Today is Good Friday – the day that Jesus chose to die for us on a cross. God in human form, choosing the most painful, humiliating, agonisingly-slow death known to man.
I don’t think I will ever be able to fully appreciate the enormity of that.
Ann Voskamp says in her book 1000 Gifts that if God never did anything else for us ever again, surely we should live lives of thankfulness simply for the cross itself. What more could we possibly want, than one man laying down his life for our eternal hope?
“This is the testimony; That God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” 1 John 5:11
So what difference should it make to us? 40acts.org.uk is a 40 day challenge to do Lent generously. Each day they email out a Bible verse and a challenge to do something. Today is the penultimate challenge – to ‘Share your Story’. The bottom line is this: if Jesus’ death is so amazing, so life-changing, so incredible, then it should have an impact on my life. It should have changed me. And you. Sometimes we don’t notice these things, or they seem small and insignificant, but when you stop for a moment and look at your life – long and hard and slow – Jesus dying on a cross 2000 years ago should have made – and be making – a difference. If it doesn’t, what was the point?
It’s a challenge. Some days I feel like the difference is more discernible than others if I am honest.
But that’s the reality of living this broken, imperfect life. And we can keep on keeping on, striving towards the prize and running after it hard, even when we wake up and realise that this past week, we’ve hardly been running at all.
So today’s challenge is this : What difference does Jesus make to your life? What’s your story? I will start by being brave and sharing a bit of mine:
I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home. My first experience of church was church parade with the Brownies. A weird introduction I know, and I don’t really know why, but I felt at home there. And I wanted to go back. For my 9th birthday I asked to be Christened (yes, I am aware that’s slightly odd looking back on it). My poor brother, who’s 3 years younger but whose birthday is only a week after mine, therefore got Christened for his 6th birthday too. I am not sure he’s ever forgiven me. I think he wanted a Lego Battleship Galactica or something. I sung in the choir, was confirmed at 12, and pootled along until one day I sort-of accidentally signed up for what I thought was a youth group activity weekend. What I didn’t realise was that it was actually a Youth For Christ camp, run by sold-out, sandal-and-pullover wearing, hand-raising happy-clappy evangelicals. I had never seen anything like it. That first night I was terrified. But as the weekend went on, I saw in them the thing I think I had been looking for all along, and on the last night I gave my life to Christ properly for the first time and went home changed. I met a girl from school there who introduced me to her youth group and I started attending their little free church in the next village to where I lived. My Mum thought I had been kidnapped by a cult I think. Highly suspicious of the time I was now spending with these people she didn’t know, she flat-refused my continual invitations to come see what it was all about and instead spent several hours every Sunday waiting for me in the car.
All was good – for about 3 months I think. Then my world fell apart. It’s a really long story, which I don’t really have the time or space to do justice to in its entirety here today, but here’s the jist of it:
My Mum and Dad split up. Or, more accurately, my Dad left us. After being together since they were 14 years old, we came home from school one day to find he was gone. Just like that. It turned out that the seemingly happy marriage had been fatally undermined by my Dad’s affair with a blonde barmaid and a long-concealed addiction to steroids and cocaine, which had left us broke. He walked out – literally just disappeared – for the first time just days before we were due to move from our nice, big house to a smaller one across the other side of town. Dad had convinced Mum that they couldn’t afford it any longer and needed to downsize. What she didn’t know was that he’d forged her signature on the mortgage papers and left us with just as much debt in the new, smaller house as we were currently carrying in the nice big one, skipping the country with his drug addiction, the new girlfriend and several tens of thousands of pounds that we’d never see again.
We moved house alone – heartbroken and bereft – and Mum attempted to start again. For the first time that I had ever noticed in my life, we were skint. Mum took a fulltime job to make ends meet and we became latchkey kids. I got off the school bus everyday and rather than go home – which was now a place that made me feel sad and empty and where I noticed Dad’s absence too much – I walked straight past our house and round the corner to my youth leader’s flat. A young couple in their early 20’s, my amazing youth leaders never seemed to run out of time and energy for us. And despite the fact that when Dad had begun to manoeuvre the purchase of our new house, I hadn’t even met them, God managed to place me just minutes from their front door. Everyday they would sit me down, feed me tea and custard creams and offer to pray for my folks. I was a mixed-up teen with a broken heart and a fragile, baby-new faith, but seeing as I had no better suggestions, I would nod my yes and attempt to mumble something meaningful. We prayed every day. Eventually Mum could take the nagging no longer and decided not to wait in the car one week but instead came with me into church. I think she made it through the first half of the first verse of the first song before legging it to the loos in floods of tears. The ladies there were amazing. Over the following years, as my Dad came and went and came and went, they picked my family up, loved us, prayed for us, looked after us and stood with us.
Then one night, when my Mum was at a course for new Christians at one of our leader’s houses, the phone rang. Our other church leader asked to speak to her and told her that he’d had a call from my Dad. At that point, we hadn’t seen him for several months, and had no idea where he was. I think it’d be fair to say in retrospect that he’d hit rock bottom. A world champion weightlifter who owned his own building company, he was now living in a bedsit, working as an illegal debt collector on the streets of East London and losing weekends of his life to drug binges. He says he can’t really remember how it happened, but one night he ended up on this guy’s doorstep asking for help. The next day he watched the sun rise over the car park of New Spitalfields fruit and veg market where he worked, he took off the diver’s knife he carried strapped to his arm and threw it in a skip, looked up at the sky and asked God to help him put it all right. Then he went home to my Nan’s house, turned up on her doorstep with a hold-all full of drugs and asked her to flush them down the toilet.
It wasn’t all plain sailing from then on in – my Mum was beyond hurt from 4 years and the 7 or 8 times he upped and left. But slowly slowly – with God’s help – they rebuilt their marriage and our family. On 31st July 1995, they had their wedding vows blessed at our little church and Mum let Dad move back in. That was nearly 20 years ago now. Dad has worked throughout that time for a charity called Tough Talk – a group of guys with stories to tell that go into prisons and churches and schools and youth groups and tell people how Jesus rescued them from the pits of their own hells. Mum has spent much of her life since then working for Samaritans Purse and Operation Christmas Child, and now runs the Wadebridge Foodbank & StoreHouse, showing people the practical love of Jesus. I can’t tell you how different our ‘now’ looks because of what Jesus did for us on the cross all those years ago.
I remember telling some new University friends the story of how Jesus rescued my family many years ago, and one of them asked me whether I had questioned God’s goodness when my world fell apart so soon after I found Jesus. I honestly never had. It had never crossed my mind. I don’t think for one minute that God caused all the bad stuff to happen. But I do think he knew that it was going to happen – and so he set in motion the rescue plan before we even knew we’d need it.
So that’s my story – one day I’ll tell it in full, but for now, perhaps it will speak to someone out there.
What’s yours? Go on share it – we’ve all got a story to tell.