New Sermon Series on Romans 9-11

JoiningGodsMission

What is God’s mission into the world?

What is our role in God’s work?

What is the relationship between God’s Gospel at the people of Melbourne?

At Mentone Baptist we will be working through Romans 9-11 (Sept 28-Dec 13). It will be exciting. It will be challenging. It will be hard. It will life changing.

New evidence suggests that the closure of SRI was a mistake

It appears as though Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government have unnecessarily pulled the plug on Religious Instruction in schools (SRI).

In August this year Education Minister, James Merlino, announced that religious instruction classes would be removed from Victorian schools from 2016. It should be mentioned that religious groups may be permitted outside class time, however the parameters for running these lunch-time groups remains unclear and uncertain.

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Why am I suggesting that the Government has made a mistake? In the last 24 hours the ABC has published two articles that warrant a re-examination of SRI’s closure.

First of all, it has been demonstrated that the policy shift derives from a faulty understanding of secularism (see Michael Bird’s piece on ABC Religion and Ethics). Dr Bird refers to the ‘New Atheists’ who have redefined secularism, “no longer as the freedom of the individual in religion, but as the scrubbing of religion from all public spheres.” It is this fallacious thinking that has been pushed by groups such as FIRIS, and would seem has also been adopted by the Andrews’ Government.

One of the adverse effects of this view of secularism is that we are creating a new wave of sectarianism, where thousands of families are now faced with the dilemma of either keeping their children in a State school environment where religious toleration is dissipating, or moving their children to independent schools. Far from creating more inclusive schools, we are in danger of returning to the ugly days of sectarian divides, except this time it is not Protestant/Catholic, but religious/non-religious.

As a parent who has three children attending a State school, I value the education they receive; the teachers are excellent and the pastoral care is first rate. It is worrying though, that faulty Government policy may unnecessarily drive a wedge in many school communities, where none has existed previously.

Secondly, Michael Jensen has written a piece overviewing findings from recent academic studies, that demonstrate the positive benefits of our children learning about God and engaging with ideas found in religion.

He says,

“Here’s the bottom line. There’s been a lot of alarmist stuff written recently about the potential detrimental effects of religious teaching on young people. What the hard data says is otherwise: an active religious faith is much to be desired in young people, and the benefits of such a faith persist into old age.”

Dr John Dickson has also helpfully summarised the findings  from one set of research that has been published in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford University Press, 2012):

* ‘Well-being’: 78% of over 300 studies report a significant positive relationship between religion/spirituality and well-being.

* ‘Hope’: 73% of 40 studies find that religion/spirituality is related to greater hope.

* ‘Optimism’: 81% of 32 studies indicate that optimism is more common among those who are religious/spiritual.

* ‘Meaning and purpose’: 93% of 45 studies find that religion/spirituality is related to greater purpose and meaning.

* ‘Social support’: 82% of 74 studies report significant links between religion/spirituality and a person’s social support.

* ‘Self-esteem’: 61% of 69 studies report a positive link between religion/spirituality and self-esteem.

* ‘Depression’: 61% of 413 studies found lower rates of depression or faster recovery from depression in individuals who are more religious.

* ‘Suicide’: 75% of 141 studies found that greater religiosity/spirituality is associated with less suicidal ideation, fewer suicidal attempts, or fewer completed suicides.

* ‘Social capital’ (i.e., an individual’s community participation, volunteerism, social trust, involvement in civic life): 79% of 14 studies report significantly positive associations between religious involvement and social capital.

While I would add certain caveats and qualifications about these findings, they nonetheless communicate that there are significantly positive social and mental benefits that derive from belief in God.

It is interesting to note that the Victorian Department of Education understand that ‘Health and wellbeing are essential for quality of life and are fundamental preconditions for learning and development’. One of the identified aspects of wellbeing is what they refer to as ‘spiritual wellbeing’. And yet the Government is truncating this very principle by taking away from students the freedom and opportunity to engage with these very things.

Dr Bird and Dr Jensen are not saying anything new, but they offer timely refutations to the popular memes about religion, children and education. Given the weight of their arguments, I believe it is reasonable for Mr Merlino and Mr Andrews to reconsider their decision about SRI in 2016.

