Boxed Up

Anything off limits?

A significant group of those who believe in God – and Jesus as the greatest revelation of his existence, character, and message, prefer to keep him separate from the wider world. There is a division between politics and faith, them and us, sinners and saved, church and state, and a pile of other boxes with labels. Somehow, long before Amazon deliveries, particularly in the West, we became extremely skilled at packaging, separating, and dividing issues and people. Defining things (in our own minds) gave us a heightened sense of control and perhaps even a smug appreciation of how smart and perceptive we are. “We have the mind of Christ,” we reassure our companions in our box, licking fingers and flicking the pages of our bibles in sanctimonious harmony. It feels so good and right with God to be us.

In the dawning days of Israel it was God who led them from captivity and slavery in Egypt toward inheriting a glorious freedom in their Promised Land. But it wasn’t long before the first free generations looked around at their neighbors and said, “We want a king like they have.” Despite God’s warning to be careful for what you wish for he granted their insistent request and Saul was crowned as their first king. Everything began to shrink until it was ‘Us and Him’, temple and heathen, Gentiles and Jews, orthodox and unorthodox, Roman and Greek – boxes littered the landscape.

When Jesus finally began his public ministry one of his most controversial acts was his annoying habit of disregarding the carefully constructed boxes, breaking them open and tossing them aside as utterly irrelevant. He travelled among Samaritans, touched lepers, conversed with women, healed the sick, dined with Pharisees, called tax collectors to follow him, and was crucified for the sins of the entire box-filled world. He broke out of his box-grave and declared his mandate for his disciples to go out into all the world. As I have loved you, love them. In me there is no separation, favoritism, special interest group, pride, or prejudice. Break open the boxes and set the captives free!

The Christian declaration has always been that if God is real then he is Lord of all the earth. He sees all, he loves all, he searches for all. There is nothing off limits. No topic, no people, no area of life, no political person or situation. Everything is open for engagement, question, influence, challenge, or advocacy. Be salt, be light in all the world! It is a mandate for engagement and being in the world and not of the world.

As I wrote Unaware my primary goal was to write a story about ordinary people who in various ways encountered the love and heart of God the Father. One couple were very far from any awareness of God and it was important to try and capture their situation authentically. Hence references to sex, drugs, swearing, and despair. It was into that messiness that God would reach out in order to draw them to himself. The irony is that most Christian publishers will not print a book with any foul language or risque scenes. Apparently we have to protect the sensitive purity of Christians rather than come to terms with how we can be good news in bad situations. Boxes get in the way. They protect those who should not be sanitized or fearful of the wider world, and they keep others out who have no idea that there maybe hope in God they could never access because of the walls they encounter.

If God is Lord of all then his followers need to be everywhere. There is nothing off topic or out of bounds, where they cannot go and have nothing to share. There is no division between church and state or anywhere else. When I was younger I am ashamed to say that I think I preferred some boxes to protect me and make me feel more secure. It wasn’t helpful and took quite some life experience to get rid of them. I guess in the end we come to realize that none of us are boxes, clearly defined, or neatly packaged. We are a mixture of good and somewhat questionable, we see through a glass darkly, we have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved. Just like everyone else around us. Our hope is in the faithfulness of God’s love and kindness undergirding us – on our best days and when we are at our wits end.

The real challenge is how do we, who follow Jesus, turn up outside the boxes in the big wide messy world? That’s why how we engage and interact matters. The end never justifies the means. Character counts. Words are important. It is not good enough to wave a banner, take a position on Covid, love or hate Donald Trump, be anti abortion, pro Brexit, and the greenest Christian the world has ever seen. We, ourselves, are the message, the face of Jesus, the heart of the Father, his eyes, ears, heart, and feet for the world to see – or recoil from. Boxes are attractive to us. They hide the whole and the ugly bits of us. They keep the focus on only the smallest segment of us that we want the world to see. God calls us to be transparent, humble, slow to anger, servants who live truth.

John the Baptist was imprisoned and had his head cut off because he challenged Herod about his lifestyle and character. The early Christians were thrown to wild animals and tortured in the arena because they refused to declare Caesar as Lord. There is only one Lord, they declared, and his name is Jesus. They did not point fingers and wave banners, they merely stood behind their convictions and apparently wasted their lives dying far too young. Yet it was their blood that eventually toppled Rome centuries later. It takes courage to humbly take the consequences, to turn the other cheek, to not seek revenge, to lay down your life, to stand up and be counted, to appear weak, to place the welfare of another first.

