Not A Safe Space

“Christians should be creating safe spaces, not ridiculing them.”

The headline grabbed my attention. It was an article on Patheos that was tagged ‘progressive Christian’, which, admittedly is not the way I lean, but this is a topic that kind of ruffles my feathers. When I think about it, it’s because I see so much more below the surface than just the politically correct talk we all adhere to. There’s so much more going on, and it has to do with our hearts more than our political beliefs. Here’s an excerpt from the article, written by a United Methodist pastor who works on a college campus:

“So one way of understanding safe space is as a retreat space in which a marginalized group can decompress and relax together. It has to be okay with me that the black, queer, or female people I love sometimes need to spend some time apart from white male messiahs like me… So many chest-thumping conservative evangelicals are in love with the idea of costly grace. They need for their Christianity to feel mean and hard enough that it cannot be accused of worldly compromise. We live in a very graceless, cut-throat world. Some universities have decided to build their brand off of being that way. But as Christians, our most fundamental act of evangelism is to create safe space for those who are poor in spirit, meek, and persecuted. The measure of how saved I am as a Christian is how safe I am able to be for other people.”

That’s a lot to take in, for me anyways. It’s sad that this man sees himself as some kind of awful protagonist and thorn in the side of others. Jesus doesn’t see us that way, but we are obsessed with categories aren’t we? I’d like to say that yes I am unashamedly IN LOVE with the idea of costly grace, but not because I’m a mean jerk; Christ paid a price for my freedom and He told us there would be a cost to following Him. Grace is meant to set free the sinner, not set him free to sin. This tendency to see traditional Christians as ‘‘cut-throat” and graceless is pretty prevalent, and there isn’t a lot to back it up. A surrender Christ and an obedience to doctrine are way too often thrown under the bus because they don’t mesh with the a selfish self-centered spirituality. As for our most “fundamental act of evangelism” being to create a safe space for people… I disagree. We are to love God and our neighbor, yes indeed. That love though, flows from a larger place than our human relations, it comes from our relationship with Christ. Pleasing the people is not our highest calling, loving them the way God loves us is. The last sentence floors me: if we truly believe the measure of how saved we are depends on how ‘safe’ we are for other people we are in deep trouble. We are saved based on our accepting what Jesus did for us on the cross, period. This is a willful misunderstanding of what grace means and it is dangerous. You cannot criticize people for being obedient to God’s word while simultaneously telling others their salvation hinges on how ‘safe’ they are for other people to be around. We are all on the same sinking ship here, what a pity if we have to rely solely on another passenger to validate or save us.
To counter this all, I read an article over at Sheologians, one of my go-to podcasts and sites for gracious, but truth-filled discussion. The tackle this idea that church should be our “safe space” where we are free to be friends with sin and remain Switzerland when it comes to hard topics, but they do it gracefully and with truth. Popular sayings like “we just need to make more room at the table” heap shame on anyone who thinks there’s a price to pay to actually be at that table. Claiming everything is too nuanced or complicated is the go-to argument to shut down any challenging conversation. Some have recklessly and boldly planted their flag in the worlds camp, which doesn’t help anyone. Others have become so new-age and mystic in their writing, nobody can really understand what they are saying. Like Summer says in the article, Christians, we need to know how to play ball in this area.

The approaching Easter season is a real reminder to us that our freedom came at a price. Jesus told us that we are to rest in His finished work on the cross and that a life spent with Him requires some sacrificial things of us. We don’t always get to follow our feelings to wherever we please, especially when they lead us further down the path of self-glorification. It’s not complicated, it’s just not easy to crucify that awful selfishness we all have. That’s the whole issue here… we want what we want and we want it now. Joining in that chorus is one of the saddest things a Christian can do. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“I struggle with all the “space” talk these days. There’s safe spaces and white spaces. Black spaces. Female spaces. Spaces for dissent. Spaces for discussion. Just space space space. What I do know is that it is very virtuous to create space, and not to inhabit too much space, and to never, ever make someone else feel like you don’t care about their space. I have no idea what anyone is talking about.