A letter to Adam Goodes

Adam Goodes of the Swans in action during the AFL 2nd Qualifying Final match between the Adelaide Crows and the Sydney Swans at AAMI Stadium, Adelaide. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

(Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

Dear Adam Goodes,

We met briefly a few years ago and you graciously allowed me to take a photo of yourself with my two young boys. They were only aged 7 and 6 at the time, but they remember the occasion still. 

Like many other Australians, I would like to see you participating on Grand Final day at the MCG. As a footballer, you have achieved success at a level that very few players will ever reach, and for that reason alone it is fitting for you to be recognised on that day.

Whether you decide to participate or not, I will not judge you. I believe it is too easy for non Aboriginal people (like myself) to arrive at conclusions as to how Indigenous Australians should or should not think and feel about their roles in Australia today.

I am sorry that you have been treated with such disdain on account of your race. I am offended for you. It must surely concern Australians that issues of race persist in 2015. While many prejudices and stereotypes have been taken away, it is clear that we have not yet arrived at where we need to be.

As a Christian I accept the Bible’s picture of what heaven will be like, and as part of its canvass the Bible describes how the nations will be present. The word that is used for nations has less to do with geo-political boundaries and is more about people groups. Race is not diminished, and no race is exalted over another, but on account on Jesus Christ peoples from every language and tribe are welcomed and received. While I am confident of where history will end, it is right to pursue this heavenly vision in our present time. To this end, we need to hear the stories of Aboriginal people, to learn, and for Australians to repent of past and present sins against the First Australians.

I wish to extend my congratulations to you on a great football career, and should you decide to take part on Grand Final day, I would hope that you receive a worthy applause.

Yours Sincerely,

Murray Campbell

Creative city

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Before dawn the air outside imitates my fridge inside,

Cold.

Morning light appears contesting the fog that had swallowed every street and house.

Soon the sun has won and is beaming with ostentatious pride,

Throwing down its heat and making all of us sweat under.

Jumper is thrown off.

T-shirt and shorts only now.

Changing my order at St Ali from a flat white to cold-press.

The kids are about to cry out for the fifth time, “I’m hot”,

When sweeping over the horizon like Carlton’s midfield on a good day,

Come the cumulonimbus,

Testing every man and woman’s canopy of nylon taffeta.

Rain descends by the tram full and steam rises off the bitchumen road back to heaven.

Beaded sweat morphs into droplets of rain.

The scent of wet hair, wet clothes, wet everything follows us home.

The meteorological combat is over as the cooling breeze

Overwhelms the furnace like air.

Weatherman is dumbfounded again.

Tourists confused.

Melbournians amused.

Another day in paradise comes to an end.

20 Guidelines for engaging in social media

Social media is not your best friend and neither is it the bastion of everything evil. Platforms like facebook and twitter are tools that can be used for good, for non- good, and for the plumb-inexplicably weird. And whatever the motive, every post and tweet is like throwing a paper airplane outside in the wind, you might throw it in one direction but you have no control over where it will end up.like-us-on-facebook-337256

My use of social media has had its shares of successes and derailments, there have been moments of punching the air with elation and wanting punch someone up close, of feeling like I’ve done something and disappointment at the fact that no one has noticed how smart and whimsical I’ve just been.

Hence, I’m writing a post about how to participate in social media. This is as much a personal guide as anything. Many of these points may be useful for anybody, and others are specifically for Christians, for Christians can be particularly constructive on social media as well as rather embarrassing.

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Here are my 20 principles for participating in social media:

1. Facebook or Twitter? Both, either or none. They are useful tools but life will go on quite happily without them. Twitter is useful for gathering and promoting information about events, news stories, hot issues. Facebook is great for connecting with people, and sharing more personal moments (although don’t ever think that facebook is truly private).

2. Before you post/tweet/comment, ask yourself, will this adorn the Gospel, confuse the Gospel or betray the Gospel?

3. Ask yourself, how will people interpret this tweet/post? How will non Christian read it, as well as Christians, and friends. For example, if you decide to skip church in order to enjoy a Sunday morning sleep in, is it helpful to tell Facebook? What are you communicating to your unbelieving friends? What are communicating to your church family?

