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Monday, February 21, 2011

February 21, 2011 When Man's Laws Get in the Way of God's

A friend of mine works for a company that has a military contract in one of those jobs containing a need-to-know clause…and I clearly do not need to know. Details are sketchy at best, but occasionally something pops up in the news that we’re able to discuss. Recently, events in Egypt prompted a conversation about Africa, Islam, and Christianity. My friend brought up the fact that in some African countries, it is against the law to proselytize. Christian missionaries know the law, agree to abide by it, and then enter the country to do exactly that. It had made an impression…a very negative impression. If anyone should abide by laws, it should be Christian missionaries!

I pointed out that the organization we had worked with many years ago took a more respectful approach. In countries that prohibited the preaching of the gospel, workers would enter the country and set up housekeeping, rather than an overt ministry. As they befriended nationals, questions would be asked and answered. In that way, they were able to stay under the radar while still sharing biblical truth.

Despite this approach, however, workers in the organization have been arrested. In fact, some of the staff we worked with in India had been arrested in Nepal and were required to periodically appear in court—as much a way of generating revenue from the seemingly endless fines as making a religious stand. They had shared the gospel in some way that had brought the law upon them, and they faced the consequences with neither regret nor self-righteous anger.

Religions are, by their very nature, intolerant. A devout Buddhist believes that Buddhism is The Way. A devout Hindu believes Krishna holds the answers to life. Animists, Muslims, Christians…if a person is sincerely convinced of the truth of a particular belief system, it is understandable that there would be no room for entertaining dialogue or discussion in which differing belief systems are placed on the same level playing field. But if we truly believe that our way is The Way, what is intimidating about listening while others share their own beliefs? At the worst, we are more convinced of our own beliefs in light of the error we hear. At best, our sharing sparks a desire in others to find out more about this Jesus person.

How does a committed Christian share the teachings of Jesus in a nation that outlaws them, or with people who are skeptical? In my friend’s case, the missionaries who chose to break the law of the land welcoming them across its borders were poor testimony to the gospel. Perhaps they were. Or perhaps they had such a genuine desire to see lives saved spiritually that they felt breaking man’s law was worth it for the sake of following God’s law of love. It is not for me to judge, even when I might have gone about things differently. Motivation is the key, and one person’s motivation can be completely different than another’s.

A conflicted young man confessed to me some years ago that he had contemplated suicide at one point. Only the fact that this would be a poor witness to his loved ones prevented him from following through. He felt it would have communicated that God was somehow powerless to help him in his situation. He didn’t believe that—he was mostly just tired of the struggle—but he didn’t want to be the reason others gave up on seeking the Lord.

The desire to be a “good witness” routinely offers certain guidelines and boundaries to our behavior. Missionaries faced with laws in other lands may well decide that breaking them would be a “poor witness.” Still, there are times when it may be more spiritual to “color outside the lines.” Some Christians would never consider entering a bar, or talking to a prostitute, or any number of other “worldly” activities…and yet, Jesus neither placed such restrictions on us nor lived by them himself. The religious people of his day repeatedly condemned him for being a friend of sinners, hanging out with the ungodly…yet without sin. Peter was told not to preach by those in charge, but went ahead boldly, aware that he was putting himself in harm’s way by doing so.

Personally, I believe that we should never try to put God into a box. We shouldn’t present God with our own agendas and demand that he make them work. Send me anywhere but there, Lord. I’ll follow you, but not to a place that isn’t safe and clean. I will show love to the non-believer, but only the ones that smell nice and belong to my own social strata. I would never do THAT…that couldn’t be the Holy Spirit! Get behind me, Satan.

Our agendas must be a constant source of entertainment in heaven. The best laid plans of mice and men will always go astray, while the Holy Spirit uses even our ridiculous ideas for his ultimate purposes. The “I would never do that”s and the “God would never tell me to go there”s don’t even register as blips on the screen of eternity. We are neither important nor powerful enough to foil his plans, even when we think we are doing it all for God.

Does that mean we should throw caution to the wind and do whatever we wish, trusting that God will work it all out eventually? Of course not. The laws of God are pure and righteous, and we are always on better, more solid, ground, when we obey them. However, when we substitute man’s laws for God’s and try to label them anew, we are in no better shape than when we blatantly disobey. And when we fail and fall and take wrong turns and go out of our way to do the wrong things for the right reasons and the right things for the wrong reasons and the wrong things for the wrong reasons…we really CAN trust God to make it right and to use our weaknesses and folly for his glory.

Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, February 7, 2011

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going”
(Hebrews 11:8, NIV).

I have moved a lot in my life—South Carolina to North, North Carolina to Florida, back to North Carolina for short spurts, to India and back. In St. Lucie County, Florida, alone, I lived in 14 different houses. When we moved to Lillington in 2005, I thought we would be here forever. When we moved into the house we are currently in, I thought it was the last house I would live in, the last move.

Abraham may have thought his location was secure as well. He and his wife Sarah (at the time, of course, they were known as Abram and Sarai) had been in Ur all their lives. They knew their neighbors, hung out with the same folks every evening to watch the stars, knew the best guy to go to for a tent repair or new camel.

And then God upset the fig cart. He has a way of doing that.

When we moved to North Carolina this time, the only people we knew in Harnett County were our daughter and her husband. It was strange, after living in one location for most of the previous 38 years, to go to the grocery store and not see a single familiar face. Everyone was a stranger—friendly, but unknown.

Getting involved in a great church and community theater, putting the grandkids in school, eventually going to work part-time…these things expanded my frame of reference. When I go to the post office, I am greeted by name. There are friends I regularly meet for lunch. My number is logged into numerous cell phone contact lists; numerous contacts are logged into mine. The number of Facebook friends locally exceeds, probably, the number who lives elsewhere.

I’ve settled in. I’ve gotten comfortable. And you know what that means.

My husband decided around Christmas time that when our house sells (assuming it does) he believes we should return to Florida. His parents and two brothers are there. Our oldest son is there. Real estate is definitely a buyer’s market there, potentially enabling us to check off all the items left on Dave Ramsey’s baby step list and move us into financial freedom. All good reasons, but the most important is that he believes it is God’s leading. He was so adamant that he would never live in Florida again (it was the heat), he says that simply the awareness of newfound desire to return is compelling evidence.

The ancient Jews journeyed, long after their forefather Abraham paved the way in faith, to the Promised Land. It was a land flowing with milk and honey, but there were also giants in the land. The “promise” wasn’t of a life of ease and plenty, but the place with and in which God chose to bless them.

During our recent study of the book Radical we got into a discussion of the saying that goes “the safest place on earth is in the center of God’s will.” As it was presented in the book, “safe” doesn’t always mean safe from harm or conflict. God has sent many, many people into harm’s way for the sake of the gospel. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs contains some of their stories, but the real record will only be known in heaven. All over the world, Christians suffer and die because of their obedience to Christ. Every day.

Still, would a person be “safer” outside of God’s will? Safer, perhaps, in terms of length of life or absence of hardship, but the blessing of God transcends these things. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the best place to be is in the center of his will…even if it means packing up the household AGAIN and launching out into the deepest depths of south Florida.

Of course, a move this time can not possibly be expedited prematurely, outside of God’s plan and purposes. We can not move until our house sells. Abram and Sarai pulled up tent stakes, loaded down the animals, and they were out of there—the Gillettes will need considerably more prep time.

And too, returning to an area with which we are familiar, containing a ready-made set of family and friends, has its frightening aspects. There are giants in the land! We have enjoyed living in a quieter area, contending with less traffic, being a part of a community that lives its faith more openly than in more metropolitan parts of the country. I have family who live close by that I hate to leave. I’ve made what I hope are lifelong relationships that will be difficult to see change, to insert greater distance. A whole new set of personal challenges await. Knowing I can trust God...when I am in that frame of mind...means seeing these challenges as new opportunities for God to work out his purposes. The problem is, my trust level fluctuates.

During winter, a farmer looks over seed catalogues, plans the upcoming growing season, sharpens his tools. In a way, this season of our life is not only actual winter, but also the same sort of preparation time. We’re throwing things out, packing up nonessentials. My husband is (obsessively!) looking online at homes for sale in Florida. It could take another year to sell; it could take a week. There is that feeling of “being ready” at all times that is at the same time exciting and exhausting.

Change is not always good (as we frequently see after elections) but when God changes direction, we can always trust, as Abraham did, that he knows exactly what he is doing. Even when we do not. Which is, actually, why it requires faith in the first place.

P.S. Within hours after writing this, an offer was made on our property. It looks like change is imminent!

Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.