Assuredly, if “safe space” does exist, it is decidedly NOT the church. The church is not a safe space. Let me make this perfectly clear. The church? The Bride of Christ? It is not safe for the world. It is not safe to your sensibilities. It is not safe for your feelings. The Bride of Christ is anything but, because the Bride of Christ is literally covered in blood. Christ did not knock on the door of your heart and ask if he could come in, He is the Son of God incarnate and his body was crushed and broken and he slayed death to make you His bride and if you are indeed his bride, you have died, too. You are dead. And now you are alive in Christ. Your flesh is at war and the church is the hospital for those of us who are wounded by our remaining sin and seeking to mortify that sin. The church is not a safe space. You will find healing and you will find fellowship, but it is going to be among other soldiers who are also fighting the good fight and showing up week after week badly bruised and broken and scarred by their remaining sin. You will find peace and joy everlasting, but the church does not exist to give you that. Believers exist to be active, serving members of the church, and it WILL cost you to do so. Your peace rests solely on the head that wore a crown of thorns in your place, and that cross that Jesus was crucified on? It is foolishness to the world. It makes no sense to the world. It is laughable to the world, and it is detested by the world, and it is not safe. It’s the centerpoint of history itself. It is the hinge upon which our very calendars turn because until that cross, the world was just waiting for Him. And since that cross, we are waiting for Him, and we are told that the cost of following Christ is so high, that unless you are willing to hate father, mother, sister, brother, you go ahead and put that cross down and get out because it is not for you.”

That’s not easy stuff. It’s true, but it pokes and prods us right out of our comfortable places. This idea that we all must be catered to at every moment and never made to feel uncomfortable is bananas. I read the other day a painfully long comment on social media from someone who was called “she” instead of “they” and was ready to burn the house down. She (they?) was (were?) violated in the worst way. Don’t infringe on my feelings. Don’t disagree with me. Don’t ask questions. Just do it.

The level we have reached is bordering on militant. The flesh screams for validation while Christ offers freedom from it all… IF we choose to pick up our cross and follow. Here’s the great news:

“Now, all of that said, the church is a great place to work out your faith. The church is where we should be ready and willing to wrestle with tough issues.”

Work it out. Don’t ignore the plank in your own eye, don’t excuse sin at every turn or just accept that this is how things are… wrestle and fight because truth is too valuable and the freedom Jesus offers is too beautiful not to. There’s so much more to life than feeling safe and not offended! The world needs to understand that. Christians, put down your fear of being misunderstood, set aside your pride and go love people with the true gospel. It’s not a safe space, but how quickly we learn it’s not all about us and our wish to be comfortable. It is however, the only place where we will find anything worth holding on to.

Picking The Weeds

“If I could just...

-Figure out (A,B,C)

-Follow through on (all the goals)

-Get (so and so) to (do such and such)

-Perform (certain action) and receive (certain result)

Does this sound familiar? I’m realizing the deeper I go and the more I grow with Jesus just how deeply ingrained these law-abiding beliefs are in my mind. The more of the truth I know, the more they seem to pop up, which I suppose is a good thing. I’m no newbie, I know there’s not a darn thing I can do to earn my way into good standing with God, I know the sacrifice Jesus made that covered all my sins that I receive through faith alone. It’s the foundation of everything, my weakness being made perfect in His strength. So I find it fascinating that the more I soak in that truth, the more I feel I need to put to death the idea that I can work for my blessings.

“I once heard of a pastor who spent time each week on a farm pulling weeds, hoping to bring about the renewal of all things on this earth. There is a reason he has to go back each week. The weeds kept growing back, because the weeds are always with us.

And my weeds are always going to be with me, just as yours are always going to be with you. To believe otherwise is to believe according to the law, a dead stalk in dry ground that tells us we’re able to fix inconsolable things ourselves, that perfection on earth is possible. These are beliefs that purposefully set Him aside and force us to look inside of ourselves for the hope and power we need for living. We become the answer to ourselves.” Christine Hoover

What a conviction to my heart. We live in a strange time, when evil hearts compartmentalize evil acts on the basis of their own morality. A woman can be both a health nut and abortion advocate. Child advocates can turn out to be child abusers. On the flip side, Christians walk around thinking we can earn our ticket to a good life by performing (or out-performing) one another. Yes, obedience is a big deal, I’ve spent a lot of time on that. There are consequences to our disobedient choices no doubt, but we must be very careful about slipping into the false belief that we can perform our way to a good life.

“If picking weeds is our hope, then we have none at all. If we demand the present be perfectly beautiful, we not only prove we weren’t actually listening to Jesus’s words but we become deeply offended that God is not living up to what we thought He’d be.”

