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"You Are Safe With Me"

September 26, 2021 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Connected: a series about how to connect with others

Passage: Ephesians 1:3–1:14

We need to receive safety from God before we can give safety to others. We need to live from safety, not for safety. The more you receive from God, the more you will give to others what God has given to you.

What is it like when you don’t feel safe? What do you do? What are you not able to do? We can easily imagine feeling physically unsafe. Last year, we had this hornet nest in our siding. While mowing the lawn, I went past the nest many times without feeling unsafe. But once I discovered the hornet nest, I would always watch the nest as I drove by it and I would feel nervous. When you don't feel safe physically or relationally, you can’t rest, you can’t relax, you are uptight, you are watching your back, you can’t let yourself guard down, you don’t know if you are going to be ok, you are looking out for danger.

What is it like when you feel safe? We could say you are able to feel love, joy, and peace. You can let your guard down, you can be yourself, you are open to correction, feedback, and change; you feel accepted for who you are, you can let the real you be seen, you don’t wear masks. We saw in Genesis 2 that Adam and his wife, Eve, were naked and not ashamed, meaning they could be open and vulnerable. They could be themselves with each other. They felt safe.

Today we are continuing a seven-week sermon series on relationships called “Connected”. It’s about how to have better relationships by learning to connect with your spouse, your kids, your family and friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, and anyone else in your life.

The last two weeks, we have been laying a foundation. We talked about where the disconnection in our relationships comes from: it comes from being disconnected from God. Then we talked about how God is a God of connection and he has made us in his image to connect. We were made to be loved by God and then to love God and love others like God. This week, we begin the core of this series. The next four sermons are on four messages everyone longs to hear. In every relationship, whether it’s with God or other people, you long to hear these four messages communicated to you: 1) you are safe with me, 2) you are loved no matter what, 3) you are called and capable, 4) you are responsible for your actions. These four messages come from an organization helping parents called Connected Families and I am using them with their permission.

This whole series is about how to connect with people in your life so I want you to make this really personal. I want you to think about a relationship in your life where you want to experience more connection. Perhaps you are feeling disconnected in this relationship right now. Maybe you feel like there’s distance or tension or walls between you. Maybe you just don’t know what to do. Maybe you have a relationship you’ve given up on. If you don’t have a relationship that is difficult for you right now, then think of the person or people that you spend the most time with. This series is meant to help you connect with them. So right now answer these questions and maybe even write them down:

  • What's a relationship that is really difficult for you right now? Or who do you spend the most time with?
  • Apply what you are hearing to those relationships.

This week we are focusing on the message: “You are safe with me.” If you want to build connection with the person or people you thought of, you need to communicate, “You are safe with me” to them. Why is this important? Sea anemones can either be open or closed. When they are open, they are quite beautiful with bright colors. But if they don’t feel safe, they close up and all their color and beauty is hidden. Turtles hide in their shells. Other animals run to their holes. Skunks spray. Peacocks make themselves look bigger and more threatening with their tail feathers. Bumblebees sting if they feel cornered. Tigers will attack if cornered. These are survival tactics that we often call fight or flight, attack or withdraw. We also do this as human beings when we don’t feel safe. When we sense that we aren’t safe, our brains take us into a fight or flight response, an attack or withdraw response. And when we are in this fight or flight response, we can’t connect.

The first person who first needs to hear the message “You are safe with me” is us. We need to hear God saying that to us if we want to become people who are safe for others. The worst thing in the world is to feel unsafe with the God of the universe. When we feel unsafe, we cover up, we hide, and we blame. You can’t rest, you can’t relax, you are uptight, you are watching your back, you can’t let your guard down, you don’t know if you are going to be ok, you are looking out for danger. And if we feel unsafe with God, you will lack love, joy, and peace.

So the question is: are we safe with God? Does God tell us “You are safe with me”? Yes! All over the place. We’ll focus on one passage: Ephesians 1:3-14.

Ephesians 1:3-14 - God says to us, “You are safe with me.”

