Obsessed with Safety (Sermon)
As a society, we’re obsessed with safety. I think about the changes I’ve seen since I was a kid.
When I was young, we didn’t wear seatbelts or sit in car seats, we took naps on the car floor and sat in mom’s lap in the front seat. Mom’s grip was our only seatbelt.
No one wore a helmet when riding a bike or a skateboard. The only protection for our heads was an uneven flattop.
The playground was a deathtrap. We had the merry-go-round which was basically a spinning vortex of death. The slide was set at about a 70 degree incline; it was made from a metal that not only reflected the sun’s rays, but could also capture all of the heat of the sun and transfer it to the back of your thighs. There was no rubber mulch at the bottom of the slide, just pure, hard asphalt. It’s a wonder any of us survived the playground.
Our obsession with safety extends beyond protecting children from death on the monkey bars. It bleeds into every area of life. We are concerned about:
Physical safety: have you seen some of the lines to get into the gun shop lately? What about home alarm systems. Even though the odds of a break-in are astronomical, people spend thousands of dollars a year on cameras and motion detectors.
Financial safety: things like emergency funds and disability insurance are safety nets to protect us from a long-term financial crisis.
Emotional safety: we are careful about getting too close to other people. It’s easier to keep your distance and stay uncommitted rather than risk your emotional well-being.
I could keep going, but the point is clear. We’re obsessed with mitigating risk. We’re determined to remain safe, and we’ll spare little expense if we think something can protect us.
But does any of it work? Are we safer now than we were a generation ago? Are we better able to protect ourselves? Maybe, in some ways. But not really all that much. Think about what we’ve seen in just the past few months: a global pandemic, deadly confrontations with authorities, rioting and looting, innocent people victimized, not to mention Saharan dust clouds and murder hornets. I read an article this week about a study they’re doing at Virginia Tech on flying snakes. Flying snakes? That’s nightmare fuel. Are any of us truly safe? Is safety even possible?
Psalm 11 deals with the question of safety. It’s a psalm of David. Though we don’t know the specific life situation, David’s life was filled with danger, so it could fit many places in his story. The lesson of this psalm is simple: The only place we find lasting safety is in Jesus Christ. We can look for safety in many places, but we’ll only find it in Christ. It speaks clearly and hopefully to each of us struggling with feelings of fear. It shows us what to do when we feel unsafe.
When we feel unsafe, we should respond in three ways.
1. When you feel unsafe, entrust yourself to Jesus.
The psalm opens with David saying: Psalms 11:1 (CSB) “I have taken refuge in the Lord.” Notice the word “Lord” is in small capital letters. That means David uses the personal name of God; the name God used when revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush. The name that means “I AM”—this is the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In other words, David is not making a generic expression of faith in a nameless divine being somewhere out there. He is entrusting his life, his safety to the God he knows, the God who has acted in history.
In spite of our country’s continuing slide into every form of immoral thinking and acting, it’s still popular to express faith in god. Politicians do it in times of crisis. Athletes do it after big victories. Celebrities put in their social media bios. But it seldom has anything to do with the God of the Bible. The term “god” basically means “karma.” It’s the idea that if I put good things out there, then good things will come back. Faith in God is really faith in my good deeds.
This is not at all what David is saying. David is talking about a real and living God with whom he has a real and living relationship. He entrusts his safety to the God who created mankind, promised a Savior, established a way for sinners to come to Him, delights in His people, rescued them from slavery, and listens to the their prayers. David understands who God is—He is a God slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, a God infinitely gracious, whose mercy is deeper than our sin. And he understands God’s past acts of faithfulness. He is not entrusting his safety to a vague notion of a divine being, but to the God he has come to know and love deeply.
But notice I didn’t say “When you feel unsafe, entrust yourself to God,” I said, “entrust yourself to Jesus.” Why did I make that change? Why did I specifically encourage you to turn to Jesus? Because we’ve seen this similar wording earlier in Psalms. Psalm 2 ends with this statement:
Psalms 2:12 (CSB) Pay homage to the Son or he will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for his anger may ignite at any moment. All who take refuge in him are happy.
We find refuge in God by coming to Him through the Son. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). He is the only gate to the Father’s fold (John 10:7). If God is the fortress where we find protection, Jesus Christ is both the castle wall and the drawbridge.
How encouraging to think that we can entrust ourselves to the Son of God, who understands exactly what we are going through. He knows what it’s like to be mistreated. He understands what it feels like to have people attack you unjustly. He can sympathize with our feelings of weakness. He knows. And He invites us to come to Him to be safe. He says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 CSB). He’s talking to us whose strength is gone, who are unable to defend ourselves, who are so worn out and weary that we don’t stand a chance. He tells us to come to Him and find rest. We don’t rest unless we feel safe. So the offer of rest is a promise of protection and safety.
