Refugees, Romans, and Trusting God

Now that we’ve thankfully moved past the Starbucks Christmas cup debacle, the American Church is facing a new and actually pressing crisis: the Syrian refugees.

Without getting into the politics of it all, the question I keep seeing hashed out is simple. Should America accept Syrian refugees?

My answer (and this is my opinion) is that America should accept Syrian refugees through the same process and channels as always used. After all, we’re the home of the huddled masses, yearning to be free. Security is a built-in concern these days, so let’s trust the system to work.

But for many, it’s the follow up question that gets complicated — how should American Christians answer the question about refugees?

I would start by pointing to Romans 13 (quoting The Message translation):

1-3 Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

3-5 Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

6-7 That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.

The second sentence is the one that seems pertinent to me. “All governments are under God” is a significant statement; too often, we act as if government is out of God’s control, when the truth is much uglier: government is out of our control. And that’s what scares many American Christians.

Because we live in a democratic republic, it’s easy to understand how we get things mixed up. We vote for our government officials, so that means we have a say in who represents us and what values they bring to the table. We expect our vote to carry a certain weight with our representatives because without it they couldn’t hold office. As a result, we feel like the government is ours to control. Lobbyists feel otherwise.

Here’s the Apostle Paul, however, setting us straight. Government is not ours to control. It’s God’s. End of story. Paul spends seven verses explaining just how God uses the government to His purposes, and how Christians should trust God to work.

And Paul was writing under the rule of Rome. When they crucified Christians. And used them for bloodsport in massive arena games. And blamed them for the downfall of the world.

Yet we get pissy over coffee cups. But whatevs.

The heart of the issue is one of faith and trust. Some people don’t trust the government. Given the history of American politics, that’s not unreasonable. Some people don’t trust individual politicians. That makes sense too. Some people don’t even trust the system by which we elect our government — again, I understand.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust God.

Because that’s what this boils down to. Plenty of American Christians don’t trust the God they worship. Having grown accustomed to the ease of living afforded by our country, we cannot fathom that God would ever test that ease. That’s right – I’m throwing myself in the mix. I struggle with the Syrian question because I know in my heart taking care of the poor and oppressed is a Scriptural command from God.

In my head, however, there’s a filibuster going on about national security, vetting processes, and the fact that I don’t want a potential terrorist moving into any of the rental properties in my neighborhood. (Because suburban Atlanta is a hot target these days.)

I think a lot of us are feeling this way and we’re pointing towards politics as the source and expression of the tension when it’s really a spiritual battle.

And it comes down to the question of do you trust God or not?

I don’t want anyone to harm my country. I don’t want helpless people to suffer at the hands of evil ideologues. There’s a paradox at work, and that just so happens to be the place where God shines brightest.

So, I’m going to trust God, who put my government in place, to use that government to His will and purpose. I’m going to trust God that if we let Syrian refugees in, it’s for His will and purpose.

I’m going to trust God, because, in the end, there’s no one else worth trusting.

5 Things That Make Prayer Powerful

Most people I know believe in the power of prayer. Few actually practice it though.

I’m not being judgmental. Until the last couple of years, my use of prayer was similar to Bugs Bunny’s use of dressing in drag: strategically reserved for only the biggest messes.

But now I can’t go the day without some serious praying.

I’ll spare you the long, useless sermonizing and get to the nitty gritty. Here are five things that make prayer powerful for me:

