This week in our faith at work groups we talked about our city — Memphis. Specifically, we talked about how to live faithfully and care for others in light of the many complicated problems in our city.
There are no two ways about it — our city is broken and in need of redemption. Today, we all know people in our city who feel unsafe pumping gas or going out after dark. We know people who feel threatened when they go to the grocery store. Each of us at some time has been impacted by crime and the threat of crime.
How does God’s word inform decisions that involve our safety — even practical things like getting groceries or pumping gas?
The Situation Is Complex
Questions about safety are complex, but Jesus says when things are complex and it’s not clear what we should do, look to what you do know — even the simple stuff.
The theology is that God’s word is practical for all of our lives. So instead of running after what we think is best, God’s word tells us we are loved more than we can think or imagine. Our response to this is to love Him back and then our neighbor as ourself.
When we consider what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves, all sorts of alternatives pop up.
How does this help today? Some of how this impacts today is that if I want something for myself, I have to want it for others. For example, there’s a group of people in East Memphis who are thinking about putting on vests and going to certain Krogers, Targets, or gas stations and being people of presence — to deter criminals. This is a good idea, but if we want this for East Memphis, we should also want this for areas in Memphis that are even less safe than East Memphis.
How Will You Know God Better?
I have to surrender my heart, mind, and soul to God. Then I have to ask whether this decision will help me know God better.
Some of my most dangerous decisions have helped me know God better. For example, my family and I decided to serve in Binghamton and, statistically speaking, that put us in danger. There were shots going off when we served there. My wife went by herself all the time. In this case, there was more danger, but we were living on mission and it helped us know God better.
What did Jesus do? Did Jesus move toward danger or away from it? He moved toward it all the time.
For whose sake did He move toward danger for? For ours.
Jesus moved toward danger. Sometimes He withdrew because it was not the time. Therefore, we do not pursue danger for danger’s sake, but we need to go where God’s mission is for us.
For example, I have good friends who are moving out to Germantown so they can go all in at their church. They are moving because they want to have a greater impact in God’s kingdom. That’s an amazing reason to move anywhere — not just Germantown — but in this case their move is on mission. This move is going to help them, and the people they love, know God better.
Let’s get super practical with some verses. In Matthew 10:27-30, Jesus says this, “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
This is where Jesus is sending out His disciples two by two, telling them not to take anything and knock the dust off if they are not accepted by the people. Here, Jesus is telling them to not be afraid as they go and tell other people about Him. Even if it ends in their death, Jesus is telling them not to fear what will happen to them because God is sovereign. All the world and everything in it belongs to God. He controls every blade of grass and every bird of the air.
God’s In Control
We doubt God’s control over our lives, and so did most characters in the Bible. Abraham, literally 4 verses after being told he would become a great nation, doubts God and pretends his wife is his sister.
God is totally in control. If all we talk about is safety or the lack of safety, are we acknowledging God?
Many of the most glorious tales of history are about people who sacrificed their safety for the life of another.
What is the mission God is calling you to? Are you running in that direction? Are you a witness when you are scared to death?
If a threat is imminent, it’s appropriate to respond. Jesus’ parents responded to an imminent threat of death when they left Bethlehem because of Herod’s decree to kill all children.
Again, Moses’ mother responded appropriately when she put him in the river to be taken care of by the very people the Isrealites hated. Death was imminent, and God took care of Moses.
In both cases, with Joseph and Moses’ mom, they had to surrender it to God before they acted. The burden was not on them to figure it all out. When we think our safety is in our control, we are off — God is the one who protects us.
The Mission Matters
God loves us and He’s put us on mission. When you are living your life in the mission God has given you, you can be safe in the most unsafe of places.
When all we care about is safety — at the expense of God’s mission — we are living a life based on self-preservation. God calls us to be a living sacrifice — to sacrifice our lives to Him. Therefore, we live in light of God’s mission, not just to protect ourselves.
The main question is not: Am I going to be safe? Rather, the main question is this: Is this God’s mission?
This could mean buying groceries with your wife and pumping gas for your daughter. We should happily lay down our lives to protect our family, but when they ask why we are not scared, we need to tell them about the hope within us.
Reasonable people can make different decisions about what it right for the mission, but the focus is always about the mission of God — not our own safety.