Follow in his steps

Birth

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Recently I was wandering around one of those Christmas markets that have become trendy in recent years and was not in the mood for buying any presents.  All I could really feel was extreme cold and a sense of irritation at terrible songs being played one after another over the tannoy, which blotted out an actually quite talented group of buskers.  I remember asking my friend “Does Christmas give us an excuse to be extra cheesy?”, to which the answer was along the lines of “ of course, why do you ask?”.  I don’t really know why I was asking, but I got thinking about how cliche a lot of things become at this time of year.  Don’t get me wrong, I find a lot of it pretty fun, for example I love to eat turkey and watch Elf on TV.  But I do wonder whether there’s some things we can make fluffy and cute “because it’s Christmas”, whilst forgetting much of the often difficult reality other people continue to face.

And I wonder whether we are in danger of bringing the birth of Christ down to this level.

Sometimes in the carols and Christmas cards, we can portray the birth of Christ as a nice story, with a meek and mild baby resting peacefully in a comfortable bed of straw surrounded by fluffy lambs underneath a perfect starry sky.  Let’s actually recap some of the key details about Jesus’ birth before we go any further.

Mary, a teenage girl became pregnant after being told  she was carrying God’s son by an angel.  She was clearly happy enough about this to write a song of praise in Luke 1:46-55. But as well as this, there were several hurdles to overcome.  Firstly, she had to explain to her fiancee Joseph that she was carrying a baby that wasn’t his.  I’ve watched Neighbours enough times to second guess what his reaction would be, and his attempt to call off the wedding showed just how convinced he was by her story that the child was God’s.  Thankfully God intervened by sending an angel, and Joseph went on to support her in a very admirable way.  Nevertheless, she’d have lived with the embarrassment of a rather obvious bump in a small community where everyone knew she wasn’t married.  A community where the penalty for adultery was stoning.  It’s fair to say it wasn’t the easiest of nine months for her.

Then there’s the discomfort of riding a donkey whilst heavily pregnant, and when Mary fell into labour the only place available for her to give birth was a stable.  This was not a warm, cosy stable with fluffy gentle animals like we see on Christmas cards, but more likely a cold dark shed that stank of animal dung and was filled with strange noises and flies. There’s a clue as to how basic the circumstances were when the only place to lay the baby down was in the trough used to feed the animals.  It makes lines in carols such as “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” sound a bit ridiculous.

The birth of Jesus was not a pretty or cute situation but one that was tough, demanding and difficult.  However, as soon as the baby was born all those problems didn’t matter one bit.  The pain and difficulties that Mary and Joseph had been through were in one moment replaced with a deep, genuine joy.  A joy that through all the hardship of donkeys and cold stables their baby had been born.  And a joy for all of us, that this baby was the Son of God and saviour of the world.

God was not afraid to work through these difficult circumstances.  He didn’t hide from the embarrassment of an unmarried pregnant girl having a difficult chat with her fiancée.  He didn’t choose a comfortable, rich family to give His son a problem free birth.  He chose ordinary people with everyday problems.  He didn’t hide from this but used them to bring out the greatest hope the world has ever seen.  As Paul says in his letter:

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

It’s exactly the same today.  No matter how religion can try to dress up God and dictate what he likes and approves of, we can see in the Christmas story that he isn’t interested in any kind of grandeur but in the lives and issues faced by ordinary people. He looks beyond our obvious, outwardly visible problems and into the depths of our hearts.

Apart from Mary and Joseph the first people to hear of Jesus were the shepherds.  Shepherds were pretty ordinary people, without any kind of status or power.  God chose these ordinary people to be on the receiving end of an amazing vision of angels.  They were asked to go see this baby, which is great but… their livelihood was in their sheep.  In those days there was no safety net – if they lose their sheep then they lose their job and their family starves.  They can’t realistically take a whole herd of sheep with them. What do they do?

Luke 2:16 tells us that “they went with haste”.  This means that they would have left their sheep, risking everything to obey the angels and see the baby.  They had to place their trust wholly in God and that He’d look after the sheep.  By doing so they managed to share in the joy of seeing the baby Son of God. Taking that risk was definitely worth it.