4. Be careful about engaging in hashtag. People love getting on the bandwagon, but sometimes we do it without knowing the facts.

5. Don’t say something if you’re not prepared for commentary, both positive and negative, and the unexpected.

6. Be truthful. Titus 2:8 talks about, ‘soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.’

7. Not everything we read on social media is true!

8. Be gentle and kind, especially toward people who disagree with you. ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ (Prov 15:1)

9. In an attempt to be ooze normalness, some Christians think that we should avoid quoting Bible verses and offering Gospel thoughts. Don’t be awkward or artificial, but don’t hide the wonders and beauty of the good news of Jesus Christ. We have something to say.

10. Don’t be one dimensional. You’re not always chipper. We’re not always angry. We’re not always talking about football or church or what the kids have achieved this week

11. Regularly check your security settings

12.Be careful about posting photos, especially of your kids.

13. It’s ok to block someone or to decline a friendship invitation.

14. appreciate that issues are almost always more nuanced and complex than 140 characters will allow.

15. Social media is meant to be spontaneous, but it doesn’t hurt to think before you tweet

16. Don’t read everything literalistically; rhetorical devices such as hyperbole, irony, sarcasm, are not only found in books.

17. If you’re really mad at something, it is generally a really good idea to cool off before pressing enter on your over the top vent.

18. If you think you’ll regret it tomorrow, don’t say it today

19. Don’t be a single issues person: exception to this with the accounts that are used for a business or special interest group.

20. Stop trying to be a prophet. Aussies don’t like tall-poppies and you’ll end up frustrated at the fact that Australia isn’t listening to you.

What would you add to this list?

We are better than this!

…apparently not.

Five Prime Ministers in seven years.

Last night’s shenanigans in Canberra was a eureka moment for Australian media, and I confess that I was stuck to my television and to twitter like that final strand of spaghetti that you can never scrape off the bottom of the saucepan.photo (2)

The second by second drama being played out on the ABC was dripping with more bolognese sauce than you can find in all Italy. We have officially lost all rights to mock the Italian political system, as comic as it has been for many years. We used to laugh at them, but now we are laughing at ourselves, and we must because otherwise we would hear our groans as we grow increasingly exasperated at our national leaders.

I share the view of many Australians, and that removing a sitting Prime Minister is imprudent and unsavoury; it may be within the rules of political warfare but as history has shown us, it is counter-productive.

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Our recent history of political hits may belong to the script of a Spaghetti Western, and it also reflects our society’s heart more closely than is comfortable. Yes, we want our leaders to stop following opinion polls and  instead lead, and yet we demand them to do our bidding. We want a vision for our nation’s future, but we are too greedy to wait or to sacrifice for the good of our children. A society that demands solutions now and without personal cost has not learned the meaning of community. And so it should not surprise us to see that our Governments turn to expediency in both policy and people. That leaves me wanting to urge our Governments to govern well, and it also leaves me with a greater anticipation for the perfect Government that is God’s.

Government is an expression of God’s grace and provision for the common good of society; it is a God given means to create order, peace and justice (Romans ch.13). But even the best functioning Government is only a tiny impression of what God promises us in Christ:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 7)

One day our political system will become redundant, but in the mean time we Christians want to take seriously both Romans ch.13 and 1 Timothy ch. 2. This morning I have begun by putting into practice these words written by the Apostle Paul,

‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior…’

War and justice, where conflict meets

12 Bible Propositions about the Ethics of War

During the week the Government announced that they would be stepping up their bombing offensive against ISIS in Syria. Subsequently, the debate over the ethics of war has once again resurfaced.
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The question I am seeking to address here is somewhat narrower, should Christians to ever support war? Could participating in war be consistent with Christian faith?
Answering these questions is no easy task, partly due to the fact that the Scriptures do not give us a definitive position, and partly because the rationale and particulars of one armed conflict will differ to the next. And in every conflict there are multifarious motives, aims, and experiences which combined deny us the possibility of simple and obtuse theorems about war.
Historically, Christians have come to different conclusions regarding the practice of war. We cannot ignore the fact that there have times when ‘in the name of Christ’ many anti-Christ acts have been committed. Sins of commission have stained history blood red, and perhaps so have sins of omission. Christians must not build their theology of war from either Gandhi or Napoleon, but rather it stems from the belief that God is the Lord of history and that he has given a book that speaks truth and wisdom, even in the 21st Century.
In attempting to construct a theology of war there are a series of theological propositions that must not be ignored or relegated:

