When Labels and Safe Places Fail

safe-haven-city-5pkg_frame_176

Photo courtesy CBS news Denver

I wasn’t planning to go there, but I’m here already so I thought I’d offer up some hopefully encouraging and Biblical thoughts for what feels like a world turned upside-down. I mean it when I say what I desire to bring to the table is some clarity in the confusion, some sanity in the madness and some truth in the midst of deceit. I can say that with an honest heart because the words and wisdom aren’t mine, they come from a wiser place than my own head, they come from God and His Word, which is all but abandoned of late. Let’s not abandon ship quite yet.

Do you ever walk away from checking current events and feel like a blinking deer caught in headlights? That was me last night for a lot of reasons. The local news ran a story in honor of Pride weekend about businesses all over the country designating themselves as “Safe Spaces” by placing big rainbow badge stickers in their windows. The idea that “it’s meant to help LGBTQ+ people feel safe year round with decals or signs that designate businesses as safe spots.”  The backstory here being a response to the Orlando nightclub shooting in which the gay community was targeted.

The second article I came across was a listing of the various terms used by the gay community to define their specific ‘identity’. It warned me though, to “be aware that many have been used derogatorily by straight, white, cisgender (defined below!) people”. I guess thats me. I read it through. All the way through. I was informed (or warned) at the end that each of these terms means something different to each person, so learn them but “be careful not to put the burden of your education on other people”. I’m not trying to be snarky, but the message I took from this was one of vast confusion. Understand how the labels are different, but also understand they mean something different to everyone, but also don’t show how privileged you are by misusing said labels. This is a lose-lose situation. I’d never be able to use them correctly much less in a derogatory way.

Before we go totally off the rails thinking I’m on some anti-gay political rant during pride weekend, I assure you I’m not. I’m using two examples that I saw back to back that struck me for various reasons and made my heart, as a Christian (cisgender?!) woman sad. So yes, I speak from a Christian worldview because it’s the only one I believe in.

I speak to fellow Christians who are on their religious high horses to climb down off the merry-go-round of prideful arrogance and come down to eye-level for a minute with the rest of us. The world doesn’t need a religious version of itself, heels dug in so deep and fingers in ears screaming for everyone to hop on board with your cause.

I plead with my fellow Jesus-lovers who are off in some corner someplace sitting silent allowing this culture to pull you along like a puppy on a leash whichever way it pleases while you allow yourselves to be defined and directed by anything but Jesus to snap out of it and armor-up, not in hateful rants, but in truth and love.

Back to the articles. The fascination with the idea of having a ‘safe space’ has run amok, as has the idea that everyone must approve of our ever-changing obsession with labels. Agree with them and understand them or else. Do I believe people are targeted in hate crimes? Yes. Do I think it’s disgusting? Of course. I too would love to walk around the city feeling “safe YEAR ROUND!” but I can’t help but cringe when I read this. A huge reality check is needed here: this isn’t a gay/straight/Christian/non-Christian issue as it’s made out to be. The outrage is hollow and misplaced. This is a sin issue, period. And it never gets addressed. Ever. Instead of looking at the root of that nightclub attack, they are making stickers and writing articles to me about checking my privilege before I dare speak. What caused that attack? A radical, hate-filled individual with evil and sin in his heart. There is no safe space from that, folks no matter how hard we try and designate one. In it’s most raw form, sin tells us we are the center of the universe and to do it our way, to hell with the consequences. Ask Adam and Eve. The world is never going to be a safe space. You can narrow it down to a gay vs. straight issue if you want, but it’s not about that at all. Christians (actual Christians) don’t have it out for gay people. We don’t have it out for anyone actually. We have it out for SIN.

We are called to be sober in a world drunk on selfishness. Called to be vigilant in a culture that has been lulled to sleep by the distractions of social media, youtube and weekend little league. We aren’t the safe space, but we are charged with showing people the ultimate safe space in Jesus. For the unbeliever, the necessity to create a sense of security has lead to this. Instead of seeking out Jesus, we seek to define ourselves (ad nauseum) by something else. For the gay community, it’s with no less than 73 gender identifiers. But before we get too high up on our pedestals, how many do we create? At work? In our social circles? Our suburban bubbles? We label ourselves with what we want people to see: (the Bible study lady! the perfectly crafty mom! the lady who has time to work out! the doting dad!) and we don’t hesitate to label others as we see fit (the gossip! the hot mess! the shallow one! the judgy know it all!) . Just off the top of my head of course… did some of those hit a little too close? Same.

