Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.–Maya Angelou
I have been really dismayed by the response of some of my fellow Christians to refugees in the wake of the Paris bombings. ISIS is evil and their capacity for destruction is scary, but I can’t help but picture that little Syrian boy who drowned this September because his family was fleeing the very same terror. I absolutely think we should screen refugees, which is why I am glad there is a robust screening process in place. But, I question the wisdom and truth of “close our borders.” I am worried that Christians are choosing comfort over compassion. I wonder if we are choosing fear over the ways of Jesus.
I won’t pretend that the life we are called to is easy or fun. I will admit that I don’t feel like following even 60 percent of God’s commands 40 percent of the time.
Honor your father and mother. Pssh! My mom is annoying me today so snark all around. Love your neighbor as yourself. Nope! Neighbor doesn’t understand systemic racism so done with that idiot! Suffer unto me the little children. Whatever that kid has an attitude problem so forget showing them Jesus. Visit the prisoner. Lord no! That person is a criminal!
Being a Christian is hard, it’s scary and it seems like Jesus is always asking you to do something crazy. Like that one time He told Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water. Or that one time He told the disciples He would feed 5,000 men with two loaves of bread and five fish. Or that one time He told me I could teach a class on Civil Rights at the University of Texas even though I was just barely 30 and had never taught before. I mean c’mon!
And yet Peter walked on water, there were leftovers, and I was someone’s favorite professor.
How can this be? We serve a God that asks us to give up comfort, to put ourselves in impossible circumstances because that’s when He gets to show up and be God. When no other name can receive credit or glory that’s when miracles happen.
We say we want miracles. Yet, most us keep ourselves out of any situation or circumstance that might actually require one.
Our preferred brand of Christianity is one that can be done all in our own strength. We prefer a God we can manage and totally understand. We prefer the American Dream. We prefer safety and comfort.
Comfort is so much a part of American Christianity. Our comfort has become our gospel, most of us live out Jesus commands only so long as it doesn’t require anything too difficult. We want to serve God and while we hold fast to our dreams, our plans, our way of life. We cannot do both, we must make a choice, because at some point one thing will be dropped in the pursuit of the other.
My Bible Study group is studying Mary Jo Sharp’s Living in Truth. This week’s study included a lesson on how many people hold correct ideas about Jesus, but they don’t act on those ideas.
I think that’s where many of us fail when it comes to Jesus. We read the Bible, we believe it is true, but our actions tell a different story.
We believe God can do anything (Luke 1:37), but we act like He can only do somethings. We believe we are to care for widows and orphans (James 1:27), but only if we feel like they are spending our money wisely, or we can just give them the stuff we don’t really want anymore. Our Bible may say show hospitality to the stranger (Hebrews 13:2), but clearly what Jesus really meant is care only for the stranger that you are comfortable with, the ones that share your values, your faith, and love America.
But the promise of ease is the absolute opposite example of what we see in Jesus’ own life and those of his disciples. Is the Jesus who hung on the cross, whose disciples were beheaded, crucified, and wrongly imprisoned suddenly promising a life of safety and comfort of 2.5 children, in a White House in a safe neighborhood with good schools?
Our desire for comfort is rooted in the American Dream, not the Gospel. Jesus promises eternal life to all believe in Him as the only way to God. He doesn’t promise a perfect life or an America that endures for eternity. Jesus speaks of building His church and promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. He does not promise to build lives of wealth, health and happiness.
And therein lies the dilemma of American Christianity. We love our stuff. I love my stuff. I love cute boots, and Kendra Scott earrings, and yearly vacations. I mean how could you not? These things are all amazing, but the problem has become we prefer our stuff to God. Our stuff seems easier, more fun, and definitely more safe.
Nothing challenging about a Saturday morning Target run (unless of course its the Saturday they release their latest designer collaboration), but reaching out to and supporting refugees being resettled in our neighborhoods might challenge my worldview. Nothing demanding about iTunes playlists and Apple watches, but caring about what happens to poor kids might require me to invest time in a public school in a impoverished neighborhood. Nothing inconvenient about a book club with my girlfriends, but loving my neighbor as myself might mean giving up my Saturday to help the elderly woman on the end of my street.
We’d rather be comfortable. But, the truth is that comfort is an illusion. It’s the scheme of the enemy to keep you comfortable, the truth is convenience and comfort will cause you to miss out.
I love my job. It’s really the thing in life I was created to do, but it’s terrifying. It requires the sort of public life I hate, I’d much rather be behind the scenes. It requires a lot of public speaking, which makes me so nervous. I think I have sort of a weird voice so standing in front of people (sometimes lots of people) talking makes me physically ill sometimes. Usually before every speaking event, I am planning my escape, “Is it too late to call in sick?”
I never call in sick. I push through the discomfort and do the thing God has created me to do. I do it scared, but I do it.
I imagine God is more pleased with my obedience, precisely because it is a sacrifice. I have laid my comfort on the alter, because God didn’t promise me a nice safe life.
I am struck by the fact that if today, I had to choose between my old safe ways and my life now. I would choose the scarier looking path, because on this path I desperately need Jesus. On this path, I have seen things that can only be explained by God. On this path, I have accomplished things, I never would have dreamed, but God did and I wouldn’t have known any of it on that other road I used to call home.
Lord, help me to live out the whole gospel when it’s scary, when it costs more than I want to give, when it looks dirty, and when it’s hard. Help me to be courageous to choose what is right over what is best or most sensible or easiest. I cannot do it in my own strength. May your words be my guiding light and may I be willing to step out of the boat. Maybe I will sink, but even in sinking may it be done for Your glory.
More on a Christian Response to Refugees