Continuity

1. The God of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament. Christians are not Marcionites. God is not honoured by the fallacious suggestion that the God of the Old Testament is a different God to the New Testament, or that his character has changed, or that in the Old Testament God was wrong to make war. God’s character is eternal and unchanging.
2. God is holy and just. God’s acts of violence are described as God’s just judgements on sinners. He is a holy God who cannot tolerate sin. Should God tolerate rape? Should God tolerate people sacrificing babies to Molech? Should God tolerate the greedy stealing from the poor? God did not sanction all the violence and war that was exercised in the Old Testament, however, he did oversee and lead some war.
3. God has an understanding of justice that no person or group of people possess. He also has the ability to always do right which not even Christians can achieve.

Discontinuity

Christians cannot read the Old Testament without through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfilment of all the Scriptures – “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).
4. The Old Testament has a geo-political centre that is removed by Jesus in the New Testament. Whereas God’s people in the Old Testament were a nation, God’s people are now from and in every nation. God’s Kingdom is of a different nature, As Jesus said to Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not of this world’.
5. God’s anger is demonstrated supremely in the cross of Jesus where Christ died to satisfy God’s righteous wrath. History has a cross dividing it, such that there is no longer any moral or theological support for Holy War this side of the cross. God’s righteousness is revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his propitious death brings peace to all who believe. This once for all death has an efficacy for disarming hate, anger and greed:
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15)
6. The Kingdom of God grows through the proclamation of the word of God, and not through political or military means. Christians believe in war, but it is a spiritual war, one that is engaged by putting on the armour of God (faith, righteousness, truth, etc) and by using the sword of the Spirit (the Bible) and undergirding it all with prayer. If the power of God for salvation is in the Gospel of Jesus, then it is erroneous to believe that Christianity will extend through war. Not only that, it suggests that coercion is an effective means to grow the Church, whereas the Bible speaks nothing of coercion but it does speak of persuasion through speaking truth and living out God’s love to all.
7. The Bible nowhere teaches that a Church can engage in war, and it gives us no room for supposing that armed conflict can aid Christian progress, however it does leave room for the possibility for the State to engage in war.
The State is not the Church. In Romans ch.13 the Apostle teaches,
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
i. Governments are not beyond the rule of God, even though they may reject his dominion.
ii. Governments have a value in and for this world, for the good of society, which includes collecting taxes to pay for civic needs, and to judge and punish those who do wrong.
iii. At the very least verse 4 refers to law enforcers and the judicial system that exists within a nation, but it is likely that Paul also has in mind the exercise of military action. Even if Romans 13:4 is not speaking of war and only of civic responsibilities, the point is nonetheless unavoidable, Paul affirms that there is a place for Governments to use the sword in punishing wrongdoing.

Further Principles

8. There is a difference between turning the cheek and loving our neighbour. If one saw their neighbour being attacked, it would be immoral to stand by and do nothing, and it would be right to come to their aid, to defend them and fend off the attacker. While Christians ought to pursue peace, even at great personal cost, loving our neighbour may necessitate military intervention.
9. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 13:18).
10. The Bible discounts many of the reasons that have been used in history and in contemporary global and sociopolitical scenarios for waging war: for conquest, for profit, for revenge, and for religious advantage.
11. When Christians engage in war it should not be under the banner of Church or Gospel, but as as expression of submitting to the Government and loving our neighbour.
12. People should not go against the conscience, except when their conscience violates Scripture.
Can war ever be just? Ultimately the answer to that question is no, because even on a good day people are prone to sinful desires. War is never just but it may be justifiable. Occasions of crisis may arise where more action is required than simply prayer and good wishes. It is a loving act to lay down ones life for a friend, and even more so for a stranger who is being oppressed by a militaristic regime.
Should Christians fight in war? Often the answer will be no. We ought to be reluctant. But there may be circumstances where the Government decides to go to war, and should the reasons be congruent with a Christian’s understanding of the Bible, participating in that war is permissible.
War, however, is not the ultimate solution to evil in the world; only the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful enough and pure enough and sufficient enough to do such a penetrating work in the human heart. The world lives in the epoch of peace, where God is manifesting his patience and grace, calling men and women to repentance and reconciliation. While millions of people are coming to realise and experience God’s shalom, there remains much that is wrong in the world, such that even the most laudable acts of human kindness and justice can not overcome.  Christians, though, believe that God remains holy and he promises a day when he will judge the living and the dead. Many injustices may escape our attention, but they will not allude God:
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
King of kings and lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16)

