Not Safe, But Good

It stormed the other day in central Indiana. The clouds were layered in multiple shades of gray, ranging from off-white to nearly charcoal. It made me think of the picture at the top of this newly-redesigened blog, although today’s skies were much less dramatic than they were the day I took this photo (which, aside from the quote, is unretouched). The storms here can be much more violent than where I grew up, but the upside is how beautiful the clouds can be. Beautiful, but scary; kind of like God.

Which brings me to my favorite quote in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series – well, actually, I think it’s just about everyone’s favorite quote. When the Pevensie children first hear about Aslan, they are surprised to learn that he is a lion.

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

– C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe

Not safe. But good. The King. The sovereign Lord who is always good, even when He’s more than a little scary. We can trust Him completely, but we dare not presume that He is a pushover. For even though He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8), He is still the Holy One, the righteous judge (Psalm 7:11; 2 Timothy 4:8), and “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

I think one of the reasons God does not appear to be “safe” is that He’s far more concerned about our holiness than He is about our happiness, and our character is far more important to Him than our comfort. (I’m sure those phrases are not original with me, but I can’t dredge up the source from my middle-aged memory.) God is relentless in this regard; He’ll stop at nothing to shape us into the image of Christ. And that’s a scary thought, at least to me, because I’ve experienced a little of that relentlessness.

Every year our ministry runs a summer missions project for college students, and one year we decided the project theme would be “whatever it takes.” We soon learned that God would not let us teach something we could not live out. The sacrifices of time, effort and energy required to pull the project off that summer pushed us all to exhaustion. Knowing it was no coincidence, our team joke became, “Next year, our theme’s gonna be ‘peaceful, easy feeling’!”

It was definitely not a “safe” summer, but it was a good one. Lives were changed–the lives of our students, the lives of those who received Christ through their ministry, and the lives of those of us who taught, mentored, and administrated the project. Even though I was physically and mentally drained, probably more than I had ever been before, the reward of seeing God change us all was well worth the sacrifice.

Relentless. Beautiful, but scary. Not safe, but good.

This is our God.

The Vision That Launched Modern Missions

218 years ago today, on May 12, 1792, one of the most significant Christian books in the English-speaking world was published. It was titled An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. (Not very catchy, but that was the style of the day!) Written by William Carey, a poor English shoemaker and pastor, it expresses his passion for reaching the multitudes in far-off lands who had never heard about Christ.

Most in Carey’s day thought that Christ’s commission to “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15) and “teach all the nations” (Matthew 28:19) no longer applied to the church. But Carey argued powerfully that the commission was still binding, and set out a plan to help fulfill it. Shortly after his book was published, a small group of pastors formed what later became known as the Baptist Missionary Society and sent Carey and a coworker to India.  

In his first few years on there Carey endured poverty, tropical diseases, the death of one of his sons, and his wife’s descent into mental illness.  Yet despite such hardship and tragedy, Carey persevered to serve faithfully (and without furlough) for 40 years. I’m challenged and encouraged by the way he lived out the vision God had given him, as expressed so many years before in the closing paragraph of his book:

We are exhorted to lay up treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal. It is also declared that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. These Scriptures teach us that the enjoyments of the life to come, bear a near relation to that which now is; a relation similar to that of the harvest, and the seed. It is true all the reward is of mere grace, but it is nevertheless encouraging; what a treasure, what an harvest must await such characters as Paul, and Elliot, and Brainerd, and others, who have given themselves wholly to the work of the Lord. What a heaven will it be to see the many myriads of poor heathens, of Britons amongst the rest, who by their labours have been brought to the knowledge of God. Surely a crown of rejoicing like this is worth aspiring to. Surely it is worth while to lay ourselves out with all our might, in promoting the cause, and kingdom of Christ.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
– Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”
– Mark 16:15 (NIV)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

(For more on Carey and his influence, see the online Issue 36 of Christian History & Biography)

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