Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

Zephaniah 3: 19

This verse is a part of Zephaniah’s summation of his discussion of how God will deal justly with Israel by virtue of returning the nation and its people to their homeland and out of an oppressive captivity. Yet, I think that it also shows us a more fundamental aspect of God’s nature and the character that is His nature’s foundation. Although the Lord does care greatly about the lives of all people, He has an especially soft spot for those who are less able to take care of themselves. So, when I see the term lame, I think of people who are physically disadvantaged regardless of cause or reason for their condition, but I think that God actually has a larger group of people in His mind when He looks upon those who are lame. These are people who are easy prey or targets for oppressors. God’s view of lameness also includes emotional weakness, issues of mental capacity, and any other conditions of body, mind, or spirit that might cause a person to need extra care, provision, or understanding. Our Lord takes each and every one of these people under His wing of protection and holds them very close.

The Lord also seeks after a very wide circle of people who could be labeled as outcasts. These can be those among us who are difficult to be around, and they are often those who are simply different from whatever is normal or usual in our own cultural environment. This can include people who are from other countries, races, ethnicities, economic status, or any other conditions that might brand them as different from me and from my natural family and neighbors. God does not use the concept of outcast as a way of describing people. Rather, He sees all of us as His children, and He goes searching for those of us who are far away from Him in order to win us back to close proximity through love, grace, and understanding. The Lord would have each of us view all others in this same manner. We are to seek after those who are different from us, open up our hearts and our homes to them in a way that speaks Christ’s love through actions and by attitudes while giving praise to the One who saves with our words.

Although this verse contains a description of the way that God views people in our world, I believe that He desires for each of us who know Him to live in this same manner. He guides us into holding these same attitudes deeply and personally. Followers of Christ are to be people who seek after the outcast without regard for the cause of that condition or state of their being. In so seeking after them, we are to grant them shelter, to provide what they need to carry on with life, and we are to befriend them in a way that speaks acceptance and that remains true and faithful to those friendships into the unforeseen future. Christ leads us into loving the lame and into seeking to meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in ways that speak Christ’s redemption and restoration in a manner that words are inadequate to express. There are many people in our world who live as exiles, who are lame or outcast; so, there are multitudes of people in our daily lives who need a friend, a protector, a listening ear. We all encounter these people and they are God’s blessed gifts to us, for they allow us to draw closer to Christ by trusting Him to care for and to lead us as we enter into their lives in Christ’s name.    

The essay that follows is a deviation from the usual form of these devotional works. It represents an attempt on my part to set out some of the thoughts that I have been having about the nature of humanity as God sees us. Although I do intend to continue to explore the topic of refugees for a few more days, I also plan to return to the usual form and structure for those works.

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Hebrews 11: 16

 

Definition of refugee

one that flees; especiallya person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution (Meriam-webster.com)

 

We are all refugees at one time or other and in some fashion or manner. No one seems to get through life without needing to flee from something, or at least, without the sense or feeling that this is necessary. Refuge is what we desire, and it is sometimes found. Most of the time, we keep on traveling, drifting, and shifting until our days are done. There are the exceptions to this, those who find a settled form of peace and contentment where they are, but for most of us, the road just continues on ahead without terminus or even a glimpse of that destination’s distant glow. Humanity began all of this tortured travel with the first people as they were sent out from the comfort of their intended home into the troubled landscape to the east.  We have not fully settled in since, and I am not so sure that there is really any place that can be permanently settled in this life until the world is reformed and reclaimed by Christ.

 

So, we are all off on the journey. Some of us are in situations that are far more desperate than are others; yet, sojourners and travelers are we all. The Syrian that has been driven out of a home that was theirs for uncountable generations and the Rohingyas whose national heritage is disputed by everyone in power in their corner of the world are trekking along a path that is closely related to the one that those of us who know nothing but comfort and plenty are also stepping along. I do not wish to make light of the dire and despicable situations that oppressive and evil people and forces have subjected the first of these groups of people to, but I do deliberately want to reflect on the fact that virtually all of us are involved in something of the same odyssey of fear, pain, discovery, and in the end, either hope or defeat.

 

The premise is simple. There is only one place of refuge, just a singular sanctuary city, that can be found by any who will enter into its walls. This is located in a spiritual realm and it operates with an economy that is founded upon faith rather than gold, silver, or precious jewels. We might delude ourselves into thinking that we have found that safe place or that secure fortress within the boundaries that are set out by nation, or leader, or wealth, or even by religion; but, all of these defenses will be breeched by the relentlessly destructive bent of the adversary, and every one of our human and earthly forms of sanctuary will be thrown aside by forces that come straight out of the darkened heart that breathes death and destruction on all who turn toward its mouth of doom.