What Does the Bible teach us about Refugees?

We all come to the topic of refugees with different influences and assumptions: our own family background, any personal involvement we’ve had with Refugees or lack thereof, the political party we support, the way we listen to the media and who in the media we listen to. And after all, as everyone agrees, this is a complex issue.

It is important though for Christians to begin with the Bible and let God’s word to shape our views about Refugees, although I’d argue that what the Bible teaches is good not only for Christians but for everyone.

The article isn’t short, and partly so to demonstrate how significant a topic refugees is in the Bible.

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I want to begin by walking through the Bible and pointing out some principles that relate to our issue. Once we’ve done some work with the Bible let’s try and apply these principles to the current debate about refugees.

What does the Old Testament teach us about Refugees?

We begin at the beginning with Genesis chapter 1 and God saying, 

    “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

All human beings are made in the image of God. Every human being from every nation and language, and who has ever lived, bears the image of God and therefore is to be recognized as fully human and given that dignity.

In the Bible we meet all kinds of people: some people are Jewish, many are not. Some are wealthy, others poor. Some are strong, others are weak. On the pages of Scripture we learn about hundreds of men and women by name, and many millions more are mentioned by their tribe or nation, and among this throng are refugees, normally referred to as aliens or strangers, although not always. The noun alien occurs over 100 times in the OT alone. Sometimes we are told their story without the language of alien being used, but it is nonetheless clear from the context that the person on view is a refugee. We may be surprised to learn how many refugees are spoken of in the Bible and how much teaching there is on this subject. The Bible is not deaf toward Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

Let’s turn to Abraham for a minute. Abraham was called by God to leave the land of the Chaldeans and journey to the land he would show him. The land of Canaan was promised to Abraham but he never owned any of the land during his lifetime except one plot, a burial sight for his wife Sarah. Listen to how Abraham describes himself before the Hittites, who the local inhabitants of the land:

     ‘Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”’

    The Hittites replied to Abraham, “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”

    Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

Abraham defined his status in Canaan as being an alien.  Today we use different words to describe the various peoples moving to Australia – migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and we make distinctions between them. We do so partly out of legal necessity. However, as a far I can tell, the Bible doesn’t make such delineations. Whether a person arrives in a new land because of God’s calling or because they chose to move or because they were forced through persecution or famine, whatever the reason, they are all considered aliens. And all were to be treated the same. Genesis 23 tells us that this is how Abraham saw himself, and we see that the Hittites welcome Abraham, show him respect, and they permit him to buy the burial site (contrary to cases where the Australian Government decided to leave the bodies of refugees in the ocean to rot and be eaten by fish).

Abraham is not the only Bible hero who was an alien:

i. Joseph’s family, and then the whole people of Israel became refugees. Because of famine they were forced to leave Canaan and move to Egypt where they remained 400 years.

ii. Moses became a refugee, fleeing Egypt and living in Midian for 40 years. In Exodus 2 he refers to himself as an alien and named his son ‘gershom’ which means alien in the land.

iii. The book of Ruth is a story about refugees. Naomi’s family moved to Moab, but after the death of her husband and boys she returns to Israel. Ruth, her daughter-in-law goes with her and enters the land as an alien. The book then gives us a detailed account about how the Levitical law is applied to refugees and does so in the most beautiful and tender-hearted way. Ruth of course, belongs to family-line from which Jesus would come.

iv. The prophet Jeremiah was a war refugee. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem Jeremiah and some others escaped to Egypt and remained there until their deaths.

