Tag Archives: Loneliness

Unbroken – On The Raft



The two-week mark was a different kind of turning point for Louie.  He began to pray aloud.  He had no idea how to speak to God, so he recited snippets of prayers that he’d heard in movies.  Phil bowed his head as Louie spoke, offering “Amen” at the end.  Mac only listened.


The rafts slid on the current, their tethers snaking behind them.  It seemed that they were still drifting west, but without any points of reference, the men weren’t sure.  At least they were going somewhere.  (page 149)


Time spun out endlessly; Louie caught a few fish, once parlaying a tiny one, thrown into the raft by a whitecap, into bait that yielded a comparatively fat pilot fish.  Rains came intermittently leaving the men sucking up every drop that fell into their rain catchers.  Louie and Phil took turns leading prayers each night.  Mac remained in his own world. (page 149)


On their sixth day without water, the men recognised that they weren’t going to last much longer.  Mac was failing especially quickly.


They bowed their heads together as Louie prayed.  If God would quench their thirst, he vowed, he’d dedicate his life to him.


The next day, by divine intervention or the fickle humours of the tropics, the sky broke open and rain poured down.  Twice more the water ran out, twice more they prayed, and twice more the rain came.  The showers gave them just enough water to last a short while longer.  If only a place would come.  (page 152)


As he watched this beautiful, still world, Louie played with a thought that had come to him before.  He had thought it as he had watched hunting seabirds, marvelling at their ability to adjust their dives to compensate for the refraction of the light in water.  He had thought it as he had considered the pleasing geometry of the sharks, their gradation of colour, their slide through the sea.  He even recalled the thought coming to him in his youth, when he had lain on the roof of the cabin in the Cahuilla Indian Reservation, looking up from Zane Grey to watch night settling over the earth.  Such beauty, he thought, was too perfect to have come about by mere chance.  That day in the centre of the Pacific was, to him, a gift crafted deliberately, compassionately for him and Phil.


Joyful and grateful in the midst of slow dying, the men bathed in that day until sunset brought it, and their time in the doldrums, to an end. (page 166)


On the fortieth day, Louie was lying beside Phil under the canopy when he abruptly sat up.  He could hear singing.  He kept listening; it sounded like a choir.  He nudged Phil and asked him if he heard anything.  Phil said no.  Louie slid the canopy off and squinted into the daylight.  The ocean was a featureless flatness.  He looked up.


Above him, flying in a bright cloud, he saw human figures, silhouetted against the sky.  He counted twenty-one of them.  They were singing the sweetest song he had ever heard.


Louie stared up, astonished, listening to the singing.  What he was seeing and hearing was impossible, and yet he felt absolutely lucid.  This was , he felt certain, no hallucination, no vision.  He sat under the singers, listening to their voices, memorising the melody until they faded away. (page 167)

The most important thing

Is there a greater thrill than to know someone’s life has been permanently transformed because you reached out to them?

It is sweet to know your sister was saved through your series of conversations, or that you helped to disciple a struggling couple whose marriage was headed toward an inevitable divorce, or that you preached a sermon that God was kind enough to use in someone’s spiritual awakening.

Each of those things are treasured experiences — but none of them are intended to sustain our joy.

Jesus’ chose 72 of his followers and sent them out in his name. And they found incredible success in healing the sick and in watching demonically sabotaged lives get radically and immediately repaired. The experience must have been intoxicatingly fun.

But ministry success wasn’t the most stunning thing, and Jesus warned his followers of that when they returned. He told them to look beyond the fruit and see an eternal foundation: “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Written in heaven. That’s what he wanted them to see and us to see. Our highest joy is to know that our names are written in heaven. Knowing we are heirs to the bliss of God’s eternal presence is the foundation for our greatest joys.

And knowing that means:

  • Pastoring is not the most important fact about the pastor.
  • Missions is not the most important fact about the missionary.
  • The spiritual gift is not the most important fact about the Christian.

In the Slump

But Jesus’ words apply to ministry “sag” just as much as they apply to revival.

By unplugging the disciples’ joy from their ministry effectiveness, Jesus likewise protects them (and us) from depression during seasons of seeming fruitlessness. Seasons of what appears to be effectiveness and ineffectiveness come and go. Seasons of revival are replaced by seasons of stagnation.

