|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter: 2 - A Refuge in an Insecure World
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble”
2.1 Our Insecure World
We are living in a world that is, without doubt, worrying. The world has changed dramatically in the past two hundred years. If we'd lived back then, we'd have had a whole different bunch of worries. No electricity, no supermarket that always has a plentiful supply of food, no health service to bring help every time we feel unwell. Over that period of time life has changed dramatically. For many the pace of life has quickened; for many the world has become a global village; for many it's become a place where business has become an even greater burden, creating stress and anxiety instead of physical weariness that was there at the end of every day's toil. Today it is a mental weariness in a world that has largely turned its back on God. And all the time, there in the background is the TV pumping out more and more bad news.
All around us people are worrying. Is there a place of refuge, a place where people can feel secure in the midst of the worrying circumstances? Let's paint a few broad brush strokes on the canvas of life in the beginning of the twenty first century.
At the international end of the scale we are worrying about the possible effects of global warming. Conflicting outcome-scenarios from conflicting ‘experts' leave us confused. One group are pessimistic and talk about melting ice flows, rising tides, flooding, unstable weather conditions and world-wide catastrophes. Another group are optimistic and say the world has an ability to right itself and there is nothing to worry about.
International terrorism continues, hijackings, and rebellions in small nations are common. The international traveller who is put through strict security checks at every major international airport is continually made aware of the dangers. In the background of our minds is the constant nagging worry of nuclear threat, whether it be of the potential threat of nuclear weapons being sold off to terrorists, or of badly maintained nuclear power stations threatening meltdown. The threat is there and the threat is real, and that's not even giving any thought to the Doomsday scenario of biological warfare than can be released out of the terrorists' overnight bag. In the face of this global uncertainty, we need reassurance, we need a sense of security.
Modern Western life focuses mainly on physical and material things. Our society worries about threats to health and well-being that come from Cancer, from AIDS, from genetic engineering, from the growing drug problem, from the problems of ageing. If these are problems that aren't actually with us, they are with many people immediately around us. Science has largely removed the diseases that brought a premature end to life, but has so far been unable to deal with the wide variety of ageing diseases.
At the same time the back half of the twentieth century seems to have increased not decreased a sense of financial insecurity. Many people worry about providing for old age, while many simply worry about providing - poverty is still a world wide problem. While stock markets become ever more closely linked around the world, predictions come of financial meltdown and possible economic collapse. Greed forces big companies to seek to make even bigger profits for their investors and when the growth of profits slows down, fear sets in and management is either sacked or pressurised into drastic action - often meaning cutting back the work force. The fact that we almost completely rely on others to provide food for us, seems to have created a fear factor in many, witnessed by ‘panic buying' when there are rumours of shortages, or the mass food and drink buying before Christmas and other national holidays. There seems a deep underlying fear about ‘not coping' or ‘running out'.
In the last two decades of the twentieth century in Britain, there came a loss in confidence in large institutions, Government and Financial institutions in particular. An apparent loss of integrity, a rise in charges of corruption, double standards and spin doctoring in Government circles, all contributed to undermining confidence. Changes in working conditions have created so-called flexible working practices, but underneath it all has come loss of job security. Once there were certain areas of the job market that were secure for life. No longer!
The sexual revolution has created insecurity between couples, and insecurity for children has become the norm. As moral standards have been whittled away, so this has added fuel to create an insecure younger generation and violence in many forms is rising quietly like an incoming tide. How many people feel completely secure walking out alone after dark? How many parents feel secure letting their children roam out alone? (When I was a child this was common place and there was no fear in it). No, the social changes within our society have put such strains on it that we may be witnessing its total collapse. The next twenty years will tell.
As a pastor of a church I am made especially aware of the needs of people of our society. Each new person who comes to Christ seems to come with even greater social and personal problems to be sorted out than the previous ones. Tragically statistics seem to indicate that problems within the church in the West are as great inside it as outside it. Where is the refuge that the world needs? We, surely, above all other peoples, should be a secure people, a light to the world, a city on a hill (Mt 5:14 ) that is attractive, that is real, that is a place of healing and reconciliation.
