Monday, April 27, 2009

Is It Safe to Follow Jesus?

During my devotional time this morning, I was reading from Nehemiah 6. In this chapter, Nehemiah’s enemies sought to immobilize him with threats and fear. He was urged retreat to the safety of the temple. He refused, however, knowing that to do so would be a violation of what God had called him to do. He could not accomplish God’s purposes and be preoccupied with safety.

Safety; what a comforting thought for so many people. We yearn for it, especially in times like today when so much seems uncertain. We pursue it, hoping to achieve a rest that we know, deep down, we’ll never really find. But we are prepared to sacrifice even good things in order to possess it to some measure.

Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus once said, "The desire for safety stands against very great and noble enterprise." Seven years ago, before the advent of the blog, I wrote a commentary for the Persecution and Prayer Alert in which I addressed this issue in regards to what it means to follow Jesus. At the time, the world was still reeling from the events of 9/11. But as I read my words of April 10, 2002 again this morning, I was struck by how relevant they remained for today. And so I thought that perhaps it might be worthwhile updating what I had to say back then.

In the February 2002 edition of SIM Now, Pep Philpott, executive director for SIM Canada, mulled over the question why, as missionary agencies, we tend to evacuate our staff when things get "hot" in our countries of service. This became most obvious in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, when many missionaries were evacuated from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Such evacuations of missionary staff are, by no means, unique. Just a cursory search on Google finds evacuation of missionaries from Sudan, Madagascar, and Afghanistan since the beginning of 2009.

In his deliberations, Mr. Philpott rightfully observed that evacuation decisions are often taken out of the hands of the missionaries by government orders, the church's advice, or circumstances beyond their control. But he noted, "The question would not go away. Could it really be a reasonable supposition that God intends suffering for our national brethren, but not for the missionary? Would the purposes of God consistently suffer if the missionary remained in a situation of conflict?"

It was Mr. Philpott’s next paragraph that I found most intriguing. "After mulling over these weighty issues I came to this conclusion: I have an appalling theology of suffering. In fact, it is hardly a theology because it cannot be supported by Scripture. For me, and I suspect for my generation, comfort and security are seen as our birthright. We strive ardently to hold on to them, hardly considering the Biblical requirement to release them for the sake of the Gospel. It's as if our motto is, 'We came to serve, not to suffer.' "

Over the years since joining The Voice of the Martyrs, I have received a number of emails from all over the world. Occasionally, I get emails from those who are either thinking of ministering in another culture or who have loved ones who are planning to do so. But the primary reason they write me is not so that I can pray for them or help equip them for ministry in a restricted nation. Usually the purpose of the message is to ascertain whether it is "safe" to minister there.

Usually, the answer is "Yes, for the most part." Usually foreigners are much safer in restricted societies than the national believers who do not have the luxury of evacuation. The worst thing that can usually happen to a foreigner missionary is that they will be expelled from the country. There are rare (and tragic) exceptions, but this is generally true.

But I continue to be disconcerted by the question, "Is it safe?" When is it ever safe to follow Jesus? Did Jesus promise a safe road? Is the call of God only to be followed if "to pastures green, He leadeth me"? Rather, did He not say, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24)? The path of Christ is the path of the cross. Yet, how many of us are like Peter, who upon hearing that Jesus was going to follow this path, took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you" (Matthew 16:22). Jesus replied, that such a mentality reflected the attitude of this world, rather than the mind of God (16:23).

Recently I received an email from the father of a 17-year-old girl who was reading our book Jesus Freaks. He had just refused to allow his daughter to go on a mission trip over spring break to Mexico. He wrote,

“Due to the increasing violence in Mexico as a result of the local drug cartel turf wars we decided to pull her out of this trip in fear of her safety.  She was not concerned about being tortured or killed and wanted desperately to go on this trip. Your book seems to send a message to impressionable young people that common sense and rational thought should not play a role in their Christian life and that their personal safety is secondary to their beliefs. This is a very slippery slope especially for young impressionable teens.”

Here was how I responded,

“Thank you for your email.  I understand your concern about your daughter.  As a father, I would probably feel the same even though I don’t think I would have made the same decision you did.  You see, as you note, in our material we do indeed point out that believers regardless of their age or where they live should be prepared to suffer and die for their faith.  We do this because this, we are convinced, is the clear teaching of the Bible and of Jesus, in particular, when He said that anyone who would follow Him must take up their cross and follow Him.  If they were not prepared to sacrifice even their own lives for Him, He said, they were not worthy of Him. This is not a slippery slope; it is the reality that most Christians live with on a daily basis in the world today, including young people and even children.  There is a cost to follow Him and yes, the Bible does suggest that personal safety must take a back seat to their loyalty to Christ and His call to fulfill the purposes of God. This kind of priority was exemplified by Jesus Himself and which He calls us to repeatedly in the New Testament.  We would not be faithful to scripture if we were to teach anything else.”

