I read it on the Internet so it must be true – right?

There are lots of places to get your news and information these days – CNN (leans left), FOX (leans right), NPR (leans intellectual), the Internet (leans – everywhere), gossip magazines (leans to the gullible & bored), the government (leans politically expedient) and then you own personal experiences which although definitely lean true, they might not be the whole truth.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point.  In just the last couple of days Barbie has been told that Michelle Obama is really a man and that Barak is gay.  Follow that up with the “breaking news” there is a project in Alaska called HAARP which “they” are using to cause (among other things) the drought in California and the earthquakes in Oklahoma.  The sinister motive behind the infamous “they” is to cause everybody to move out of California and return the fertile valleys to Government lands and the earthquakes, which center around Cushing, are an effort to disrupt the oil industry and once and for all stop the Keystone Pipeline project.  It didn’t take much checking to find out that the HAARP project was scrapped in the last few years due to lack of success and funding and earlier this year the entire project was deeded over to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.   And here is the really scary part, the people who told Barbie of these ridiculous conspiracy theories were “mature” adults (55 years+) one of whom works in education at a local university and another attends our church.  The internet was cited as the source of these stories when Barbie asked.  I did some checking (on the internet) and the Michelle/Barak story was originated by none other than the trusted investigative reporter Joan Rivers.

By the way, I am not going to discuss either these issues here (or anywhere else for that matter), but I would like to discuss the fact that just because you read it on the internet doesn’t make it so.  I have read or listened to numerous reports or rants about the proposed acceptance of Syrian refugees in recent days. They have covered the gamete from “they are part of a well planned Trojan horse” to keep out at all cost to “God is love” and because of that fact it follows we should let them all in.  Most notably have been numerous reports that there is little to no risk in letting them in and especially the widows and orphans because the vetting process is almost foolproof in weeding out all (current) jihadists.  There are likely elements of truth in all these angles.

I would like to share a story directly related to this discussion from my own personal life experience – not off the internet.  When Barbie and I first lived in Israel in the late 70’s things were drastically different from today.  It was very common for the population to tramp (hitchhike) all over the country accepting rides from whoever stopped, whether Jew or Arab.  People didn’t think twice about shopping in East Jerusalem, the Arab quarter of the Old City, Bethlehem or Gaza.  If you rented a car you could drive wherever you wanted with no concern beyond a flat tire.  Yes there were occasionally terrorist attacks, but in most cases they were carried out by jihadists who had snuck across the border from Jordan or Syria in the hours before the attack.  In other words, the vast majority of the Arab population were living and loving life in a peaceful co-existence with their Israeli occupiers.  Fast forward to the early 90’s when we lived there for a couple of months as part of YWAM (Youth With a Mission).  Imams from the surrounding Arab countries began to garner greater and greater control over the Arab population in Israel to the point there were significant security concerns at many of the traditional tourist locations such as Bethlehem, Jericho & Hebron.  And a visit to Gaza was totally out of the question.  The team we led got a pretty good feel for the deteriorating situation as we spent a lot of our time in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  We were strongly cautioned about taking our rental van into predominantly Arab sections of the country as ambush attacks on cars with Israeli tags were on the rise.  Barbie and I have been able to visit Israel a couple more times in the last 20 years to include a spring trip last year.  Now there are walls, fences and checkpoints everywhere, you are forbidden from taking rental cars into many areas and a population that some 30 years earlier was not radicalized has been, in just one generation, transformed into what may well be a radicalized majority who are carrying out knife, car and gun attacks (some by women and young boys) almost on a daily basis from Arabs within the country.

You see, to truly understand Islam, you must understand the huge influence the main Imams have over their “flock”.  Not too unlike prominent Christian leaders such as the Pope, Billy Graham and Joel Osteen have over trends in Christianity – some good and some not so good.  In Islam, there are a significant majority of the Imams calling for jihad.  Take note that one thing that has been missing in response to the recent terrorist attacks has been any broad scale denouncing of them by the Imams of the Islamic world.  Yes, there have been some Arabs who have denounced these acts, but what has dominated the headlines are things like what happened a couple of days after the Paris attacks when Turkish fans booed and shouted Allahu akbar during a moment of silence to honor the Paris victims before a soccer match between Turkey and Greece.

So is there risk is bringing the refugees here?  Yes, there are absolutely great risks and anybody who dismisses the cautions claiming there is little to no risk either doesn’t understand Islam, has little interest in learning or they read something on the internet to the contrary.