2.2 The insecurity of life itself
Life is indeed insecure, it's part of living in a Fallen world. It occurs at every stage of life, indeed at times it seems that's all life is about. For a child, growing up is an insecure business. Fear of the dark, fear of the nasty things under the bed, fear of going to school the first time, fear of changing schools, these are just the ordinary ingredients that parents know children struggle with. Yet tragically so many of our children today struggle on their own in half families (single parent) or mixed families (with a ‘second' parent), instead of finding love, care and help in a strong and secure complete family. [Please understand I am not saying love is missing from the single parent family, only that half of the love-resource that is supposed to be there is missing. I'll talk more about this in Book 2]
Establishing deeper relationships is at the heart of the teenage years, often going on into the twenties. As our teenagers look around them, the icons of the modern world - high technology, gadgetry, shopping malls, sex symbols, thin figures - all spell out a world that seems surface, instant, temporary and insecure.
The arrival of a child can be the most devastating thing, a push into the world of the unknown. We realise we've never been down this path before and despite all the books and help available, we're alone with this tiny person who seems so vulnerable and utterly reliant upon us. After the children go through ‘the terrible two's' the hope is that it will get better. It doesn't. The tensions of the first day at school, having to attend school meetings, reading school reports, watching for exam results, often create as much stress for the parent as for the child. Being a parent in the twenty first century means stress - which, perhaps, is why an increasing number of couples are opting not to have children!
In middle and old age our decaying physical life undermines self confidence. The muscles that now ache where once they didn't, the eyesight that needs glasses to help read, the hearing that is no longer as clear as it was, all these things contribute to a sense of insecurity. If coping with a deteriorating body was not enough, living in a constantly changing world seems to be a further load unfairly imposed on inhabitants of the world in the twenty first century. Many of us in the upper age brackets are suffering from what Alvin Toffler called ‘Future Shock', the inability to cope with tomorrow arriving today, the inability to cope with change of life and change of technology. We live in an alien and insecure world - but we'll leave that one to the last chapter!
Yes, this is what life is really about at the beginning of the twenty first century. Alienation, we are told by the experts, was one of the key elements of living in the latter part of the twentieth century, so the need for the church to be what Jesus called it to be, a place of refuge and security, is all the greater today. The opportunity before us is perhaps greater than for many decades if we can create this secure environment that is missing in virtually every other area of society. But it has to start with us.
2.3 What do we mean by “secure”?
Right, let's move on a dictionary definition: “secure. adj. completely safe”.
That says it all – a secure church is a completely safe church! A secure person is one who feels completely safe in being who they are. Let's consider some illustrations to think more fully what ‘secure' means.
Come and watch a small child. It's the first day at nursery school. So far all Junior has experienced has been the ‘safe and secure' environment of home. Until this fateful day Junior has had hardly a care in the world. Mum has always been there. She's fed her, clothed her, bathed her, played with her, read to her and tucked her up in bed. Junior's life has been full of routine, full of security. Now she is being pushed out into an alien environment where there is no mother, lots of unknown children and completely different routines which are being imposed upon her. Initially this is a very insecure environment. She no longer feels safe. It will change, but that's how it is to start with.
After nursery school comes primary school with more children and when Junior is ten or eleven she transfers from Primary school to Secondary school. She is no longer feeling secure. Yet some five years later she's been made a monitor or a prefect and she's part of the system. She feels in control, in charge, in a safe and secure environment that she knows all about. Life has changed - but then it's about to change again, as she leaves for college or for work and starts at the bottom of the next ladder. The bottom of a ladder is quite an insecure place. Security is found at the top of it! Maybe not when you have to climb one to clear the gutters, but in the changes of life, that is how it is! Security is often familiarity.
2.4 The Danger of False Security
But there is always a hidden danger, the danger of trusting in something that won't hold up under the pressures of life. The Bible often speaks of false security. For example Proverbs 18:11 says “ The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall.”. In other words the rich feel secure in their riches, yet the implication is that it is a false security.
Similarly Psalm 20:7 says “ Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God ”. What the psalmist was saying was that some relied on their military might, but that was a false security. Thus there are many things that people rely upon but they turn out to be an inadequate source of security.
The book of Job records one of his ‘friends' speaking about the person who is godless and he says, “ What he trusts in is fragile; what he relies on is a spider's web. He leans on the web but it gives way.” (Job 8:14,15) What imagery! Trusting in something that is actually so frail!
The liner at sea may seem to be the latest, the best and the finest, until it hits an ice berg and rapidly sinks. As a friend of mine who is an engineer said, engineers design for all eventualities, except the one they couldn't foresee! In the airline industry hidden stress fractures in wings or jet engines have sometimes proved to be the unforeseen thing that made the jet not so safe at it first appeared. For those climbing the career ladders of life, rapid ascent to the heady heights of success can just mean they have further to fall when the unforeseen collapse comes.