We can’t go in depth into this whole passage, but let me give you the outline and the highlights. These twelve verses are praising God for the spiritual blessings given to us in Christ. That’s what verse 3 shows us:

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3)

The rest of the verses break down into three sections telling us what God has done to bring us these spiritual blessings. The first section focuses on God the Father, the second section on God the Son, the third section on God the Holy Spirit. Each section ends with the phrase “to the praise of his glory” (vv 6, 12, 14).

The first section, verses 4 through 6, tell us that: The Father has chosen us for adoption into his holy family. Let’s start in verse 4:

4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ in accordance with this pleasure and will 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

Last week we talked about what God was doing before the creation of the universe and here we see that he was choosing people to be adopted into his holy family. Anyone who trusts in Jesus as their Lord was chosen by God. We did not first chose him, but he first chose us before the creation of the world.

With an attitude of love, God the Father chose us before the creation of the world to be adopted as sons and daughters into his family. How? Through Jesus Christ. The second section will explain what this means.

And all this, Paul says at the end of verse 5, is “in accordance with his pleasure and will.” The God of the universe planned your adoption into his family...and he took pleasure in doing so. And why did he do this? Paul says in verse 6: for the praise of his glorious grace. Grace is undeserved, unearned favor. This privilege of being a part of his family is freely given - not deserved or earned. God holds out a gift to us and that gift is packaged in the One he loves, his Son, Jesus Christ.

The first section is about the Father choosing us for adoption into his holy family. The second section in verses 7 through 12 focuses on how this is through Jesus Christ. Let’s begin with the first sentence in verse 7.

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:7-8a)

In Scripture, redemption means “deliverance at a cost”. The word was used in the slave market. To redeem a slave meant you freed them by paying the cost of their freedom. That’s redemption. Another way to talk about our redemption is to say “the forgiveness of sins.” “Forgiveness” also has to do with freedom. A forgiven loan means you are free from paying it back. You have been released from your debt. A forgiven offense means you are free from making up for it. What cost was paid for our redemption, our forgiveness? Paul says we have redemption or forgiveness through Jesus’ blood, referring to Jesus’ death. The cost of our freedom from sin was Jesus’ life. Jesus gave his life so we wouldn’t have to give ours. He took our penalty in our place.

Why would he do this? Paul says it was in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. It is pure grace: undeserved, unearned favor. Notice, God in the past chose us for adoption and in the present we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. God’s eternal plan enters our life when we trust in Christ and know we are forgiven.

In verses 9 through 12, he explains how people putting their hope in Christ is the fulfillment of God’s eternal plan. Why has God done this? Verse 12 says: in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. God the Father chose us to be adopted through redemption in Christ. Why? For the praise of his glory.

God chose us for adoption and Jesus paid the price of our adoption. In verses 13 and 14, we hear about the Holy Spirit’s work to make our adoption through redemption from our sins a reality. Verse 13 says:

13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)

In the ancient world, seals made of stone or metal had a distinct image engraved on them to mark all of a person’s significant possessions. When we trust in Christ, God marks us with his seal of ownership: the Holy Spirit. He marks us as his treasured possession. He sends his Holy Spirit to dwell inside us so that we know, “God is my Father and I am his child. I belong to him.” And the Holy Spirit is not only a seal, but a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance. God gives us the Spirit to assure us that, no matter what the present might be like, we have a glorious future ahead, living in his presence forever free of sin.

We’ve run from him. We’ve avoided him. We’ve ignored him. We’ve rejected him and rebelled against him. We’ve made a mess of our lives. But despite all of this, God comes to us in our sinful mess. He pays for all the damage we’ve done so we can be free of it. He picks us up and washes us of our sins. He cleans us up. Then he brings us back to his palace to live like royalty as his sons and daughters.

God the Father chose us to be adopted in his holy family through redemption in Christ and he has sealed us as his own with the Holy Spirit. Why? To the praise of his glory. It isn’t “to the praise of our goodness or our righteousness or our performance or our good behavior or our obedience.” It is to the praise of his glorious grace. We don’t get into a relationship with God on the basis of what we do. We get into a relationship with God based on his glorious grace. He gets all the credit. The only thing we contribute to our salvation is the need for it. What we bring into this relationship is our neediness - our need for forgiveness, our need for cleansing, our need for transformation. We bring our sin and he deals with it. Our status and standing with God is not based at all on what we do.

