In the past year a local landmark building had its clock restored. Since then, every quarter hour, the bell rings out over the surrounding area. The sound of the chimes evokes varying reactions among us locals. While it reminds me of a happy childhood time when my grandfather rang our church bell, others wanting a lie-in are maybe not so enamoured at the 7am start! The chimes have become my friend, since my workplace is literally a few buildings away, and they help me keep to time! Our pastor once remarked how they remind him of past days when so many more people attended church and had a place for God in their lives.
While these reminiscences leave us with fond memories, a greater lesson is here to be learned, and I have felt the Lord challenging me on this. We may be contented to live in respectable bliss within the sound of these bells, but how symbolic is this of our similarly dreamy and oblivious Christian lives?
How aware are we also of what can happen should we take our eyes off the Lord for a second? We may say 'I'd never go there/do that/end up in that state' …shallow words with no spiritual base, as we depend on our habitual faith practices to insulate ourselves from the frightening thought that we may become in any way worldly or trapped by Satan's devices.
The truth is that all of us are a very short distance away from slipping out of our legalistic comfort zones onto a very different pathway (1 Corinthians 10:12)
It is only by God's grace that we are kept, by HIS power (1 Peter 1:5) from such a place, or rescued when we end up there through our own sin, pride and foolishness.
We must also ask ourselves how focused are we on the fact that our Christian service is a fight on a front line, not a stroll within a 'Beulah land' comfort zone, where familiar fellowship and comforting sights and sounds surround us? The church is Christ's bride but we are not in Heaven yet! We have work to do here before He comes to take His bride to that Beulah land.
C T Studd, that famous 19th/20th century missionary once said: "Some may wish to live within the sound of church and chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell". HE understood that his material affluence and respectability could have kept him limited within a sheltered world, and instead chose to give his assets and his life to reaching those far beyond those cushioned parameters. Indeed he sacrificed his health and family life to reach the lost, using "red hot unconventional, unfettered Holy Spirit religion… (and) by reckless sacrifice and heroism in the foremost trenches."
He recognised that Christ Himself came "…to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10), so how could we, His servants, have a lesser mission?
There weren't many church bells ringing in China, India or Africa where C T Studd finished his earthly days. Instead he worked within a yard of hell; of cannibalistic indigenous peoples, of disease, and climates disadvantageous to his health.
We are maybe not called to these geographical places; but we're called to work on the front line of our own world. Whether it's with the lonely, lost and hopeless who happen to call into the church café or the smelly person next to us on the bus.What about the 'hard' kids congregating on our street corner, who, beneath the bravado, have been abused, traumatised and damaged? Or that neighbour who seems rude and aloof? We are called to engage with the 'nitty-gritty' reality of people's lives and circumstances, meeting the hurt and lonely where they are, not where we'd prefer them to be.
The area around our church boasts some of the worst educational and health standards in Northern Ireland. It has twice the national rate of teenage pregnancies, one in three people abuse alcohol or drugs, and one in five is on medication for stress, depression and anxiety. Suicide rates are on the rise. Bizarrely this area also has one of the highest concentration of churches per square mile in Europe.
So how prepared am I to step away from the chimes of nostalgia, indifference and apathy? And how willing am I to get my hands dirty with soot, and allow myself to feel the heat of hell on my face, as I get onto Satan's turf and in Christ's strength (2 Corinthians 3:5) endeavour to reach across to the lost and hurting?
We can be understandably afraid, but:
"…God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
So how hot and uncomfortable in our Master's service are you and I prepared to get?
Christ's love and compassion drove Him to give His own life for our salvation, so that our sin, and that of anyone who will come to Him, could be forgiven (Romans 5:8)
That same Divine love and compassion must drive us and HE will do the rest.
Are you SURE that you have your place booked in Heaven? Read this if you're not!