Having said all that, as a Christian, I must try and view this situation through God’s eyes and a heavenly perspective.  The US is not my real home, I hopefully count my life on this earth as no value for the sake of the Gospel and what if all this is part of Gods grand plan to bring those in desperate need of the Gospel right to our door step?  As one who has been involved in mission work in the Middle East, I can tell you it is very difficult if not forbidden to do mission work over there.  And this refugee challenge might just be a golden opportunity for the Church to strategize together for the sake of the Gospel.  What if Churches across this country offered to sponsor refugee families on a grand scale?  Not to cram the Gospel down their throat, but to love on them, serve them and help them get jobs and housing in a strange new country.   What if?

I love and am challenged by the story of the Moravian missionaries Dober and Nitschmann who went so far as to sell themselves into slavery in order to bring the Gospel to the West Indies in 1732.  There was of course great risk for them to do that, and although there is risk in bringing Syrian refugees to American soil we too could echo the cry heard from Dober & Nitschmann from the bow of that ship as it pulled out of that German Harbor –

“May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”

No easy answers – this is way above yours or my pay grade!

There is a legitimate debate going on right now in the US over Syrian refugees.  At least I am calling it legitimate.  I have been surprised at how many don’t see any legitimacy in the debate because the answer (to them) is so obvious and simple.  And I am not speaking about only one side, both sides “see” so clearly as to be dismissive, rude or accusatory to the “other” side.  Barbie and I even had someone unfriend us yesterday because we would not enter into the bombastic and inflammatory manner they were taking.  It wasn’t even that we disagreed with them but rather the rude and arrogant method of delivery.

So is this an Old Testament argument, a New Testament argument or somewhere in between.  Some have tried to reduce the debate points down to “God is always Love” or “If you don’t protect those in your own family, your are worse than and unbeliever”.  Both of those points are true but neither of them fully encompasses this debate.  Please do not reduce the compassion for refugees or the security of the US to a “one liner”.  Even between Barbie and I there are strong leanings to the different sides.  And all of this speaks to me of a few things, patience, learning, listening, respect and most of all the Holy Spirit.

I will tell you that I am not the type to quickly to cut out of my Bible those parts in the Old Testament where, because of the evil of their religious practices, God ordered entire peoples destroyed to include women and children.  But at the same time I will never discount the over arching theme in the New Testament that there is none beyond the reach of God’s love.  Some might see these themes to be in contradiction.  But because we also know that God never changes, we have to accept that in fact they are not in contradiction and we must wrestle with that reality and find the balance.  Were those people destroyed because their spiritual DNA was so far gone that it had to be wiped out so it couldn’t spread?  Could that then have been a loving thing to do to protect many future generations of God’s people from those evil influences in nearby villages.  If that same story was repeated after Jesus’ sacrifice was made would God have ordered a different outcome.  That may well be.  In the NT we see Jesus telling a woman, properly sentenced to death for adultery, to go and stop doing it after her executioners leave.  But later we witness God killing a husband and wife “just” for lying.  Are you duly confused by now as to how God does things? (Isaiah 55:8)

On accepting refugees, Republicans are leaning to a pause or a big no which challenges Christians which probably lean more towards yes.  Most Democrats along with Obama lean yes mocking Republicans as being afraid of widows and orphans.  Yet it was a woman who blew herself up this morning in France wounding 5 officers and a special on PBS last night highlighted how ISIS is training kids as young as 4 to become jihadist.  Then today in Turkey and Honduras there were 13 Syrians, with suspected ISIS ties, arrested while posing as refugees trying to get to Europe and North America.  And consider our cherished value of “’Give me your tiredyour poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” boldly inscribed on the Statue of Liberty combined with exhortations in scripture to take care of the poor and homeless (paraphrased) and you have the makings of a real dilemma.

I am not a bigot if I choose the safety of my family first and my wife is not naive if she leans towards opening our borders.  But we both would show our shallowness if we were not able to listen to each other and with prayer and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit endeavor to flesh out God’s plan.

This is great risk either way.  There is great risk if some of the refugees follow the likes of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Chechen refugee who came here as a little boy who was not radicalized and after his family began to follow the American dream he decided to bomb the Boston Marathon.  And what are the risks if we close our borders?  Perhaps that is a cost that will be felt in unknown ways other than terrorist attacks.

So if you are still determined to throw out your quippy one liners, then you really don’t understand or appreciate how complicated this discussion truly is.  And if you are given pause by this Blog then join me and countless others in praying that God will give our leaders and our military the wisdom from on high to deal mercy and justice for all concerned.