Perhaps we can include all of the fluctuations of life. Marriage, parenting, work, school — all areas of life where we are called by God to bear fruit. Our joy is not rooted in our successes, and it’s not extinguished by our failures. Our joy is rooted in the unalterable fact that in Christ our names are written on heaven’s roll-call.

Paul reminded his ministry associates of this point (Philippians 4:3). And I need that reminder every morning. Because whether ministry is flourishing or not, we need to remind ourselves, and remind each other, that our names are written in heaven. And it is in heaven, in the presence of God forever, where our joy is rooted. May God protect us now, in the bustle of life and the wins and losses in ministry, from losing the sweetness of that truth.

In the congregation

“In the congregation… everything was going on at once, random, unscheduled, accompanied too much of the time by undisciplined and trivializing small talk. Babies born squalling, people dying neglected, an in between the parenthesis of birth and death, lifetimes of ambiguity: adolescents making an unholy mess of growing up and their parents muddling through as guilty bystanders. Also , of course, heroic holiness, stunningly beautiful prayers , sacrificial love surfacing from the tangled emotions in a difficult family, a song in the night, glimpses of glory, the sullen betrayal of a bored spouse quietly redeemed from years of self –imprisoned self worship by forgiveness and grace. Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And all of this mixed together. In this world, sin was not a word defined in a lexicon. Salvation was not a reference traced down in a concordance .Every act of sin and every event of salvation involved a personal name in a grammar of imperatives and promises in a messy community of friends and neighbours ,parents and grandparents, none of whom fit a stereotype”


From Eugene Peterson, The Pastor

A Piece of Cake


It is remarkable the role that faith plays in Cupcake’s story – if anyone had good reason to be an atheist it would be Cupcake Brown.  Indeed she describes the time she is raped for the first time at the age of 11, as the moment when she lost her faith in the goodness of God “First, I wondered why they didn’t make little girl’s panties stronger.  Then I begin to recall my hatred for God.  I didn’t know Him but one thing told me that GOd must have known that if He took my mother all of these f*****-up things would happen to me.  Besides, not only was it f*****-up for God to take my mother, I felt like it was extremely f*****-up for Him to allow me to find her dead body.  So, I figured, He couldn’t like me very much.  I resolved again, right there and then on that bathroom floor, that I hated God because he hated me.  I decided again, once and for all, that I would not be bothered with Him.” (page 41).

But it is through her faith in God that Cupcake Brown eventually comes to recovery.  One of the staging posts on the way is the behaviour of a Christian policeman who wore a small gold cross next to his badge and was known on the street as the “preacher”.  “Personally, I’d never met him before, but knew a few users who had dealt with him.  He had a reputation as being nice – the type who said ‘watch your head’ as he put you into the back of the squad car (most cops were known to bang your head on purpose), or he would loosen handcuffs if someone complained that they were too tight (other cops were known to make them even tighter if you complained).

I am struck by that policeman, who made small gestures as well as his motivational speeches, the mark of his kindness, who knew that he would have to be different from other policemen if he was to be true to himself, and who made sure he stuck to standards of kindness and love with people who had done bad things.

“But you, you really don’t belong here,” he said to Cupcake, “There’s something special about you.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I know that God’s got a job for you.” (page 357)

Despite her horrendous past, Cupcake reappraised her life and sees protection rather than abandonment.

“When I first began writing, I didn’t see anything ‘positive’ about God – that is until I really began to take stock of my past.  It didn’t take long to acknowledge that there was no way that, as an eleven-, twelve- or thirteen year old girl, I could have hitchhiked every day up and down Californian Highways at all hours of the day and night, getting into anyone’s car with nothing but a butter knife in my sock, and never have gotten raped, beaten, or even killed.  Looking back on it, I realised that someone or something had to be watching over me.  I thought about the numerous gang fights I’d been in; yet I’d never suffered any serious injuries.  I thought about the many homies I’d lost to gang violence and drive-by shootings.  I thought about the night I’d gotten shot.  I should have been dead, or at least paralysed, yet I’d walked out of the hospital, despite the doctor’s doubts.

“Over the next several days, I thoroughly catalogued every horrendous event of my life.  When I finished, tears fell as I admitted to myself that something had to have been protecting me.” (page 468-469).

