Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No Greater Love

This week witnessed an appalling tragedy in Portugal. Robert and Deborah Fry and Barbara Jean Dinsmore from Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, died there on Monday. The three Britons and a German were killed while trying to save their children from strong currents off Praia do Tonel beach near Sagres. When their children, who were playing in the sea near to a large rock, got into difficulties, the rescuers rushed to their aid without thought for their own safety. Following the drownings, all the children were rescued by some young surfers or managed to get ashore with only minor injuries.

It is deeply moving to consider the attitude of these people. Theirs was the ultimate sacrifice. I know as a parent what motivated them, and it is both awesome and humbling to be aware of such strong emotions in our hearts. 'Greater love has no man than this' said Jesus, 'to lay down his life for his friend'. We salute their bravery and selfless love, though mourn and regret their loss and the tragedy of the outcome.

The very fact of the presence of such compelling love is another sign of the handiwork of God in us. He is also a self-sacrificing lover. Jesus gave Himself on the cross for our salvation with no thought for His own comfort or feelings. He became a sacrifice for us - for me - because He knew I was in deep trouble. The rip currents of my sin were so deep and strong that unless He had come and hurled Himself into the waves I would have been lost forever. But here the image stumbles. Jesus did die in the attempt to save me, but He also rose again from the dead three days later. It is as if those parents had been able to walk from the sea and watch their much loved children being taken away in safety. Even more than that, by the death and resurrection of Jesus I will not only just survive this life but will live for ever.

We will remember them.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Countdown to Letting Go

It has been a long time now since I felt that God was calling me to 'let go' and hand over my church and ministry to Him like Abraham offered his precious son Isaac on an altar in Genesis 22. These have not been easy days as I have tried every which way to weadle out of the deal and find another way of obeying God that did not involve loss or sacrifice. But now, the time is near, and in just a week's time, we will say farewell to the church we love with all our hearts and begin a season of rest and waiting on God for direction.

Why is it so hard to do what you know is right, and everyone who loves you is advising you to do? Well, partly because it involves uncertainty. Not knowing what the future holds is a risky business, and faith is often spelt r-i-s-k. Holding on to what you know and feel comfortable with is so much easier than stepping out into the unkown. Was it John Ortberg who coined the phrase: 'if you want to walk on water you have got to get out of the boat'? Leaving the comfort zone and letting your faith really work for you is proving to be just as hard as it sounds, but then faith is a muscle, it really does grow through use.

I suppose that what really is going on is God's way of finding out what turns my light on. Am I really in love with Jesus and following Him no matter what, or does my Christian service and position give me the security I secretly crave? I hope I'll stand the test, but if these early days are anything to go by, it won't be without its pain.

Still, the great thing is that we live in the 'upside-down' kingdom. Letting go is actually to receive, and the way down is the way up. If we are, as Paul says, stronger when we are weak, then in the topsy turvy reckoning of the Kingdom of God, this is really quite a good week! Lord, give me grace!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On Being Real

I have just enjoyed reading Brennan Manning's amazing classic 'The Ragamuffin Gospel'. In it he highlights the need for us to be real about ourselves and stop pretending that we have got it all together, because God's unconditional love flows constantly towards us whether we deserve it or not (and we don't!).

I try to say a similar thing in my own book Braving the Storm when I contrast the 'La La Land' where every prayer is answered just the way we want it with the reality of a life lived in a fallen world. Denial is such a dangerous folly because it robs us of the joy of knowing that we are accepted by a loving Father just as we are - though He loves us too much to leave us the way we are!

The problem we struggle with is one of image. Consider the image that this ID carrying guy has of himself. Hardly in touch with reality eh? Most of us try to project an image of ourselves that is not really in touch with what we truly are. In such circumstances we can't relax - we are constantly adjusting our image in the mirror to make sure that it fits with our preconceived idea of what we should look like. But God knows who we really are, and delights in us right now, singing over us with joy (Zephaniah 3:17). We no longer need to worry about our image when we relax in the grace and love of this caring God.

So let's make a decision to get real and stay real. To remember the words of the apostle Paul who said: 'When I am weak then I am strong'. Not 'when I am weak then He is strong'. Here's a prayer from the Ragamuffin Gospel (Authentic Classics, page 113):

'Lord Jesus, we are silly sheep who have dared to stand before You with our
preposterous portfolios. Suddenly we have come to our senses. We are sorry and
we ask you to forgive us. Give us the grace to admit that we are ragamuffins, to
embrace our brokenness, to celebrate Your mercy when we are at our weakest, to
rely on Your mercy no matter what we may do ... Amen.'

Amen to that!