Choosing to live in Borderland

Mark Buchanan describes an interesting place that exists between Uganda and Kenya.  If you want to leave Uganda to go to Kenya by land, you have to go through a Ugandan customs ‘office’ where your papers are checked and you have to answer a lot of questions about why you were in Uganda, why you want to leave Uganda and what business is taking you to Kenya.  If you can make it through that gauntlet, you expect to walk out the other side of the ‘office’ into Kenya.  But in fact, you discover that Kenya also has a customs ‘office’ that is about 300 yards away where you have to go through almost an identical scrutiny process in order to enter that country.

The 100-yard wide, fenced in space between the two ‘offices’ is not claimed by either country nor is it protected or governed by either country.  It is inhabited by people who subsist by selling trinkets, exchanging currencies, hawking wares or questionable food items.  It is a dangerous place because there is no police protection.  If someone is murdered here, the police from both countries observe disinterestedly and have no jurisdiction to do anything about it.

It is a hot, dry, dusty, smoky place that offers very little in terms of creature comforts.  Its inhabitants live in make shift huts…and it turns out, CHOOSE to live there.  They do so because it has become a ‘safe’ place for them…there is an unwritten code they’ve gotten used to and can live by.  There is just enough to live on to get by and even though there is precious little joy, it seems less dangerous than trying to make their way in the countries on either side.

Buchanan identifies this place as ‘Borderland’ and proceeds to draw the parallel that many Christians choose to live in a sort of a spiritual Borderland.  They create their own set of rules to live by, define God in ways that make Him safe and less dangerous and create an enclave that seems inexplicable to those on the outside but feels comfortable and ‘good enough’ to those on the inside.

Why would anyone choose to live in ‘spiritual Borderland’?  “Because”, according to Buchanan, “it’s actually safe.  It’s familiar. It’s ground that can be staked out, marked off, well trod, packed down.  It holds some things in and keeps some things out.  It may take endurance to live there but not much else:  It’s the endurance of inertia.  Life there requires no discipline but falls into neat routines.  It’s domesticated lawlessness.  It’s chaotic but predictable.  Borderland might be dangerous, but even more, it’s safe.”

Salvation is stepping over the borderline from our old life into freedom from the old life’s rule, its laws, and its gods.  Sanctification is the journey into the new land, learning to dwell gladly in the Father’s house. It’s a way of life that is hard to learn.  While it is what we were designed for, it is a road that seems scary, difficult and full of unknown dangers.  So we refine an aptitude for lingering, malingering, for Borderland living.

Buchanan devotes the first half of his book, Your God is too Safe; Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control, to defining some of the reasons we tend toward spiritual Borderland living.  The second half is devoted to identifying what it takes to learn to ‘dwell gladly in the Father’s house’.  I promise, it is worth the read!

Why are we making a Soul Care Retreat available to pastors in September?  Because we know it is possible for pastors to get stuck in Borderland living.  I don’t know many pastors who intended to live there.  Most entered ministry with high hopes, high ideals, and the expectation of leading a congregation into deep devotion to God accompanied by sincere, obedient discipleship.  But along the way we get beat up, we run into brick walls of tradition, we get worn down little by little into thinking that maybe Borderland living isn’t so bad after all.  We need a space where we can once again hear the voice of the God who can’t be controlled calling us to learn how to live gladly in His house and lead others into the same.

The Soul Care Retreat is a place where you can experience that space once again.  I pray that you will join us!

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