It’s clear from all these examples that being a refugee is not by definition sinful or unacceptable. It is sometimes the right response of the people of God.

The Bible doesn’t only give us stories of refugees, the Bible also provides teaching on how to respond to this issue. The law stipulated how the people of God were to treat non-believers who sought refuge in the land of Israel:

    “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. ( Exodus 22:21)

    “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

    Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:10)

    When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. (Leviticus 19:33)      

 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:34).

The multitude of verses that speak to this issue should alone communicates to us that this subject is important to God.

To summarise: Israel was not to mistreat or oppress aliens. They were to welcome, to love, to care and provide. There is no sense in which the attitude was, ‘we’ll let you in, but once you’re in you have to fend for yourselves’. There was ongoing relationship and provision.

The constant refrain in Mosaic Law is this, ‘remember you were once aliens’.  How true is this for Australia. 25% of our 22 million Australians were born overseas. That’s 5.5 million of us! I understand that those 5.5 million have migrated to this country under different banners, many were refugees and some came by boat. My point here is that 25% of Australians understand what it is to leave your home country and find a new home.  Not only that, 44% of us were either born overseas or had parents who were born overseas. That’s almost half of the population. And where do we think Aussies with Irish, English or Scottish descend come from? That’s right, from Ireland, England and Scotland, from overseas, and most came by boat!

Back to the Bible, we read that aliens were given similar rights and responsibilities as native born Israelites:

Brian Rosner has written, “strangers were to be treated as native-born Israelites with only a few qualifications. The non-assimilating strangers were not prohibited from eating anything found dead (Deut 14:21; cf. Lev 17:15 which apparently refers to the assimilating stranger). A second difference is more profound: assimilating strangers were not considered Israelites in the full ethnic sense, probably in recognition that their ancestors did not experience the saving events of the Exodus and Passover.”

The aliens had obligations as well, for instance, they were to abide by the law of Israel. ‘You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.’ (Leviticus 24:22). This law is not only just but it’s sensible. You can’t have one law for one group, and another for a different group. That’s not called a country, that’s called countries!

Welcoming the stranger was integral to living as members of the covenant people:

You loved God by loving the refugee.

Brian Rosner makes this poignant observation: “Most remarkably of all, in the same chapter where the famous and often quoted ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ appears, in Leviticus 19 the Israelites are commanded to ‘love the alien’ (v.34). The definition of the neighbour to be loved extends it seems to the foreign immigrant, without the restriction that they be of the less objectionable assimilating kind.”

It was a covenant issue. It was a godliness issue. It was a justice issue. For example Deuteronomy 27:19 and Malachi 3:5:

    “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.” Then  all the people shall say, “Amen!”

    “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers,adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress  the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the  LORD Almighty.

Withholding justice from the alien was sufficient reason for God to judge Israel.

At the same time, we need to keep in mind that the nations were frequently Israel’s and God’s enemies. It’s not as every though Tom, Dick, Harry and Philistine was welcome. If you turned up with a sword in one hand and an idol in the other, there were policies! We mustn’t wrongly conclude that it was free entry into Israel. However, to those who sought refuge, for a variety of reasons, they were permitted stay and live.

What does the New Testament teach us about Refugees?

Come the New Testament we learn that the overall view toward refugees remains the same as in Old Testament. However there is a shift in emphasis.

In the OT the emphasis was Israel being this light that would radiate to the nations and attract people to Israel. That focus changes in the NT; it’s not the nations going to Jerusalem, it’s Jerusalem going to the nations. It’s the people of God moving out into the world, to reach people for Christ.  God’s plan was always to encompass the nations (that’s what the Abrahamic covenant is about), but with Jesus’ coming the command has become, go to the nations.

Having said that, the life and ministry Jesus has things to teach us about treating refugees.

Matthew’s Gospel records the event when Jesus was a young child, and he and his parents were forced to flee not only from Bethlehem, but Judea, and they entered Egypt as Refugees. They fled one country and entered another because of persecution. God’s Son knows what it’s like to be displaced, to face such opposition in your homeland from the Government that the family is forced out, and they traveled, not by a boat, but by foot across a treacherous desert.