You see, to the mind of God, suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to His people. Disobedience is.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

WhenI was reading your blog,Glenn,I thought of Lucy in the Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe,She is aking about Aslan:
"Then he isn't safe?",said Lucy.
"Safe",said Mr.Beaver,"don't you hear what Mrs.Beaver tells you?Who said anything avout safe?Course he isn't safe.But he is good.He is the King,I tell you.'
Suzanna

Anonymous said...

That last statement needs to be burned into our minds and hearts. It is so contrary to our culture today. We are obsessed with safety. We even try to legislate it. For Christians the cross has been sanitized and we have lost the meaning of taking "up our cross daily". I know my own heart in this matter and I was challenged by Romans 8 this morning. Eunice

Glenn Penner said...

Excellent, Suzanna. Yes, good, but not safe. I had forgotten that quote from Lewis

Anonymous said...

Excuse me for my poor english, I'm french speaking, from the province of Qu├ębec.
There's two points that I would like to share with you.
Lately, I had a car accident, one of my ribs was broken and the car is lost. Nothig tragic, but I didn't expect that when it happened.
Safety is an illusion, we never know what is waiting for us at the next corner.
We can spend a lot of time, money and emotional energy trying to create a life totally secure. Perfect safety will never happen. Living is a risk. Why not risking everything for the One who keeps everything in His loving hands.
There's another personnal thought that I would like to share; we can't avoid pain and suffering when God allow it in our life, but we should never look for suffering for the sake of suffering in itself, thinking that suffering prove that we are more spiritual than others. If God allow external peace and security in your life, embrace it, and use it for the sake of those who don't have it.
As it is written in 1 Corinthians 13, even if I give my body to be burn, if I don't have love, it's nothing in the eyes of God.
It's love that motivated Jesus to go all the way to the cross. If the love that we have for Jesus bring us to a place where this love would be compromise if we avoid suffering, we should welcome this trial. If it's the love of God in us who seek deseperately for the losts that motivate us, we will do as Jesus did, accepting suffering for the sake of those who are lost. I think that it's the love of God who give suffering it's worth.

Anonymous said...

Glenn,
I remember John Piper lamenting about the same thing - when he interviewed potential pastoral candidates for his church in Minneapolis several asked whether living in the "inner city" would be safe for their children.
I'm also guilty of the sin of safety seeking - in my job, in my lack of taking risks for the gospel.
Much to prayerfully ponder. Thanks
Deborah

Anonymous said...

I have a daughter who has shown an interest in the mission field for several years, and has had the priveledge of going on missions trips. From the time she was very little and I would pray for her, I would often be in tears because of God's touch on my heart regarding her. Even before she was born, He told me she would be very special. I know, many moms feel that way about their children, but to this day, there are times that, when in prayer for her, I cry because God keeps touching my heart for her. I know she could be a missionary. I know she could serve in her own country or overseas. And I know very well that God could choose to use her as a martyr for Christ, which leads me to tears of another kind. As I pray for her now, I ask God to help me to completely let her go for His will and use, just as I must also pray for her siblings.

But this child is harder to release and my prayer is that God will enable me to love her and the Lord enough to surrender her to receive His best wherever she may go.

Knowing God is not "safe," nor "easy," but Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. To even consider sending our children off to serve Him is to somewhat experience what He did in sending His one and only Son; He KNOWS how we feel!

Pray for us to be obedient with joy. Not "joy" that is glib and fleeting, but with the joy that is deep and abiding and able to take us through deep waters. And pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to be mighty (Eph. 3:16 - 21) in the believers in those countries where Christianity is illegal, because those are the places where He does the most amazing works!!

Anders Branderud said...

Le-havdil (to differentiate (to distinguish between the above and the below),
It is important to comprehend the difference between the historical Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and the counterfeit image.
To follow the historical Messiah is not the same as following the counterfeit image.
A logical analysis (found in www.netzarim.co.il (Netzarim.co.il is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) of all extant source documents of the “gospel of Matthew” (which is redacted and anti-Torah) and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah (kept the mitzwot (directives or military-style orders) in Torah (“the books of Moses”)) all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

The original words of the pro-Torah teacher Ribi Yehoshua were redacted by Roman Hellenists, and the redaction is found in the “gospels”. Jzus is described in the “gospels”, and le-havdil the teachings of the historical Torah-teacher Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth are found in the reconstruction (using a logical and scientific methodology to create the reconstruction), Netzarim Hebrew Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu (NHM).

The historical Jew Ribi Yehoshua is not the same as the Christian Jzus. The historical Ribi Yehoshua was a human. There is a Jewish Ribi Yehoshua. The Christian Jzus is a counterfeit image of the historical Torah-teacher Ribi Yehoshua.
The only way of how to follow Ribi Yehoshua is through becoming one of his Netzarim (www.netzarim.co.il)-followers

To follow Ribi Yehoshua is the opposite of practising Christianity and the opposite of following the counterfeit image Jzus.

Anders Branderud