For many, Christians included, life continues as it always does and we are lulled into a false sense of security while our foundations of sand (Mt 7:26) seem ‘good enough' for the day to day humdrum lifestyle. It is only as the storms rise up, of sickness, unemployment, family crisis, or whatever, that we realise that we had been deluded.
2.5 Secure in Personal Prisons
Abe is a trustee who has spent most of his life in prison. Because he has been there so long it has become a safe environment for him. He is about to be released and he fears the great unknown outside. The familiarity of years within the same walls, doing the same things with the same people has brought a form of security that he's come to rely upon. A prison environment can become safe. A life of freedom can become insecure. Security is familiarity, even if it is a prison!
So, the picture is not so clear. The first picture of the child conveys the truth that we feel safe when there is caring there to look after us, when we are familiar with the routines, feeling in control. Yet we have also seen that a prison can feel secure. Perhaps we should not be surprised because, for many of us, it seems we are more comfortable with the prison we know than the freedom we are offered.
In psychology we talk of ‘defence mechanisms' where we react outwardly in a particular way to protect what is there on the inside. An example of this prison is Keith (an imaginary figure, yet not uncommon). Keith was often beaten by his father as a child and locked away in his room for hours on end. When he grew up, Keith became a Christian. Keith worked at being a ‘good' Christian - and succeeded. He was successful in his work and he raised a beautiful family. Unfortunately, from time to time the stresses of being successful become too much for Keith and, as the pressures from outside seem to squeeze the anguish on the inside, he seems to blank life out. For a week or three he goes into deep depression, total blackness, and shuts himself away from his family and virtually ignores his wife. His minister reaches out to help him, but the fear of facing the inner hurts is just too much and so he flees.
Another example of the prison is Alan (again imaginary, but not uncommon). Throughout his childhood Alan had been told he was stupid. Yet Alan has become a Christian leader. However, Alan is still very insecure, and counselling has not brought him the security he needed. Over the years Alan has specialised in one particular area of ministry, and is good in it. Unfortunately Alan has got his sense of self worth, not from being a child of God but through his role as a leader, from doing the one particular thing he is good at.
One day ministry became a burden and Alan's health starts to break down. Eventually, because it was obvious his health is failing, those who were around Alan, in their concern for him, suggest that Alan step down. He sees it as a point of failure, of judgmental criticism by the others, and leaves. The prison of his insecurity and the false foundation for self worth and self fulfilment has meant that Alan prefers to battle on seeking value and worth through role and activity. Again Alan is a picture of what many feel and how many react in response to the pressures that bear down on insecure foundations.
2.6 Secure in the church?
So, surely the church is meant to be a place of security, a place designed by Jesus where we can feel safe, a place where there is power to provide for us, a place where there is care to look after us, a place where we can know real value, real fulfilment, surely that is what it is meant to be?
When we read Jesus saying, “ This is my command: Love each other ” (Jn 15:17), he's actually talking about creating an environment of love and acceptance in the church, a place of security where he can minister his love and bring change to us. So why does it seems that it often goes wrong? Why is it that we rarely live up to the potential of the thing Jesus planned? Why is it that so many of those who are hurting flee or remain ‘under cover'? Why is it that we seem, so often, unable to meet the needs of the weak, the inadequate and the failures? How is it that, instead of being a place where peace is brought, so often the church is actually the cause of tensions and stress for people? More and more people are dropping out of church life, not because of lack of belief in God, but because of lack of belief in ‘church'! Why are there so many causalities around today? [These questions will be answered in Book 2]
The church that doesn't make God's love for us the central focus may have lots of good points but it misses the main point of what Jesus came to do. There ARE lots of vital ingredients to a successful church life, but if THIS ingredient of love, care and acceptance is not there in any meaningful way, then it makes all the other ingredients hard going! Not only that, if THIS ingredient is missing, it actually puts a question mark over the validity or reality or genuineness of the other ingredients.
2.7 And so?
Let's recap what we've said in this chapter to help you see what you feel about it:
An Insecure world: We live in a very insecure world, especially so in the West where change is the name of the game, and that means in morals as much as in anything else. There is a desperate need to create a secure environment in this society and the church is Jesus' plan to achieve that.
The Sources of Security: We feel an environment is secure if we feel
Yet there is the Danger of False Security where we
The remainder of this particular book will consider our own personal security in the light of the Bible. In Book 2 we'll go on to consider security in respect of the life of the church, but for now we'll simply focus on ourselves. In Part 2 we'll consider the subject of Biblical Security in general, and then in Part 3 we'll look at a number of aspects of our own personal security.