We had a great sermon this past Sunday. I never had the pleasure of listening to Pastor Raf, as he is affectionately called, preach, and it was surely a blessing. Yet, and a part of me trembles to utter that word, there was a piece in the beginning of his sermon that sent waves of dissonance through my mind and heart that still reverberate. He mentioned in his opening points that this was a safe space. That we want to make folks comfortable there. And there was a wail in my heart that would not be silenced.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As I noted, the message was terrific. New Nets New Year based on the two stories of Christ telling Peter to cast his net. It was filled with fascinating connections, hope for the new things God is going to do, and admonitions that we need to let go of our old nets if we desire the new nets God waits to provide for us. It’s just that there was this sneaking, sinking feeling I got because I have a suspicion. I think receiving the new things of God and safe are diametrically opposed, totally incompatible.
The truth that began crashing over me in waves over the last day and half is that Jesus is not safe. If we are going to follow Christ, there is no safe space. There is no zone in our hearts, minds, or souls that we can hide in to avoid the pain that comes with being made new. There is no pet thing that we adore, and would devastate us to give up, that He won’t take from us if we want full renewal.
More than that, we shouldn’t want safety. As Christians, Christ calls us to deny ourselves daily. Paul cries to us to crucify the flesh. The Sermon on the mount demands we cut off our hand or pluck out our eye if it leads us into sin. The wonder of Acts demands we step boldly out and speak the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that Scripture tells us, in no uncertain terms, will hate us, revile us, and persecute us for the effort. Because we are sons and daughters of God, ambassadors for the Christ who came to save. None of that sounds safe.
The reason that message struck me so forcefully is because it is so prevalent in the American church today. Pastors drilled the idea of making people feel safe, welcome, and comfortable in church into my head since I first began volunteering in ministry. That message is the one consistent mantra across preaching perspectives, leadership styles, worship styles, and denominations. We must make people welcome. We must make people safe. We must make people comfortable. And I fear there is danger in the pervasiveness of that mentality within the church.
This is a world where we need to reach the next generation. But the world is filling that generation with a need for safe space, and fear of confrontation. Communism, atheism, and other isms slid into the mainstream of culture. These philosophies of the world convinced folks that only the crazy or stupid can possibly believe in Jesus. The hippie Jesus of the ’60s promised free love without need of repentance.
The rugged individualists preach self-reliance. And to speak truth, church folks can be painful to those in and out of the church sometimes. The desire to make a safe space, a comforting place is understandable. But, I fear in trying to make our churches safe spaces for the lost and confused, and the weak and weary, we bar the door to God. We deny them entrance into the very presence that can set them free of all that.
The God of Scripture, unlike the one so often portrayed in popular culture, is neither capricious, powerless, nor soft. The God in Scripture, that we seek when we gather, is the God who hid Moses in a cleft in the rocks so he wouldn’t die from seeing God’s face. This God’s intimate presence with Moses caused his face to glow. He is the God who, in Christ, struck Paul blind on the road to Damascus and drove him to his knees.
This God sent Christ to die, so that we could receive the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. That Holy Spirit empowered Christ in flesh to speak “Be still,” and cause the winds and waves to cease. That Holy Spirit is the one who split the veil, and shook the foundations of the earth at the death of the Son. That Holy Spirit is the one who broke the gates of hell and death to raise the Son from the dead, and bring about the resurrection that gives us hope for eternity. This is the God we need to be made new, to be set free, to walk in this world, unafraid and unbowed.
I think it is time we stop thinking about making people comfortable in church, or offering them safe space to meet Jesus. I’m not sure you actually can meet Jesus in a safe space. Jesus is the I Am. He was the Word from the beginning, and through Him all things were created. His very presence radically displaces everything around Him. His blood promises not only to cover sin, but to wash us clean, break sin’s power over us. Those are not safe space promises, they are radical, sometimes painful alterations in the very core of our being.
The Holy Spirit is a consuming fire according to the Scriptures. He comes to empower the children for the work of God. He is the very presence of God, and we His temples. We cannot contain the strength of the God who made the face of Moses radiant while we try to hold onto our safety and ourselves.
Perhaps, in light of this, it’s time we just speak a truth to folks who come to church, new and old. We’re praying for the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. We’re praying for every person to encounter Jesus afresh and anew in church. We’re praying for God to send us on His mission. We’re praying he will equip us body and soul to go into the dark, into the muck, into the terrible mess of this world, to lead the lost home.
More than that, we’re expecting Him to show up. And when He does, we know it won’t be safe. We know it will be uncomfortable. We know we might lose everything to gain our soul, and save other souls. And we’re okay with that. We invite you to come along, and meet this Jesus. It’s going to be a wild ride.
Have you found out what it is to have a dangerous faith? Do you long to meet the One who changes everything? Are you ready to step out of your safe space, and into the plans that the God of creation has for you? Share your stories, if not here then somewhere, so that all might know the power of God. Be blessed and be a blessing.Tags: Christ, danger, faith, God Talk: Nazareth, honesty in church, I Am, power of God, safe space
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