The shepherds were the first of many people to leave their comfort zone to meet Jesus. God is continually calling us to Him and it often will involve what appears to be a risk. But if we place our trust in Him, then we know that as all things are possible with God, He’ll be able to look after the sheep in our lives better than we ever could tend to them by ourselves.

I know that sometimes I’m not very good at trusting God with my sheep, that I worry about the consequences of service to Him and how it can fit into the rest of my life.  Often it can be difficult to be like the shepherds who didn’t just not worry about fitting the visit to the stable into their lives, but by leaving their sheep made service the very function of their lives.  This can be a big challenge to us today. But the Christmas story shows us that if we are prepared to trust God to look after our lives and if we choose to follow Him, then we will experience unimaginable joy.  A joy found in all sorts of circumstances and in people that can be all too easy for us to turn our noses up at, but are loved by God as much as any of the rest of his children.  A joy that isn’t sentimental, fluffy or cute, but can genuinely change lives and give a real hope for the future.

Let’s celebrate this joy today.  Happy Christmas!

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Written by James

December 25, 2010 at 1:48 am

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Secrets

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I believe that this last couple of weeks will go down in history.  Firstly, it’s been the start of The Ashes and England’s inevitable first series victory in Australia for far too long.  Also the UK has been hit by (often violent) protests on a massive scale against the government’s plans to rip off students (ahem).  But perhaps the most definitive news story of the year concerns WikiLeaks – the site that freely publishes sensitive information to the internet.

WikiLeaks has been around for a while, not especially well liked by governments, loved by geeks and revolutionaries.  Then recently, WikiLeaks hit the headlines with a huge release to the media of cables (yes, my initial reaction was to think what the big deal was about a bunch of wire) containing top secret information from governments across the world.  Any member of the public can now see a real life James Bond film unravel in front of them, unfortunately without a fancy theme tune or Oddjob.  For a selection of articles related to these cables see http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/wikileaks.

Fascinating stuff.  Now, data analysis is a big part of my job and I love espionage stories, and I can just imagine sitting there like some kind of private detective trying to piece the world together.   But I also value not being in danger of attack and worry whether there are some things we’re better off just not knowing about.

A lot of very important people have had their secrets completely exposed, leaving them feeling pretty embarrassed.  But one thing struck me about all of these revelations.

God already knew everything about them.

You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:1-7)

God didn’t just know what was in those cables.  God knew what was going to be said by who before they’d even thought it.  They’ve never been a secret to him.

“Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD.  “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24)

There’s never been any hiding from God, as Jonah found out the hard way.  He fills heaven and Earth –   our God is bigger than any secrecy acts or leaked cables.  What’s more He knew this information was going to be released and importantly He knows what’s going to happen as a consequence.

It doesn’t work the other way round.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Not even the world’s sharpest hacker can know the mind of God.  He is in control of everything and there’s no way that any of his thoughts are going to be leaked.  We have assurance that if we trust in Him we will be looked after in ways no manner of intelligence networks can ever match.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)

To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.

Written by James

December 8, 2010 at 1:20 am

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Amazing Grace

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I spent last weekend at home with my parents and on Saturday evening we watched the film Amazing Grace.  I have to say that despite it being my Mum’s choice (who believe me, does not have a good track record) I really enjoyed it.  The film portrays the work of William Wilberforce, an MP from the turn of the 19th Century who fought for the abolition of slavery.  For many years he presented a bill to parliament without success, until eventually the vote went in his favour and slavery was outlawed in the British Empire.

Towards the beginning of the film Wilberforce storms out of a card game with fellow MPs after the Duke of Clarence attempts to use a slave as an item to bet on.  Obviously shaken, he talks with his friend William Pitt (who I’d previously only known about from a hilarious episode of Blackadder) and decides to reenter the room.  Striding back in amongst the laughing and joking of his colleagues, he stands on the card table and begins to sing Amazing Grace, unashamedly showing them who he is and what he stands for.  This boldness, determination and refusal to give up on what he believes in his evident throughout the film and can be a great inspiration to all of us.

