Immigrants in the Bible

Have you ever noticed how many of the people in the Bible have immigrant experiences?

Adam and Eve

As a consequence of their sin, they are forced to live in exile, in a place of where hard labor and pain feature prominently in their day-to-day lives. They were immigrants.

Abraham, Sarah and Lot

In response to God's call they pick up everything and head to a new country. They struggle to maintain their unique identity and compromise with the host culture with fiery consequences. They were immigrants.


Despite his brothers' evil intentions, Joseph finds himself fulfilling God's good purposes in a powerful governmental position after being sold into slavery, trafficked to another country and working his way to a place of influence. He was an immigrant.


Though his people served as cheap labor, his host country took steps to subdue and control the growth of his family. Supported by miracle after miracle, Moses led his people from a land where they were foreigners to a place they could call their own. He was an immigrant.


Married to an immigrant and loyal to his family even after she entered widowhood, Ruth left her home and her people, her culture and her support systems to travel to a new country. She worked on the edges of society and within the law to provide for her mother-in-law. She was an immigrant.


He left the comfort and glory of heaven to experience the pain and death and cold of our world. Our missionary God, he accepted displacement for the sake of our salvation. He is an immigrant.

And what can we say about David or Daniel, about Jacob or Joshua, about Ezra or Nehemiah, about Peter or Paul or Priscilla, about the Exile or the Great Commission? The theme of immigration is woven throughout the entire Bible, as immigrants play starring roles.

How does God feel about immigrants? That's the subject of the next post.

This is the fourth post in a Short Series: A Biblical Perspective on Immigration. The next post in this series will be ... God shows special concern for immigrants.

Immigration is not primarily political

The immigration conversation often gets framed politically.

Honestly, I'm hesitant to share what I'm learning about immigration for fear of political fights. When some people hear that I'm teaching on immigration, they make assumptions about where I'm coming from and what I'll be saying.

That's the world we live in. But that's not the world of the Bible.

The Bible doesn't assume immigration is a political issue, at least, not primarily.

But this is where we usually start. We usually start with these verses ...
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
- Romans 13:1-4 
At first glance, this seems a solid starting place. "Submit to the governing authorities." Obey the law and it will be like you are obeying God himself. Obey the law and you will have no reason to fear.

We hear that we are a nation of laws. Our laws, for the most part, are clear and easy to follow. Law-abiding people are welcomed. Break the law and face the consequences. It seems simple. It even seems biblical.

But it isn't.

Simple, that is. It isn't simple. And it isn't exactly or strictly biblical.

Look at the author. Paul was a law-abiding man. Except when he wasn't. He preached even when the law didn't allow him to. He bucked the governing authorities at the cost of great pain. The authorities that wielded the sword used it to take off Paul's head.

Paul isn't an isolated example. The apostles resisted the governing authorities, claiming "we must obey God rather than men." And they paid the price.

Jesus also paid that price.

In the bigger narrative, strict adherence to law was not the example we were set. We follow a tradition and a God who resisted authorities, who toppled them and triumphed over them.

So what do we do with verses like this? And what does this mean for our conversation about immigration?

The context provides a clue.

I find it fascinating to read the verses that come right before Romans 13:1-4. Do you know what they say?

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:21).

Think about this. "Overcome evil with good." How is evil conquered? Mysterious and terrible, evil ultimately met its match when Christ died on the cross and triumphed in the resurrection. Christ submitted to the governing authorities. In a miscarriage of justice, he overcame evil with good.

The good Paul is talking about looks like submitting to the governing authorities, accepting the consequences of living a Christ-like life in a Christ-created community.

And that life looks like this ...
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
- Romans 12:9-16
What do you notice about this life, this community? Deep relationships. Others-centeredness. Commitment to the Lord. Hospitality. Shalom. Humility.

It is wonderfully difficult to have abstract political conversations with real people in your vision, people you are called to love, to show hospitality toward to live in harmony with, to be willing to associate with ... despite the politics of it.

Political conversations often ignore the human reality. But the Bible doesn't allow for that.

Here's the human reality in the immigration conversation:
 - Immigrants are people
- The children and families of immigrants are people
- The natives and locals are people
- The recent arrivals are people
- The Minutemen guarding the border are people
- The ICE agents are people
- People with documents are people
- People without documents are people
- Democrats and Republicans ... they're people too

Throughout the Bible, you see this clear trend: people come before before politics.

