Sporting parallels

I sometimes find myself in conversations discussing the parallels between Christians and sportspeople.  The Bible uses this illustration several times, and St Paul was particularly struck by this, so his writings included passages about athletes, boxers and so on.  I will briefly mention four of the reasons why sporting illustrations are used so often in scripture.  First, one characteristic of a serious sportsperson is their single-minded devotion to their chosen endeavour.  We see the positive side of this in commitment to training so as to be the best possible, and the negative side when a gifted player is drawn to other things and so never fulfils their potential.

 

A second aspect is willingness to experience short term pain for long term gain.  God never promises His followers an easy life - far from it - and Jesus spelt out some of the very significant costs of discipleship.  But none of these compares with the benefits - Paul calls the troubles (which in his case were life-ending) 'light and momentary' by comparison (see Romans 8 to learn more).

 

The third thing I'll mention is a disciplined approach to life.  The most important half hour of my day is just after breakfast, when I close the door of my study, spending time in prayer and Bible reading.  Sometimes it's tempting to get stuck into the specifics of what lies ahead, and it requires discipline not to be distracted by that and to concentrate on what I know is most important, even if there are urgent things clamouring for attention.

 

Endurance is the last thing I'll mention - keeping going through the ups and downs of life.  This is vital - we see this in football with so many decisive goals scored in the last few minutes.  The Bible says we should 'run with perseverance the race marked at for us' not giving up however hard things get.

Being ready

Imagine that the Queen or some other world leader announced that they were coming to your house for tea.  What would you do?  Most of us would do a mixture of tidying, dusting, cleaning, vacuuming and so on.  Maybe even some painting (it's said that the Queen smells fresh paint wherever she goes) and perhaps a bit of panicking into the bargain.

 

Preparation is a vital thing.  

In Poole, we have a reminder every time we go to the quay of Robert Baden-Powell and the Scouts, whose motto is 'be prepared'.  (I was never a Scout or Cub but my wife often says I should have been when I pack for every eventuality when going on a trip!)

 

Jesus often spoke about being ready, prepared and watchful - for the ups and downs and challenges of life, and the prospect of meeting our maker at the end of it.  I recently typed 'readiness' into my search engine and found images of pilots resting but ready to jump into their Spitfires and Hurricanes when required during the Battle of Britain in 1940.  I also remember playing golf with an RAF pilot who was on 3 hour readiness to fly to Afghanistan - naturally he had his mobile close at hand.  As I reflect on this, I think it's a good illustration of being ready but getting on with the daily round of life.  Whatever your situation, I hope you will be ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

Summer reflection

This summer we have commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first walk on the moon in the Apollo 11 mission.  I am (only just about!) old enough to recall being woken by my parents to watch grainy pictures of Neil Armstrong's 'giant leap for mankind' at 3.56am on 21 July and, like many of us, I have enjoyed the various films and TV programmes marking the anniversary.  As I reflect on the Apollo programme, two spiritual strands of thought come to mind.

 

First, I am struck by the way astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders described what they saw when they first travelled to the moon, orbiting it on Apollo 8.  The Apollo programme brought together an array of scientists, engineers and test pilots so we might have expected them to refer to a physics text book or a flight manual, but instead they read from the scriptures: their reading from Genesis chapter 1 reflects the unique and special nature of the Bible.

 

Second, I find myself thinking of Psalm 139 which says, 'If I go up to the heavens, you are there, if I make my bed in the depths you are there … even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast'.  We in Poole might never travel to the moon, but we all need to be reminded that God is there in the ups and downs of life.  Astronaut Charlie Duke (who walked on the moon in Apollo 16) wisely reminds us to keep things in perspective when he says that his walk on the moon lasted three days but his walk with Jesus lasts for eternity.

Summer reflection

The weekend that changed the world

Easter weekend is sometimes referred to as 'The weekend that changed the world', and Christians across the world agree - the love of God shown on Good Friday and the power of God revealed in the empty tomb on Easter Day make an amazing combination, we have so much to thank God for.

 Recently I heard it said that "none of us would even have heard of Jesus if it wasn't for him being raised from the dead".  I agree: the resurrection of Jesus from the grave shows that nothing at all, not even death, is a match for the power of God.  And it's not just wishful thinking - over 500 people saw the risen Jesus (roughly equivalent to the regular crowd at Poole Town FC, where I'm honorary chaplain). 

 Watching a game of football, members of the crowd all see it from different angles around the pitch, but we know what we see and it's not our imagination.  As St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, his readers didn't have to take his word for it - they could go and check with other people who saw the risen Jesus.

 If we read on in that chapter, we learn that the resurrection is not just amazing history - it has direct personal relevance for all followers of Jesus.  This was brought home to me while talking with a young mum dying of cancer.  I will always remember her quoting the last verse of the hymn 'In Christ alone': "No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me … no power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand".  Thank God for that.