My dream car is a four-door, bright blue, Mini Cooper with a white hood. Preference for the little checkered rearview mirror backs, too. It’s a fairly undemanding dream, right? If someone handed me the keys to that car and told me, “Take it. it’s yours. Go anywhere you like, explore all the places you want to go, just follow the rules of the road,” is that restriction? Or freedom?
God gives us the keys to our dream life and says, “Go. Explore. Grow. Learn. Have fun. Just follow the rules so you stay on the road.”
Set Free for What?
As we continue the discussion I started last week of truth and what it means, we need to grapple with the idea of what the truth sets us free for. One of the reasons many people see talk of truth and freedom and sin as restricting is the narrow insistence that our freedoms are only from sin. It’s that word ‘from’ that sticks. They know, instinctively, that freedom isn’t free it it’s only away from something. It has to also be toward something.
I have a friend who got out of jail recently. He is free from his cell. But he is not free. Because of his record, he can’t get a job. He can’t find housing. He lives in the woods scrambling for food and praying for a break. (This too-common situation, by the way, is the real reason for the recidivism rate.) This is not freedom. There is no toward.
There is a whole lot more than freedom from sin—there is freedom toward the Kingdom.
Our gospel has been too small to accommodate that reality.
If we believe the Son has set us free from our sinful lives, what are we supposed to do with those lives? If we believe that “The power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death,” (Romans 8.2), what will we do with that life-giving power?
If we believe that we have been given the keys—not of a shiny blue Mini Cooper but of the kingdom of God—what are we opening the gates to? If we believe the church was destined to destroy the gates of hell, what are we waiting for?
Logically, that last part is not going to happen after we all fly away to heaven.
What Are Your Keys?
If you believe you have been given keys—keys to use your gifts toward something—where are you going to drive? Have you spent more time trying to avoid evil things than trying to create good? Not that the former isn’t a worthy goal. But if I’m going to act like the image of God in this world, I need to remember that God is a creator. His first order of business was to create life—life that he then called good. Shouldn’t I consider that a priority for me, then, as well?
The great thing is, when we start to create good around us? The evil we were afraid of usually has to back off. There isn’t room for it anymore. There is just too darn much good going on.
Is God giving you the keys to move toward life? Real, heart-pulsing, gate-bashing, meaningful life? Then what’s stopping you from driving off the lot with them?
Today, let’s create good. Let me know what you create. I’ll work on it over here.
“You can’t handle the truth!” I watched Jack Nicholson’s face bulge in the trailer to A Few Good Men as he yelled that iconic line. I’ve never seen the movie, but I got the point. The truth is complex. Nuanced. Potentially too dangerous for the Tom-Cruise-character person asking to know it.
His isn’t an isolated opinion. I suspect that’s part of what’s behind a lot of the assumptions today that there is no truth. In reality, seeking truth, and finding it, could be scary. It could change us. It could demand things. And we could find out after all that we were wrong anyway in believing it.
If it’s really as nuanced as we suspect, it might be better to just let it lie and assume it’s nuanced enough that we can get by with whatever we cobble together.
Truth is tricky. Lack of truth is trickier. But the trickiest question of all—
If Christianity is the truth, why does it matter to my life?
Truth sets us free
Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8.31-36
It’s not the expectation of most these days that Christianity sets people free. The majority of onlookders would accuse it of restricting freedom with all its rules and regulations. Religion isn’t freeing—it’s smothering.
They have a point. When the truth is handled wrongly, it does smother. Paul warned Timothy he’d be ashamed before God if he could not “correctly explain (handle) the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2.15). Can we handle the truth? Sometimes not, when we consider all the ways we have used it to hurt people rather than love them.
Yet Jesus says that the truth will set us free, and if his servants don’t always handle it correctly, that does not mean Jesus’ words are nullified.
When I was a child, my two cousins, my sister and I decided to get ourselves into trouble. Kids do this at times, I hear. Especially kids who don’t have the benefit of a Christian upbringing. We went to a drug store, stuffed some candy bars into our pockets, and left. At least, the three of them did. I had no pockets, so I did no stuffing. Not ten feet out the door, security came and hauled our bums back in, gave us a scare, and had our parents pick us up. Everyone was in big trouble except — me. No goods were found on me; I had done nothing wrong. Technically.
But the guilt of fully intending wrong and participating dug at me and would not let me go. I had no freedom to enjoy the afternoon. I was miserable, though unpunished. Only a full confession to my mom brought the freedom my soul needed that afternoon.
Truth is freeing. There is no freedom when we are living in lies, or living a lie with our lives. Even those who say they don’t believe in truth have to admit—there are parts of their hearts they don’t love, aspects of their lives that don’t pass the test of looking oneself in the eye in the mirror. We all want freedom.