The real call of God is to love real people and to love the real God who makes real love possible. Love can eventually lead to a variety of political postures and positions. But we must start with love.

We have to start with people.

This is the third post in a Short Series: A Biblical Perspective on Immigration. The next post in this series will be ... Immigrants in the Bible.

There is more to immigration than documents

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" 
- excerpt from "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

Perhaps you recognize this poem from the inside of the Statue of Liberty. What a spectacular image. Lady Liberty shining her light back to the Old World, a beacon for hopeful travelers, offering new hope in the New World.

This poem was written in 1883 to help raise funds for the pedestal on which the statue stands. Millions of immigrants sailed into the New York harbor and received a welcome into the United States. My family fits that category.

But just a few months before Emma Lazarus crafted her poem for the Statue of Liberty, the US Congress passed The Chinese Exclusion Act. This piece of legislation was the first major restriction on immigration in the history of the United States. The law was racially motivated and gave rise to a new wave of human trafficking in the post-Civil War United States.

So, which is it?

Are we welcoming or exclusionary?

What values do we bring to the conversation? If we are going to lay a foundation for a thoroughgoing biblical perspective on immigration, we need to surface our predispositions first. This is a core principle to engaging with biblical thought.

The dance of exclusion and embrace is woven throughout the Scriptures. In one breath, God's people are commanded to kill the natives in the Promised Land. In another, they are commanded to go out of their way to care for the stranger in their midst.

As we try to follow Jesus and submit ourselves to his teaching and ethics and gospel, we find ourselves in a tenuous place with the Scriptures. Some parts will resonate with us, will excite us. Others will disturb us, will tempt us to pass them over without much examination.

Whatever you believe about immigration, your predispositions show up when you start studying what the Bible has to say on the subject.

For me, I struggled when I realized that there was more to immigration than documents, that is to say that the immigration conversation is not merely a question of the law.

In the United States, we currently host over 37,000,000 immigrants. Less than a third of them are here without documents. The vast majority came to the United States legally, live here legally and are completely ignored by most conversations about immigration.

But they are not ignored by the Bible.

In fact, the Bible does something fascinating when it comes to immigration: The Bible does not assume there will be legal and illegal immigration, just that there will be immigrants. The biblical ethic doesn't provide one set of guidelines for people with documents and another for people without. God's people never built border fences. It would have been a foreign concept to them.

The Bible doesn't talk much about immigration, though it does have a lot to say about immigrants. 

This is just one gap that I've had to jump across as I've attempted to think in a rigorously biblical way about immigration. The Bible was not written to me with my cultural moment in mind. Though the Bible is relevant to me, if I don't question my presuppositions, I'll miss what it has to say.

What predispositions and presuppostions do you find yourself bringing to the Bible when you try to construct a biblical perspective on immigration for yourself?

This post is the second part in a Short Series: A Biblical Perspective on Immigration. The next post in this series will be ... Immigration is not primarily political.

Short Series: A Biblical Perspective on Immigration

How does the Bible shape our views on immigration?

For many Christians, the answer is "Hardly at all." Immigration feels like a political issue. The Bible seems irrelevant in a conversation focused on law and fairness and economics.

For other Christians, the Bible shapes their view on immigration in very specific ways. Specific verses sharply poke their way into conversation. A handful of words from Romans or Leviticus settle the matter.

But I long for a better, more rigorous, more thoroughly biblical way of thinking and talking about immigration. The Bible has to be relevant. It must do more than give us single-shot ammunition for political skirmishes. This is true about all issues, but blindingly obvious when it comes to immigration.

Over the last year, I have had a dozen or so extremely meaningful conversations about immigration. I've taught two seminars, dialogued with several InterVarsity Staff, and spent time with immigrant college students. And I've been digging through the Bible. I don't have all the answers, but I've found myself looking for them.

Here are the posts I'm planning on writing in this series. Links will become active as the posts are posted.

There is more to immigration than documents
Immigration is not primarily political
Immigrants in the Bible
God shows special care for immigrants
God the Immigrant
Immigration and the Justice of God
The Immigrant Church
Campus Applications concerning Immigration

Whatever you believe about the politics of immigration or about various laws and rules and regulations, if you follow Jesus, I believe you should constantly submit yourself to God's word. This will not automatically twist a vote toward one party or another. Christians can, I believe, in good conscience choose to vote for Republicans or Democrats or a third party or choose not to vote at all. What we can't choose to do is to view immigrants (or anyone else for that matter) without the lens of Scripture in place. But then, that's what I hope to write about next ...