 

As we set out on out along the personal refugee road that we have chosen or that has selected us, some of the boats that we choose to trust for escape are trustworthy, but others are headed to the bottom of the sea and only a brief period of time forestalls that disaster. On certain journeys, the food and water that were promised to be provided along the way are never there, and starvation and thirst win out over the continuation of life. So, on those days, the ocean or the desert win as they gain new permanent resident souls, and on others, personal strength overcomes and fortune shines upon the travelers. God tells us that there are other ways to be fed in the wilderness, and there are alternative routes that we can take in order to get to a place where the soul can dwell in the hope of eternity. This other course was set in place by way of promise even before those ancestors of ours were sent by God into the harsh terrain of their own design and choosing. When Eve and Adam passed the portal where the flaming sword demonstrated God’s no return policy, they set out along the perilous trail that all seekers of refuge are on.

 

We too live in times wherein we need to keep our bags packed and our loved ones close by. There is tension in the air and impermanence is the nature and the character of our world. Nations are fragile, government is untrustworthy as its leaders are too often liars and deceivers, economic might can collapse in a moment, and strength or power end upon a single misguided step. The Lord tells us to hold the things of this world lightly, to cherish what is eternal and to care about and for the things that He cares about. As Jesus depicted with great clarity, none of the things that God cares about come into being because of earthly power, station, or out of the exercise of might. They are all the sorts of things that can be carried in a light travel bag, and everything that we are to be concerned about was acquired and paid for by Jesus’ blood.

 

So, when we look upon those foreign faces that we reference as refugees, we are simply looking into a form of mirror that allows us to gaze into the unsettled state of our own souls. The language may sound strange and the customs are unfamiliar to our experience, but the heart, the desire for peace and for a place to dwell in security, and all of the rest of the person that is the living image of God, Himself, is present before our eyes. These are people who are to be embraced and cared for. These are lives that are precious to God and who should be held in the highest of regard by everyone. They are in the midst of their own part of the same great migration that I am on and that each of us travels. We are in this sojourn together in that we are all taking steps along a road that starts at birth and that seems to terminate at death but that actually continues into an eternity that exists beyond this world. So, as we encounter people from other places in our world we truly and actually are seeing another form of ourselves.

 

We can choose to embrace them and to share the burden of their journey or we can stand apart, untouched by their tears and the sweat of their trials, unmoved by the violence and the oppression that our world throws at them and that has shattered the sense of well-being that should be a basic right of all people. We can attempt to hold all others at a seemingly safe distance and even attempt to build walls of all sorts around our borders in order to safeguard our world, but this sort of self-guided protection will not be effective and there is nothing in it that is honoring to God and to His creation. God cares about people, and He sees each of us individually and loves every one of us equally. We are called upon by Him to do the same. There are no foreigners, no others, no strangers, and no refugees as separate categories or groups of people in our world. We are all refugees together as we travel from a place of unsettled life and unquiet spirit toward the promise and the hope of God’s redemption and its peace. In Christ we know its source and in God’s Kingdom we experience its dwelling place; so, let’s embrace all others as God’s own beloved co-travelers and invite them in to share the fellowship of our common heritage as God’s beloved children.

But I am the LORD your God

from the land of Egypt;

you know no God but me,

and besides me there is no savior.

Hosea 13: 4

 

There is both reminder and warning present here. God is sending them to His people through the words of Hosea, and they are specifically directed toward the people of Israel. However, it would be a very great mistake to simply relegate these words to that shelf labeled History and to an obsolete application. The issues that were troubling the Lord in the days of Hosea are still with us now as we seem to have a remarkably similar capacity to go our own way in life. The Israelites were guilty of worshiping other gods and of behaving in ways that were contrary to God’s will, His Word and Law. There were many times when they were even openly defiant of all that God stood for and entered into behaviors that He expressly forbade or that were significantly divergent from the Lord’s nature and character.