This is why we can hear from God “You are safe with me,” because the foundation of our relationship is not built on whether we have deserved or earned it. We are safe with God because the foundation of our relationship with him is grace: undeserved, unearned favor. God did the choosing, God did the redeeming and forgiving, God did the sealing as his. None of that is us. We are safe with God because God is for us, not against us. Consider: on whom do you think your relationship with God rests? And I don’t mean what you know is the right answer. I mean: how do you live? What do your actions and emotions show you believe? On whom does your salvation, your adoption, your forgiveness, your future rest? What’s the foundation?

Later in chapter 2 verse 7, Paul says God has saved you “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Why will saving us put the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus on display? Verse 8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not you brown doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It isn’t our doing. God gets the credit.

Romans 8:1 says: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Not, “There is no condemnation for those who do everything right. There is no condemnation for those who always behave. There is no condemnation for those who prove they are worthy. There is no condemnation for those who are perfect, who clean themselves up, who get their act together.” No, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Our status and standing before God is provided for us in Christ Jesus, not in our goodness, obedience, or performance. That means our status and standing with God is independent of what we do, not dependent on it. In Christ, we are safe with God.

This is the most wonderful news in the world! God telling us “You are safe with me” means the relationship is not in jeopardy when we mess up. It means the stability and security of the relationship does not go up and down depending on what we do. It means God isn’t “for us” when we are behaving and “against us” when we are sinning. It means that in Christ God is always and will forever be for us and not against us. It’s a relationship based on grace. God favors us not because we deserve it or earn it. God loves us and actually likes us because that’s who he is. He has decided to. We are not the deciding factor; God is.

Practically, what does this mean for your everyday life? Why does this matter? Well, did you know the only people who are able to actually create change in your life are those with whom you feel safe? It’s true. There’s a group of Christians who are digging into how our brains work so they can help people connect with God and other people.

Our immediate reaction in relationships is generated by the part of our brain in charge of creating our character. Character is what you do spontaneously, naturally, and automatically without thinking. A different part of our brain is responsible for our conscious thought. So we might have an automatic reaction without thinking generated by one part of the brain (our character), but then we might think about that reaction using the part of our brain responsible for conscious thought and we might choose to filter our immediate reaction and replace it with a different one.

For instance, without thinking about it, our initial reaction to someone yelling at us might be to yell back; that’s our character - our spontaneous, natural, automatic response without thinking. But then we might filter that response using conscious thought. We might remember that James 1:19-20 says: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” So our first reaction from our character was to respond by yelling. But then in our conscious thought, we recalled James 1:19-20 and instead decided to take a deep breath and not yell.

Here’s why this is important: If we want to get beyond behavior modification and sin management, we need to change our character. Imagine you are working in a pizza factory and your job is quality control. A machine puts together pizzas way faster than you could, but the pizzas still need to be looked over to make sure they came out right. So the machine makes the pizza and it comes down the conveyor belt to you. What you notice is that the machine is putting olives on every single pizza, even pizzas that shouldn’t have olives. You have two choices for how to fix this problem: 1) you can pick the olives off every pizza that comes out of the machine, or 2) you can change the settings on the machine to never put olives on the pizza in the first place. You can pick the olives off of every pizza that isn’t supposed to have them for the rest of your time working there - which sounds exhausting - or you can fix the machine responsible for putting the toppings on the pizza.

Here’s how this applies to our behavior: if we want our behavior to come out different in the first place without thinking about it rather than doing quality control with our conscious thought, then we need to be changed in the part of our brain that is responsible for our character. As one brain scientist and theologian says, “If we want to change character, we must change character where it happens in the brain” (Renovated, 81). This is what will get us beyond behavior modification and sin management to being deeply transformed on the inside. Rather than just changing what we do, who we are will be changed.

