Somewhere back about a dozen years ago the ubiquitous American sayonara of “Take Care!” morphed into “Stay Safe!” I suppose it had something to do with 9/11–and perhaps also that other mind-blowing national disaster Hurricane Katrina.
I recall vividly when I first heard “Take Care!” It was way back in 1977. At the end of a long-distance phone conversation a friend of mine closed with “Take Care!” At the time it struck me as a much more meaningful way of saying goodbye than “Bye!” or “I’ll talk to you soon” or “See you later” or however we ended conversations back before Facebook and cell phones with unlimited minutes. “Take Care!” had to do with concern for another’s welfare. It impressed me at the time as a genuine expression of caring and I made it part of my lexicon for those I felt closest to.
“Stay safe” on the other hand didn’t strike me the same way. It seemed simply a reflection of the sum of all of our fears. There are plenty of things to be anxious about—cancer, car crashes, poverty, etc—to name but a few—however, the United States is not yet a post-apocalyptic combat zone. Still, I feel many have made idols out of fear and safety.
I listen to 30-min or so of talk radio every week in my car—a little here and there on my way to or from places. My time with Rush, Glenn Beck or Michael Medved is not something I’m particularly proud of, but some days I find their discussion stimulating. Something I’ve noticed is that they are also purveyors of fear and that many of their advertisers are peddling remedies—be it investing in gold, identity theft protection, packaged food that will last 25-years or backing up the content of one’s computer. There are all kinds of ways to stay safe in our increasingly dicey world. And unfortunately for many staying safe has become an absorbing preoccupation. Folks obsessed with their Second Amendment rights are also giving in to the voice of fear. They believe that somehow being armed to the teeth insures their safety.
The Three Temptations of Jesus
I wrote a book demonstrating how the temptations satan proposes to Jesus (Mt.4 and Luke 4) were applicable to our lives. In Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations I make the point that two of the three trials or temptations have to do with safety or security. The first temptation, that of bread to a fasting Jesus has to do with all of our hungers–and His answer is that what we should live on the the word of God alone.
Then satan proposes giving Jesus dominion over all the earth if He will just worship him. That deal’s attraction for us is to be “in charge” instead of allowing God to be in control. It is what we give in to when we strive for power and control over others. We buy into the satanic lie that we can make our lives more predictable and thus more secure by controlling others. Falling for this temptation is the great corrupter of all relationships. Of course, Jesus answers satan by saying that we should love and serve God only—and in this He is quoting scripture (Deut 6:13).
Likewise, satan tells Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the Temple and if He really is the Son of God angels will come to His rescue. Jesus answers him again with scripture when He says, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” I think we humans fail this test when safety or security becomes more important than trusting God. Do we buy into the notion that our highest priority is our need to stay safe? It is biologically programmed into us; self-preservation is part of being human—both our physical being and our ego’s self-preservation. And when this impulse is amplified by satan’s voice in our thoughts it can become totally absorbing—for many, far more important than loving and serving God.
Brennan Manning once wrote something to the effect that God gave his life for us, and that our only possible gift back to Him was our trust. Much of the history of the evangelical church is of missionaries sacrificing their comfort and safety to trust God by serving in primitive and dangerous locales. According to church legend eleven out of the twelve apostles suffered martyrdom. The apostles, missionaries and martyrs of the church eschewed safety to serve God in the way in which they were called.
Dying to Self
The apostles risked their physical life–but similarly, we are all called to die to self. For some, putting aside one’s ego is an even more scary proposition than risking physical safety. When the real meaning of Galatians 2:20 finally impacted me it was a daunting prospect—my ego, my self, had to die–and as best I could I had to start somehow living in Jesus and allowing Jesus in me. I think the prospect of killing one’s own ego keeps many from fully embracing a Christ-like life. That resistance to change is similar to what a therapist encounters in many clients. Unconsciously they think, “The me is all I know; if I stop being me, then who will I become?” I felt that same resistance rise up in me when I contemplated the reality of fully allowing Jesus to have residence in me. I must confess I’ve approached it in stages instead of wholeheartedly.
The Great Commission
I believe that a spirit of fear resides in the stronghold of safety, and perhaps self-preservation or staying safe is the ultimate stronghold. When we mindlessly tell others (and ourselves) over and over to “stay safe” we risk making safety and fear idols. Our idols become our reason for being instead of the Lord. The Great Commission was not, “Ya better play it safe because who knows what might happen!”
A better word on parting would be Jesus’ last words before the Ascension: “Go forth and change the world!” In essence, that was the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, and the same power that He imparted to the apostles is given to us today.