She begins her book by thanking God who “never turned His back on me, even when I turned my back on Him.” and a quote from one of the two remarkable men in her life who stuck by her through everything

“Where there is life, there is hope

Where there is hope, there is trust,

Where there is trust, there is love

Where there is love, there is faith

Where there is faith, there is success

Where there is success, there is God.”

10 Things About Salvation

God is in the business of being in the world, and saving people, rescuing us from the threefold enemies of world, flesh and the devil.


God is not like super man who is apart from the world, and then when he gets the distress call comes rushing to our aid.


Like, as Rob Bell, he has a set of levers to work the world, and when someone prays enough, or God is finally persuaded, God switches the lever and the cancer is gone, or the lifeboat arrives, or the train finally comes to a halt, inches from the precipice.


Rather, the force of saving, of salvation is at work in the world, whereby God makes people better.


The story that we are looking at today happens after Peter has been talking to the crowd after he has healed the man who couldn’t walk.

Remember the man was clinging to Peter as he spoke, and at the end of the talk Peter was arrested.


Well this is what Peter said to the men who arrested him, the elders, the scribes and the rules of the people, including the members of the high priestly family.


Now that is a scary inquisition.


You know what it is when you face a panel of folk who are against you.

Peter and John have that against them, and they being to speak, the will later say that the man has not just been healed, he has been saved.


And saved is a much bigger word about how God can get to the core of our being and rescue us from ourselves.


2.      People are Limited Savers

“There is salvation in no one else” – Acts 4:12

Talk about Dallas Willard saying it’s just as well we can’t fix each other

There are odd occasions in the Bible where people are saved, by other people.


There was a time in David’s life, before he became king, and his men were a king of army in hiding in Judah, and they received a message that the enemy of the Philistines were attacking a city called Keilah, and that they were attacking the threshing floors which mean that folk were not going to be able to eat.


And men of David were afraid in their own country, never mind to attack the Philistines, and so David kept saying to God, Should we go? Should we go?


And God says Go


Then the men get down to Keilah and they defeat the Philistines, and it said “So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.”


This is a rare occasion, and even here we are quite clear that it was God who put David up to this.

The Bible is full though of occasions where we are taught that there are great limits on our ability to save.


People keep saying to us about our children, it will get harder when you get older.


What I think they mean by this, is that when a child is two or three, a parent can most of the time save them. They can swoop down – the phrase for this is “helicopter parents” and like Superman, save them from the car, or the hole in front of their bike, or from rushing into the produce department at Morrisons and getting lost.


But as a parent gets older they cannot save. They cannot follow them around at school, they can give them a mobile phone, but they cannot accompany them on a night out, they cannot go into the exam hall and sit their exams for them.


With folk whose lives are in difficult places, one of the biggest mistakes we make is when we try to save them. Fill in a job application form for them or give them accommodation, or worst still good advice.

3.      We cannot save each other.

We either mess each other up, because we do not know what is best; we start playing God.

Or we create dependencies – that the person will always need us for money, or to get them the next job

The only healthy dependency in the human existence is a dependency on God.


This is a key point of the whole discussion that Peter and John are having with the elders that are here to accuse them. We could not have saved this man. It is not our power by which we do things.

The Saved Seem Vulnerable

“They made the apostles stand before them, and asked them “How did you do this?”

Acts 4:7

No one ever made a James Bond movie in which Bond is never captured, the girl never betrays him, and Bond catches the spy by breaking into their office with 40 armed officers behind him, and leading the criminal mastermind quietly to the cells.


The A-Team could never win by turning up at the local Mafia guy and say “Stop this or BA will shoot punctures into your truck,” and the Mafia boss says “Good point”


In Toy Story – to get back to Andy Woody has to hide from the dog, relight the match that has gone out, get pinged back from the remote control car.


24 which I am currently watching, has everything go wrong at some point for Jack.


What these stories have in them is a fundamental truth, that the path to salvation is always fraught, always tiring, exhausting, and no-one ever got to salvation without at some point thinking that they might not get there.

Even Jesus said “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”


4.      Salvation is always won through a struggle.


This man tastes salvation after 40 years of being brought to the gate in the temple. Why not God send sort him out after 37 years, and send Jesus along at the beginning of this man’s ministry. This man must have been in the temple when Jesus does the healing in John chapter seven.

There is something about God, the God of salvation, who loves to come through at the last minute, loves to leave things stacked up against him.


