Posts Tagged ‘Matthew 10:16’

If there is something sad that characterises how we approach difficult or controversial issues in the age of internet memes. It is that the extremes move to center stage and gain all the attention. The pithy, mic-drop sound bite becomes the be all and end all in the debate. Emotion packed retorts push out any chance for real dialogue and the process of using our brains to do the hard work of thinking becomes replaced by visceral, knee jerk reactions.

Nowhere is this more evident today than the argument over the fate of Syrian refugees in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris that resulted in the deaths of more than 120 people. On one end of the spectrum is a view that sees every Muslim as a Kalashnikov toting, bomb vest wearing, destroyer of the western world. On the other end of the spectrum is a view that sees every refugee as an innocent child, or elderly woman, on the verge of starvation being left to die by heartless, angry racists. Those positions either focus on the need to protect ourselves from terrorists by keeping all refugees somewhere other than where we are or the need to supposedly be like Jesus and welcome all of them without hesitation. Those on the protection end of the spectrum are castigated by the other side as being hypocritical, unchristian, violators of Jesus command to love others. Those on the welcome them all in end of the spectrum are castigated as being foolish, weak, idiotic, and naive.

At the risk of being run over from both directions and castigated by each end of the spectrum, let me suggest that both are wrong and both misunderstand the teachings of Jesus.

First, both are wrong in thinking that memes, sound bites, 140 character tweets, and Facebook postings are the way to have a dialogue about this issue. Those things may make us feel like we stuck it to the “other” side and allow us to puff out our chest and claim the moral or intellectual high ground. But that is a fantasy and self deceiving. It does nothing for the refugees.

Second, both are wrong in thinking that this is an all or nothing issue. It has become normative in the debates of today’s issues, whether they be political, moral, social, or religious, to make a simplistic either/or argument for a complex problem and leave no room for a both/and solution. I have a theory that the reason this is a growing trend has to do with us becoming intellectually lazy. It’s just easier to make something an either/or issue and entrench ourselves in our ideologically or emotionally driven position than it is to actually engage our brains, look at the bigger picture and acknowledge that the other side may have a point or two worth considering.

Third, as this discussion enters the religious world and invokes Jesus I find that there is a major failure to wrestle with the totality of what Jesus taught. Calling people to embrace all refugees with open arms because Jesus was a refugee may tug at emotional heart strings or promote guilt but it is hardly presents a viable biblical answer for dealing with something as chaotic and even terrifying as several hundred thousand refugees on the borders of your country. Telling people they are unchristian for being afraid in that situation does nothing to help them get over their fear. On the other hand, the calls for no refugees what-so-ever fails to take into account that Jesus was serious when He said to love our neighbors and our enemies. He made those statements knowing full well that such love was dangerous and risky and yet fully expecting us to obey Him.

So what is the answer? I think it is to be found in the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:16 when He sends the disciples out into a dangerous world to do ministry. He said,“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  Jesus acknowledged that the world is dangerous. That did not mean we withdraw and hide for our own safety. Rather, He intento On the other hand He did not advocate naively rushing off willy-nilly without considering the danger and taking some precautions. Jesus did not propose and either/or solution. He proposed a both/and solution. What He proposed was that we be both gentle and wise.

So how does that apply to the current crisis? Be gentle by taking every step we can to care for refugees, provide shelter, food, clothing, medical care and as followers of Christ, bring the message of the Gospel, make disciples and plant churches among refugee communities. It also means be wise, do what is necessary to make sure, as much as we can, that wolves in the midst of those sheep are prevented from using this crisis to make their way into our midst and spread greater evil.

It is equally easy to say either, “welcome them all” on the one hand or on the other hand “welcome none of them”. Both positions are in my mind, lazy, simplistic, and only make things worse. The hard answer is to think through what it would take to be wise and gentle at the same time and then do that. Governments need to do the work of protecting their people. Paul makes that clear in Romans 13. Followers of Christ need to do a better job of loving people. Do I even need to quote chapter and verse for that? Both need to find a way to work together better which, in a time of hyper-separation of church and state, may be the hardest part of all. As governments do the work of finding the wolves in the midst of the sheep, so the sheep can be taken in and cared for, there needs to be a place for the church to come and help provide some of the love and care that refugees need. But that means Christians must be willing to take the risk of serving those refugees and possibly being confronted by a wolf in the process. Now that is something I am confident Jesus would do.

 

Faith in Jesus is a living, breathing thing. Like all living things when healthy it grows and even reproduces. As long as it receives the proper nourishment and right environment it can flourish. But if we cut back on the nourishment or the environment becomes toxic, sickness and even death can result. The scriptures speak often of the difference between the things of this world and the things of God. For the follower of Christ our citizenship is in heaven but we currently live in this world as something akin to aliens and sojourners. We are to some degree living in an environment that by its very nature threatens the health of our faith.

