10 October, 2013 Lewis Allen
Last week many round the world were watching the progress of 64-year-old American, Diana Nyad. She took 53 hours to swim 110 miles between Cuba and Florida; it was her fifth attempt, and she succeeded. I really don’t think I’ll be doing that when I’m 64.
There are lots of nasty things in the Florida Straits. Sharks, currents, jellyfish (which stopped an earlier attempt) and just sheer exhaustion. If Nyad really did get to the shore without any illegal assistance from her support boat, which is currently being checked, then what she has achieved boggles the mind.
On Sunday night at Hope, we looked at the letter of Jude. Jude has a vital message for us. He’s telling us that the Christian life is a long and difficult journey. It’s not for the cowardly, and it’s not for the clueless, either. Jude warns us of the great dangers that exist for the Lord’s people. And those dangers are particularly inside the church. False teachers were abounding in Jude’s day, and were causing great problems. The trinity they worshipped was the ages-old one of sex, money and power. In doing so, in Jude’s words, they were ‘godless men, who change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality and deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord’ (v.4).
What changes? Sadly, very little. The church of Jesus Christ today is constantly infiltrated by men who are seeking to build their own reputations for godliness and gifting, but whose hearts are set on their own pleasures. Ministries are pretexts for self-promotion, and congregations are exploited like some hapless cheer-leading team; good for massaging a bruised ego, and for bringing comforts and an easy life for the supposed pastor.
No pastor, of course, sets out to live in this way. Many, though, fall into these dangers. Enough brutal hard work, enough disappointments, too many setbacks, too many criticisms, and – just maybe – a tender ego which hasn’t been gratified by enough ministry success, and the dark exchange is made. The Gospel ministry becomes an easy ticket to a me-centred, religion-tinged life. It is a tragic waste, and a travesty of the Gospel. Jude is warning us that when pastors sink, others will sink with them. Pastors, guard your hearts; and people, pray for your pastors, and hold them lovingly to account for their lives and doctrine.
And people, guard your hearts, too. There are enough dangers in the Christian life to drown you in a second. Remember Diana Nyad, ploughing the waves, day and night. There are the sharks of devouring temptations. There are the sharp, jellyfish stings of discouragement, unkindness and thoughtlessness, even from the Christians you esteem most. There are the relentless currents of irritation and exasperation which swirl in the church, as well as the constant tug of the world and the flesh. There is the sheer exhaustion of trying to live for Jesus Christ in a world which hates Him, and hates your attempts to follow Him. Many people, far better than us, have allowed the difficulties to engulf them, and they’ve given up the race.
With all of his warnings, Jude has a clearly tender and pastoral objective, to keep us encouraged and strong in the Lord. He worships a God ‘who is able to keep you from falling’, a God who longs for us to enter His presence one day without fault and with great joy’ (v.24). How will we do that? Well, for a start, by knowing who we are: people who are called, loved and kept (v.1). Called to belong to Christ, drawn by the grace of God to discover Christ’s saving love, and to experience the strength of His keeping grace in Christ. When we are trusting in the Gospel, moment by moment, stroke by stroke, then we are strong in our endurance race. We will get there. Grace will keep us, as it will fill our hearts and change our lives.
As Diana Nyad stumbled up the beach on unsteady legs she had these words to say to the crowds who had come: “I have three messages: one is we should never ever give up; two is you are never too old to chase your dreams; and three is it looks like a solitary sport but it takes a team.” I hope we have just enough humility to learn from a lady who should be enjoying her pension. First, because of Christ, we never give up in the race He’s called us to. Secondly, if we have a dream of being one day in heaven with Him – well, today is the day to live it, with conviction. And lastly, this is what the church is for: it is a body of encouragement, a place to cheer others on and be cheered and helped ourselves, so that we reach the shore together. God give us grace to do that, and to get there.