One of the effects of this is that there is a better story to tell

But also this is about learning what we need, which brings us to the next point…

Salvation Comes To The Uncluttered

But many who heard the message believed; and the number grew to about five thousand.[2] – Acts 4:4


So the Council warned them even more strongly and then set them free. They saw that it was impossible to punish them, because the people were all praising God for what had happened. [3] Acts 4:21



There is often in the gospels a moment of humiliation for those who taste salvation.

For Zacchaeus it is the moment he climbs up a tree – what important men climb trees

For Jairus the synagogue leader it is when he kneels before Jesus in front of a crowd

For the woman with the 12 years of blood it is two moments, the moment she lunges forward in the crowd, and the moment she admits that she lunged.

For the woman who had a daughter who was unwell, it was the moment she used her God-given wits to come back at the man to whom most people were nice and deferential most of the time.


For the people in the gospels there has to be a moment when you decide that this is the thing that I really want.


And in a senses make themselves naked of everything else that is getting in the way.


It is the moment that an alcoholic stops making excuses for themselves and owns up to the person whom they really are.


You will have had moments like this

Moments where you were in danger – there was a moment I was climbing on granite in the Mournes, I wasn’t used to it, I was half way up with no protection below me and no apparent way of going on. And at that moment, when I thought I might die, nothing else mattered apart from getting up that rock.


It is the same with the time I remember I first flew to India, and we were to change at Bombay – a scary scary place, where you come out the airport and you are hit by the heat – and the way that the place moves from Bombay, international business hub, to Bombay the third world city, and this crowd of folk outside in the heat.


And we had to get to Trivandrum the next day, and at that point, when you are in a strange place, nothing else matters but from getting saved.


You are done with pride,

You are done with distraction

You are done with deciding how you are going to get saved


You just want to be saved.


Those are the folk who God saves. The nothing left but being save things….


And if you have other things stopping you, then you need to listen to the next point which is…

5.      We Look In All The Wrong Places

‘The stone that you the builders despised

turned out to be the most important of all.’ – Acts 4:11



There is something about God which seems to make him the port of last call.


Perhaps it is the invisibility thing – God seems to airy-fairy, too flimsy

Perhaps it is the discipleship demand thing – that God does set us free by making demands; false gods enslave us by telling us that this need only be for one night only.


We try anything else to be saved.


What are the routes we have out of where we are now…


Are they the earn more money route..

Are they once we get the house decorated route…

Once the children have passed their exams route…


We always have one route out of where we are that does not involve God.


It involves us doing well

Or winning the lottery.


Or maybe we have a secret fantasy back up that doesn’t involve God.

Something that you haven’t done yet, but does take up too much time in your thought life

Some little fantasy that things will be made well.


I am always struck by folk who are queueing on Saturday afternoons for their lottery tickets… is that your route out of here?


Where have you got a wee salvation route worked out that doesn’t involve God.


6.      We forget past salvation

Jesus Christ of Nazareth—whom you crucified and whom God raised from death.[5] Acts 4:10


We have a tendency to forget past rescues.

This is why the Old Testament is so full of history.


The oldest part of the Old Testament is possibly a phrase that the Israelites used to use when they were making sacrifices..


“My Father was a wandering Aramean…My ancestor was a wandering Aramean, who took his family to Egypt to live. They were few in number when they went there, but they became a large and powerful nation. 6 The Egyptians treated us harshly and forced us to work as slaves. 7 Then we cried out for help to the LORD, the God of our ancestors. He heard us and saw our suffering, hardship, and misery. 8 By his great power and strength he rescued us from Egypt. He worked miracles and wonders, and caused terrifying things to happen. 9 He brought us here and gave us this rich and fertile land, a land flowing with milk and honey 10 So now I bring to the LORD the first part of the harvest that he has given me.’[6]


Remember the times that you were saved.


Remember when you had the first conviction deep in your soul that you were forgiven by God.


Remember when someone was ill, or you were in financial trouble, or someone had lost a job, or a marriage seemed over, or a child seemed to have gone for ever and you prayed and you prayed and you prayed


And a cheque seemed to arrive from nowhere

Or you got a phone call

Or a very difficult conversation turned out to end in reconciliation

Or someone said yes to spending the rest of their life with you.