The whole point here: we’re looking all over for an outside solution to an inside problem. Until we address the heart of the issue, the selfish sin that controls us, we are spinning our wheels, putting useless stickers in windows to make ourselves feel like we’re doing something. Labeling ourselves with complicated definitions because we are so desperate to be seen. The safe spaces are going blow over with the slightest wind. The labels are going to shift. So while the world screams “do whatever you want, whenever you want and however you want” the Christian pauses for a moment to understand that’s not freedom. Real freedom is embracing who we are made to be by our Creator and frolicking around in that safest of spaces, His will for our lives. Yes, I said frolicking… because when you know who you are and can rest in it, it’s a frolicking good time. We don’t define it, or let others define us, what a mess we get into when we live out of the desperate need for approval from others. No thanks. Identity from Jesus. Marching orders from Jesus, not culture, not even friends or family.

To those who feel like the blinking deer in headlights, let me say this: fear not. Jesus actually said that, not me. He says it a lot to us. Fear not the frowns and disapproval of the masses. Fear not the upside-down world. Our safe space is impenetrable. Love people enough to speak truth to them. The second we care more about being relevant to culture than reverencing Jesus, we are done for. Pay attention to the loud voices who care more about gaining and keeping followers than they do about sharing the true heart of God, the ones who have decided we need to apologize for Jesus and modify His words in light of some new developments. You all know of whom and what I speak. It’s rampant.

Dear Christians, I genuinely believe we can breathe life into a dead world. Not by using our sharp wits or showing off our perfect little lives, but by suiting up and stepping on the field armed with compassion and truth. That’s it. Be real, and let God do what He does.

We can create false safe spaces and slap labels on ourselves all day long hoping to be liked or validated, and it’s never going to bring us the fulfillment we need. The “loud ones” as I call them are getting louder. I can’t out-dazzle a pride parade, I won’t ever be able to change a complicit media outlet, and I won’t ever have the platform of the current Christian “it-girl”… and that’s a good thing. My safe space is Jesus and no other, my label is simply who He calls me to be. Maybe there’s a remnant of believers out there content with being just that.

Like a Perfect Loaf of Bread…

I saw a t-shirt yesterday that read “Eat All The Carbs”… I didn’t buy it, but I relate to it. I love all things bread and I’m pretty sure I’d be a far less interesting person without them. I came across some verses recently that kind of reminded me of the perfect loaf of bread, so I’m gonna go with it, because God knows the way to my heart, lol.

“They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.” Zechariah 7:12

“I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.” Ezekiel 3:9

Flint is of course, an incredibly hard rock used to start fires. It’s pretty unyielding in its hardness which is why it was and is an excellent survival tool.

The verse in Zechariah speaks of the Israelites making their own hearts hard like flint. They stopped listening to God’s voice, they quit obeying His commandments, and with each choice to follow their own selfish ways, their hearts became harder against God. “For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes have closed…” (Matthew 13:15). Their disobedience led them to be blind and deaf to God’s voice and His ways. They hardened their hearts.

Compare this to the verse in Ezekiel where God Himself tells the prophet that HE will harden Ezekiels head so that he will not be terrorized by these rebellious people. Two big differences here: it’s the head, not the heart that is being hardened, and it’s God Himself doing the hardening.

How interesting is all this?!

The job of the prophet was to warn the people and speak hard truth to them about what was coming down the line if they obeyed/disobeyed. God knew Ezekiel was up against some hard-hearted people who weren’t going to receive that message with open arms. Did Ezekiel change his message to become more palatable? No. God Himself shielded His servant from all the backlash He knew would be coming. Ezekiels job, much like our own in this day and age, was to deliver the message in truth and love and leave the rest to God. Stay the course. God knew the retaliation that would be coming Ezekiels way from the people who refused to hear the message, so He provided his man with some supernatural protection. Not a hard heart, but a hard head.

How fantastic would it be if we could have soft hearts toward God and people and a hard head when it comes to sin? What if we could go out and be bold, truthful AND loving and not obsess over what people think about us? If we could teach our children to be hard-headed to the ungodly junk that bombards them constantly but soft-hearted toward Jesus and their companions?

I wish at times I’d have had a harder head and a softer heart. A God-given forehead of flint that doesn’t crack when the winds of persecution blow, a mind protected from worrying so much about everyones opinions, and a softer heart to be able to see and hear what God desires to come out of it all.

Sometimes we can do all the right things and still get the backlash. Other times, we can do what’s totally against God’s will for us and receive praise from the world. It’s vital to know God’s voice and obey it. Let the chips fall as they say. Hard isn’t always bad and soft isn’t always good, its how and where they are placed. The prophets weren’t afraid of the backlash because they had God-given protection against it, hard heads. It didn’t stop them from speaking up for what was right, it just made it so they didn’t worry so much about the response. They still loved God and their people, soft hearts. I pray that we as believers can allow God to strike this supernatural balance in us – that we would love people and stand firm against anything that goes against God’s word. Hard outside, soft center, like a perfect French baguette.

