Safe Place

pastor_lee_jong-rak_dropbox
Pastor Lee Jong-rak shows the“baby box” where parents who decide not to raise their babies ― mostly disabled children ― can leave them. (Korean Times)

Have you ever used a night deposit box to pay a bill or a Redbox machine to rent a DVD? Imagine a “Drop Box” for unwanted newborns who are in danger of being abandoned.* Are you ever afraid that your deposit won’t go through? It takes a level of trust. Each one must be safe and secure otherwise no one would leave an important payment, a DVD, or a baby there.

As 2016 ends, I continue to hear people say how anxious and unsafe they feel. Add to that the numerous throngs who say they have lost hope, and it’s enough to cast a dark, foreboding pall over 2017. While much of the angst is due to political upheaval in the US, I would say that 99% of it is misplaced. We trust Redbox, but…

In my opinion, if we are afraid of what America is going to look like after the inauguration, perhaps we are giving way too much credit to our government. If we’re afraid of some attack by a lone-wolf terrorist or a coordinated act by ISIS or other Muslim extremists, perhaps we are grossly underestimating the power of love and peace-loving followers of Allah. If we are afraid of cancer, Zika virus, Ebola, H1N1, etc., perhaps we think too much of our own vapor-like lives. Where have we put our trust?

Years ago at a men’s retreat I heard author Steve Farrar say, “Don’t worry about how long you have to live. God will not allow you to die until He has accomplished His plan for you.” That sounds good on the surface because it aligns with God’s Word and His sovereign nature, but mainly because I think that I’m a pretty worthwhile guy! Pride. Even though I might think that I’ve got a bunch of great things to offer God and the rest of the world, I have to want what He wants, in His time, whatever it costs me. (Gulp. I expect that sentence will be tested again in 2017!)

The more I jump into the flow of what the Holy Spirit has called me (and my family) to do, the more I sense God’s peace, a peace in which I can place my full trust. Sorry, Obama. Sorry, Trump. Neither of you even register on that scale. I do have fears. That reminds me of two quotes, one from a Peter Gabriel song and one from Jesus. I’m a fan of both.

When I allow it to be,
  there's no control over me.
I have my fears,
  but they do not have me. - Peter Gabriel, "Darkness"

And Jesus? Well, His quote is an excerpt from the greatest sermon ever preached as recorded in Matthew 5-7. Here’s a condensed bit from the New Living Translation

"I tell you not to worry about everyday life...
Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
So don’t worry about these things... Seek the Kingdom
of God above all else, and live righteously, and he
will give you everything you need." - Jesus

alfred-e-neuman_worryI’m not going to quote Bobby McFerrin here. I am not saying put on a happy, Alfred E. Neuman face and say “Buck up, campers!” But I will say that 2017 is a great time for the Church to step into our worry-filled world with the message of peace and hope that has been at the core of Jesus’ message since He, “became human and made His home among us” (John 1:14, NLT). If Christ-followers can’t trust the Lord and giver of life, what do we have to offer? God is our refuge, brothers and sisters! He will show us the way of life and give us joy in His presence, (Psalm 16). That sounds like a lot better option than to run around like a collection of worry-worts, whiners or chicken-littles who have lost hope and are waiting for the sky to come crashing down.

So is your church a safe place for people overwhelmed by fear? When doubt, shame, and hopelessness are in control, how can we share the hope that we have, God-honoring, well-grounded, unshakable, trustworthy hope? If we are truly a church that is not afraid, how are we making that evident to our community? And what about you and I? We had better lead by example and put our trust the Lord in 2017.SignJRGBlack300

*Lee Jong-rak is a pastor in South Korea who started the Baby Box for unwanted infants. I would encourage you to watch the documentary “The Drop Box” with some friends and ask the tough questions that might arise.

Darkness

Admit it. 2015 was a “heavy” year. I’m kinda glad to look back now and see it in the rearview mirror. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but it was a tough twelve months in a silent, indescribable, dark sort of way.

Neighborhood residents watch as police investigate a homicide scene after a 24-year-old man was found dead in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Neighborhood residents watch as police investigate a homicide scene after a 24-year-old man was found dead in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

I’ve experienced a similar, indescribable darkness in inner-city Chicago while working with Inner City Impact. Most of the young men and women that I met seemed to carry an invisible weight devoid of a clear sense of purpose, motivation or goals. These were smart, articulate kids! It wasn’t laziness or conformity. As I got to know a handful of them better, they had very little hope in the future because they doubted that they would even have a future. The darkness of violence, poverty, injustice and brokenness caused them to be cynical and callus. For some, the weight was too much and the best alternative was to give in and give up. That was a darkness I had never seen before.

Do you know someone who has been in prison? Chances are high that if they did more than a year behind bars, that they spent some of it in solitary confinement. Many prisoners who do long stretches in solitary do their time and face an additional sentence, the loss of one’s sanity. During the isolation what seeps in is overwhelming anxiety, irritability, worthlessness, and detachment.  Anthony Graves talks about being imprisoned for 18 years on death row in Texas for a crime he did not commit. When he was exonerated in 2010 he began telling his story. He made it clear that, “[Solitary confinement] is a system that seems designed to break a man’s will to live.” The loneliness, isolation and darkness are destructive to every part of our humanity.

Green, stagnant water fills the underground chambers of the Boesmansgat.
Green, stagnant water fills the underground chambers of the Boesmansgat.

If you never experienced that type of societal or internal darkness, there’s always the type found in nature. Take for example the Boesmansgat, or “Bushman’s Hole.” It’s a submerged freshwater cave in South Africa that is over 900 ft deep. When combined with it’s high-altitude location (4900 ft. above sea level), it’s relatively narrow opening, and the physics of water pressure, darkness is complete and total and more than just the absence of light. It gives me a chill just thinking about it.

How does your body and mind react to the darkness when all is quiet? I’ll admit that it’s nice at first, but after awhile my mind goes into hyperdrive. What brings hopelessness and anxiety in your everyday life? Have we become slaves to the darkness and our fears?

A lot of stuff has gone wrong in the world in 2015, in my opinion. Culturally it’s virtually impossible to find things that give me hope. “But we have not the right to despair, for despair is a sin. And finally we have not the reason to despair, quite simply because Christ has risen.” John Richard Neauhaus  I have hope regardless of how I’ve failed or seen humanity’s self-destruction. “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again,” our communion liturgy says. I have hope, peace and even joy …not fear.

The disciple John retells the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8. After that, Jesus speaks to the people once more and says, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

When Paul uses peace throughout his letters, it’s not synonymous with quiet. He draws a connection to security, assurance and ceasing from our striving (Romans 8:6). Paul would have also used the Hebrew word shalom (wholeness, and a lack of anxiety). Philippians 4 reminds us that peace comes from a heart of gratitude and an understanding that we can stop struggling. God is in control.

God’s proven that He can be trusted in all circumstances. Has he done things in your life that are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely…”? Fix your mind on that! Remember and celebrate. Then go be a source of hope and peace in a hyper-drive world… no matter what lies ahead.

Keep looking above and loving beyond.SignJRGBlack300