Did you hear the story of the lifeboat station?

By Roger Carswell - On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occurred, there was once a crude little lifeboat station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea and, with no thought for themselves, sacrificially went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost. 

Some of those who had been saved, and others in the area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time, money and effort for the support of its work. A new, smarter boat was bought and new crews were trained. The little lifeboat station grew. 

Some members of the lifeboat station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency hammocks with beds, and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifeboat station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated and furnished it beautifully; they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going out on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. Lifesaving pictures and mementos still decorated the club’s walls and there was a lifeboat model in the room where official club meetings were held.  
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick and came from different countries.  The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where shipwreck victims could be cleaned up before coming inside.

At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities, since they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal life of the club.  A few members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifeboat station. But they were outvoted, and told that, if they wanted to save the lives of all types of people who might be shipwrecked, they could begin their own lifeboat station down the coast. They did. 

As the years went by, similar changes took place in the new station as well. It slowly became a club, and yet another lifeboat station was founded. History continued to repeat itself and on that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the coastline. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

A wry smile conceals the heartache I feel at the potency of the parable.  Urgency, sacrifice, zeal and passion for the lost are rare qualities in Christian thinking and living.  We have church programmes and our many conferences; we talk doctrine and go on courses; we sing lovely new hymns and socialise; we have pleasant buildings and beautiful homes; we plant churches that fit our doctrinal emphases, but days or nights of prayer and evangelistic endeavour that really reach the lost, are something we read of from the past but are unusual today.   With some wonderful exceptions, the church in the UK has become cosy and comfortable, and the fear of offending people, appearing a little odd or getting ourselves into trouble, has intimidated us into silence and lethargy.  Status quo and mediocrity summarise where we are.  Many of our lifeboat stations are no longer rescue stations.  We have forgotten A.T. Pierson’s clarion call, ‘The evangelisation of the world in this generation.’

We recognise that the nation’s children are being taught against all things Christian in school.  We are aware how pathetically few young people attend any church activity – think it through, because in much of the UK, it is probably less than one or two in a thousand teens who are in church on Sunday.  Most ‘families’ (and these days that means a lot of different things) never give a thought to the Lord, His word, His Son or His kingdom.  The Christian message is perceived as irrelevant, untrue and believed by a superstitious, gullible few ‘fruitcakes’.

Yet it is we who have been entrusted with the most glorious message of grace and rescue.  We have Jesus, who alone can save the lost.  Without Him, our relatives, our neighbours, our colleagues, the shop assistants, the crowds at the sports events, the celebrities and politicians, the people on the train or bus, or those we see in the street, are without hope and heading to hell. God loves them all and is not willing that any should perish. But people without Jesus are going to hell.  If we really believe that, then our daily diary, our annual programme, our priorities of life, as well as our use of our resources will be radically transformed. 

The apostle Paul says he was a debtor to those outside of Christ; he had a sense of obligation to them.  He was not ashamed of the gospel and was eager to preach to them (Romans 1:14, 15 & 16).  When he was in Jerusalem he was mobbed by the crowd but he still told them the gospel.  In Athens, he was mocked, but he faithfully proclaimed the risen Jesus.  In Philippi he was imprisoned; in Thessalonica he was chased out and in Berea smuggled out, but he refused to be cowed by the indifference, antagonism and opposition of the authorities and the masses.  He preached Jesus.

With God’s enabling we are to be passionate about our involvement in the evangelisation of the world in our generation.  And whatever social good I am able to do, I have forgotten the purpose of the lifeboat if I am not pointing people to Jesus.  Flip flops for drunks, meals for the elderly, food banks for the poor, holidays for children, activities and training for teens, and even a fistful of church activities and commitments, are all well and good, but the ‘lifeboat’ is to rescue people who are perishing.  ‘Every person, in every nation, in each succeeding generation, has the right to hear the news that Christ can save.’ Soul winning, like lifesaving requires urgency, sacrifice, courage, and focus.  But we also can pray!