November 18, 2015

Leaning on my own understanding

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The discussion about whether to take in Syrian refugees has weighed heavily on my heart. I get that this is a really hard decision and that it’s one that has significant consequences. How would I feel if I were the guy who said YES to allowing Syrian refugees into Little Rock, and they turned out to be terrorists that executed a plot to destroy and kill my family, friends, and neighbors? I can’t imagine. On the other hand, if I were the guy who said NO to those refugees, what do I say to Jesus when I am face to face with Him. And I know I will be one day. Tens of thousands of children, mothers and fathers, widows, many Christian, many not.

To make this decision with my head, I can easily get to NO. Why risk it? And why stop with the refugee system? Stop those Syrians coming in with student visas, those coming on planes through other countries. And why stop with Syrians, shouldn’t we exclude Iraqis, Eritreans, Sudanese, Somalis … because we are really saying NO to Muslim extremists, right? Six churches were burned in Tanzania in September; do we prohibit those from that country to enter our country?Do we wait until there’s another horrific event, either in our country or in some country that doesn’t expect it, and then shut the borders to the nationality of those perpetrators? If we are to typecast all Syrians because of the one in Paris, is this our new precedent for deciding who can and can’t come into our country? Yet, the head can lead me to say, “Shut it down.” It seems so much safer. But I also know this isn’t a decision I can make with my head.

On January 1st, the Lord gave me a verse to study, meditate on, and pray through for 2015. It is a familiar verse:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

I have found myself “leaning on my own understanding” dozens and dozens of times this year. I figure that God gave me a brain and I can use it and figure out the best course of action to take. But then I go back to His Word. And I go to Him in prayer and wait for an answer. Sometimes the answer is immediate, sometimes it comes a little later, and sometimes … well, I’m still waiting. But I know His timing and His answer is perfect. In this, I trust.

As the first news that one of the Paris terrorists had entered the country as a refugee, my thoughts turned to wondering how the background process works and how can it be strengthened. I thought about air travel before and after 9/11. It’s not a fool-proof system, but it was strengthened. It didn’t immediately occur to me that we should stop allowing Syrian refugees in the country.  I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is to check out refugees who are seeking asylum. Many of these from Syria and Iraq have fled their homes with only the clothes on their back. The “normal” things that come to my mind – like running a credit report, checking the court records, talking to neighbors/ friends/ family, and running a background check – probably have little use. Some say it is impossible; that we can’t “know” who is entering our blessed country. But the facts seem to show that our “checkers” have done an amazing job in the past. Can we not have people who run the system explore how (or if) the process we use needs to be strengthened? There’s some level of assurance that our checkers have had to say YES to those seeking asylum.

As I have prayed about this, I struggle with the JUST SAY NO strategy. My heart hurts at how that plays out with the current Syrians and with the snowball effect as we say NO to other nationalities. God’s Word has much to say about hospitable care of foreigners, about His love and care for widows and orphans, and about taking the Good News to the nations. My heart keeps saying to my head, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and I think of an Iraqi pastor saying, “I’m not begging you for help. It’s your duty to help! Next time, you may be in trouble and we will help you.” I keep hearing, “We are One body.” Many others have outlined all the relevant Scripture, so I won’t repeat it here. A couple of months ago, I was asked to talk about refugees, internally displaced people, and asylum seekers – some 59 million people in total – on a Persecuted Church radio show I join periodically. If all those who are victims of “forced displacement” were their own country, they would be the 24th largest country in the world. As I researched the subject, I found the Lord breaking my heart for the faces and stories behind these staggering numbers. When I saw where the people are coming from and where they are going to, I couldn’t help but think that God is bringing the nations to us. People are streaming out of places where His Word is squeezed and crushed, and into places where the Gospel is freely proclaimed. I wondered, “Could it be that after 2,000 years we still haven’t taken the Good News to every nation and now, God is bringing them to us.” Maybe the Christians that are arriving throughout Europe as well as the United States will help strengthen and bolster our Christian family. And maybe together, we can now tell the nation the Good News – right from our own backyard. Just a thought.

I thank Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson for his prayers for the Syrian refugees. And I thank him for supporting our country’s efforts in fighting ISIS. I appreciate he is seeking the best solution for our state – that is his job! And I trust that he has made the decision that he believes will do that. I pray for an opportunity to redirect the debate and that the experts can examine our intake system and strengthen it to where Governor Hutchinson and the 30 other governors can have the necessary assurances to allow Syrians entrance to our country.

Prayers continue:

  • Praying for the 59 million people forced from their homes, including the 11 million of them who are Syrian.
  • Praying for the end of the war in Syria.
  • Praying for the defeat of ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and their affiliates, the Taliban, and other terrorists who kill and destroy indiscriminately.
  • Praying for the terrorists to come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Praying for the employees of all the nations’ refugee systems.
  • Praying for the staff and volunteers of all the ministries that are caring for the “forced displaced” people in the world.
  • Praying for the global church. A Syrian pastor recently said, “It is not our privilege to leave Syria; it is our privilege to stay… I believe this is the time the church was prepared for.”
  • Praying for the Obama administration, our military and its leadership, the families of our military, our nation’s governors, and all Americans as we debate and implement the refugee policy. God bless.