From Back to Front
This weekend our exploration of the refugee reality that underpins the nativity story will come to a close. What a weekend awaits us. Our Refugee Christmas Experience (Saturday @19.00h and Sunday @ 10.00h) will be an incredible celebration of the hope and life that God has offered to us through the person and work of Jesus.
Brad and I planned this series with this weekend in mind. We planned it from back to front, so too speak. We designed the series to lead up to this weekend. We sought to show how we are all refugees, fleeing a tyrannical power. Jesus entered Egypt to set us free from death’s reign. Jesus entered Egypt to set us free from sin's rule. This weekend we get to celebrate that truth. Christmas is a wonderful holiday season but it’s power lies in the reality that Christmas is the starting point for the Christian message, not the end. The refugee reality of our Christ reminds us however, that God knew the end at the beginning and carefully orchestrated each facet of the birth of Christ to convey a very clear message:
- We can be free!
- Our sin can be forgiven!
- Sin doesn't have to control us!
- Death’s reign will be destroyed!
These are four incredible reasons to celebrate. Helping us celebrate this weekend will be guests from near and far. We are delighted to welcome Stikyard this weekend. They will minister with our band, orchestra and choir leading us in Christmas performed in a way that we will never forget!
As the series draws to a close, I thought I’d share four lessons I’ve learned through this series. At the end of every series I ponder what I personally have learned through it. Below are some of those lessons...
- God is in control of the series we choose.
There have been a few times in my ministry when God has reminded me that He is in control of the series I teach. A few years ago, for example, I taught through Colossians. I entitled the series, “Colossal Quakes.” I titled the series that way because of the ‘seismic overtones’ in a number of Paul’s word choices in the letter. Our research revealed an earthquake in the region shortly before Paul wrote. I was thrilled with the series. We started the series with a bumper video that humorously depicted what to do in an earthquake. Our team did an incredible job and we were thrilled. I taught the first message and guess what happened that week? The Haiti earthquake! I couldn’t believe it. A number of people called to complain. They considered it inappropriate for a church to capitalize on the tragedy of a nation. When we told them that the theme was decided long ago and that the series began a day before the quake hit, they didn’t quite know what to say.
I feel like that with this Refugee series. The theme was established, with this weekend in mind, long before the topic became the political football it is today. We saw the displacement issues in the Christmas story and, realizing that Jesus came to save us from sin that alienated us from God, we took the refugee title. There are times through the series when I’ve felt like we could do without the hassle, honestly. However, it is in those moments that the Spirit reminds me that God is in control. That control also extends to the series we choose to teach.
- On critical issues, people often hear what they want to hear.
Take last Sunday’s message for example. This was a message about internally displaced people not refugees. In the message I encouraged our congregation to open their hearts to US residents who will move in to Holland for work. I’m told there are 3400 quality employment opportunities available in our small town. Unfortunately, we have between 6000-8000 too few homes. My encouragement from the Bethlehem birth narrative of Luke 2 was for us all to recognize how hard it is for people migrating to a new town. I used my own story as an example of the challenges a family faces. While the message did not address refugees we still had folks writing to complain about us welcoming refugees. The lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes it really doesn’t matter what we say or how much we explain our intentions, a pet theme is going to remain a pet theme. Sometimes the more we try to explain what we mean, the more difficult the conversations become.
- Fear and prejudice has led some to label people in unhelpful ways.
By far the most disappointing aspect of this series has been the way some have felt the need to label all refugees and Muslims as terrorists. This is neither fair, nor right. Thankfully when we've pointed that issue out the vast majority of people who've asked Brad and my opinion on this topic have been truly great. There is still the minority, however.
- The Interconnectedness of the Scriptures never ceases to amaze me.
The deeper I've dug into the refugee reality of the Christmas story the more aware I've become of the interconnectedness of the Scriptures. I've been amazed at how it all fits together in ways I've never seen before. It’s been great to study this topic and discover news ways that the Older and New Testament connect.
The refugee reality of Christmas is a powerful message for our world today. Keeping our refugee heritage in mind helps us represent Christ in a world where people drift aimlessly and struggle under sin’s controlling power. Christmas is where the Christian story begins, but it’s not where it ends. The Bible says that, “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Gal. 4:4). As we celebrate this weekend, let’s not forget that God acted with the end in mind. He planned from back to front.
We hope to see you this weekend. You can join us live online too!