I drove to South Georgia and back last weekend to participate in the ordination of a friend. On the way ( 16 hours of total driving over two days), we regularly tuned the radio to listen to Christian radio stations. Over and over, we heard the same refrain: “we’re safe for your family” or “safe for the little ears in the car” or “safe from ____________.”
Now, I understand that we live in a time when “shock jocks” are on some stations, marketed for off-color humor, crude references and more. Though that has faded over the last couple of years (since Howard Stern went to Sirius and the whole Don Imus fiasco), there are still stations that play songs that have inappropriate language and are full of sexual innuendo. I get that families with young children don’t want their kids exposed to that. (Hint: change the channel!)
But here’s what I can’t help but wonder: when did “safe” become a defining value for the healthy Christian life and family? Where did we ever get the idea that living as followers of Jesus in this world is supposed to be “safe”? Is there anything in the Bible that would equate ‘safe” with “faithful”?
There is a prevailing sense in the American church that equates faithfulness to Jesus with a “Leave it to Beaver” cultural lifestyle. There are only two ways to get that: live a delusion or create a separate, alternative world. For the most part, Christians, especially in the Bible Belt have gone the alternative world route. We have created a subculture that establishes a buffer between us and the big, bad world out there. We hunker in our bunkers with other nice, safe people who are listening to nice, safe radio stations and talking about nice, safe topics. It’s the soundtrack of the American Christian bunker
We dare to call that a stand for holiness when there is utterly no threat from godlessness in that atmosphere. It’s programmed spiritual safety that we don’t even have to think about. .
And the people in our world who don’t know Jesus watch our nice, safe Christianity from a distance and say, “No, thanks. The Jesus thing is apparently not all that big and not all that adventuresome and not all that engaging.”
Our penchant for safety is killing our mission.
But it was never meant to be like that.
Simply listen to Jesus…
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world…” (Matt. 5:12-14) Salt brings spiritual seasoning to that which has no spiritual taste. Light only shows up where darkness is. Our bunkers tend to have bowls of pretzels set under spotlights.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad…” (Matt.5:11-12)
“I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…. you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt.10:16, 22)
“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt.10:38-39)
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten by God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:4-7) In other words, living for Jesus carried with it the very real possibility of physical death. But fear and reverence God more than you fear your own death!
“In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one…sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:14-18) Note that holiness happens by the word of God in the midst of an opposing world—not separate from it.
Now listen to his witnesses…
“…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus…they left rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” (Acts 6:40-41)
“There arose that say a great persecution against the church…and they were scattered…Saul was ravaging the church.” (Luke 8:1,3)
“…they stoned Paul and drug him out of the city, supposing he was dead…when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city….preached the gospel…strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:19-22)
“…some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted and mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy.” (Heb.11:35-37)
: “But if when you do good and are beaten for it, you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example so that you might follow in His steps….do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the cause of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you….” (1 Peter 2:20-21, 4:12-14)
Paul sums it up: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12)
The idea of personal safety for a Christian—whether it be physical, mental, emotional, relational—is largely absent from the New Testament. Jesus guards us in His name and by His word (John 17:12), which means we are kept safe in Him. But that is not a license for withdrawal and retreat from the very world we are called to reach. We cannot stay safe and reach them.
An old Isaac Watts hymn puts our challenge well with probing questions:
Am I a solder of the cross, a follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the cross on flowery beds of ease?
While others fight to win the prize and sailed
through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace to help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign; increase my courage, Lord!
I’ll bear the toil, l endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.
Now, that is worthy of a Kingdom soundtrack!