I had the honor of preaching at a Russian church in Virginia recently, but I really struggled with what to speak on. What burdened my heart was what I was learning about how Russian churches in the US do not support missions in Russia, except for one-off offerings when speakers come through town. I came to see that the issue was their sense of guilt over leaving their country behind. They have to deal with a lot of voices telling them they betrayed their land, and that they sold out their faith for Mammon. I finally decided that, rather than talk about me and my ministry, I needed to minister to that very issue, though I was quite scared to do so, for fear that they would not appreciate my motives or say they were over it, etc. To my amazement, it went over well, and they are even considering supporting us! Here is the text of my sermon, which amounts to a biblical analysis of immigration.
Good Morning. I decided not to talk about my ministry in Russia with you today. I want to talk about the fact that we are both immigrants. I thought a lot this week about our similarities in immigrating to a new land. So I want to talk about what the Bible has
to say about immigration. And maybe in the process it can be an encouragement to
you. I think you may find your story in the Bible, in the stories of those who have
migrated before us. Because I want you to have the freedom you have always
sought, in all senses of the word.
1. Did you know God is for migration?
a. First of all, He commanded that immigrants be treated well.
i. Exodus 23:9
ii. Exodus 12:49
b. Plus, there are a lot of examples.
c. It’s not just a spiritual idea. Heb. 11:8-10. Yes, our final home is in heaven, but if you focus on that, you miss the point, that Abram had to make a concrete move to a concrete place. Why there? It’s worth pondering.
2. What is the first example of migration in the Bible? When I started to think
about it, I thought it was Abraham. No. Then I remembered the Tower of
Babel. That was God forcing migration. Then I remembered Noah. Noah left a
terrible evil country and immigrated to a new land. Then I remembered that
Cain was also forced to leave his homeland and start a new life. And then I realized that even Adam and Eve had to leave their home, a very perfect home, and go start over.
3. I studied 20 different examples of migration in the Bible, mostly in the OT,
and I saw that:
a. migration was created by God for good;
i. It was created before the fall
ii. It was THE FIRST blessing in the Bible: Gen. 1:28
b. Personal sin causes migration to be necessary;
i. Adam and Eve, punishment, maybe, but Gen. 3:22-23
ii. Cain, for his protection, and to start a new society
iii. Tower of Babel
iv. Jacob to Haran after deceiving his brother.
c. But God still uses it for good – for redeeming the world
i. Abram. To take new territory; to start a new people; to bless the
ii. Moses. God used it to shape his character.
iii. Israelites. Freedom from oppression, blessing and abundance; o
start a new society based on God’s laws, not man’s.
4. In 11 of 20 cases, God spoke, and people moved. In some cases there was no
a. Adam and Eve
d. Tower of Babel. But here there are two cases of migration. In 11:2, the people migrated of their own will, but they did it with evil hearts. In fact, they were immigrating together, rather than filling the earth. So God forced them to emigrate so that His original command would be fulfilled.
f. Lot. In the case of Lot, he was told by the angels to leave his city and go to the hills, but Lot did not want to. So he asked for a compromise. He then went to Zoar, but he ended up being too afraid to stay there, so he went to where the angels sent him in the first place.
g. Hagar. I will return to her.
j. Joseph, with Mary and Jesus
5. Besides personal sin, there is one more reason why migration is necessary:
social, economic, and political conditions (10 of 20 examples):
a. Noah. Not his sin, but to take him from a sinful world to make a new
b. Terah. The text does not say why he left Ur. I will return to him.
c. Lot had to leave an evil city that was pulling him down with it.
d. Hagar was forced out of her home into the wilderness because of the
jealous heart of Sarah. Compare:
i. Gen. 16:1-2.
ii. Gen. 21:9-10.
iii. Interestingly, God told Abraham to submit to her word, because
he had a bigger plan in mind to bless both Isaac and Ishmael.
Looks like you do need to obey your wife sometimes, even if she is
iv. It was my wife who first felt the call to move to Russia. I resisted
for about a year, because I had my own ministry here in
Richmond. It took a while for God to reach my heart.
v. Then when my wife wanted to change apartments, I decided to
honor her. But then when I prayed about it, just like with Abram,
God showed me that His vision for our new apartment was much
bigger than I saw. And He gave us a place for our family and
ministry that is much more wonderful than we could have
e. Joseph, the first example of migration through slavery
f. Jacob, where his whole family received asylum in Egypt because of the
famine. But in fact, it was fulfillment of God’s prophecy to Abraham in
15:13-16. They surely didn’t think about this. They just did what they
needed to, but they were following God’s plan for them, for their future
generations, and for preparing for the Messiah.
g. The Israelites lived under terrible conditions, and God freed them, but
only after 400 years.
h. Elimilech (in the book of Ruth) left his homeland because of famine.
i. Joseph took Jesus and Mary to seek political asylum because of political
j. John was exiled to Patmos for religious persecution.