 

If this doesn’t make you think of many of the aspects of our world and of these days, then I think that we are living in on different planets or in alternate realities. This is a world where substitute gods are common. People turn to various forms of idol to pour out their passion in worship and to form up the ethical and moral structures that support their responses to all that comes along in the course of their days. Many of us seem to have little stomach for staying true to the harder aspects of following God. Frankly, we do not trust the Lord enough to enter into the riskier and the less comfortable aspects of loving others in a manner that is truly sacrificial, of serving the needs of the pour and the disadvantaged even when that costs us in terms of real currency, and of pouring out all of ourselves in a life dedicated to worshiping the Lord. It does seem that too many of us desire to be able to shape and to mold our god with our own hands rather than to surrender ourselves to His transformative work upon us.

 

God makes His desires very clear, and He also reminds us of the fact that He has never waivered in what He requires of His people or in the way that He enters into our lives for our benefit. The Lord wants us to commit all of our being to Him. This is true in our public, personal, and most private lives. He wants us to go through our cupboards and closets, our outward and our innermost expressions of our identities, and sweep out all of the idols that we have collected and stored up there. He also tells us to turn to Him as the only source of our salvation, and this is true regarding salvation for our souls and for that saving that is required every day in great and in subtle ways. Then we are to live out our days as an expression of that passionate worship that God so longs to receive from His people. That means that we would be unreservedly loving, compassionate and merciful, caretakers of creation, people who embrace the foreigner and those who are different from us, and actively engaged in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ though our words and our actions. So, in loving and in following God, we will be people who truly surrender our entire beings to the Lord’s transformative work in and upon us.

 

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.

Deuteronomy 24: 21

 

God made Moses very aware of the way that we humans function. So when Moses was setting out the laws for living in a gathered society, he dealt with issues like this one. It would be great if people would treat everyone with care and concern naturally and without the compulsion of the law. However, that is not how we are. People tend to be selfish and self-centered. We tend to either overlook those who are weak or needy, and we often seek to use and exploit them. Our desire to gain strength and status at the expense of those who are in need of our care is not a condition of modern times; rather, it is something that sin has woven into the fabric of this world.

 

Like all other ways in which sin has damaged, broken, and destroyed God’s created beauty and love, there is a cure for this issue. We are called upon by God to hold our possessions with hands that are very open. In this instance, the Israelites were given instruction about leaving part of the harvest behind in the fields, orchards, and vineyards. Implied in all of this is the fact that the harvest is not really ours. It is a gift from God, and He gives out of a bounty that is unending. This law does not contain a stipulation about the quantity or the quality of the harvest, either. This concept of leaving part of the crop for those who were in need applied to every year and to each person’s crop. God’s approach to helping the people who were in greatest need involved both the provision of food and a means where by those people could get it with dignity by picking it themselves.

 

Most of us don’t tend vineyards, and frankly, our modern culture doesn’t function like the one where Moses lived. But, there are still people who are in need. Our world has its share of individuals who are weak, disadvantaged, and unable to fully care for themselves. God cares for them greatly, and He wants His people to care for others out of Christ’s love. It seems that God wants us to learn to trust Him fully. He promises to provide us with all that we need. As we give away what is truly not ours, God will either replace it so that we don’t starve or He will demonstrate to us the fact that we did not actually need what we gave away. This sort of demonstration of loving others because of Christ’s love for me is a powerful form of witness in this world where self interest is normal and prevalent. As we enter into providing for the real and tangible needs of others, we become living examples of God’s redemptive drive as we speak the peace, grace, hope, and restoration that come only from Christ into the lives of the people we touch.

And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals,

for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and nation,

and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5: 8-10

 

Contained within these few words and short song that is tucked into the early chapters of John’s prophetic vision about what is to come are words of real encouragement and also valuable direction for the way that we should be thinking and acting today. I admit that most of what is stated in The Revelation of Jesus Christ is mysterious. In fact, I believe that God made it that way deliberately so that we would stay living in the here and now and not just decide that we would focus our attention on the promise of the Lord’s return and the end of all that is miserable and lost in our world. Additionally, we are called by Christ to respond to Him and to His supreme sacrifice on our account by following Him and going into all of the world and by seeking to make disciples of everyone that we encounter there.

 

This idea can be very difficult in our times and in our current world condition. There are too many enemies out there. There is so very much anger and hatred and pain to confront. No one is insulated from it, and all of us are impacted by the multitude of ways that people can find to maim, marginalize, and oppress others. Angry ideologies and theologies are commonplace in our discourse. It is hard to encounter much in the way of genuine compassion, care, mercy, and love that is lived out in our communities. Unfortunately, the loveless communities of our world include far too many of our faith-based gatherings. Still, Christ tells us that His blood was spilled in order to purchase the freedom of people from “Every tribe and language and nation.” Christ’s language is that of inclusion. It speaks of a totality that eliminates the differences that have come as a result of sin.