Forget not the salvation of God, because if you remember, then you will be sustained during the 40 years in the wilderness


You remember that when the Israelites were set free from Egypt, and found life tough in the desert (because rarely are we liberated to paradise immediately, we have to go cold turkey and go through the desert) and then you forgot what it was to be set free.

7.      Salvation Has Human Agents

Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, answered them,” – Acts 4:8

Salvation comes through human agents.


God seems to have restricted himself, such that only very rarely are humans not the agents of salvation.

This has the effect of making salvation be much more ordinary than if it were magical miracles all the time.


Even God himself had to become flesh in order to win us our entire salvation

God is not bound by rules, but that is the way that God chose to do things.


So it is that God could have zapped the paralysed man one day, or sent an angel in his sleep. But no, God sent Peter.


One of things that sustains me in the mission of this Church is the conviction that this Church is to be a light on the hill, this building that you can see from so many parts of the parish, is to house people who make the life of the whole parish better.


We are agents of a better future for others.

Which is why we must be honest about our own issues, and take the steps we need to be better at trusting Jesus, because there is nothing worse than people who want to help others as a way of dealing with their own issues. The need others to be needy. They are drawn to others in their crises. The pour affection and help on others, and smother and stop them becoming independent. The throw a huff when they are insufficiently thanked.


But we are the human agents of divine salvation.

Folk who struggle to make life mean something

Folk who need some wisdom – it strikes me that many of you are the people that in your family, others go to.

Folk who energise and work with other agencies to offer the young people in this community a place in a community which is about belonging and affection , and less about mistrust and anger.


Billy Hybels says that the local Church is the hope of the world.


We it is who are to sustain the movements that work for the alleviation of debt.

We it is who are to campaign for climate change.

8.      Salvation Is More Than Bodies.


There is an interesting moment in verse 9 of this story.


Peter and John are in front of the crowd of inquisitors, and they are asked how they managed to do this, and Peter says “Are we here because of a good deed done to a weakened man, how he was healed…”


Actually the Greek says “How he was saved…”


For Peter there is something much more profound happen in this man than his legs become strengthened.


There has been a whole regeneration of his being, so that he runs about the place, laughing and singing and praising God.


Peter says “He has been saved…”

There is an interesting thing that Jesus does when he heals Jairus’ daughter, he makes the family stay silent, so that this girl does not become a child celebrity, but stays a child. Her healing cannot damage her capacity for relationship.


And the woman who comes forward in the same story, she has her story told in front of everyone, so that the old public story (that she is dirty) becomes turned into another one.


When Jesus saves, it is for the releasing of their potential

It is to allow them to make better relationships

It is to give them a strength of character which stays hopeful despite setback

It is to give them the faith they need to trust only in God.

Salvation Is The Most Important Thing

Salvation is the most important thing.


9.      There is nothing more important to your life than being saved


Being saved from the evil triumvirate of death, flesh and devil who threaten our life in the world

Nothing more important than being saved to become yourself


It is good to be happy, to love, to be trustworthy, to be clean minded, to be pure

But these all rest on a foundation of being saved.

It is the thing that Jesus died for, to save us


It is the power open to every one of us which too often we run away from, and end up being destroyed.


There are many people in our world we look around at, making a mess of their lives,

And we know what it is that they need to do to become better

We know what it is

But these people struggle.


Because at a point, or as a pattern of life

There becomes something more important to them than their salvation.

And they buckle out.

There are lots of little moments for us when things become more important than being saved, and we give in to our weakest desires.


But there is nothing better than being saved.

10. Salvation Is Stronger Than Death

It took the Church many many hundred years to come to terms with the death of Jesus.


In many ways it is a task that each new generation must begin afresh.


But the early Church saw that in the death of Jesus something had happened that meant the biggest force of anti-salvation, was met by the bearer of salvation, and Jesus won.

There are some things that are not going to get sorted out until we die.


There are many phobias, deep hurts, things that were done to a generation, that are not going to get sorted out here down below.


We come close, and there are still miracles.


But we will get to a point where in the kingdom of God, all will be well and all will be well and all will be well.


Look at your life


There is going to come a point when all is well and all is well


Be not afraid good soldiers of Jesus,

The kingdom is coming, the kingdom is coming and we are not afraid


Jesus the Lord has purchased salvation

Let us throw our lives upon him

For there is no name in heaven or in earth by which men and women are saved.



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