The question is: who has access to change our character settings? Here’s why the message “You are safe with me” is so important: the part of the brain that creates our character can only be accessed by people who are safe to us. For everyone else, if they try to enter the room where the settings for our character are, all they get is a locked door that says, “Authorized Personnel Only.” The only people who have access rights to change your character are people with whom you feel safe, with whom you have a loving attachment, with whom you are relationally connected.

If you see someone as an enemy, the brain knows how to respond. You go into a fight or flight response. You will attack or withdraw. You do what you’ve learned to do to keep yourself safe. You aren’t going to let them in. And when you are in that state, you cannot grow or be changed. So in other words, you cannot grow or be changed if you don’t feel safe with someone. The only people who have access rights to change your character are people from whom you hear the message, “You are safe with me” by their words and their actions and their attitude.

Now think about your relationship with God: If you don’t see God as safe, then God does not have access rights to the part of your brain that is responsible for your character. As long as we don’t see God as safe, we are only practicing behavior modification and sin management. We will be doing quality control on our character for the rest of our lives and that is exhausting. We might look different on the outside as we try to keep all the commands in the Bible, but we still feel the same on the inside. Eventually we might give up because it’s just too hard. What we long for is deep, lasting change from the inside out.

Isn’t it amazing that God gives us exactly what we need? It’s almost like he knows how our brains work because he designed them or something. Over and over in Scripture he tells us that we are safe with him because the foundation of our relationship with him is grace. The first person that needs to hear the message “You are safe with me” is us. As long as we think God is against us instead of for us, we cannot experience deep, lasting change. If we keep living like God is against us every time we sin, fail, fall short, or make a mistake, then we will not give God access to the part of us that transforms our character.

Here’s the default formula we tend to live by:who I am = what I do + what others think of me. This makes our identity, value, worth, importance, significance, security, and belonging dependent on what we do and what others think of us. This is an unstable and insecure foundation so we feel unsafe.

Think about those relationships you wrote down earlier: if you enter those relationships with this formula, there is a lot at stake. Your very identity is at stake. Your identity is based on what you do - whether you do it right, whether you get it done, whether what you do works or not. Your identity is based on what they think of you - do they approve of what you do, do they accept you, do they like you, do they think you did what was right.

This is putting enormous pressure on yourself and other people. Neither you nor them were meant to tell you who you are. What you do and what they think are not meant to bear the weight of giving you your value, worth, importance, and identity. They are not meant to give you your sense of safety. As long as we are living out this formula, we will not feel safe, at least not consistently, and we will not be safe for others. We need to change the formula. We need to return to the original formula. We need to receive our identity, value, worth, importance, and significance from God as a free gift. God’s original formula was this: who you are = what God has done for you + what God thinks of you. This is where safety comes from. It’s a constant because God is constant. It is secure and stable because it’s based on God’s grace. We need to receive safety from God before we can give safety to others. We need to live from safety, not for safety. The more you receive from God, the more you will give to others what God has given to you.

So often though, we go into enemy mode with people. We are in enemy mode with someone when we are making the pain or problem bigger than the relationship (The Joy Switch, pp 47, 59, 73). If you are doing this, you know you are in enemy mode and when you are in enemy mode, you are not connecting. In fact, we don’t even want to connect. If we see them as a threat to us then we will protect ourselves by attacking or withdrawing. Relational mode makes the relationship bigger than the pain or the problem. Enemy mode means we are against them as a person because of the problem or pain they’ve caused. Relational mode means we are for them despite the problem or pain.

The best news we could ever hear is that God is no longer in enemy mode with us! Since Adam and Eve chose to reject God, we have not felt safe with God. We cover up, hide, and blame to feel safe, but they don’t work. If we know God isn’t in enemy mode with us, we can be in a constant state of safety. We can come out of hiding. We don’t need to cover up. We don’t need to blame and defend and justify. We don’t need to pretend we are better than we are or perform to prove we are worthy of love.

