Safe Prisons

Today, for ‘S’, I thought about the title of this blog: Wanton Disregard for Safety. That doesn’t sound sensible, so I thought it good to elaborate.

There’s an oft-quoted line attributed to Ben Franklin, that “those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.”

Certain voices in America are now suggesting that perhaps the Constitution has to change, because we live in a different time than that of our forefathers. Perhaps some of the protections on certain freedoms need to be limited further, because, what else can we do in the face of unexpected and indiscriminate terror attacks on the public? The logic justifies ubiquitous security cameras and intrusive door-to-door searches like that conducted in Boston. It explains the IRS mindset that private e-mails are free sources of information, and calls to mind the recent CISPA measure that passed the House, enabling companies to share private information. Of course, the desire for security informs the gun control debate, as our society tries to balance freedom and the Second Amendment with safety, security, and good common sense about the use and proliferation of weapons.

Franklin’s quote came up with regularity after the passage of the Patriot Act under President Bush. Those who opposed his administration’s efforts in the War on Terror used the quote to question invasive TSA searches, Guantanamo Bay, indefinite detention, and military tribunals.
The desire for security is innate and powerful. If not for myself, I wonder how I can better protect my wife, my children, the property I care about, and the free society I love. When something challenges that safety, it’s hard to resist withdrawing behind locked doors, shutting out the dangers of the world, and finding a place of limited peace.

There’s a spiritual parallel. I believe the opposite of Franklin’s statement is true for the Christian. Those who trade security for liberty find both.

Many of us have built fortresses to withstand the chaos of life: financial stability, an upwardly mobile career, the all-important protective bubble around our children, the certainty of knowing what will happen next, the not too cold not too hot Goldilocks religion so common in Western Christianity.

When troubles challenge us and we hide in those man-made places of refuge, we give up the freedom to move, to fully live, to experience the provision of God in the midst of the trial. To guard that security, we become bound to and consumed by the effort of maintaining whatever we’re trusting in. We choose safe prisons and solitary confinement over the presence and protection of the Good Shepherd.

When we abandon those high safe walls and step out into the world, we are indeed at risk. But that’s where He is, and He’s beckoning for us to come and follow. It’s hard to follow from a fortress that doesn’t move.

There’s a tale in King David’s time of Eleazar, one of David’s mighty men. At one battle, the people of Israel flee, and only Eleazar remains to stand against the enemy, fighting until his hand can’t even let go of his sword.

and after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there to battle and the men of Israel had withdrawn. He arose and struck the Philistines until his hand was weary and clung to the sword, and the Lord brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to strip the slain. (2 Samuel 23:9, 10 NASB)

The second account of the story gives crucial information: Eleazar wasn’t alone. His king stood with him against the enemy.

After him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, who was one of the three mighty men. He was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines were gathered together there to battle, and there was a plot of ground full of barley; and the people fled before the Philistines. They took their stand in the midst of the plot and defended it, and struck down the Philistines; and the Lord saved them by a great victory. (1 Chronicles 11:12-14 NASB)

In the midst of the confusion, in the harsh realities we face outside our carefully crafted fortresses, we can find security greater than any we can create for ourselves. We encounter “the peace of God, which surpasses comprehension” (Php 4:7). We realize that true liberty is found in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor 3:17).
That’s why Pastor Saeed can go to a place like Iran and face cruelty and opposition. He knows a freedom that outshines any man-made refuge, one that can’t be stopped by chains or a jail cell. That’s why brave men and women throughout the last two thousand years have been able to forsake all and pour out their lives in service of others, strangers they’ve never known. Some risk all to reach into oppressive regimes in order to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the people. Some spend all they can to minister to those the world calls worthless, to break the chains of modern-day slavery. Some forsake friendships and family ties in order to pursue the life-changing liberty we casually enjoy.

We have a choice. We can throw a heavy bar across the doors of our lives, closing ourselves off from every danger, shutting the world out and ourselves in – safely imprisoned. Or we can throw wide the doors and charge into the world around us, aware of the dangers but more aware of the opportunities and liberties found in the footsteps of the Savior.

May we be found on the spiritual field of battle, arms sagging, taking our stand back-to-back with our King.

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Me Time

There’s a great blog post going around about the iPhone mom, the one at the park looking at her mobile phone and missing her girl dancing around or climbing the monkey bars, her son doing cartwheels or swinging high in the sky. The point is that those moments may be that stay-at-home mom’s only opportunity to converse with an adult during the course of a busy day. I know my wife and I have talked about the difficulties she faces when she gets almost no interaction with adults until I get home after work, let alone any quiet moments to herself.

There’s a Baby Blues joke about a Valentine’s Day gift the husband presents to the wife, purchased from the hardware store. She looks unimpressed, until he reveals that it is a titanium bathroom deadbolt so that the children cannot interrupt her privacy. Suddenly, it’s the most romantic gift ever.

Sometimes we need a quiet place where we can shut out all the distractions and just be alone.

This is where worship ties in. There’s a parallel here that worshipers would be wise to follow.

The worshiping church body hopefully has a team of worshipers that do all they can to remind the congregation of God’s presence and goodness. That worship team is hopefully made up of passionate individuals – the ‘I’ for the day’s A to Z blog challenge entry.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.'” Or so goes the prevailing logic. But the truth is, there are several ‘I’s on any team, and those individuals need to be at their best in order for the team to succeed at its best. That involves time spent in the presence of God, not just corporately with the congregation, or even as a worship team. It means that I need to have an active worship life of my own.

Multiple times in the Gospels we see Jesus go off to be alone, early in the morning, late in the evening, spending time in prayer. There’s a reason. We read that Jesus discerned what was in men’s hearts, and did not entrust himself to any man, but solely relied on and followed what He saw from the Father.

Where do we think Jesus got this revelation of what the Father was doing? How did He develop the skill and intimacy with the Father to see where He was meant to go, what He was meant to do, what He was meant to say and to whom?

“Well, Jesus was God in the flesh, so of course He knew what the Father wanted Him to do.”

But Jesus was also fully man, and our example to follow. He was limited in His knowledge while He walked on the earth – how would anyone’s faith surprise Him, and how would anyone’s lack of faith spontaneously frustrate Him? He temporarily gave up that equality with God in order to come as a Man (see Philippians 2).

There are other examples throughout Scripture. Consider Daniel’s habit of private prayer, something he would not give up for any reason even on threat of death. Peter is in prayer, alone, when he has his vision in Acts 10. David had many opportunities to worship in solitude, and we read his songs throughout the book of Psalms. Job had a daily worship routine. Hannah goes to the Tabernacle alone to pray for God’s mercy.

Life is full of distractions, both good and bad. Everything vies for our time and attention.

But worshipers cannot point the way to a place they have not been, an intimacy they have not known or seen.

We often say we need to find time, but the fact is time comes to everyone in exactly the same quantity every day. We must make time, by locking out all other voices and distractions, throwing that titanium deadbolt on the door, and spending a few moments alone with God.

What ways do you find most helpful for blocking out the busy world to focus on the Lord?