(Image courtesy of http://www.modernbuildinginc.com.)
My whole life, I, like countless others, have pursued safety for myself and my family.

But what if God isn't calling us to safety, but away from it?

When God was looking for someone to "stand in the gap" in Ezekiel 22, He was searching for anyone.  He didn't care if he was nice, proper, or comfortable - God just needed a man.  Any man who would trust Him.

If I was to make a list of the strongest men I know in my own life, I would list the men who live recklessly-righteous lives for God.  They literally don't care what people think of them.  They only care if God approves of their behavior.

"Either you hate me or you love me" is what my defensive line coach, Rich Stewart, used to say to my teammates and me during my college football days.  And it was true.  Either you loved him or you hated him.  But you didn't stand in the middle with Coach Stew and that's because he never stood there.  He was only satisfied with your best effort.

Coming back from summer at the beginning of my senior year, ready to start my final season, I was really out of it.  I mean I just wasn't focused on football.  I was coming in to camp ten pounds lighter than the last year (which wasn't a good thing) and had a lot on my mind: student teaching, what I was going to do with my life after graduation, trying to find a girl to marry, and things like that.  I was doing just enough to get by in the drills.  Coach Stew quickly took notice and was not happy.  In fact, he ignored me for the first two weeks of practice.  But when a man with the presence of Coach Stew ignores you, it is the worst punishment of all.  I wanted his acceptance and his appreciation.  Instead, because I wasn't getting it, I sulked.

As the first weeks of practice continued, I gradually began to focus and exert more effort that a leader on the football team should be expected to give.  Coach Stew noticed and began to coach me once again.  This is a man who didn't care what I thought of him, but who was going to demand high expectations regardless of my sulking.

Coach Stew did not regard social acceptance - a safe place - as higher than principle and truth.  He set aside his "safety" and comfort to say and do hard things, and held his players to high expectations and principles.

In the Christian life, I can think of a handful of men who have sacrificed a lot in order to recklessly pursue God, setting aside their own safety.

There is a man I know who has a wife and seven kids.  His hands are as thick as a grizzly bear's and his shoulders as strong and wide as an ox.  Yet his heart is as gentle as a mother nursing her newborn baby.  When this man prays, Heaven erupts with shouts of thunder.  And when he cries, the skies turn gray.  This man spends more time with God than any other man I have ever met.  Once, when a father was abusing a child across the street from where they live, this man walked over and told him to stop.  This man takes his kids with him to go set human trafficking victims free.  He goes to other countries to rescue girls and teaches Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a way to win others to Christ.  His family doesn't have a lot of money, so sometimes other families will donate groceries to them for food.  They are always thankful, but many times as they drive home, they will give those groceries away to someone they see on the streets.  This guy doesn't care about safety.  He is abandoned unto God.  And God has blessed him - not in terms of wealth and popularity, but with food and shelter for the day, and faith and love and power from the Holy Spirit.

The ironic thing about safety is that it is deceptive.  Safety is a feeling we get when we build walls around our pretty little lives to protect against the perceived harshness and danger outside.  When I was a child I remember some nights pulling the covers way up over my head, very carefully and quietly of course, to protect from the dark shadows of the monsters I saw against the wall.  I felt safe under my blanket.  Of course, I was deceiving myself to think I would actually be safe from snarling monsters with claws and teeth with only a cotton-knitted cloth to protect me.

I believe the majority of us strive for safety.  We like our routines, our coffee shops, our nice houses, our friends, our electronics.  Of course, those things are not bad in themselves, but we can make idols of them in the name of safety.  "Let me just go inside my enormous house - my private castle - and pull these covers over my eyes."  We don't say that, but that's what we do.  Meanwhile, boys and girls are abused in the houses across the street from us, little girls are kidnapped and driven down the interstate just a few miles away, a young man in the high school contemplates committing suicide, and the prisons and jails are full of the vile filth who would threaten our safety.  "Serves them right," we say - not with our mouths, but with our actions (or lack thereof).  "I don't want them in my neighborhood destroying my safety or messing around with my kids."

There is a war being fought everyday, a war between good and evil.  Good will ultimately prevail as victorious - God promises that - but currently the devil is loosed and angry: "They overcame [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.  Therefore, rejoice, O Heavens, and you who dwell in them!  Woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great fury because he knows his time is short" (Revelation 12:11-12).  In the meantime, God looks for someone, anyone to stand in the gap, to leave the safety of their own man-made possessions and run into the battle.

This week I plan to go to a nearby juvenile detention center to inquire about starting a weekly Bible study.  I am not boasting, but I say this to spur each of you onto good works in the faith of Christ Jesus, that His Name might receive glory.  As of right now, there is no such study happening at the detention center.  Out of the thousands of church-goers in the area and not one has yet stood in the gap in this way - to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the outcast, the downtrodden, the sin-diseased, and the condemned.  Man, it sure would be safer to browse the internet on my smartphone though....  For far too long have I failed to stand in the gap, clinging onto my blanket of self-stitched safety.  (In reality, the most dangerous place for a human is probably the temptations on the internet!)

Am I saying that if you are not running to the prisons to share the Gospel that you are not pleasing God?  Not necessarily.  But God has explicitly called us to salvation, commanding us to go into all the world, preaching salvation and baptizing into new life those who were once slaves to sin.

"I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one" (Ezekiel 22:30).  If we do not stand in the gap - die to our selfish desires, even for safety, and stand for what is right - our nation will be destroyed.  Never has a nation that blasphemes God gone without punishment.  Let us be found busy doing His work, for His return is soon.

Brothers and sisters, I urge you to stand with Jesus.  Instead of sitting in the comfort of our homes, watching TV, go stand in the gap somewhere.  Throw away your TVs if you have to.  "For it is better that your hand be cut off than your whole body be given over to sin" (Mark 9:43).  Get rid of your safety.  Do you not trust God?  "For my God will meet all your needs according to the glorious riches that are in Christ Jesus, my Lord" (Philippians 4:19).

God goes with you and me, Christian.  There is no place safe away from Him - "Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8).  Let us never forget that.

"O God, glorify Thyself at my expense. Send me the bill - anything, Lord. I set no price. I will not dicker or bargain. Glorify Thyself. I'll take the consequence" (A.W. Tozer).