  • Consistency – my wife and I pray almost every morning, together, about an hour after we wake up. Some days we forget; when that happens, we usually notice a distinct difference in our attitudes and reactions to the events of the day. Often, if we miss in the morning, we’ll stop whatever we’re doing later in the day and carve out time to pray together. It makes a huge difference in our minds and hearts.
  • Honesty – this will sound weird, but if I’m praying about stuff that upsets me, I don’t try to hide that from God. I have, on occasion, uttered a word or phrase one would think inappropriate for conversation with the Almighty. I do not do this to be cool, nor do I do it because I am not reverent; on the contrary, I am too aware of God’s sovereignty to even think that I can “clean up” my thoughts. I’m not saying God condones cussing, but I do believe he values honesty more than attempts to preserve his delicate sensibilities. God is not someone’s 90 year-old grandmother.
  • Brevity – marathon prayers have their place, but not as a daily discipline. Too often, when I try and pray long prayers, I find that I venture away from the honesty God values. I get preachy, and, as a former pastor, that’s something I want to avoid. Brevity also forces you to make your point known to God instead of just hinting at it. Think of it this way: if you were sitting in a meeting with someone and they kept beating around the bush, you would eventually lose your mind. Most of us want people to get to the point; while God is infinitely more patient, I think the discipline of getting to the point is better for us because it forces us to be clear about what’s on our mind.
  • Sincerity – I can’t tell you how many times I prayed for stuff I didn’t really care about. I suppose you could file this under “Honesty”, but there’s enough of a distinction for me that I think it bears mention. I can honestly pray for someone else, but that doesn’t always mean I am sincerely invested in that situation. Being sincere when we pray about someone else’s sickness, or loss, or grief, helps us develop our empathy, which helps us pray with deeper sincerity.
  • Humor – this seems out of place when talking about prayer, but I find humor helps me stay away from too-pious prayer. I have no problem with piety, but when you get too-pious, you drift into a place where your prayers are hollow and bordering on spell-casting (which is another post for another day). The purpose of prayer is not for us to direct the affairs of God, but for God to direct the affairs of our lives; humor, especially in the midst of dark seasons, can be a powerful weapon to help alleviate our own drift towards playing God instead of talking to him.

This is a short list, but each of these five things have become important to me as I’ve learned to pray. You may be wired differently than me, so your list would naturally look different than mine (cuss words and humor, for instance, might not be part of your discipline). Regardless, creating space in your life for regular prayer is essential to a healthy relationship with God.

What do you do to make your prayer life powerful? What is something you have learned about prayer that you would share?

Sound off in the comments below, or on my Facebook page. You can also share your thoughts with me on Twitter (@JasonMuses).

A Whole New World

different-races1So we went on vacation last week with the kids. Took our first for-real family vacation to Saint Simons Island. Rented a little house. Kicked it on the beach. Enjoyed walking around the Village at Saint Simons Pier, getting lemonade at Zuzu’s, and just taking a break from everything that’s been going on in my head for the past 15 years.

The kids loved it too; they got to share a room with twin beds and a television, complete with VCR (remember those) and DVD player. They watched movies to their hearts’ content, and the last movie they watched was Disney’s Aladdin. You know, the one with the hysterical blue genie and the sappy magic carpet ride across the world. In fact, the song during that sappy magic carpet ride got stuck in my head, and I’ve not been able to remove it.

Yesterday at church, it got stuck permanently, I fear.

The pastor who spoke was teaching on Jesus’ habit of eating with unseemly people. How Christ, God made flesh, came eating and drinking with sinners and the lowest of the low. The point of the message was about modifying the frequent religious expectation of people (to behave the right way, believe the right things, and then belong to the right group) in favor of the way Jesus brought people along (by letting them belong with him, then believe in him, then changing their behaviors). We learned that Jesus shared meals with people who weren’t like him so they could know how much God loved them.

But the thing that turned my head around was the following quote:

“When you are uncomfortable with people who are different than you, that says more about your insecurity than it does your spirituality.”

Can I tell you how much this rang true with me?

I spent years trying to teach people that uniformity mattered. That everyone walked the same line, thought the same thoughts, watched the same shows, sang the same songs. I was wrong. It’s not uniformity that Christ called us to, it’s unity. And there’s a difference.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the pull to be around people who aren’t like me. To be around people who don’t think like me, or believe like me, or watch the same kind of shows as me. I want to be around people who will stretch me, challenge me, make me laugh, and remind me that people aren’t horrible all the time. I want to go places I’ve not gone for fear of being judged and meet people I’ve not met for fear of being scolded. I want to be like Jesus, so secure in my own self that I can make others around me feel secure too.

My struggle lies in letting God accomplish this on His timetable. I’ve got this internal clock in my head that keeps sounding off about how I don’t have the luxury of time to wait for God. I can’t afford to give Him my complete trust because He might work so slow that I’ll have to sacrifice something like my house or my car just to stay afloat. I’m at war within because I am hungry for the deeper things that God is doing in my life, but I’m anchored to the security I’ve created outside of God.

Everything feels like a battle for my soul because I’m secured myself to insecure things, and God is calling me into a whole new world where I find my security solely in Him.

Not in my religion. Not in my self-righteousness. Not in my works. Not in my finances.

In Christ alone.

It’s scary, but it’s the only thing that offers peace these days. I will trust in Him, even as the battle inside rages on. I will be with him, and trust him to change what I believe and how I behave. That’s walking with Christ.

And that’s the life I want.