One would have to be living in a grass hut in the middle of the jungle to miss the resonant headlines about the global refugee crisis. Multiplied thousands from nations like Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Libya are streaming into other nations, primarily in Europe, to escape the devastation of their homeland and find a better life in a new society.
This has been described as the worst refugee crisis in 25 years. Reports tell us that over the last four years, four million Syrians have been forced out of their country as a result of the civil war in that nation. Besides the millions that are now homeless, hundreds have died on ships, in the backs of trucks, and by drowning at sea. Truly it is a tragedy that demands our prayers and creates huge challenges for the nations that are trying to receive and provide for those in exile.
Recently, as I watched the news reports and observed the images of countless men, women, boys, and girls struggling with their uncertain journey, I was reminded of a Bible passage:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 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 11:13-16).
Meditate on that for a moment. In the great “faith” chapter, God honored those who understood that they were exiles in their society. Like the refugees we see on television, they lived with little attachment to the things of this life and focused their earthly journey on a better homeland. So while the images of refugees dominate the news, let’s reaffirm our own calling as sojourners in this world.
Displaced by Dissatisfaction
Just as the devastation of their homeland has created the compulsion for modern-day refugees to leave the familiar in hopes of something better, so our dissatisfaction with this world compels us to “be not confirmed to this world” (Romans 12:1). Our world is a spiritual battle zone, devastated by the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” as we battle “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6: 12). The Bible warns us not to love this world, neither the things in this world, because this world is passing away – like a vapor (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:14). I remember an old gospel song that declared, “This world is not my home, I am just passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue…and I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.” This is the true mark of a genuine believer, as the Bible declares, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
It is notable that we have not seen any of these refugees pulling cars, towing homes, or dragging living room furniture behind them. “Only the clothes on their back” has been a frequent line in the reporting. The Bible reminds us that “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the work of God’s word and it becomes unfruitful (Matthew 13:22). Clearly, we all need to provide for the basic needs of our families, but it is also good to remember that the more we own, the more it can own us. Pursuing simplicity in the midst of prosperity is not an easy task. But it must be the resolve of one who understands his identity in this world as being a “sojourner”. Jesus said:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19–21).
In 1 Timothy 6:8, the Apostle Paul challenges us, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” This is admittedly not an easy paradigm for believers in a prosperous culture, but a vital pursuit for those in search of a better home and reward.
Next week we will examine the joy of the sojourner who lives in the real and constant hope of a better homeland. We will realize that “no turning back” is more than the slogan from a familiar chorus. Finally, we will realize that our refugee road is all about a higher and life-transforming mission.
For now, fellow pilgrim, remember that our journey is not aimless. David wrote, “I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!” As counterculture as this idea of a “refugee” feels to us, let us remember that our identity, our purpose, our direction, and our values cannot come from the society around us, but from the word of God. Like a driver navigating a crazy traffic jam in an unfamiliar city, carefully watching his GPS, may we hear, love, and obey our marching orders straight from the inspired word of God. Keep walking in the light of His truth. The reward of a sojourning life is beyond this world.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.