A good and perfect life isn’t the goal, and we miss so much when we make it our highest aim. Look around this world, sin and evil cannot be controlled and we are driving ourselves mad trying to do just that. Sinners trying to control certain evils while unrepentantly basking in others… there is no answer outline or legislation for that, not ever.

The more things spin out, the more I want to tighten the reins of control. “If… then” sentences begin to pop into my head and I begin to reason myself right out of Jesus’ presence. We live in dangerous territory where DIY spirituality is a real thing. Jesus loves us whether we stick to our well-meaning goals or not. He doesn’t abandon the family dinner table if devotion time turns into a nit-picky argument, (or so I’ve heard). Our obedience is a result of His grace, not the other way around.

Everything He gives us is a gift, un-deserved and un-merited. We accept it joyfully and obey because we love Him. Obedience doesn’t assure us a perfect life, and I for one need to be reminded of that more and more as the world offers up empty solutions for big evils. So yes, we need to pick the weeds, but we need to make sure that isn’t all we are doing. Flowers grow, grass returns, all at the same time. Not only is perfection not possible, it shouldn’t even be on the to do list.

It’s very easy to start bargaining with God, even if we well understand that everything is a gift… it’s our nature to work our way into or out of situations. Jesus says give it a rest and come to Me, you’ll have imperfect blessings and learn to thrive amongst the weeds.

Lord, we don’t actually desire a perfect life, we long for an abundant life with You, weeds and all. Help us not become dependent on “If/then” statements in our walk, but let us receive the beauty You offer that comes through all the imperfect things as well.

Converting the Found

“That terrible zone of confusion so evident in the whole life of the Christian community could be cleared up in one day if the followers of Christ would begin to follow Christ instead of each other. For our Lord was very plain in His teaching about the believer and the world.” AW Tozer

I came across an incredibly thoughtful article  by Michael Kruger called The Power of De-Conversion Stories; How Jen Hatmaker is Trying to Change Minds About the Bible. Its a fascinating look at the ways some influential leaders are doing away with dusty old ‘traditional’ Christianity for a wider, more open, less dogmatic spirituality. The author references the “playbook” that often gets used to justify this new-found revelation or spin on traditional teachings and why it so easily entangles well-meaning Christians. I won’t dive into the specific arguments, I’d highly suggest reading the article, but I would like to lay out the basic arguments he uses as a jumping off point for some reflection. Here are five arguments that get used to bring others ‘out of the fold’ so to speak and into a more ‘culturally aware’ Christianity:

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Drifting

 

“People do not drift toward holiness.

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” Don Carson (For the Love of God)

I looked up “drift” in the thesaurus and one of the meanings was to “coast and glide along without much effort”. 

Sometimes we need to drift along and unplug a little. We need to take care though, that we aren’t disconnecting ourselves in unhealthy ways. We tend to distance ourselves from the things we need (family, face to face conversation) and tightly hold on to things that are not healthy. Hardness sets in quickly and sometimes unexpectedly through little openings we think are harmless.

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Cheers To The Simple Things

Are you starting to get a little excited for a new year? I know, we are knee deep in Christmas right now, but December goes by faster than any other month whether we want it to or not. Maybe I’m not supposed to admit this, but I always look forward to the post-Christmas cleaning of house, the blank slate feeling a new year brings, the plans on the horizon, and maybe some goals to challenge me.

Every New Year’s Eve, each member of our family receives a Bible verse for their year ahead. It’s not a magic verse, or the only verse to focus on by any means, just an encouraging word to nudge us forward into a new year with the reminder that Gods word is alive and working in us and to keep our eyes fixed on Him.

This morning I’m thinking on all the things that either pushed me forward into Jesus or kept me back this past year. Difficult things, trivial things, praiseworthy things… it can go either way. It’s good to look back with clear eyes at the seasons you’ve just come through.

Our culture puts a lot of phony pressure on the beginning of a new year, pressure to take that blank slate and make something of it. We go about things in our own power and feel like miserable failures by February. The thought occurred to me that Jesus doesn’t care about what our day planner says; every day we wake up is a new blank slate with Him.

We pray “give us this day our DAILY bread…” for a reason. Daily manna is the only way to be continually anchored and fed. We don’t ever skip a meal on Tuesday because we had a fantastic dinner Sunday night. It doesn’t sustain.