Hirelings

 images

“When you adjust, you are dead. If you adjust, you are done. But if you dare to stand, the world will adjust to you. I can promise you that. Not all will adjust to you, but at least some will. We are not going to be sheep running over the precipice because other dumb sheep are running over it. We see the precipice – we know it is there. We are listening to the voice of the shepherd, not the voice of terrified sheep. The terrified, intimidated sheep are going everywhere.” AW Tozer

Jesus tells us in John 10 to be careful about who we allow to have charge over the sheep. There is someone hired and paid to watch over them but as soon as the wolf shows up, he flees (v. 12). He runs because he doesn’t actually care about the sheep at all. His concern is getting paid wages and keeping himself from harm. Sheep aren’t that smart, they go where the crowd goes whether it’s to safety or over the precipice, which is why its vital that we sheep know and recognize the Shepherds voice. Earlier Jesus says that His sheep will not follow the voice of a stranger, but because they know their Shepherds voice, they will hear their name and only follow after Him (v. 4-5).

The trick of satan is to cram so much junk into our heads that we believe everything and nothing all at once. The Shepherds voice gets drowned out with all the other voices and before we know whats happening, we are living with a certain confusion and fuzziness that we can’t even pinpoint. We should be shouting truth from the rooftops but instead we find ourselves sitting out on the fringe watching as the loudest voices pull more and more sheep into their fold.

The loudest voices aren’t always right. God’s Word tells us that “God is not the author of confusion but of peace…” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Friends, grace-filled Christians aren’t Christians who say “yes” to every voice they hear. The grace Jesus preached went hand in hand with standards of truth. They work wonderfully together. Saying “yes” to all the voices all the time has gotten us into a lot of trouble. The reason our culture is off the rails is because people have stopped hearing the voice of the Shepherd and allowed their heads to be filled up with every loud and clanging thing that comes their way. Right now, loud is winning the battle.

Hirelings try and turn the absolutes into optionals. They want us to think boundaries are obstacles to be overcome. Their words sound loving, but they will never ever go to bat for the sheep. “They began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused” (Romans 1:21). Too many opinions and not enough truth lead us down a dark path. This is why we have to be so careful about who we allow to speak into our lives. Just because someone has a conference tour or a bestselling book doesn’t mean we don’t need to filter their human wisdom through the lens of God’s Word. Too many voices. We gather information from all kinds of sources we think may know better and are more confused than ever.

My kids made me watch the movie Twister a couple weeks ago, by the fifth tornado I was checked out, but the end made me think about something; our heroic storm chasers are facing down a massive F5 tornado and have (naturally) cornered themselves in a flimsy old barn. They run to an outlying building where they anchor themselves to some steel pipes. The building and barn are blown to bits and the pipes are the only thing left intact, because they were anchored deep in the ground. The voice of the Shepherd is like that steel pipe, it keeps us from being blown away when the storm comes. Anchor yourself to a wood barn and you can forget it, you’re done for.

Friends, too many of us are tying ourselves to flimsy things that are not going to support us when a storm hits. Voices that say they are for us but are standing stubbornly against the Jesus of truth and grace. It pains me to see Christians twisting themselves into pretzels trying to explain away the Word of God in order to please the masses or even the  neighbor next door. People are more receptive than we think to truth, they crave it actually, we all do.  It’s like sitting through an entire lunch with a giant piece of lettuce stuck in your front teeth and your friend never says anything. I’d want to know if there was lettuce in my teeth, or toilet paper dragging from my shoe… what kind of friend ignores the truth and doesn’t speak up?! It’s not loving to hand ourselves or others over to the hirelings who aren’t going to be there when trouble comes.

God and His word are wonderfully, amazingly clear and uncomplicated. If we aren’t already tied to it, there’s no way we will be able to sustain the secular winds that are blowing our direction every day. It’s a choice to listen to the Shepherds voice. It’s also a choice to go with the sheep. Sin eventually gives birth to death, it’s a fact. Lets be careful not to adjust too much to the voices of the hirelings, no matter how well-intentioned they may seem. Let them adjust to the Jesus we demonstrate, the Shepherd of grace and accountability, and if not, let us hold steady anyway.

 

Sidewalk Peddlers

images

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…” Acts 19:23

This chapter, if you’ve never read it is fascinating. There’s a riot going down in Ephesus. Some translations call it a great disturbance, some a ruckus; regardless, the gospel was being preached in Ephesus and it was ruffling some feathers.