3 Reasons You Should Plan Your Week in Advance (and how to do it)

I started weekly planning while in college.

Overachieving Duke student that I was, I made a spreadsheet, printed a copy for every week of the semester and hung them on my refrigerator. This was the trick that let me graduate college in 3 years.

When I started working with InterVarsity, I kept my weekly planning in place. It's been 8 years and I have the same system. Every week, for over a decade, I sit down and plan out my week (that means I've done this over 500 times).

Here's what my weekly calendar looks like (this was last week):

Weekly Schedule ... gotta love the color-coding

Here are 3 reasons I think this practice is important:

Planning frees up decision energy

We have thousands of decisions to make every week. And I don't know about you, but I find decision-making exhausting. In the midst of a busy day or a busy week, it's so easy to let things slip by because you don't have the mental or emotional energy to make a decision.

What am I going to do this week? What am I going to do today? What am I going to do next?

Front-loading these decisions in your week frees up decision energy for you to use on the day of. If I know I have time to answer the e-mail, I can pump that decision energy into the content of the email. If I know what my week is going to look like, I can make quick and accurate decisions about my availability and capacity.

And I can push my limits.

Planning helps you identify patterns

Where does your time go?

6 years ago, I noticed that I was spending 5 nights every week on campus. I was newly married and Amy worked during the day. My 5 nights every week schedule left us with little time together. When she said she felt like we weren't spending much time together, I had the data to back her up.

Over the years, my planning process has uncovered wild imbalances in my Staff work. One year I did almost no fundraising. Another year, I spent all of my time with my student leadership team (and no time with non-Christian students or future leaders in our chapter). Another year, I went weeks without dedicated time to pray for the ministry.

Establishing a planning process can help you make sure you cover your bases, make sure you don't let the urgent crowd out the important, make sure you're doing what you need to be doing.

Planning gives you permission to stop

This is the last major benefit to planning.

Ministry jobs, like a lot of jobs (parenting, teaching, sales), don't really let you know when you're done. You could always work more. You could always do more.

I've discovered that I'm prone to trying to do more than I can do. I'll work longer hours, skip Sabbath and retreat days, push and push and push. And at some point, this practice yields diminishing returns. I work more but get less done. I work longer but, being exhausted, don't work well.

In the heat of the moment, I don't want to stop. I want to keep going. Answer one more e-mail so I don't get yelled at by my boss. Spend one more hour on campus in case that student decides to stop by. Read one more chapter so that I'm drawing from a deeper well this week. More. More. More.

On Sunday afternoons, more isn't attractive. My Sunday planning moment has less heat. In that moment, more looks like less. Less health. Less efficiency. Less time with my wife and son.

Planning grants perspective enough to help me to stop. Some days, it's the only thing that gets me to stop. Some days, it's not enough. But without it ... well ... without it I'd be in a lot of trouble.
So, what do you think? Are you interested in planning your week?

Here's how to get started:

Start by tracking where you spend time. 

To paraphrase Andy Stanley: You've got to be knowing where your time is going. This is the first step of stewardship. God has given you a limited amount of time. Where are you spending it?

Time is like money in this way. If you don't know where it's going, you can't give it directions. What good would it do for you to map out an ideal week only to realize you failed to include enough sleep? (I'll tell you what it does ... it gets you a C+ in Calc 3 and it makes your parents worried).

Take a week or a month and track your time. Even if you don't take this thing any farther, you'll benefit from this practice.

But you should take this thing farther. You can do it.

Create your system.

While you're tracking where you spend your time, you can start to develop your system.

I like to use an Excel spreadsheet. I've used the same document for 8 years. I just save over the top of the old one. I keep it on my desktop and open it first thing every morning. Simple. Fast. No internet required. Transports to any computer easily.

My day tends to run from 7am to 10pm. I end up working on weekends a lot, so I included weekends in my calendar. I don't need a ton of precision, so I can break my day into 30 minute blocks. When I was in college and working at the roofing company, I broke it into 15 minute blocks.

Lastly, I love color-coding. It gives me a good glance at my week: what's major and what's missing. I color code and count. How much time gets invested in each category? Off to the right of the calendar, I total these together. Right now, I target 40 hours with InterVarsity on average and 10 hours with Crossway.

Commit for one month.

You won't really know if it helps or not until you've done this for a month. Seriously. Make a short-term commitment. Try it. If it helps, keep it. If it doesn't, toss it.

