I have been thinking about safe places lately. We have had some unusually cold, and icy, weather in Middle Tennessee. There are a number of news stories about caring for the homeless, bringing your pets inside, and one that I watch with great interest, taking care of the elderly during this cold snap. I mean, after all, I do have Doris to look after. (Probably after this blog I will be looking for a safe place.)
When I was growing up, and we were walking 5 miles, one way, in the snow, to school, uphill, both ways…you remember the story. When I was walking to school there were designated safe houses along the route that were marked with a blue star. We were told that if an emergency came up, bad weather, we got sick, or a stranger was following us, then we could run up to one of those safe houses and we would be taken care of. I never went to one, but sometimes late at night, when I could hear my parents fighting in the other room, I imagined what it would be like to be in a safe house. I imagined Ozzie and Harriet (if you’re under 50, google it!) would meet me at the door. There would be fresh chocolate chip cookies and cold milk waiting on the table. Mr. Nelson would sit beside me and help me with my algebra homework, and after supper Ricky Nelson would take me upstairs and teach me how to be cool.
Never got very good at algebra, or cool, but the fascination with safe places never went away. Maybe that’s why I wanted so much to be a safe place as a grandfather. Jon-Mical and Jakson soon learned that they had an absolute ally in PoppyC. Whatever the offense, they would come running to PoppyC, crawl up in my lap and say, “I’m sorry PoppyC. Please don’t tell Daddy.” I would give them an important talk about truthfulness and honesty, about the hope of mercy and grace when we confess. I would tell them how much their Daddy loved them and that he always wanted what was best…Then we would figure out a way to hide the evidence and get our story straight so that nobody ever found out.
One day, Jakson came home from kindergarten with 3 marks. Apparently, marks are not a good thing. You get marks for things like talking in the hall, getting off task, and hitting another student. Now first, I ask you, who arbitrarily decided that these perfectly normal activities were not appropriate for MY grandsons? The hall is MADE for talking. Have you ever paid attention to the echo in there? As for getting off task, task and 5-year old should not be used in the same sentence, in my humble opinion. Finally, hitting, I can see that might be a problem. But when I asked Jakson why he hit that girl, he said, “PoppyC, she is just yucky.” Perfectly understandable. Case closed. Yucky is a Class A felony and deserves a good hitting now and then. Jakson showed me his marks. We had a very serious conversation about the importance of good behavior and sucking up to the teacher. I made him a hot fudge sundae and together we learned that I could sign his daddy’s name remarkably close to the way Josh signed it. What a wonderful, safe day.
Well, that story leads me to think there are different kinds of safe places. Deuteronomy 19 describes refuge cities where the Jews could go when they had committed an unintentional crime. Manslaughter might be an example. You kill someone accidentally. Before vengeance can happen, you run to the city and you are safe. Deuteronomy 19:4-5 gives a pretty clear explanation, “If someone kills another person unintentionally, without previous hostility, the slayer may flee to any of these cities to live in safety. 5 For example, suppose someone goes into the forest with a neighbor to cut wood. And suppose one of them swings an ax to chop down a tree, and the ax head flies off the handle, killing the other person. In such cases, the slayer may flee to one of the cities of refuge to live in safety.” It has to be an accident. There can be no former hostility. And you have to get to the town.
Sounds fair enough, but who takes care of the people that are hurt? What if the guy WAS angry but still didn’t do it on purpose? How long do you have to live in the safe city and do you always carry the shame of what you have done? There are some safe places that just get us out of trouble but don’t really remedy the situation.
Proverbs 19 talks about another kind of safety. It is a collection of wise sayings, fairly random, but there does seem to be a corporate thought that everything will work out okay for the right kind of person. If you are wise, wealthy, and friends with the upper class, then you have a chance. Your life should be pretty safe. On the other hand, be poor, foolish, undisciplined, and you are toast. Look at verse 7,
“The relatives of the poor despise them;
how much more will their friends avoid them!
Though the poor plead with them,
their friends are gone.”
No wonder my sister won’t answer my phone calls. Hey, if you are from the wrong side of the tracks, don’t have the right connections, or have made a few mistakes in your life, too bad. There is no safe city for you. You just have to live with your choices. Maybe even verse 13, “A foolish child is a calamity to a father; a quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping.” I can’t tell you how many men have come in my office and say, “Mike, my wife is like a dripping faucet,” to which I respond, “Tough buddy, you made your bed, now lay in it.” Branches is a SAFE PLACE. (Just kidding, Don’t get in a tizzy.)
So, there is a safe place if you didn’t do too bad. There is a safe place if you are the right kind of person. But what about for us losers that have made horrible choices. We weren’t very smart when we did what we did. We hurt others and destroyed dreams. Sometimes we even did it on purpose. (And NO, because they were yucky is not an excuse.) Where is our safe place? Do we have to run forever? Are we constantly branded with a Scarlet Letter, designating for the whole world that we are damaged goods, can’t be trusted, have no place to turn? Thank God for good, old brother Paul and II Corinthians 3.
First, Paul says, “Remember who I am!” Paul doesn’t have the Christian pedigree that Peter, or James, or John did. He came in to the faith late. He came in with a lot of controversy and carrying some baggage. He is constantly having to prove himself it seems. But he is here. Testifying to the New Covenant. Preaching the good news of a Christ that loves sinners, “of which, I am chief.” Says Paul. II Corinthians 3:2, 5-6 “Do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 5Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
And secondly, this new safe place that Paul is talking about, this New Covenant is not about hiding us and our sins until the heat dies down. I had a great friend when I was in a place of very public sin, who said, “Don’t worry. They will talk about you for a month or two, then somebody will do something even more dumb and they’ll move on to that person.” (With friends like that….) The safe place of the Messiah doesn’t just hide our stuff until people forget. It changes us. It retells our story and reimagines our future. The grace of the new safe place takes even the poor, or the unwise, or the undisciplined and reshapes them in to the image of God. Paul says in II Corinthians 3:16-17 “But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” A little while later he will say, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (II Corinthians 5:17)
We have a safe place. It is not a city. Or a reputation. Or a well-connected group of friends. It is not even a house with a blue star. We have a safe place in the heart of a God that loves us and promises to change our very being. No matter what the world around you sees or says, no matter how often they try to drag you out of that safe place and make you something less than God has made you, YOU DO NOT LET THEM. You are not who they say you are. You are not who you think they think you are. You may not even be who you think you are. You are a new creature, with a new name, and a new destiny, and a clean slate. You are a Child of the Most High God! The One True King! Just bust out a little Matthew West, do your redeemed by the blood of the Lamb dance, and if all else fails, call PoppyC. I’ll write you a very passable note.
This weekend read Deuteronomy and Proverbs 20-21 and II Corinthians 4-5. See you Monday!