And it requires courage and conviction to discard the boxes. It’s easier to live in a small make-believe Christian bubble then to venture out into all the world. Or so it seems at first. I actually think it is far more rewarding to live outside the boxes and to listen and befriend people no matter what they believe. Christians are so afraid of ‘becoming like them’. When Jesus walked the earth the crowds were terrified of lepers, and catching their disease. Jesus touched the lepers and made them well. What if it is meant to work the other way around? Christians, strong and grounded in themselves and Jesus, impact others for good – with grace, compassion, conviction, and kindness. Now instead of curling up in a foetal position when someone challenges my faith, I smile back, “It must take an enormous amount of faith for you to believe in nothing, how do you do it?”

Our world is very boxed up right now. Jesus comes to set captives free from every large and little box in which we/they are trapped. The clue to a box is invariably the tape – fear or anger. Perfect love casts out the fear, listening and validating will significantly dispel anger, and hope breaks the whole thing wide open. We often have passionate opinions/boxes about things in life where we are strong or untouched. But when life hits us sideways sometimes it befuddles our perceptions and we end up a little less confident. Which can be a good thing. Very little in life is cut and dried. God’s ways are not our ways and his justice and mercy are rooted infinitely more deeply and securely. Let’s trust him with the complexity and mystery. Our task is not to save the world but to love and serve the people within our sphere of influence, giving them space to breath while finding their way in the Promised Land God gifted to all who would step out and in. Are we hosts and guides they would dare to follow and entrust with their safety as they take their first steps into their unknown?

We don’t need boxes to define us when we have a rock to stand on and support us. And when others choose their boxes rather than ‘being outside’? Well, so be it, for now. Perhaps I still have a few of my own of which I’m blissfully unaware. 🙂

Now why not turn up the volume, discard any boxes, and dance to this song…. because we can’t give away what we don’t know in our hearts and declare with our feet (where we dance and walk). Enjoy.

Child of Love – We the Kingdom

I was walking the wayside
Lost on a lonely road
I was chasing the high life
Tryna satisfy my soul

All the lies I believed in
Left me crying like the rain
Then I saw lightning from Heaven
And I’ve never been the same

I’m gonna climb a mountain
I’m gonna shout about it
I am a child of love
I found a world of freedom
I found a friend in Jesus
I am a child of love

I’ve felt the sting of the fire
But I saw You in the flames
Just when I thought it was over
You broke me out of the grave

I’m gonna climb a mountain
I’m gonna shout about it
I am a child of love
I found a world of freedom
I found a friend in Jesus
I am a child of love

I am a child of love, yeah, oh
I am a child of love

Nothing can change the way
You love me
Nothing can change the way
I belong to You
Yes I do
Nothing can separate

Nothing can change the way
You love me
Nothing can change the way
I belong to You
Yes I do
Nothing can separate

I’m gonna climb a mountain
I am a child of love
I found a world of freedom
I am a child of love

I’m gonna climb a mountain
I’m gonna shout about it
I am a child of love
I found a world of freedom
I found a friend in Jesus
I am a child of love, oh yeah

Yeah, I am a child of love
I am a child of love

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Andrew Bergthold / Edmond Martin Cash / Franni Cash / Martin Cash / Scott Mctyeire Cash

Child Of Love lyrics © Capitol Cmg Paragon, We The Kingdom Music

God, I’m on my knees again
God, I’m begging please again
I need you
Oh, I need you

Walking down these desert roads
Water for my thirsty soul
I need you
Oh, I need you

Your forgiveness
Is like sweet, sweet honey on my lips
Like the sound of a symphony to my ears
Like Holy water on my skin

Dead man walking, slave to sin
I wanna know about being born again
I need you
Oh, God, I need you

So, take me to the riverside
Take me under, baptize
I need you
Oh, God I need you

Your forgiveness
Is like sweet, sweet honey on my lips
Like the sound of a symphony to my ears
Like holy water on my skin
(On my skin)

I don’t wanna abuse your grace
God, I need it every day
It’s the only thing that ever really makes me wanna change

I don’t wanna abuse your grace
God, I need it every day
It’s the only thing that ever really makes me wanna change

I don’t wanna abuse your grace
God, I need it every day
It’s the only thing that ever really makes me wanna change

I don’t wanna abuse your grace
God, I need it every day
It’s the only thing that ever really makes me wanna change

Your forgiveness
Is like sweet, sweet honey on my lips (yes, it is)
Like the sound of a symphony to my ears
It’s like holy water

Your forgiveness
Is like sweet, sweet honey on my lips
Like the sound of a symphony on my ears
It’s like holy water on my skin
It’s like holy water on my skin
It’s like holy water

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Ed Cash / Andrew Bergthold / Scott Cash / Franni Cash / Martin Cash

John Cox

Christian Author and Counsellor

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