching us to see if we truly believe the things we say and sing.
Our critics are watching to see if there is substance to their slander.
Immigrants are watching us to see if the lies they have been told about us are true.
And God is watching us to see if we will show others the mercy and grace that we have known in Christ.
This is a most significant hour.
Choose your words and actions carefully.
Read your Bibles. Take a deep breath. Pray for wisdom. And then speak and shine the glories and the goodness of Jesus Christ.
And May God Alone Be Glorified,
To learn more from pastor and Bible teacher Paul Carter be sure to check out the new cycle of the Into The Word podcast. The most recent episodes take you chapter by chapter through the whole Gospel of Mark. You can find it here.