There is tension in the lines of our lives, like there was tension in the line between me and my parents, until our lives are true. Jesus asserts that our lives are not ever going to be true until we come to him for forgiveness and power to live in the rightness that we know.
When we live lives that are lies—lives that are not true to our created purpose—there is tension. We have no freedom. We know this, we feel it, even as we argue that there is no truth.
God’s Gift of Truth
Far from being restricting, truth is a gift from God. It frees us to know exactly what we need to live true lives, not to have to guess, to communicate without tension with the Creator of our souls.
If the truth of God says don’t lie—we are free to live in authenticity and real relationship with others when we submit.
If the truth of God says don’t gossip—we are free to love others well and not worry if anything we said will be overheard and misunderstood.
if the truth of God says don’t covet or envy—we are free to be thankful for what we have, not worrying about what we don’t and being truly happy for others’ good fortune.
“Well, when we planned this event earlier this week we thought we’d have about forty people and we cold hold it in our offices.”
The World Relief spokesperson looked out at the crowd of an estimated 800-1000 people.
“I guess we were wrong.”
I’ve rarely been as proud to be a Jesus follower as I was that night. In response to the previous week’s executive order halting the refugee program for four months and the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, God’s people stood up.
For some of us, we stood up because there was nowhere to sit. The megachurch pews were packed out, people lined the walls two deep, and it was probably a good thing no fire marshals were present. At the end of the evening when staff workers asked refugees among us to raise their hands, everyone stood in a show of solidarity and respect. Refugees received a standing ovation.
I have to admit, I cried. It’s been lonely lately, fighting for the least of these among us, the ones Jesus told us were a stand-in for him in this world. It’s been a turbid sea of misinformation, deliberate lies, and anger. So much anger.
So to see that there are so many ready to stand and fight that same fight was overwhelming. I know not all showed up in support. Some needed more information. Some were curious and/or concerned, wondering if their security was threatened. But clearly, hundreds of people had only one questions—what can we do to help?
Here’s the important thing—whether you belong to the group who wants to help or the group who questions why, you are a welcome and needed part of the conversation. None of this can be talked about from only one side. So as a World Relief volunteer (not as an authorized spokesperson) I’d love to have that conversation. Above all, I want to have the conversation in a Christlike way—“full of grace and truth.”
So if you have questions, I hope this helps. Especially, if your question is “What can I do?”
First, there are the usual questions.
Isn’t it good to have secure vetting process? Isn’t that what this is all about?
Yes, it is good. It is imperative. No one is safe without a good vetting process for refugees, us or them. However, the process is good. It is tight. it takes almost two years (and that does not count the many years some people wait in refugee camps before their process begins.) You can get a brief overview of what happens in this process here.
A terrorist hoping to get through as a refugee would have to travel to a refugee camp, prove his refugee status before being allowed to stay, wait for years until allowed to apply to the UN, hope to be among the less than one half of one percent admitted to the US, go through a two-year process of interviews and biometric and medical exams, and get past Homeland Security. Good luck with that. Student and tourist visas are so much faster.
Might we let in terrorists?
Since the Refugee Act of 1980 set up systematic procedures for admittance, there has been not one refugee implicated in a major attack in the US. Not one person has died. We have resettled over three million refugees and not one has killed anyone in a terrorist act. That’s a pretty good record. Surely a system working that well, even if it needs scrutiny, did not need a total shutdown while that scrutiny was being accomplished.
According to the CATO Institute, “ The chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.” That is one person among half the world’s population.
Meanwhile, the chances of dying or watching one of your loved ones die in, say, Aleppo, is approximately 100 percent.I’ll let you do the moral math on that one.
Why don’t we take care of our own first?
We should take care of our own. We should take care of anyone in need. Americans have the means to do so—we just don’t have the will. This is not an either-or question nor a zero-sum game. We are not required to choose. I can care for anyone and everyone.
You know what I notice? People who have generous spirits tend to be generous on lots of levels. They have open hearts (and schedules and wallets) for many. Conversely, folks who tend to questions why we help others, who appear just a bit . . . ungenerous . . . in their speech and criticisms? They don’t tend to be helping anyone. It’s just kind of a pattern.
Because we have the means for both. We do not have the will.
What does the Bible really say?
From the covenant with Abraham, God told his people to bless the nations. As the Israelites pursued their Exodus under Moses, God repeatedly commanded them to remember that they were once wandering refugees. They were once the foreigners. They were once the immigrants. And they should remember that and treat the foreigners among them with welcome, kindness, and respect.
When the Israelites were exiled from their land, God laid two charged against them. They committed idolatry, and they refused justice to the oppressed. The prophets recite the realities over and over—God will judge those who do not remember that they were once or, easily could be, those needing welcome, kindness, and respect.
To which Jesus adds, love your neighbor as yourself. And btw, your neighbor is everyone. No exceptions.