The invitation to come to God when you feel afraid is repeated throughout the Bible. In fact, “do not be afraid” is one of the most repeated commands in Scripture.
Genesis 15:1 (CSB) “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield; your reward will be very great.”
Deuteronomy 20:1 (CSB) “When you go out to war against your enemies and see horses, chariots, and an army larger than yours, do not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, is with you.”
Joshua 1:9 (CSB) “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.“
Isaiah 41:10 (CSB) "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.”
Matthew 28:10 (CSB) Then Jesus told them,“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”
I grew up on the cartoon Scooby Doo. I don’t remember much about the show, other than the time the Harlem Globetrotters showed up for no reason, but I do remember how Scooby (a dog) and Shaggy (a man child) acted. They were always fearful, constantly terrified. Whenever something made a noise, one of them jumped into the other’s arms in fear. Too many of us react the same way. We live in constant fear, constant worry. If you are fearful and afraid, if you are worried about your safety, God is not telling you to be tougher, but to jump into His arms. He is there for you. Jesus is not telling you to suck it up, but to come to Him and find rest in His care.
The only place you will ever be safe is in the arms of Jesus. When you feel unsafe, run to Jesus for refuge, entrust yourself to Him.
2. When you feel unsafe, identify faithless solutions.
When we feel like we’re in danger, we gravitate toward quick and easy solutions. But often these solutions are based on our own understanding and our own ability. We look for ways to guarantee our own safety. Instead of running to Jesus for refuge, we trust our own thinking and planning. It doesn’t help that those around us usually suggest the same thing. Here in David’s case, those giving him counsel encouraged him to flee from the danger he was facing.
Psalms 11:1-2 (CSB) How can you say to me, “Escape to the mountains like a bird!” For look, the wicked string bows; they put their arrows on bowstrings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.
On the surface their advice wasn’t wicked, but notice what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t encourage David to trust God. Their advice leaves God out of the picture entirely. Their solution seems prudent, but it’s faithless.
Most of us are experts at devising faithless solutions. When difficulty hits, a problem comes, a danger surfaces, our mind kicks into high gear. We devise quick solutions. We run mental simulations. We compute probable outcomes. We do everything but ask God to help. We act like our future is in our hands. Do you struggle with this like I do? Do you struggle with turning to God in times of doubt and fear? In times of uncertainty? My default first move is to attempt to find a solution on my own—a solution which doesn’t require faith, just effort.
But faithless solutions don’t work, at least not ultimately. Even if the bird escapes, all it takes is one arrow from an unseen hunter to bring it down. Friends, there are always unseen dangers, always shadows. Our eyes cannot scan every possible crevice. Not matter how vigilant we are, we cannot identify every threat. This is why we can never guarantee our own safety. It’s impossible. Is there a situation right now you’re trying to solve? A problem you face that you’re desperately trying to figure out how to overcome? Have you fled to Jesus for help or are you trusting yourself to come up with a solution?
We also need to consider the advice we give, especially to each other. Do we encourage each other to turn to God for help or figure it out on our own? As a church, we need to point each other to Jesus for refuge.
Psalms 11:3 (CSB) When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?
What happens when the foundations of society start to falter? What can we do then? Middle-class America believes the myth that good decision-making can guarantee safety. If we work hard and stay out of trouble, then everything will turn out okay. But that’s not true. The things we trust for stability can be shaken. What do we look to for stability? Well, we look at:
The economy. Though we may get scared at times, most of us trust that there will be jobs for us, ways to make an income, investments that bring a return.
Our laws. We live in a nation of laws, governed by the people and for the people. Even though the divide is worsening, we seek stability in our system of laws.
Family. Kids look to parents for stability. Husbands and wives look to each other.
Our health. Unless we’ve been diagnosed with a chronic disease, we sort of think we’ll remain healthy and strong.
But do any of these last? Are any of these foundations stable? Are the righteous affected by unemployment, evil leaders, divorce, and disease? Yes. Brothers and sisters, we need to be careful we don’t see safety in a structured and orderly life. I think this is a real temptation for us in middle-class America. Work hard, save money, buy insurance, and you’ll be safe. Will you? Can your work ethic guarantee safety? Can your good decision-making guarantee safety?
No one was more righteous than Jesus, yet He was arrested, imprisoned, and executed by the local government. The foundations of society often shake. Read your history books. What great country is around for 500 years? Or a thousand? Their seemingly invincible foundations started to crumble, and even the righteous were caught by the landslide.
When you feel unsafe, do you look for escape? Do you trust your own decision-making? Do you think your good choices ultimately protect you? Don’t trust your own thinking and planning, entrust yourself to Jesus.
3. When you feel unsafe, interrogate your heart.
Times when we’re scared or worried are perfect times to consider our hearts. These times expose what and who we’re trusting. Let me suggest three questions to ask yourself when you feel unsafe.
Question #1: Have I forgotten who God is?