Early in his career Wilberforce was unsure whether to continue with life in politics or to join the clergy.  Whilst he was firmly against slavery, he needed convincing that is was his calling in life to fight for its abolition.  In one scene he is introduced to fellow abolitionists by Pitt in an attempt to convince him to fight the cause.  Explaining his dilemma he says “I don’t know whether to use my voice to praise the Lord or change the world”.  Wilberforce had seen a life in the clergy as praising the Lord, and a political career as something entirely separate.  However, he takes note when one of the meal guests replies “may I humbly suggest that you can do both”.  Wilberforce didn’t enter the clergy, but spent his life campaigning against slavery and in doing so praised the Lord through his actions which also changed the world.

Every year Wilberforce took a bill before parliament to abolish slavery, and every year he lost convincingly, being mocked and jeered by his peers and becoming a laughing stock.  In each case, most of the argument from the opposition was that slavery was so ingrained in their economy and lifestyle that it just wasn’t feasible to get rid of it.  Too many other things would have to suffer or give way, and so slavery was seen as undesirable but also unavoidable.

The abolitionists managed to pass a clever law involving flags on ships, making the slave trade far less profitable to businessmen and so removing the economic argument for slavery.  After this, Wilberforce’s bill managed to pass through parliament to scenes of great cheers and congratulations from the other MPs, and predictably the film soon ends with the obvious theme tune.

One thing that really caught my attention was that those MPs who so joyfully congratulated Wilberforce were exactly the same men who had laughed at him in the past.  It was as if they had recognised that they had been wrong all these times before and were able to be joyful as they learnt from their mistakes.  Or could it be that they were too quick to ignore that they had been the ones blocking progress for all this time?

For these MPs it had been the inconvenience of removing slavery that had prevented them from taking action before.  This can be true of us today too.  There are times when we know what is the right thing to do, but it can interfere with the rest of our lives, so we don’t do it and make lame excuses instead.

Slavery is not dead today (see http://www.stopthetraffik.org) and this is partly down to the excesses of our Western lifestyles.  As some of the richest people in the world (which all in the UK but the very poorest are), we know that there are people in poorer countries who go without food and water and live in conditions that we would find totally unacceptable. Even in our own country there is a massive gap between rich and poor, with homelessness a major problem that can be all too easy to ignore.  We know that this is not right, but how many of us attempt to do anything about it?  Are we really praising the Lord if we fail to be good Samaritans to our neighbours?  Are we really praising the Lord if we make no attempt to change the world for the better?

Every time we buy the most convenient food as opposed to any fairtrade options available and every time when we buy clothes from shops that we know use child labour, we are contributing to slavery.  We do this not because we think it’s right, but because it’s the most convenient option to us and has the minimum impact on our existing, affluent situations.  I am as guilty of this as anyone else and I know that I need to stop.

So let’s think about our actions and the impact they have on those less fortunate.  By doing this we can truly praise the Lord and you never know, like William Wilberforce we might just change the world.

Written by James

November 25, 2010 at 10:23 pm

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Dirt

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Over the last year I had been thinking about buying a new Bible.  Now, when I want to buy something over the value of £1 (and sometimes under as well), I like to do a considerable amount of research.  So I did a bit of looking around online and in shops, trying to weigh up exactly what I wanted and finding all sorts of weird and wonderful combinations – the Surfers Bible, the Spirit-Filled Life Bible, the Jewish Bible, the Word on the Street Bible, Thompson-Chain-interlinear-wide-margin-life-application-six-versions-parallel-super-duper-study Bible (with foreword from Sir Cliff Richard, Mother Theresa and Beyonce), in all sorts of versions with all sorts of covers and in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  I must say, I was slightly overwhelmed by just how many different ways God’s word has been presented by people and didn’t really know what I wanted.  I soon gave up the search and looked for Wii games instead.

This was until I saw my friend’s Bible over the summer and simply decided “I want that one”.  It was in the version I wanted, with the verses spread right across the page, with references down by the central spine and a good amount of space to write notes.  I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but I developed a bit of Bible envy!

When I got back home I got onto Amazon and after more debate about which particular cover and edition I wanted, I promptly ordered it.  After a few days it arrived and I took it home and immediately smelt the leather cover and flapped through the pages, very pleased with my purchase.  I took it to our reading group on that night and to church on Sunday, feeling good that I had a Bible with a black leather cover and gilt edged pages and had all the features I wanted, thinking that this could probably last me for many years.