6. There are two cases of natural national migration:
a. The descendants of Noah in chapter 10, which was a fulfillment of God’s
command when he said to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have dominion over it
b. Immediately afterwards in chapter 11, when, instead of spreading out,
some of them came together and built the Tower of Babel.
7. In only 2 cases do we see the person choosing to go on their own.
a. Terah leaves Ur for Canaan, but he never makes it. Stays in Haran.
b. Ruth leaves her home for only one reason: love for Ноеминь.
8. Of all the cases, the one that fascinated me was Terah.
a. The Bible doesn’t even say why he left. It only says (Gen. 11:31):
b. But we later learn that God was in the decision from the beginning.
c. Is this like the case of Sarah, where God is blessing a selfish decision?
No. God takes responsibility for the decision.
d. It’s as though God is saying, “what I began in your father, I will finish in
you. What he only intuited, I make explicit to you.” What he dreamed
about, I will give you my dreams. My dreams exceed his by a huge leap,
but I am building on what he begun.”
e. What, then, was Terah’s real motive? I did some reading and found an
interesting analysis of the socio-political context of his decision. It
appears that there were many reasons for Terah to leave. Through the
first half of the 2nd millennium BC there was a great Aramean migration.
i. There was at this time about a 200 year period of hostilities
between two rival dynasties.
ii. Terah, as a nomad, was in a class little tolerated. They were called
iii. The governments were not friendly to them. They were
totalitarian and theocratic.
iv. So these nomads sought the open spaces of Canaan, where:
1. There were few cities
2. They could wander unfettered.
v. At this time Canaan was under Egyptian rule, which was very lax.
There were no taxes!
vi. In other words, Terah chose freedom!
9. I don’t know about you, but I see a lot in common with Russian immigrants
coming to the US.
a. You wanted to leave a totalitarian government
b. You sought freedom.
c. You sought a better life for your children.
d. Maybe you heard God’s voice. But maybe, like Terah, you didn’t hear it
e. Maybe your motives were pure, but maybe not completely.
10. What is amazing in all my studies of all of these cases of migration in the
Bible, never once did God say that they should not have moved!
a. Do you have voices saying you should not have left?
b. Are you afraid to go back and hear them again?
c. Do you feel guilt, shame, condemnation?
i. The Bible talks about worldly and godly sorrow.
2Cor.7:9-10. If you don’t have peace about this in your heart, then it’s the wrong sorrow. You may have false guilt that you don’t have to carry. Rom. 8:1.
ii. I was at a Bible study recently when one woman commented,
“How interesting that so many Russians left Russia to get away
from the difficulties, and this family left America to go help
Russia.” There was great silence in that room. It was
uncomfortable for me too.
iii. I just moved to another country to follow God, just like you. I
want you to understand from the Bible that you are free from
condemnation, because God does not judge you for moving! He
had a plan for you, a plan to spread His Kingdom, and a plan to fill
the earth with His glory. Is it possible America needs your
iv. Maybe you didn’t see that. Maybe you didn’t seek that. Maybe
you just were looking for a good life and more money. Maybe, like
Ruth, you just came to be with someone you loved. That’s OK,
because God used her love to move her to a new country so she
could marry the great grandfather of David.
v. I want to give you permission to repent, if you think you need to
repent, of any selfish motives you had in coming to America.
vi. But then I want you to accept fully God’s call on your life here.
1. Maybe you are a Terah, who only barely understands why
you are here. Today you can ask God to show you like
Abram, and you can have a new vision.
2. Maybe you, especially you young people, are like Abram. You
were brought here with your parents, and now you need a
fresh vision for yourself. You can ask God for that today.
a. My daughter did not want to move with us. She
resisted for three months. Then she repented and
asked for God’s heart. God gave it, and she has never
wanted to move back to America. Now she didn’t even
want to come here to visit for this trip.
b. It’s the next generation that usually has more anointing
than the former. Seek God.