If we are already safe with God, we can be safe for others even if they aren’t safe for us. If God is for us, then we can be for them even if they are against us. When we are receiving our safety from God, even if the person is unsafe, they are not a threat to our identity - our value, our worth, our security, our importance.

Here are three practical tools to communicate “You are safe with me” to others:

Reflect by asking: What’s going on in me?

Think about this: what do every one of your relationships have in common? The answer is: you. You are part of every relationship you will ever have. That means you carry your own personal story, your wounds, your baggage, your sin and selfishness, and your unhealthy patterns of relating to others into every relationship. And all of this means you will do and think hurtful things, you will blow things out of proportion because what they do reminds you of something in your past, you will tend to look out for yourself instead of for them. So you have a lot you can work on. And the reality is that you are actually the only person you have any control over. Jesus said take the log out of your own eye that you might see better to take the speck out of the other person’s eye.

So the primary question for being safe for others is to ask: what’s going on in me? What is my attitude? Why am I reacting this way? Do I think my identity is at stake here? Am I putting too much pressure on what I do? Am I too concerned about what they think of me? The best way to be safe for someone is not to ask how can I change them but what’s going on in me that needs to change? For that relationship you want to be different, ask: What’s going on in me?

Apologize.

If you do something you shouldn’t have done, apologize. If what’s going on in you causes you to do or say something you shouldn’t have, apologize. Say, “I did [blank]. I shouldn’t have done that. It was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” Humility is one of the primary traits of a safe person.

I’m a perfectionist so I sometimes feel this crushing burden of having to be a good parent to Hudson all the time. I don’t want to mess him up or mess our relationship up. I want to reflect what God is like to him. It’s a big relief to acknowledge I can’t be perfect. And the best thing I can show him is that daddy sins and messes up and it’s safe to go to God with that. The best gift I can give him is not being a perfect parent all the time but to show him that God is always safe for us. I apologize to Hudson often, sometimes multiple times in a day. And I try to go to God with him for forgiveness. What’s he learning? He’s learning that there is a God, daddy is not God, and God is safe to go to when we do bad things. 

People who can’t admit they are wrong are unsafe. Remember, you’re only human. Don’t try to be more than human. Don’t try to be God. Show your dependence on God. Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t expect to be perfect. Don’t pretend you’re perfect. It's helpful to realize that we can't be perfect, but we can be safe because admitting when we are wrong is part of being a safe person. For that relationship that you want to be different, ask: What can I apologize for?

Practice keeping the relationship bigger than the problem or pain.

I’ve found this so helpful to determine whether I am in enemy mode or relational mode. Am I keeping the relationship bigger than the problem? If you are in enemy mode, you won’t be looking for a relational solution to the problem or the pain.

God loves his enemies and that means us. Every time we see ourselves in enemy mode, focused more on the pain or problem than the relationship, it’s an opportunity to let more of God’s enemy-love for us into our lives by seeing how he loves us even when we do the very things this person is doing to us. God is not in enemy mode with us. God keeps the relationship bigger than the problem of our sin. God is for you not against you.

You can be safe for others not because they are safe for you but because you are safe with God. The goal here isn’t to get safety from them but to give safety to them. And the goal is connection, not control. Your goal in being safe can’t be to get them to do what you want. Your goal in being has to be so you can give them what God has given you and to reflect what God is like to them. What you have received from God you can give to them as an act of love. The grace you have received from God is the grace you give. Author Paul David Tripp often says that the people who give grace best are those who know how desperately they need it.

For that relationship that you want to be different, ask: Am I keeping the relationship bigger than the problem or pain? How can I keep the relationship bigger than the problem or pain?

Jesus was a friend of sinners. They felt safe around them. He didn’t get his sense of identity from what he was doing or what others thought. He was criticized for being a friend of sinners. But he got his identity from God. As people of the good news about Jesus Christ, we can be safe for each other in our sin. And we can be safe for others too.

More in Connected: a series about how to connect with others

October 17, 2021

"You Are Responsible for Your Actions"

October 10, 2021

"You Are Called and Capable"

October 3, 2021

"You Are Loved No Matter What"