The next week I had a class to write, and rather than using my laptop I decided to use my new Bible for research.  One evening I was alone in the flat and thought it would be a good idea to do some reading and eat dinner at the same time.  After harking back to my student days by cooking my generic “pasta and spice”, I started to eat, with Bible open on table and halo above head.  Standard.

Then something horrific happened.  A piece of pasta fell off my fork and fell straight onto the open page of my new Bible, staining it with my spicy arrabiata sauce.  Uh oh spaghettioh (except this was technically penne, but who cares).  I quickly brushed off the pasta and got most of the sauce off the page.  It has however left a mark on my lovely gilt edges, so that there is a large patch that no longer gleams in the way that I was so happy with, but instead appears bleached and dirty, as if I’d bought this Bible from the seconds section.  I was pretty annoyed and not impressed, wondering if “I spilt pasta on it” was a good enough excuse to persuade Amazon to exchange it for another one.

I’ve now realised that this doesn’t matter in the slightest.

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)

The Bible is there for God to communicate with us and to guide us.  It is not meant to be treated like an ornament, or to be valued for it’s pretty gilt edged pages.  It is to be loved for its message and the effect that has on your life.

The important thing is that our Bibles are being used, and not just on the clean cut situations we might be used to, like church services and Bible classes.  If we are to truly take the gospel to the people around us then we will end up in situations where we may have to get our hands dirty or generally out of our comfort zones (Paul describes the situations he encountered in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30).  Our Bibles should follow us in this, not being kept neatly on the shelf but being out with us, truly being our double-edged sword of the spirit (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12).

I’m not suggesting that we literally need to all splash our Bibles with food or take them into a mud bath, but that our faith needs to be allowed to grow and to be influenced by our experiences.  If we pick up a little bit of dirt on the way, then so what if it’s going to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12)?  Let’s get active in our service, learning from everything God directs us in, getting ourselves ourselves absolutely filthy for Christ!

I’m so glad to have this reminder with me on my Bible, a stain to tell me that spiritual cleanliness is worthless, and that instead I need to be active and get dirty for Him.

Written by James

November 16, 2010 at 12:52 am

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Light

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After calling his disciples the salt of the Earth and challenging us not to lose our saltiness, Jesus goes on to say:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Jesus calls the disciples “the light of the world”.  However, Jesus calls himself the very same “light of the world” in John 8:12 .

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

How can we be the light of the world when this is a title Jesus gives to himself?

This passage tells us that by following Jesus we can “have the light of life”.  Therefore according to the passage we go from walking in the light of Jesus, to having the light and then finally being the light.  We can get a bit of insight into how this might work from Isaiah.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”  (Isaiah 60:1-3)

When “your light” comes this is Jesus, the light of the world.  By walking in the light of Jesus we have the light (John 8:12 again) and as such “the glory of the LORD rises upon you”.  Moses had this glory of the LORD shine upon his face when he met God on Mount Sinai.  After coming back down from the mountain, Exodus 34:29-35 tells us that people were afraid of Moses because his face shone, still reflecting God’s glory.  In the language of Isaiah 60, the LORD had risen upon Moses and his glory had appeared over him, but he covered it up with a veil so that no one was able to come to this light.  Paul talks about this episode in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? (2 Corinthians 3:7-8)

Previously Paul had said that we are “ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6).  Therefore our new ministry, our discipleship, is even more glorious, but unlike Moses we don’t cover our faces with a veil.  We let it shine.

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away… But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:13, 16)

There is no need for a veil, as God no longer wants to protect people from his glory.  Instead, he wants his glory to shine all around.  Not only does this have an effect on those who see it, but also on ourselves.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate (reflect) the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

By reflecting the Lord’s glory, we are in fact being transformed into his image, the image in which he created people in the beginning (Genesis 1:26).  In the same way as God’s glory appeared over Moses, it now appears over us.  And we are unveiled, people can come to God’s glory through seeing it reflected on our faces, in our lives and in our hearts.  In that sense we go from walking in the light, to having the light, to finally being the light of the world!

This is all conditional on one thing though.  That is, if we let it.

