I don’t know if you remember the movie Top Gun with Tom Cruise, but I do. One of the songs that seemed to catalyze the movie was “Danger Zone” by Kenny Logins. Being a fan of action adventure movies, just hearing that song reminds me of the scenes of jets screaming though the air, of men and machines pushing the limits. Yet, I wonder how many times do we step away from the Danger Zone, back to the comfort zone? I don’t think we need to join the Air Force and fly multimillion dollar planes, or engage in behaviors that unnecessarily put our lives at risk. However, most of us live our lives in a comfortable zone of predictable situations with easily anticipated outcomes. For most us there is very little risk in the life we are living for Christ. I want to ask you when was the last time your life was dangerous enough to trust God to hold you in challenging and dangerous situations? When was the last time you stepped into a situation not knowing what God was going to do next? You see I don’t believe Christ called us to be safe, he called us to live by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) So we hear that, or we read it in our devotions, we respond with an AMEN, and then go back to what we have always done, depending on the tried and true patterns that we see. What would happen if we began to live our life as followers of Jesus Christ began to flesh those words out in our lives each and every day.
While I am on a song theme, what about that Casting Crowns, song “Voice of Truth” where the lyrics ask “What would I have to do….To step out of my comfort zone, Into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is…” That song is based on Jesus encounter with the disciples at night during a storm on the sea of Galilee, and Peter boldly states if it is you, Jesus, invite me to come to you. Jesus does, and Peter steps out of the boat onto the waves to stand with Jesus. That is entering the danger zone if I have ever heard of it. When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone, into the realm of the unknown, into the danger zone where Jesus lives? (If I may change the lyrics a bit.)
The reality is that the older we get the more risk aversive we become. We love our well appointed offices, our air conditioned cars and homes. We abhor risk so much that the very idea of hiking into a wilderness area just isn’t something we want to try. So we cue up with lines of people driving through national parks to see the wilderness from the comfort of our cars. What you have seen is a “park” not the wilderness. The wilderness is over the ridge that you cannot see from your car. The wilderness is beyond the curve in the trail. For me the wilderness is a metaphor of trust and reliance. In that environment we cannot depend on normal routines, and predictable patterns. The wild places force us to adapt to them, to learn their signs and follow their lead. We cannot manage wild things, we can only respect and appreciate them, and learn from them. However, if we avoid risk, we also avoid learning. “The concept of adventure is uniquely connected to Faith. The reason is that true faith requires risk. And risk taking is by definition an Adventure. Anytime I see a person move deeper into faith I can almost see on their face how risky it is for them.” (Dunning, God of Adventure, p. 77)
Once again, when was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone, following where Jesus lives? You see Jesus did not know the comfort zone did he. One day a man came to Jesus and declared he wanted to follow him. This is what Jesus told him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) This is the same Jesus who invites Peter to step out of the boat, who sends his disciples out to preach and to teach, and at the end of his mission on earth sends them to make disciples of all nations, reminding them that he would be with them always. I wonder does this sound like someone who was addicted to comfort zones?
As I read the Gospels I hear Jesus repeatedly asking his followers, you and I to step into that danger zone where he walks with us. When Jesus tells us that in losing our lives we will find them, he is reminding us that being risk aversive is contrary to the Gospel message. Think about this a bit more, where did that word risk come from in the first place? The word risk comes from the Spanish and Italian sailors who put themselves and their cargo at risk in hopes of gaining great reward. They knew that a ship in a harbor is safe, but that isn’t what ships were made for, so they risked their ships, their cargo and their very lives to gain reward. Unless we are willing to take a risk for the kingdom of God, we run the risk of facing our master not having fulfilled our calling and purpose. As Christians we are not designed for safety, we are called to lose our life for the sake of the kingdom and in doing that we will find the life that is really worth living. (Pardon my lose paraphrasing) In order to achieve that purpose, we cannot focus on safety and security, we have to risk in order to find the life that is promised us in the kingdom of God
This theology of risk, as one person describes it, is what drives New Trails. Coming out to New Trails involves risk. I know I am asking you to something that you are not accustomed to. I am inviting you to take is to step out of your comfort zone, to try a new approach to listening to God. I am inviting you to take a risk of hearing what God has to say to you. Inviting you to even consider that God may have a new trail that you have not even considered before. One of my favorite quotes about the Christian life comes from Dietrich Bonheoffer who wrote: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When Jesus called his disciples he put them at risk. We also know that when Jesus bids us come and die, as we lose our lives for his sake we find them again. Jesus reminds us that in dying we are born again! On the other hand I am inviting you to an arena as old as the Christian life itself. For Jesus began his ministry by retreating to the wilderness. He often called his disciples to come away from the crowds so he could spend time alone with them.
My challenge to you is take a risk. The world around us demands that we take a risk. The world around us will not be won by Christians who stay in their comfort zones. Just as the early church had to leave the safety of Jerusalem to bring the Gospel to the world, today you and I been called to risk all for the cause of following Christ. In one of those times of risk when my wife and I were backpacking the Big Horn mountains, we are on what I like to call a “scenic detour” (we missed a turn on the trail). As we are finding our way back it struck me that this time in the wilderness was a parable of my life in Christ. Following Christ did not come with a road map, or a paved highway. At each turn of my life I found there was a small voice saying to me this is the way go in it. (Isaiah 30:21) In the times we live if the church is not willing to risk all for the kingdom of God, I am afraid we will be left behind as a footnote of what might have been.
While I could go on about movies, songs and stepping out of the boat, let me wrap this up with a story that seems to encapsulate my life. Writer Oscar Schisgall tells the following story. When I was a young writer with a very uncertain income, I went into a quiet park to contemplate a serious problem. For four years I had been engaged but didn’t dare to marry. There was no way of foreseeing how little I might earn in the next year; moreover, we had long cherished a plan of living and writing in Paris, Rome, Vienna, London — everywhere. But how could we go 3000 miles away from everything that was familiar and secure, without the certainty of some money now and then? At that moment I looked up and saw a squirrel jump from one high tree to another. He appeared to be aiming for a limb so far out of reach that the leap looked like suicide. He missed — but landed, safe and unconcerned, on a branch several feet lower. Then he climbed to his goal, and all was well. An old man sitting on the bench said, “Funny, I’ve seen hundreds of ’em jump like that, especially when there are dogs around and they can’t come down to the ground. A lot of ’em miss, but I’ve never seen any hurt in trying.” Then he chuckled. “I guess they’ve got to risk it if they don’t want to spend their lives in one tree.” I thought, “A squirrel takes a chance — have I less nerve than a squirrel?” We were married in two weeks, scraped up enough money for our passage and sailed across the Atlantic — jumping off into space, not sure what branch we’d land on. I began to write twice as fast and twice as hard as ever before. And to our amazement we promptly soared into the realm of Respectable Incomes. Since then, whenever I have to choose between risking a new venture or hanging back, those five little words run through my thoughts: “Once there was a squirrel . . .” And sometimes I hear the old man on the park bench saying, “They got to risk it if the don’t want to spend their lives in one tree.”