If God is who He says He is, and you belong to Him, why are you living in fear? Like David, you might need to remind yourself of who God is.
Psalms 11:4 (CSB) The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord—his throne is in heaven. His eyes watch; his gaze examines everyone.
We see three things about God. He is in his temple, He is reigning over all, and He is examining everyone. The temple is probably not referring to the temple in Jerusalem since it was built after David died, but a temple is a place where man can worship God. In other words, the temple is access to God. God is not distant. He is near. He has made a way for humans to come before Him.
Though He is near, He is ruling everywhere. He has both an earthly temple and a heavenly throne. The accessible God reigns universally. No one is outside His realm. From His vantage point in the heavens, He is able to see everything. Nothing escapes His notice. His eyes never close. No shadow is so dark that He can’t see clearly what it contains.
Why, brothers and sisters, would we feel unsafe if this God is our Father? If this King has made us the object of His affection? Little kids intuitively know that the safest place is their parent’s lap because their parents are bigger, stronger, and wiser than they are. Do you realize the safest place is your Father’s lap—He is infinitely big, strong, and wise? Too often we build treehouses and pillow forts and think they will protect us from life’s dangers, when our Father is simply waiting for us to ask Him to intervene.
I love what Henry Martyn, missionary to India said: "I am immortal until God's work for me to do is done. The Lord reigns.” The Lord reigns. When you feel unsafe, have you forgotten that the Lord reigns? And that nothing can harm you unless He permits it? And all that He permits is for our good?
Question #2: Am I pursuing what is right?
The Lord is examining everyone, both the righteous and wicked. Sometimes we feel the danger around us because God is examining our faith. His examination is not for His sake, but ours. He is helping us see what’s going on inside our hearts. He is lifting the blindfold from our eyes, so that we see what we’re trusting in.
When you feel unsafe, you need to determine if your feelings of fear are driven by idolatry. Are you pursuing something other than Christ as ultimate? Maybe safety and stability have become what you prize most, and the feeling of danger is exposing your misplaced love? God is examining us, and His examination brings judgment.
Psalms 11:5-6 (CSB) The Lord examines the righteous, but he hates the wicked and those who love violence. Let him rain burning coals and sulfur on the wicked; let a scorching wind be the portion in their cup.
The eyes of the Lord see into the deepest recesses of your heart. There is no secret you can keep from Him. Those who love violence and evil will suffer the same fate as the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The judgment of God—fierce and unrelenting—will fall on them. They will be forced to face the full consequences of their actions. There is a dire warning here for anyone who sins and refuses to repent. You will drink the full cup of God’s judgment on your sin. Repent before it’s too late!
But for those who love God, who live by faith in Jesus Christ, the time of examination doesn’t lead to fear (Rom. 8:1), but to clarity. God’s examination can be a joyful time of growth in purity and holiness. In his examination of us, He reveals to us the areas that need to change, and He supplies the grace for us to change.
Don’t resist His examination. Don’t shrink back in fear. Ask Him to shine His spotlight of grace into the shadows of your sin. Moments of fear are moments to evaluate the condition of your heart. Is your fear driven by sin—you fear losing something you love more than Jesus? In you fear, do you run somewhere else for help? Fear brings clarity about what really matters to us. So ask yourself, “Am I pursuing what is right?"
Question #3: Do I long to see God?
The ultimate goal for all who know God is to see Him face to face, to look upon the face of the one who is filled with grace. Safety is not ultimate. Jesus is. This is how the Psalmist ends the Psalm, with a reminder of what matters most.
Psalms 11:7 (CSB) For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds. The upright will see his face.
Listen, Christian, if the ultimate desire of your heart is to see God face to face, then nothing can ever threaten that. No matter what you face, you will never need to worry about losing out on the ultimate reward—being brought into God’s presence. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote:
Romans 8:38-39 (CSB) For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If nothing can stop us from seeing Jesus face to face, then are we ever truly unsafe?
I have a fear of heights, and it’s getting worse as I get older. But there’s no reason for me to fear, no height can keep me from Jesus.
Maybe you fear drowning, but no depth can keep you from Jesus.
Maybe you worry about the future, but nothing to come can keep you from Jesus.
Maybe you’re scared about who might be elected president or added to the supreme court, but no ruler can keep you from Jesus.
Maybe your deepest anxiety is being betrayed by someone you love, but no created thing can keep you from Jesus.
Then there’s death itself. Isn’t this the fear behind all fears? But why, child of the living God, would you need to fear death? You have read your Bible. You believe in the resurrection. You know that death no longer rules over you. It can certainly not keep you from Jesus.
If you feel unsafe, I understand. We all struggle with this feeling. I hope you don’t feel condemned this morning, but encouraged. When you feel threatened, when the future is bleak, when you are struck by a wave of fear, examine your heart, identify any faithless solutions, and run to Jesus for refuge. The only place we find lasting safety is in Jesus Christ.