To deny this as an overarching theme of scripture is to be reading a very different Bible than the one I studied in seminary.
What can I do to help?
Good question! Resettlement agencies will face a huge shortfall of funding with this EO. They will be forced to shut down some operations and lay off staff that are currently serving refugees that have come in the last several years. So first,donate to the organization of your choice. They need it desperately. Mine is World Relief; your choice might be different.
(And hey–if you want to donate by contributing to my “Walk for WR fund” go ahead! I would appreciate it! I’m excited to be doing this walk. Because it’s Worlds Relief, and because they’re not making me run.)
Second, let your congresspeople know how you feel. Call. Email. Write. Keep watch over the situation.
Advocate. Educate yourself on the facts and then tell people. Nicely. Gently. Like Jesus would. Not the Jesus who took a whip to the temple (because we are not Jesus and not really authorized to do that) but the Jesus who used words to heal, reconcile, and educate. Fruit of the Spirit, people.
Volunteer. I’ve had the privilege of bringing refugees from the airport to their new home. It’s a joy-filled trip! I’ve also had the joy of purchasing the things they will need to start a new life and setting up an apartment to welcome families home. Families need “friendship partners” to come alongside the and help them learn the ways of this confusing culture. They need volunteers to teach them English and help them navigate the citizenship process. They need advocates in churches. The list is long. I’m excited to be finishing my training as an ESL instructor. It isn’t hard, and it doesn’t take long. I put it off for years, sure that I didn’t have the time, or the personality, for this work. Until God kicked me and reminded me that those are very first world worries in a world where people have lost their children, spouses, countries, and homes.
Is it scary? Yes. I am an introvert among introverts, and talking to strangers, especially strangers who don’t speak my language, is so far out of my comfort zone. But seriously, how far are they out of all that has ever been comfortable?
Decisions, decisions. That’s what we’ve been talking about for the past five weeks. Decision making. Fear of making a decision. Fear of not making a decision. We’ve covered five great questions to ask ourselves when we are looking at decisions, risks, or ideas. The five questions were originally posed by Gretchen Rubin here.
To the five questions already covered, I would add this one:
Is this decision irreversible?
If I decide to do (or not do) this thing today, does that mean I’ve committed myself to it forever and ever amen? No chance of reprieve or plea of insanity?
Often, we convince ourselves it is when in fact, it’s not. We get ourselves all worked up and terrified to take one direction because we’re sure we can never change course. We’ll be stuck. It’s like we don’t remember there’s an “off” button on the blender as well as an “on.” Once we start the whole dang thing going, we’ll get sucked into that mix forever and never be able to extricate ourselves.
Now, this may be true if you’re a strawberry. It’s tough to put a strawberry in the blender and retrieve it before it’s strawberry banana surprise puree. But you are not a piece of fruit. You have options.
In fact, some things in life are irreversible. If you decide to get pregnant and succeed, you’re going to have to go through with it. To my knowledge, “control-alt-delete” has no effect there. Likewise, once you decide to say “I do,” you did. If you decide to jump off a cliff into the ocean and partway down think better of it, you’d definitely better still know how to swim.
But not that often
But those things are big, rare, life-altering things that, by their nature, happen infrequently. Most things can start out one way and then bend down the road a bit when the need arises. Why do we forget that we have control over changing our mind?
Case in point—our trip to Europe a few years ago. We had planned a detailed itinerary (and by we I mean I, seeing as I am the only one who plans vacations and the other four usually follow like lemmings to their doom). But because of transportation strikes, unavailable trains, and the French being, well, French, things didn’t always go as planned.
We detoured. We traveled in unexpected manners. We changed course as needed, still focused on the final destination, but the journey took lovely twists and turns we would not have found had we believed our original itinerary decisions to be unchangeable.
Yet so often, we refuse to start because we’re not sure we will finish the course exactly as planned.
–Why go to college? I’m just going to change my mind on what I want to do.
–Why start writing a book? I may find out I was all wrong half way through.
–Why volunteer for this organization? I may not have the time or passion for it later.
Yes, this could all be true. But does changing your mind down the road totally negate the part of the journey you already took? Does the fact that we never got to Geneva toss out all that we experienced in Paris and Barcelona?
We refuse to make a decision because we’re afraid it may not be the perfect solution forever. Here’s the revelation–
Nothing ever is.
Everything adapts. But if we fear starting because we may not end where we thought, we’ll never get to Paris at all. And what we learn in Paris may have been the whole point. That, and what we’ll learn in the detour.
In fact, when faced with something that I can’t make a decision on, I always ask myself two questions:
Will I get the chance to do this again?
Will I regret not doing it now?
If the first answer is no and the second yes, you know the decision that has to be made.
There–actually eight questions to help make decisions in the new year. I hope and pray you find them useful in the coming months. I’d love to hear about your decisions and risks for 2017!