Also, in Jesus’ first recorded sermon he says:

    ‘The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

     Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”’ (Luke 4:17-21)

The year of the Lord’s favour is a reference to the Jubilee year. The Jubilee year was a year of reconciliation when were debts paid or released, and when slaves were freed. Jesus is saying that with his coming, this Jubilee has also come. And we see Jesus living this Jubilee year throughout his public ministry: caring for the poor, for the widow, he ministered to people who were outside Israel as a way of showing that God’s plan is for the nations (The Centurion and Samaritan woman for example). Jesus welcomes the stranger and he is even portrayed as the stranger in John 1, ‘he came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’

There are two further texts that need mentioning:

    ‘All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that  they were aliens and strangers on earth’. (Hebrews 11:13)

In the long list of faith heroes from the OT there exhibited a faith in the promises of God, a faith which understood that the promise fulfilled was not a homeland on this earth. These early believers admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

1 Peter says something similar,

    ‘Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

    To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the  Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood’

There is a view in the New Testament that I think Christians in Western countries fail to value, and that is, this land is not our home. In fact both Hebrews and 1 Peter are suggesting something stronger than that this is not our land, they are almost debunking nationhood. The posture they argue for certainly guards us from being overly protective about calling anything on earth ours. We are strangers who are passing through; this is a hotel room for a relatively short period. Do we hold on to our property, or national identity, or borders more rigidly than our theology permits us? That’s a question worth asking. I am not suggesting that nationality is irrelevant or that being Australian doesn’t mean something and not hold any significance; the nations are there present and active in the book of Revelation. But I would ask, are our notions of nationhood helps for Gospel work or inhibitors? I suspect it’s a bit of both.

Suggested ways the Gospel can shape our response to the Refugee Crisis:

1. The Gospel way is to welcome and care for the alien.

God has welcomed us into his kingdom; he gave us the rights of sons and daughters, for which we had no claim or right.

2.The Gospel isn’t ignorant of security issues.

Part of loving the other is making sure that our neighbours are safe. It would be irresponsible for us to rashly let anyone into the country and without proper security checks, and therefore put our neighbours at risk. That wouldn’t be Gospel-minded. I don’t know of anyone suggesting we fling the doors open to everyone without discernment, that’s a straw man argument.

3. The Gospel way is also to obey the Government.

We find this principal clearly taught in Romans 13. Sometimes these two things, Gospel and Government, are at odds with one another, certainly the relationship is often tricky. We need wisdom, prayerful wisdom, so that we learn how can we live out the Gospel of grace in this area of society.

4.The Gospel means sacrifice.

Sacrifice is not something we talk about, it is something to practice. Sacrifice is difficult, not only for the general populace, but for Christians also. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about sacrifice, and it provides us not only with the model for sacrifice but the very freedom to do so.

On the ABC this morning, Tim Costello said that, “On a per capita basis, for Australia to be ‘generous’, we’d increase our intake by 215,000”. We now have a figure, one that surpasses the 10,000 or 20,000 that various political parties have proposed. Will it cost us? Yes, but that is the nature of sacrifice, that is the point of love.

From what I hear in the media it sounds as though much of this debate is being framed by fear. I don’t think it’s primarily about racism, though that’s there. I think it’s more to do with fear. People are fearful of change, fearful of the unknown, fearful of what might happen to our standard of living should we welcome more people. The Gospel is not built on fear, but love, and love expressed through compassion and sacrifice. That can be hard. And the reality is, not everyone who migrates to Australia (whether as a refugee or through other avenues) is deserving. Not every one who comes to Australia is grateful for being here. But isn’t that the cost of love? Isn’t that what Jesus did? He absorbed the sin of the world, he took on his himself all our pain and shame, and the world did not receive him. And yet through this act of grace God has welcomed home those who did not formerly belong.

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Note about the article: This is an updated version of a blog piece that I published 2 years ago, which is based on notes from a sermon on the same topic. Two years on, people continue to read it everyday, making it one one of the most read articles from the Mentone Baptist blog. In other words, the issue of refugees is never far from the minds of many Australians.