As an intern at Refuge Louisville, I can say from experience that we never quite know what’s going to happen on a given day. We might spend a day working in the office, or we might till a field with refugees in the community garden. We might eat the lunch we packed for the day or we might share a meal with friends from around the world.
The adventures we’ve taken part in here at Refuge have been incredible. The night the picture above was taken, thought, was especially impactful for me. That night (the Refuge team, plus some Love Thy Neighborhood interns) shared a meal with Turkish internationals. The meal we shared wasn’t just any meal; the food we ate was prepared to break the daily fast of Ramadan, a month-long holiday that is foundational to Islamic practice. We had gathered to share a meal and dialogue with these people (all of whom were Muslim) about our faiths. What happened, though, is that we not only shared a meal, but a piece of our lives. As I ate with my new friends, I began to see more and more clearly how similar we are. We shared a common love for our families, a passion for justice, and a desire for right relationship with God and other people.
What I experienced that night and throughout my time with Refuge has stirred my mind and heart to answer the question: What do we as the Church offer these people we serve that nobody else can give? Surely they have personal struggles and needs, and their lives haven’t been perfect, but on the whole, once they’re settled in America, their lives seem fine. They’re nice, moral people, and they have dedicated their professional lives to helping those around them. Why share the Gospel with them? What does the Gospel of Jesus Christ add to their lives?
The we answer these questions is of central importance. How do we answer them?
In the early 2000’s, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton carried out a study dedicated to answering this question: What do American youth believe about God? They found that many young people believed in several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions. It is this combination of beliefs that they label “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”:
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on Earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
The results of this study expose an uncomfortable truth about the way we understand Christianity in America. The truth is this: that we often see Christianity as the pursuit of personal morality rather than pursuit of relationship with the living God. Paul encourages us to test ourselves to see if we are in the faith (II Cor. 13:5). In other words, we are to constantly ask ourselves these kinds of questions: What are we living for? Is our faith a pursuit of personal morality with little help from God, or is it living, active, trusting daily walk with our Maker?
God’s call is not to personal morality as an end in itself; instead, God calls us into real, vibrant, abundant life with him and the people he has made. God calls us not primarily into morality, but to reality. God calls us to join Him in the real world, living the story of the reconciliation of all things that he is continually writing. Will we go the way of the Pharisees, working up what we can and hoping it will be enough? Or are we willing to put down the work of our own hands so we can take the hand of the God who works day and night, in and around us and invites us to join Him?
I know that my Turkish friends don’t know Jesus. But I also know that God is calling them as He is calling us. I know that God is inviting them to join in the life of His Kingdom and into the reconciliation of all things to Himself. “All Things” includes that which is far off and that which is right outside our door – our next door neighbor and those from every tribe, tongue, and nation. As I grow to know them more, I pray I might make known to them the Gospel of life in Christ.
This is the Gospel we try to live into; this is the Gospel that shapes our lives and informs our actions. This is the Gospel we strive to proclaim by our words, our actions, and our presence in the lives of Louisville’s refugees. May our Lord grant that we would not live in pursuit of our own morality, but in pursuit of richer and deeper life with Him.
-further information on this study can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moralistic_therapeutic_deism
Blog by: Jefferson Storms