The environmental issues that most threaten the health of Christianity in America are not the things that we Christians typically focus on, you know the lists of various sins du jour that come under scrutiny. There was a time when many preachers focused on three “big” sins of sex, drugs, and rock n roll as the cause of the coming downfall of the American Church. Sex, (whether of the homosexual or heterosexual variety), drugs even legalized marijuana, and certainly rock n roll will not be the death of Christianity in America. Rather there is a different big three that are far more insidious and dangerous. I am convinced that the American obsession with safety, comfort and security are slowing sucking the life’s breath out of Christianity in our country because Christians have unwittingly and uncritically been breathing the toxic air of an environment in which those three values subtly influence nearly every decision we make.

The illustration of a frog in a kettle of water has been used often, even being the title of a widely read book on church growth and transformation in the 80’s. The idea being that if you put a frog in a kettle of water that is extremely hot the frog will immediately jump out and save its life. But if you put the frog in water that is a comfortable temperature and will stay there even as you slowly raise the temperature to boiling and kill the frog. Christians in America are the frog in the cultural kettle. Over time the culture values of safety, comfort and security have become more and more the guiding values and as that has increased, we have not even noticed the life threatening change. Or maybe to stay with the analogy of air, many people have slowly succumbed to the toxic poisoning of carbon monoxide without even realizing they were breathing in their very death. In either case the point is, our cultural values of safety, comfort and security are killing our faith and witness and in a shocking irony we are embracing those values as being prudent, wise and even biblical.

Let’s talk about the first of those, safety. We have become obsessed with safety to the point that products have warning labels that go to the extreme of telling you not to use your electric hair dryer while sitting in the bathtub full of water. Children are not allowed to ride their big wheels unless they are wearing OSHA approved helmets and are in the basement where the walls are covered with protective foam and the floors are rubber. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should be reckless and there are real risks to life and limb in the world. But it seems to me that we have progressed, or may regressed to the point where anything that has the slightest potential what-so-ever to have a bit of danger in it is immediately off-limits. I contend that in our efforts to insulate ourselves from any pain, hardship or disaster we have in fact insulated ourselves from life in the process.

So how has this impacted the church? I have three sons, the second of whom spent a year in Egypt. It wasn’t just any year. It was the year of the revolution. He arrived in Cairo just a few weeks after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president. During the year my son was there protests and violent clashes were still a fact of life. Tahrir Square was at times a battle ground and people died. On more occasions than I can count people asked my wife and I if we were worried about his safety. Our answer was always the same and it was heartfelt and fully believed. Our son was convinced that God wanted him to be in Egypt serving others during that year. With that as our foundation we were certain that the safest place for him to be was Cairo, Egypt. Our home in Orlando would not have been safe, at least not in ways that really matter. His year in Egypt was a year of amazing growth and life for him. Was it risky on a physical level, sure. Would Orlando have been less a physical risk, maybe, maybe not. But it certainly would have been a greater risk to his faith and relationship with Jesus. Only by stepping into the risky place where God had called him for that year could he have experienced the things that so deeply impacted his relationship with Jesus and his view of the world.

Here is the point. Jesus never promised us safety. Instead he promised us life, life abundant which is a far better deal than mere safety. Jesus said in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly”. He promised us life to the fullest which only comes in a healthy, living, breathing relationship with Him. That means sometimes going places and doing things that seem risky to a world obsessed with safety. Oh and the other thing Jesus promised is that we would face danger and even suffer. In Matthew 10:16 he warned his followers that he was sending them out like sheep in the midst of wolves. That usually doesn’t turn out well for some of the sheep. But notice that Jesus did not say, hey there are wolves out there. It’s dangerous. You better stay inside. No, instead he acknowledged the wolves and warned that they are there. But we are not meant to live life as sheep protected behind the walls of a sheep pen safe from all harm. We were made to go into the world, living life and bringing life, even when it is dangerous, even when there are wolves around. It is in those moments that you will experience being fully alive.

Somehow we have bought into the cultural worldview that sees anything hard, painful and the least bit dangerous as something to be avoided. The result being very few Christians will ever feed a homeless person because who knows what they might to when you give them something to eat. Very few Christians will ever use vacation time to go serve in another country or even another part of America, because isn’t it dangerous there? Very few Christians will ever share their faith in Christ with a neighbor for surely they may get mad at me? Very few Christians will ever truly experience the abundant life Jesus offers us because we are obsessed with being safe when in reality we are slowly destroying ourselves by breathing the toxic air of a cultural value.

The Kingdom of God will not be advanced by Christ followers who are always measuring what to do based on the value of being safe. In such a worldview being safe will always trump advancing the kingdom because advancing the kingdom is not safe, it is risky and dangerous, but it is full of life, life abundant.

Part 1 of 3. Next up, How Our Obsession With Comfort Has Made Us Spiritually Obese.