God - Not Safe, But Good

God – Not Safe, But Good           by Pastor Teddie McConnell                               August 21, 2022
Few books more memorably capture the paradox of worshiping God with both joy and reverence better than C.S. Lewis’ children of Narnia’s experience with Aslan the Lion. When Mr. and Mrs. Beaver first tell the children about him, Lucy asks, “I think I should be quite frightened to meet a lion. Tell me, is he a safe lion?”
“Safe?” Mr. Beaver answers. “’Course he’s not safe. But he’s good.” Those who meet Aslan or even hear his earth-shaking roar are appropriately filled with awe. They know that Aslan could easily rip them to shreds.
Yet when Lucy and the others look into Aslan’s eyes, they see something that makes them want nothing but him. They see a kindness and tenderness that’s fiercely determined to love them.
We serve a God we cannot possibly understand completely. On one hand, our God is the most powerful force there is, creator of the universe, holy and just. Moses and the Israelites were terrified to even touch Mount Ararat for fear of being struck dead. That kind of power must be treated with awe and respect.
On the other hand, John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Our God literally loves us sacrificially, loves us like the best parent anyone can imagine and wants what’s best for us. This includes following God’s commandments not out of fear, but out of the knowledge that they are the best way to order our lives in community, to get along with and love each other as well as love ourselves. God is all-knowing and wrote the commandments for our good. In turn, God as our parent calls us to be prophets, priests and kings as Jesus was, not out of servitude but out of gratitude and love. God is our creator AND our redeemer. God is good, but not safe.
God chose and appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet before he was born. He was elected, not to salvation, but to service, not just to those around him, but to the nations. God chose him and has chosen us.
Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4-6, “4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
We are messengers on a mission from the Eternal God. God wants us to share our faith, to speak to believers and non-believers alike about the greatness, the power, the goodness, and the incomparable love of God.
We often feel helpless and inadequate to do something for God. Many prophets reacted with skepticism when God first spoke to them, unable to believe they were equal to the task. Isaiah said he was a man of unclean lips, Moses stuttered, and Jeremiah told God that he was too young for the job. God didn’t say they were chosen for their ability to speak or to come up with exceptional words. God wanted their willingness to listen and obey, and to speak God’s words. It’s not about us. It’s about God and allowing God to work and speak through us. God loves us just as we are, but doesn’t leave us there. God can see our potential even when we cannot. And with God, nothing is impossible.
Then God told Jeremiah what we read so often in the Bible, “Be not afraid. I am with you.” God doesn’t pat someone on the head and send them off alone. God is right there beside us, supplying the courage and the words we need.
Don’t be intimidated into silence by people from other political groups, other religious faiths, or from friends or family who feel embarrassed by our testimony. Belonging to God makes us victors rather than victims, proclaimers rather than nay-sayers. This is great news! God has the inside scoop, the foreknowledge to keep us on the right track. By keeping our focus on God, we can avoid the pitfalls of self-criticism and doubt, while ignoring what other people say about us. Is it risky? Yes. God isn’t safe, but God is good.
We are called to talk about Jesus’ words, both of salvation and of judgement.
We’re called to talk about BOTH the grace of God through Jesus about and God’s truth, using God’s words of justice, of what is right and wrong, the work of uprooting and overthrowing that will lead to building and planting. Our words must be based on what God has said in scripture, not on our own opinions or those of other humans that are not inspired by God.
Some have left the church because it seems to be against things, only negative.
Theologian Stan Mast asked, “In a day when Christians are already dismissed because we seem to be against so many things, do we undercut the message of the Gospel if we speak words of judgment on the policies and practices of a nation, as Jeremiah did?”
Some of our siblings in Christ have emphasized a legalistic stance against what some writers in the Bible labeled as unclean, adding their interpretations to what God said. Clarity in our communication is vital. The Presbyterian church includes the marginalized, those discriminated against in our culture for their race, gender or sexual orientation. The only thing we insist on is that salvation is through Christ. If God didn’t say it, don’t repeat it.
At the end of God’s message to the people through Jeremiah, the last words are “to build and to plant.” The overarching message of the Bible and the plan of God is not death or punishment, but life and salvation, not judgement, but Jesus. Words of judgement must be followed by words of consolation and grace. God loves us just as we are, but doesn’t leave us there. God isn’t safe, but he is good.
In the end, we must trust and not be afraid, for God is with us and will protect us as faithful servants and members of God’s family.
So let’s talk about our scripture verses from Psalm 71. They happen right after Jacob has seen the famous “Jacob’s ladder.” The Sunday school lesson often skips the part where Jacob agrees to serve God IF God will return him to his homeland someday unharmed. He cuts a bargain with God. The Psalmist claims God as his refuge and strength and pledges to continue to praise God. But God has to hold up the other side of the bargain, keep coming through for him and defeating his enemies. Ancient Hebrews often lamented, complained, even threatened. “If you want me to continue to praise you and serve you, you’d better keep me alive!” Making demands of God can be taken too far with faith that turns God into a fairy godmother, someone whose job is to make us rich and successful. There are preachers who tout the prosperity gospel this way. Wise Christians remember to be thankful for the amazing spiritual riches we have received by grace, rather than concentrating on material gain.
The good news we can glean from this passage is that it's not a one-way relationship. We can expect the God who loved us enough to give us life and salvation to rescue and sustain us, to do things for us. It’s like expecting your good parent to come through because that’s what loving parents do. It’s all based on love. We can call on God for help. Meanwhile, God is working hard for us and deserves our praise and thanks, not to be taken for granted. It’s okay in a healthy relationship for the child to expect provision, and the parent won’t take it wrong that the expectation is there. God doesn’t just provide for us; God is willing to be asked for more.
I’m sure some of you felt like Jeremiah when I said we are all called to talk about God to believers and non-believers alike. Who, me, God? I have a stutter. I’m too young, too old, too set in my ways. I’m not suggesting that we stand on street corners handing out brochures and threatening people with hell and damnation. You don’t even need to interrupt an existing conversation. I am suggesting that we not be shy about telling others our personal stories of what God and Jesus have done for us when the Spirit nudges us to do so. Practice listening for the Spirit’s voice and for the opportunity to speak about how blessed we are, how great God is, or how Jesus loves us. Following God isn’t safe, but it is good.

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