As Jesus says “let your light shine before others”.  Given that this light is in fact the glory of God and the light of the world in the very same way that Jesus was, it would be terrible to simply place it under a basket.  This would be preventing God’s glory from shining all around – it’s as serious a matter as denying the purpose of God (Habakkuk 2:14).  God has given us an amazing ministry, to be His light to the world.  In our words and actions we can show Him to each other and to people around us, so that they “may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”, giving the same glory that we behold back to Him.

So let Him shine!

Written by James

November 9, 2010 at 1:05 am

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Salt

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Jesus often talked about people or situations in terms of everyday objects like sheep and planks of wood.  He generally preferred this approach above all others, as he knew they were things people could relate to and take lessons from in their day to day lives.  At the beginning of the sermon on the mount, after the beatitudes, Jesus says this about his disciples (us included):

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Matthew 5:13

Back in the day, when I was a lad, I thought it would be really cool to get my parent’s salt grinder, hold it above my face and grind directly into my mouth.  To start with this was a revolution and went the same way as every other cool thing I ever did – my younger brother copied me.  However, I soon realised that on its own, salt tastes HORRIBLE.  What’s more, if I’d carried on for too much longer I would have got high blood pressure and died.  I like to make this sound dramatic.

However, my grandmother’s carrots were always the best, and I discovered the main reason for this was that she added salt to the water they were boiled in, a practice frowned upon by the more modern cooking methods I had become accustomed to.  Similarly, whenever I eat chips (with my sophisticated diet this is a rarity, cough) salt is essential.  Also, back in the old days before fridges and the internet, people used salt to preserve food.  Whilst I am fortunate enough to have use of a fridge, I am (or should I say, my sophisticated diet is) partial to the occasional piece of biltong – an African meat snack formed by allowing raw meat to dry in the sun whilst covered in salt, which preserves it from going off, or something like that anyway.  It’s pretty lekker, which means tasty, I hope.

The lesson from this is that salt in itself is nothing special on its own, it isn’t good for you and doesn’t taste nice either, as I found out to my peril.  However, it is an excellent flavour enhancer, bringing out the best in other foods.  In the same way, as salt of the earth we can bring out the best in everything around us.  We are not congratulated for being anything special, instead by calling us salt Jesus tells us that we have a purpose to influence others and each other.  We can bring out the best in each other, in the same way salt flavours food.  We can keep each other going through hard times, in the same way that salt preserves food and keeps it fresh.  We are called to be influential and infectious, seeping into gaps and making a difference (I’m resisting getting scientific here).

In the old testament law, Moses is instructed to make an incense that was to be “holy to the LORD” (Exodus 30:34-36).  This incense was to be “seasoned with salt, pure and holy”.  Similarly, all grain offerings from the Israelites were to always be offered with salt (Leviticus 2:13).  Adding salt turned the incense and the offerings into something holy and devoted to God.  Similarly, in Colossians 4:6 we are told to “let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt”.  By being seasoned with salt out speech is made into an offering to God.

So if we are the salt of the earth, we are not only bringing the best out of each other, but making each other pure and holy.  As salt we can help other people devote themselves to God.  Similarly, other people are salt to us, helping our lives become living sacrifices to God (Romans 12).

We are commanded to not lose our saltiness.  This means that we need to be practiced in being salt, in encouraging each other and bringing out the best in people.  If we isolate ourselves from the people around us, there is a very real danger that we could lose our saltiness, leaving ourselves in real danger of not being salty again.  So let’s give ourselves the best chance possible of being salt, by really showing Jesus’ love to everyone around us, not forgetting to be influenced by the salt of our fellow disciples too!

Written by James

September 22, 2010 at 10:02 pm

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Leaps

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Recently at Oribi Gorge, South Africa, I did my first ever gorge swing and because I’m hardcore it happened to be the highest one in the world.  In case you didn’t know, a gorge swing is a little bit like a bungee jump in that you jump off a cliff and free-fall for a while.  The main difference is that rather than bouncing up and down like a bungee, at the bottom of the fall one swings out into the gorge and then back and forth until one comes to a standstill and get winched back up to the top (I wish I had a diagram for this).