So if by week two of the new year we blow all our self-imposed goals, it doesn’t matter. Jesus wakes us up every morning and says “ok, how about today? Come and eat. Let’s do this.”

If I had to pick a word for the upcoming year, it might be “consistency”. I know that’s rather dull, but I’ve learned something this past year: we don’t need the latest edgy or flashy Christian-ish philosophies to keep us moving forward, we need to humbly present ourselves to God every morning for our daily bread.

Consistently.

Whether we are basking in the warm sunlight or tangled knee deep in the weeds, because both will come.

I want to soak in His words daily so that when the winds blow, I don’t blow over. The enemy wants to keep us stewing and fretting over the latest (fill in the blank) situation. He counts on us burying our noses in our work, our kids, our worthy causes, because he needs us to be inconsistent.

So I return again and again to 2 Corinthians 1:12 as a reminder that I at least desire to conduct my life in simplicity and godly sincerity. May I enjoy the good things of the world but not idolize any of them. May I value and love people, but never place my worth in their opinions.

A branch produces fruit because it stays consistently connected to its source. Disconnect it and you have a dried out stick.

We are commanded to bear fruit. Jesus came to give it to us in abundance. It requires not a great effort on our part or even much talent. Good fruit comes naturally as a result of staying connected. Daily. Consistently. When it’s boring and when it’s exciting, when it’s sunny and when it’s pouring rain.

It’s not a sprint. We don’t need little bursts of energy followed by a long absence. Jesus just wants us. He wants us every day in simplicity and sincerity.

Let’s ask for encouragement and clarity going into a new year, the Jesus kind, not the worlds kind. The kind that doesn’t rely on our own willpower but His power.

Happy early new year friends!

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.

No Distracted Scatterbrains

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“But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.” James 1:25 (The Message)

Catching a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God… and sticking it out to it’s promised conclusion, that’s a big deal.  I don’t normally read the Message version of the Bible, but I just love how this verse expresses the idea of sticking to God’s Word and not being a “scatterbrain”. The New King James version puts it a bit more delicately and tells us that the person who looks into the “perfect law of liberty” is someone who won’t be a “forgetful hearer” but will be blessed.

Have you ever found delight and affirmation “in the action”?  Have you ever looked intently into God’s Word, caught that glimpse of truth, stuck with it, and found total joy in the obedience of doing what He says?

When we catch that glimpse, that Holy Spirit nudge, that free life… there’s no changing our minds or turning back. James doesn’t mince words here, he’s telling us that just hearing the word isn’t going to cut it, we have to be doers of it as well. When James tells us to look intently into God’s perfect law, the word he uses implies bending down and getting close to it, examining it face to face. He reminds us that it’s useless to learn something and immediately walk off and forget what was taught. It’s like when people say they took three years of French in high school and can’t remember a single thing. Or if you’re like me, any form of math. I didn’t value it, I truly didn’t care and so, in one ear and out the other!

This verse is so rich I think because it doesn’t stop at the hearing part. It’s showing us the entire life cycle, if you will, of how obedience to God plays out. We will find delight and affirmation in what we do because He’s the one who told us to do it.

Maybe He’s calling us to let go of something. He’s probably also telling us there’s something worth holding on to that needs some healing. Whatever He’s nudging you about, lean in a bit and put in the time to discover what it is. There’s not much room for fear or doubt when you heed His instruction. This verse assures us we won’t be a distracted scatterbrain if we focus in on God’s promptings. That “free life” we are all chasing lies just on the other side of obedience to His Word.

Anyone can drink their coffee and casually read the Bible. What we do when the Holy Spirit starts pushing us in a specific direction makes all the difference. He’ll push us towards things we may be hesitant to get near. He’ll pull us away from unhealthy stuff we may not want to let go of. The beauty of that obedience is that it really does bring that free life, if we can just commit ourselves to bending down and examining closely what Jesus is freely telling us.

Delight in doing what He tells us to do.

Affirmation in our circumstances because we obeyed.

What a great amount of heartache we could probably save ourselves if we bent down a bit more often to examine His word to us. Lord, teach us that when we catch a glimpse of your truth we need to stick with it and see it through. Show us how it isn’t enough just to hear your words, but that the true joy lies in obeying them and seeing the results!