Posted by: 15shekels | January 15, 2010

“No, he’s not safe”

“I’d like to be brave, but I’d also like to be safe. My heavenly Father, on the other hand, loves me deeply enough to tell me the truth. He tells me I can’t be both brave and safe. He wants me to be clear there’s a choice, and he wants me to choose to be brave.” -Gary Haugen, president and C.E.O. of the International Justice Mission, in a 2006 sermon.

“Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness…Kindness merely as such cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.” -C.S. Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”

I have several personality traits of which I am ashamed. Some of them, like my pride, stubbornness, and selfishness, are directly responsible for most of the problems in my life. Then there are the less sinister ones, that are really just embarrassing. Perhaps the least sexy one is my fear of physical pain and any kind of danger. Yes, it’s true. I am a total coward.

I try to hide this fact as much as possible. When I go skiing with friends, I make sure to inform them that I have only skiied a few times in the past, pretending my choice to stick to the bunny slopes is simply lack of experience. However, I’m usually exposed toward the end of the weekend when the actual first timer zooms by me as I zig-zag down a blue square in awkward swoops, coming to a full stop every time I turn.

Last year, I tripped over a root while running on a trail, barely scraping my knees, and burst into tears.

Now, I make no excuses for being a wimp. But I don’t think I’m the only one. Yes, I whined to my dad when he outlawed rollerblading unless I wore a helmet, kneepads, elbow-pads and wristguards—but I saw plenty of other kids out there in the same outfit. Our culture is overly obsessed with safety. And as my generation grows into adults, we’re starting to see evidence that this obsession might be negatively affecting us. Allergies from early over-sanitization. Paranoia. High anxiety. Cowardice.

My current interest, however, is not in the psychological repercussions of this safety-obsession. Predictably, I am more interested in the spiritual repercussions. What does God think of our obsession? Did He create us to pad the walls of our homes, lock our doors, and stay inside?

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'” -Hebrews 13:5-6

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?'” -Matthew 16:24-26

God never tells us to be reckless or careless with our lives. I am not arguing that we should take unnecessary risks. And parents, I realize that the joke will probably be on me when I have kids and finally understand the desire to protect at all costs. But we must let faith reign instead of fear. How would it change the way we lived if we truly believed the following promises?:

1. Our God is sovereign. He created us and intervenes in our lives. He is omniscient and all-powerful. He answers prayers, and He protects. And when He doesn’t intervene in the ways we demand, we have the promises that He brings good out of suffering, and that this life is a blink of an eye compared to the eternity we are offered. Which leads me to…

2. Physical death is not the worst thing that can happen. It’s not surprising that when we believe that there is nothing beyond this life, we are afraid. But there is more. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, those who believe in him are promised eternal life with God—a salvation that nothing on this earth can take away. If it is true, as Romans 8 says, that neither death nor life, angels nor demons, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus, then what is there to fear? Death is merely a change of address, a move to a much, much nicer town.

3. God has chosen to use us, weak cowards that we are, to be His hands and feet in this world. He has work for us to do. Most of which we have to leave the house to accomplish.

The truth is, we are not living in first-century Rome, and we most likely will not be martyred for our beliefs. But I think we can learn from the courage of Paul, and other early Christians who were fearless in the face of death. Because if we can look death in the eye and stand firm, won’t it be easier to look squarely at pain, discomfort, hard work, embarrassment and social rejection? Somehow I don’t think Paul cried whenever he tripped and fell.

As Jesus says in the Matthew passage above, there is a cost to following him. We must be willing to step out in courage when he calls us, and be prepared that he might not always take us down the mountain via the easiest route. This might mean physical danger, as there are still many places in the world where Christians are killed for their faith. However, it is more likely that we will face the many non-physical risks that are associated with following Christ—seeking God’s glory instead of our own, letting Him guide our futures, enduring the disdain of those who don’t believe, and perhaps most frequently—reaching out to those who are difficult to love.

In Haugen’s 2006 sermon, he talks about the courage it takes to love the needy:

“…following Jesus is about loving needy people. But loving needy people, it turns out, is not safe. In fact, I generally try to keep neediness away from me. Think about those in your family who are most needy and hurting, those in our church fellowship who are hurting the most, those in our community who are in the most need, those on the other side of the city who are most vulnerable. Them. Serving them and loving them is uncomfortable. It’s messy, it’s untidy, it’s unsafe and can even be dangerous. And yet paradoxically, Jesus tells us this is where the deepest joy is.”

In his sermon, Haugen offers stories of men and women who left successful secular careers to work for the International Justice Mission, and risked their lives overseas for people suffering under oppression. They were brave enough to sacrifice comfort, security, control and success in order to serve those in need. We are not all called to work for IJM. But we might be called to make sacrifices as God’s children and as His hands and feet.

The beauty is that, as Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for me will find it.” In his life on earth, Jesus experienced hatred, persecution, pain, social rejection and death. And he conquered all of them, out of love for us, so that we could be coattail-riding conquerers. Haugen ends his sermon with words of hope, and with a quote from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia chronicles, in which the lion Aslan represents Jesus:

“Likewise, this is what Jesus wants us to know: we are so well taken care of by him that it is actually safe to be brave. Do you remember what Lucy said in the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe when she encounters the lion Aslan for the first time and she asks, because he’s a lion: ‘Is he safe?’ And the answer, of course, is, ‘No, he’s not safe, but he’s good.’ So as we follow such a lion into the world, it will not be safe. But that life will be good.” -Gary Haugen, October 22, 2006.

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Responses

  1. There is a lyric on the newest U2 album that comes to mind:

    “Is it true that perfect love drives out all fear?
    The right to be ridiculous is something I hold dear”

    🙂

  2. Great lyrics! You’ve inspired me to borrow the album from Tom and do some research.


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