Oooh yeah

Now, I could give you the impression that I’m some kind of extreme sports junkie and that whilst I’d never gorge-swinged before, I’ve bungee jumped, skydived, eaten fire, voluntarily sat through the electric chair whilst listening to Electric Six and so on, but although that would maybe make people think I’m really cool it would also be lying.  I’ve never done any of these things (I don’t think an immature experience with a matchbox really counts as fire-eating) and I’ve not really had any intention to.  In fact, I’d been to Oribi Gorge before and deliberately not done the jump, opting for a quite lame zip wire (at about 1mph) instead due to my wimpiness, content to watch my friend Tom do the jump and lay claim to the title of “Alpha Male”.

The gorge swing ropes, kind of

However, due to a perhaps foolish “I’ll do it if you do it” conversation with my particularly adventurous friend Steph, I ended up agreeing and paying to do the jump.  Once I’d paid I had to get my money’s worth (I was born in Stoke-on-Trent, go figure) and jump, but I was actually terrified of doing so.  Perhaps signing a disclaimer that basically said “he jumped off a cliff, if he died it was his fault, stupid” and providing next of kin details (Mum was blissfully unaware) didn’t help the mood.  After a bit of psyching up, Steph jumped off the edge (I assumed she was still alive by the lack of gasps from our watching friends) and I was left for a few minutes on my own, gathering my thoughts and being driven on by the doubtful fact that I couldn’t be outdone by a girl.

I will always remember the feeling of doing the jump for the rest of my life.  Standing on the edge of the cliff my head was all over the place, persuading myself that no one had died there before and that I understood enough about physics to be confident in my safety ropes.  But as soon as I jumped my initial thought was “WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?!  I’M GOING TO DIE!!!” and subsequently I squealed like a girl.  Embarrassing, bye bye Alpha Male.  Free-fall was pretty bizarre, with wind rushing past my head (not sure if I quite reached terminal velocity) and my legs flapping everywhere.  But I remember as I fell that I gradually became more assured that the safety rope would do it’s job and that I was going to be ok, I even started to enjoy it!

When the rope became tense and I swung out into the gorge I felt a great sense of joy.  I was now flying through the most beautiful gorge!  And as the swing decreased I experienced peace, perhaps unlike any that I’d experienced before.  I was suspended in the air in the middle of a landscape untouched by man, hearing the nearby waterfall, the birds flying nearby and the faint sound of laughter from my friends at the top.  It was at this point that I really was still and knew that He is God!

Oribi Gorge

I realised that I’m in general not that good at making leaps in my life.  I can often get scared of the risks involved and would prefer to stay with my own two feet on the ground, even if I know that there is a safety rope there, and that safety rope is the Lord God Almighty.  When I made the leap and began to free-fall I didn’t really know what was going on, and it’s the same with leaps we take in our lives.  Sometimes after making a leap things can seem totally crazy and almost out of control.  We really have no need to worry as God is there to look after us, but often our natural reactions stop us from realising this.  And at the end of fall, when our rope is taught and we’re really in tune with God and reliant on Him, we can see how great making that leap really was.  It is by making the leap that we eventually reach that state of wonderful peace and feel God’s presence all around us.

I have already made the biggest leap in my life by being baptised into Christ, a leap that you may well have made too (read about this in Romans 6).  In making this leap I left my old self behind on the rock face and chose to trust entirely in God as my safety rope.  I believe that myself and many others are now in that free-fall phase.  We know that God is there for us, but can sometimes forget and maybe panic about the journey ahead, or even wish for the feeling of being back on the cliff with our feet on the ground.  But we must continue to trust that he will guide us and make the most of this free-fall to live a life that shows Jesus now.  At the end of our free-fall a time is coming when there will be that great peace – the Kingdom of God.  Here the rope will become taught – we will be fully connected with God and will experience the Earth as He truly intended it, and it’s going to be even better than that gorge!

I am by no means saying that doing some kind of extreme sport is a prerequisite for salvation!  That would be quite cultish and I’m happy to believe that people with low adrenaline levels will be in the Kingdom too.  But I feel that from this experience God really opened up my eyes to Him.  God is with us always, in the ultimate leap of baptism or any of the other leaps we stumble across in our lives.  Let’s really make the most of this time of freefall, knowing that God’s going to catch us and show us peace like never before.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” – 1 Corinthians 2:9

Written by James

September 10, 2010 at 12:07 am

Posted in Uncategorized