The Devil's Playground

Have you ever had a great day almost derail after a blindsighted brush with a self-justifying spirit, a backhanded stab or a condescending remark? Have you ever had a solid rhythm going only to be cut short by the whiplash of an impulsive assault, like an unexpected downpour on a bright, autumnal day?

No doubt, these precipitous moments can have the most sharpening and defining effects on our character and the way we believe. Yet, despite what our default affinities may be, sometimes it’s perfectly healthy and necessary to wrestle with the lies we collide with.

Such was the realization after a recent happenstance, when my leadership was tactlessly grilled by an extreme case of overprotection. Having aced my part in the first encounter by means of a cordial greeting and genuine smile, the temptation for offense came knocking once my hand drew the spat of a person bursting into a flame of finger-pointing. And though some understandable concerns were mixed in, what started as a friendly gesture suddenly became an insurmountable firestorm I felt completely defenseless against.

In the midst of awkward animosity, I began to shut down, as my authority became nothing more than a heaping mass of carved meat. Having taken the day’s queue from my own authorities, I was now taking the hits for allowing high-school students to minister at the “devil’s playground” – a term or place I had never heard of before until it was abruptly brought to my attention.

As my poker face solidified, my heart and soul continued to break. Deep down, I started to cry out:
What sense does it make to apply such a negative label on any location? Who are we to turn cheek against the downcast, the lost and the suffering for the sake of our own fear and convenience? Why do we act so condescending towards the people and places who need Jesus the most? Are we afraid of what’s behind the curtain? Are we scared of being insulted for what we believe in? Are we apprehensive to lose what we think is our innocence on behalf of those who sincerely believe they have none? How could anyone ‘hate’ on someone simply trying to do what Jesus did or a people who desperately need a healing touch directly ministered to them?

After all, Jesus was quite familiar with the “devil’s playground” of His day. When we look at Matthew 9:10-13 and Mark 2:13-17, we find Jesus being accused of associating with vagrants and vandals:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” ~ Matthew 9:10-13 (ESV)

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him,’ Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples,’ Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’” ~ Mark 2:13-17 (ESV)
I get the feeling Jesus loved hanging out with the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the Samaritan “dogs” and yes, even murderers. Why? Because Jesus did not come to live, He came to die. His death didn’t start at the cross. Contrarily, He was daily dying to the very things we try to uphold every day by constantly putting His reputation and safety on the line. But did He care about how others thought about Him? No way! For Jesus was locked into what the Father was saying and doing, continually flowing in the current of His guidance. This allowed Jesus’ heart for benevolence to pour out from His very nature, as opposed to moral obligation. And it’s here, at this place of humility, where we should all aspire.

So, there I was, walking with a smitten swag as our team, joining with a chorus of other groups, serving as the hands and feet of Jesus, modeled service and love to a population of poverty-stricken vagabonds. There I was, working with a willing heart, eager to restore purity into a community shattered like the broken glass we were treading upon. There I was, contributing my portion, my offering to an awesome God, only to have my confidence crack upon the sidewalk, wondering why a complete stranger, twice my age and of the same faith, would lash out without giving me a chance to be heard.

As I drove home, I realized the best move was to forgive and move on, but as I placed pain on the altar, the Lord began to expand the tent pegs of my understanding.

Wisdom does not imply we filter decision-making through a masked perception of the foreseen. Sometimes, we’re not going to know all we’re getting into when we obey God. Sometimes, our hands are going to get dirty. And sometimes, we’re not going to have the “luxury” of cookie-cutting God’s mission into a ration we’re comfortable with. Yet, if we’re called to live submissively, with open hands, then why do we occasionally associate yielding to naïveté?

God cannot be fooled. When we hide behind past-centeredness and throw present grace to the wayside, we ultimately disallow God to be the governing shield in our lives. And when we step into a role only He can fill, we begin to dilute our capacity to see how He sees. With limited vision, it shouldn’t surprise us if we fail to realize the devil’s playground is often ground zero for God’s best restoration plan. And though we may not be called to involve ourselves with every single operation of Kingdom expansion, we shouldn’t disqualify ourselves when, in fact, God has qualified us to be vibrant extensions of His compassion.

Maybe you feel stuck between a rock and hard place, not realizing the rock in your life is actually a blind source of false comfort. Why not ask God to roll away any manufactured boulder of fear and compromise in exchange for stronger faith and courage? Just because you don’t feel ready to be an ambassador, doesn’t mean you’re not ready to be one. Just because you're given spiritual gifts, doesn’t mean you have to hide behind them in order to self-preserve.

So let's ask ourselves what is shaping our concept and application of wisdom and obedience, in hope for a more pronounced refinement of these holy qualities. Because when being like Christ isn’t easy, we can, at least, know we're doing something right.

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