 

It seems to me that as we seek to follow Christ we need to stop speaking in a nationalistic and racially or even a religiously prejudiced voice. The events that are occurring in our world should not change this. In fact, when evil strikes, people who know Christ need to respond with fearless love that seeks out the lost and the marginalized in our society and that at least presents the truth of God’s unending love for all people to them. This means that we walk through life with people who make us uncomfortable. Christ calls us to enter into life with people who are truly “the others”. These are people who think differently than us, who believe in a god that is not the same as ours, who dress and speak in ways that are strange to us, and who often are fearful of us and of our intent. Our journey through life would then follow the same sort of path that Jesus walked. This starts with our prayers. I think that these are the same ones that are being poured out in this psalm of healing and reconciliation. We can fill those golden bowls with prayers for all of the people in our world who make us angry, fearful, and uncomfortable. Then we need to reach out the hand of loving fellowship and peace to everyone we meet. In doing this we join with Christ in bringing true love to a lost world.

 

 

Therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

Genesis 3: 23

 

There is an old expression, “There is trouble in the garden.” which refers to the fact that there is struggle and strife in whatever form of human relationship is undergoing scrutiny. This expression and the idea behind it come directly from the third chapter of Genesis. This is the point in the narrative of human history where people turned away from God and began to believe that they were more capable of determining their own course and proceeding through life. This is the moment when the perfection of creation was fractured and the absolute intimacy between people and God was almost fatally broken. All of humanity became estranged from God, and God required these newly defined strangers to disperse out of the eternity of His absolute presence.

 

Although we started this long history of life outside of the garden of God’s total presence in a place to the east from the home of our creation, over time and as our numbers increased we migrated to every corner of the world. Yet, each of these new lands and all of the territory that we occupied remained a foreign land in regards to restoration of our place in intimate relationship with God. So, throughout the history of humanity, God has retained the role of pursuing shepherd. He has continually come out in search of the lost, the Lord has provided comfort and protection for us in this harsh land of our own choosing, and the Father provided the Son to be a final and absolute answer to this separation.

 

So, all people are strangers to the land of God’s dwelling. We spend our lives in transit from the sin-ravaged and desolate landscapes of our birth toward a land where we can dwell in the presence of our Creator. Some people arrive in this place, and others never find its rest. The difference in those journeys is Christ. Knowing Him transforms our personal dwelling, that is our bodies, into God’s promised land of grace, love, and peace for the soul. Until we know Christ, we remain strangers and migrants on a road through life that leads only to death. God purposefully takes us in as immigrants to His kingdom of life, and through Christ all people without regard to race, religion, or place of birth become full citizens of God’s renewed spiritual kingdom.

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

Ezekiel 18: 23

 

A lot of people think that God simply does not like them. They believe that He is angry with their life choices, with their attitudes, or simply with them. They stay as far away from God and from anything that is related to Him as is possible. This is understandable for people who don’t know God. It is easy and often natural to have an unclear and a distorted view of the Lord’s character and intent toward people when He is only known about and not known in an intimate way.

 

Sadly, God’s own don’t always help the cause of understanding, either. We lash out in angry words and actions against people who can’t be held to a standard of righteous behavior since they don’t hold the key to righteousness. We approach a discussion about life and lifestyle in a manner that points to the bad behaviors of others and heaps guilt upon their heads. This is not how God does the same things. Behaving as if we are angry with people does not show them the face of God; instead, it pushes them away from Him.

 

The Lord is very concerned with the way that we live, and He sets very clear standards for people’s behavior. Still, He knows that living up to His standards is impossible for people who don’t know Him. God cares about the relationship that people have with Him. He wants all people to know Him personally. The Lord directs His children to show others the truth about Him and His character and to help them understand the reality of the love that God has for everyone. The answer to the evil that is rampant in our world is not anger, and it is not separation leading to isolation. Rather, it is found in loving those who don’t know Christ; it is found in connecting with them and in understanding their needs. God’s response to lost people is demonstrated by his attitude of sadness at their lack of hope, and He commands us to share this concern and to act upon it by sharing the love of Christ with others. The evil of this world needs to be confronted with the soul saving truth of God’s grace, restoration, and love.