A few verses earlier, in Acts 19, we are told that many people in Ephesus were turning away from their worship of false gods and confessing the name of Jesus (v 17). We have accounts of people “confessing and telling their deeds” and publicly burning their valuable sorcery books (v19). This was no small thing in a city that prided itself in the worship of the goddess Diana and to whom a great temple had been built. Enter a man called Demetrius, a silversmith who made his living crafting and selling little handmade shrines of Diana in her temple. It’s a timeless practice, if you’ve ever been to a large church or  cathedral you know how this works; people set up shop on the sidewalks or entrance and offer to sell you souvenirs. When we visited Notre Dame Cathedral with our kids one summer we walked away with a metal replica of the church and two wooden crosses simply because we couldn’t escape the onslaught of pushy peddlers who set up shop right where you are trying to get that all important family photo. It’s amusing to see this practice goes back 2,000 years. Verse 24 tells us that “Diana brought no small profit to the craftsmen.” Just like the hawking of plastic Eiffel Towers and cathedral keychains today, this was a lucrative business.

So naturally, following the very public turning away from Diana towards Christianity, these hucksters were getting ticked off. Demetrius called his fellow craftsmen together and riled them up so much that “the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Paul’s travel companions” (v29). They didn’t even know what they were doing or saying, most of them had no idea why they had even come together (v 32). It finally took a city clerk to calm everyone down and explain to them how irrational they were being. This man wasn’t even a follower of Christ, he simply uses logic to point out that Paul and his men weren’t robbing the temple or even blaspheming Diana. What they were doing was operating in the power of the Holy Spirit and letting the proverbial chips fall where they may.

Paul and his team went about their business preaching and performing “unusual” miracles for two solid years in Ephesus. Diseases were healed, demons cast out, people were changed. It’s very interesting to note what Paul did when people didn’t agree with his teachings: “But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily int eh school of Tyrannus” (v9). 

When someone’s heart was hardened to the message, Paul departed and withdrew. He didn’t hang around to argue, fight, persuade or worry. He left. He went to where the message would be accepted. This isn’t to say he didn’t have fight in him, I’m guessing he had his arguments down pretty solidly. What he did was simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. Paul knew it wasn’t up to him to pull this off. The Great Commission was to GO and leave the rest to God. If people see the miraculous and still choose to turn away, so be it.

There is a battle to fight, but we’ve got to know our strategy. Sin doesn’t like being confronted. Idols don’t topple easily. When we go out into our culture and live according to God’s Word, we will be strongly and sometimes irrationally attacked. It doesn’t mean we cower or stop speaking, but it doesn’t mean we always need to attack the idol-makers either. Paul was effective because he spoke truth and left the results up to God. He made himself a vessel and allowed himself to be used. He didn’t stress about everyone who disagreed with him because he knew the purpose of his ministry was to preach the gospel, not to placate the culture.

When the whole city is full of confusion and rushing to and fro like headless chickens, it’s our duty and our privilege to stay the course. We need to remember its not OUR truth we are promoting, contrary to what culture wants us to believe. It’s HIS truth, THE truth. We aren’t peddlers on a sidewalk selling trinkets of an idol – what we have to offer was paid for at a very great price and is free for the taking. It will cost something though, being a part of this “Way”… our own little kingdoms, our comfort zones, our people on pedestals.

“And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way…”

There will always be a great commotion where Jesus is concerned, especially if we are sticking to HIS Gospel and not our own. Popularity and trinket-selling isn’t His goal for us.

It’s not always easy to go on record for our beliefs. The idols demand allegiance, just like the wild rioting crowd in Ephesus. The world is burning, literally and figuratively. Jesus calls us to choose life, repeatedly, daily, hourly, minute by minute. If you’re following a method or a person that doesn’t swing wide an open door to Jesus or push you to fiercely want to promote and protect His Word, I suggest halting and reevaluating. We aren’t that different from Ephesus in our idolatry and group-think ways. Self promotion, self preservation is the rule of the day, and if we are honest, we see that it gets us nowhere.

I’ll end with a fantastic quote from Lisa Whittle that snapped me right back to reality this morning after waking up at 5am with a zillion fears and annoyances running through my head:

“It’s time to make some heart determinations and declarations, my friends – to rise up, call out, stand firm, and walk strong. This is the time to rise up in holy anger, as Jesus did when He overturned the tables – to fight for holiness and purity and love. It’s time to fight for the freedom from the devil’s lies, which is ruining lives. It’s time to fight for the truth to be revealed about who Jesus is and how only He has the power to save so that other powerless gods will no longer be put beside or before Him. It’s time to fight for eyes to be opened about seemingly harmless distractions like social media and busy calendars and God-ish Christianity and how all of it at the end of the day keeps us from holiness. It’s time to fight for us to truly revere and honor God again. We’ve lost that, I think, that healthy fear of God. We don’t tremble before God anymore. We flaunt our independence.” 

It’s time. Cause a commotion if you need, God doesn’t mind. He has our backs. I think He probably wishes we were more stirred up. Choose your battles carefully, some are meant to win and some aren’t even meant to be addressed at all. Beware the peddlers on the sidewalk and beware the little idols, Jesus has so very much more to offer us. When the whole city is filled with confusion, be the one who rises up in love and power to fight for the truth.