Pick a day and time and place.

Sunday nights in my office. Every week. That's where I do my planning.

The key to almost every new discipline involves getting specific. Where and when will you do the thing you want to do? Planning to plan is almost as hard as planning itself.

Do it.

Write out how you'd like your week to go.

You can adjust it on the fly. You aren't setting this in concrete and signing this in blood. This is just the draft of your week. You're laying down the bass line. You can still riff. Don't panic.


Before you start the next week, glance back on the week you just finished.

Were you missing a category? Were your guesstimations on where your time would be spent close to what ended up happening? What can you do to improve your planning, to make it more useful to you?


Seriously. That's what the comments are for. What's the point to picking up an awesome new discipline if you can't share it with anyone?

Are you a master planner? Do you have a better system to share? Did you try this and find it helpful? Miserable? Let me know.

Unity and Maturity

In Ephesians 4:13, the Apostle Paul says that Christ himself gave gifts to the church so that the Christian community would reach unity and become mature.

Unity and maturity are wonderful things.
Unity and maturity are deeply missing in many circles.

Without unity and maturity, Christians are pushed around, driven by our emotions and popular fashion down a gentle slope into a raging sea. We know in our guts that things like unity and maturity need to emerge in the Christian life, need to be present in the Christian community. We long for things like unity and maturity.

On campus, we see unity and maturity pursued at the expense of each other all too often.

Some students push for unity: willing to sacrifice truth-claims, holiness and distinctives for the sake of being together. Others push for maturity: setting aside community, friendship and even love. But these two - unity and maturity - were meant to go together.

Unity without maturity leads to a herd mentality. It forces you to the lowest common denominator. Not the essentials, not the center or the core. Just the comfortable and agreeable bits. A Christian community that is unified but immature is one no one wants to join. And the Christ of this community is not worth dying or living for.

Maturity without unity is no better. Maturity pursued apart for relationship becomes brittle and sharp, angry and restless, immature. It becomes a shadow of itself. Knowledge is held high and prized, though it is not the same as maturity. Accomplishment and talent also get this treatment. The label of "mature" gets slapped on the powerful, the first-comers and the theoretical. Maturity becomes hollow like that tree that's had the core rot out of it and is just waiting for lighting to strike and reveal the emptiness.

True unity extends across ethnic and chronological boundaries. This unity drags you toward maturity. Bolted to the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the unified become mature.

And true maturity? True maturity has love as its center. And love loves objects and people and places and real food and real drink. The love of the mature person pushes aside isolation and draws maturity from the deep, model wells of the community. And, becoming mature, the mature serve as wells for those who thirst alongside them and after them. And so the mature experience unity.

Unity and maturity go hand in hand. You'll never find one without the other.

Gifts and Leadership

I ran into a conundrum this week.

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul says that Christ gave gifts to the church. Christ gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.

This is a sticky and tricky passage.

And here's the conundrum ...

If you find people who have these gifts, they're often leaders. That's it.

Doesn't seem like a conundrum yet, does it?

Well ... which comes first: the gifts or the position? Does God give gifts to people who eventually rise to lead the church? Or does God pour gifts out on the people who are already leading?

This may not seem like a big deal. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Who cares? You're making me hungry. Let's eat!

But it is a big deal.

It's a big deal because many Christian communities find apostles and prophets and evangelists to be totally absent. Many, many churches are only led by people with pastoral and teaching gifts. The others lead elsewhere.

If gifts come first, then perhaps our churches have a problem with leadership promotion.

People with apostolic and prophetic and evangelistic gifts may lack opportunities to serve in their churches, so they take their gifts elsewhere. In my work with InterVarsity, I see gifted people serving on campus in ways that they couldn't in their church. While I'm grateful for their service on campus, I wonder what would happen if they were more welcome in their churches.

If leadership comes first, it's a different story, a different problem, a different opportunity.

If God pours out these gifts on leaders in the church, this could diagnose some dysfunction on leadership teams. Unrecognized diversity often creates tension.

If an intact team experiences a fresh gifting with these Ephesians 4 gifts, leaders may develop different priorities. They may pull in different directions. Unrecognized, these diverse gifts may refuse to work in concert with each other, may tug in opposite directions, may miss opportunities. I can only dream about what would happen if people with these gifts were able to work well together.

What do you think? Does either of these scenarios sound more likely to you? Do you see another option?