The Race That Matters

Is it really all about winning?

As we come to the end of the Olympic Games, I have been reflecting on what it takes to win. It’s not just what happens out on the field on the day of the event, whatever that event might be.

What we see in the arena, on the track or in the pool is probably only around 1 percent of what the competitor has gone through even to reach the Olympic Games, without winning anything.

The marathon and 10,000 meters are the longest races, with the marathon taking hours to complete. The shortest race in the games, the 100 meter sprint is over in seconds. Just like the marathon the sprint still takes years of practice and training, It’s not just about speed but reaction and technique too, all things that take time to perfect until they become not just reactive but instinctive.

Training for the 100 meters is no less demanding, intensive and exhausting than that for the marathon. Athletes practice day-after-day. They can’t take a day off, like most of us, if they want to give their best. They train on holidays and often Christmas day too. They are careful about what they eat while most of us eat what we like.

To become a successful athlete takes perseverance and endurance, not just in an event but in the days, months and years of training leading up to an event, like the Olympic Games.

The Bible also talks about a race, in the book of Acts and then a few more times in Paul’s letters. This race though is not about speed or winning, at least not in the commonly understood meaning of winning in our modern world. Paul’s idea of winning is completing a task. A task set for him by God.

Each of our individual races, like Pauls race, requires no less perseverance and endurance than that of athletes. Paul suffered for his belief. He endured travel, not easy in his time as it is today. He endured prison and he persevered in his task no less than modern athletes.

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Hebrews 12:1

The Robe

TheRobeA review of the book by Lloyd C Douglas.

For once I am reviewing a book that was not chosen by the book reading group from which so much of my reading and hence reviews originate. The Robe was recommended to me independantly by three friends, two of which know each other and neither know the third.

Lloyd C Douglas was born in 1877 and The Robe, first published in the United Kingdom in1943, sold over 2 million copies and was later filmed in 1953. The movie was well received and a good film in its own right yet despite having a fine cast, including Richard Burton, Jean Simmons and Michael Rennie as ‘The Big Fisherman’, it does not, in my opinion, measure up to the book. As a minor aside, Douglas refused to have his follow up book The Big Fisherman filmed, although it was eventually made into a movie in 1959, eight years after his death in 1951.

The Robe is is set in Roman times, during the empire’s occupation of Israel when Tiberius is their Emperor. The story Douglas relates to us is set around the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the subsequent events as they affect a young Roman Tribune by the name of Marcellus Gallio and his Greek slave, Demetrius.

I fear that my mention so early of Jesus christ might put off some non-Christian readers, from dipping into this remarkable tale. To discard the book for this reason alone would deprive the potential reader of an enjoyable read of a well written, absorbing story.

Marcellus’ story begins in the manner that hundreds, perhaps throughout history thousands, have begun, with a mistake that would probably not have happened if he had remained sober. It resulted in him being posted to command a slovenly, out of the way garrison which people were usually only sent to as a kind of punishment for injudicious actions or words.

Whilst Marcellus might have been young, inexperienced and untested when he was sent to command the fort at Minoa, he was intelligent, brave and a good swordsman. These attributes enabled him to establish himself as a respected leader by the men of his garrison.

Although the story is fiction, it brings an interesting and credible perspective to the real events of the time in which it takes place. The narrative keeps up a pace that holds the readers attention, drawing him, or her, deeper into the powerful vividly told story as it throws the life of the young Tribune in a direction he could not have foreseen, affecting him mentally, emotionally and spiritually

For me, and perhaps for some other male readers, I found the style of prose Douglas adopted in the more intimate scenes of the book a little too ‘flowery’. I am pleased to say however this did not detract from the powerful narrative.

Readers who finish the story might deduce, as I did, that looking back, they see shades of one of Shakespear’s tragedies. That is not to suggests that the adventures of the lead characters is in any way predictable. It is only with hindsight we are able to connect the series of events in a way that suggests a degree of inevitability at the finale.

“This Faith … is not like the deed to a house in which one may live with full
rights of possession. It is more like a kit of tools with which a man may build
himself a house. The tools will be worth just what he does with them. When
he lays them down, they will have no value until he takes them up again.” – Demetrius.

Fairy Tales 8: The Red Shoes

When vanity has consequences.

IIlustration by Vilhelm Pedersen, for Hans Christian Andersen’s “Red Shoes”

Hans Christian Anderson wrote what he called a new fairy tale, The Red Shoes, in 1845. More than 100 years later it would become the basis the basis for the critically acclaimed film of the same name, about a ballet dancer. Whilst the fairy tale’s lead character, Karen, dances, nowhere in is tale does Anderson mention ballet.

In the tale the ‘heroine’ Karen becomes the owner of two pairs of red shoes. The first, while she is poor, is made for her by the wife of a cobbler in the village she lives in. Later a rich woman, who adopts Karen after her mother’s death, buys her a fine pair which Karen becomes very vain about wearing. Karen seems to forget about her poor origins, after she is bought the second pair of red shoes.

Part of Karen’s obsession with red shoes might have been because woman who adopts her discards her first pair. Karen had worn that pair to her mother’s funeral. People thought they were inappropriate but were they? Karen had only a pair of rough clogs, that made her feet sore, and the red shoes were her best, poorly made as they were. She wore her best shoes to her mother’s funeral.

After the funeral when Karen is adopted by the rich widow, her red shoes are discarded by the widow. Karen then sees a pair worn by a princess and wants a pair. The old woman buys them for her unknowingly as she can’t see well. An old soldier however sees Karen wearing the shoes and comments on them, a prophetic warning about danc

Karen’s later vanity with the fine red shoes, after her adoption, extends to thinking about them during her own confirmation service in church. The implication being that even during the confirmation service, by her obsession with the red shoes she has forgotten about God.

Red is a colour of danger and warning, and also it is the colour of temptation and desire. Karen’s obsession and vanity tempted her away from God. She wanted to copy the princess too, a kind of celebrity worship. Why so many advertisers today hire celebrities to promote their products.

Karen becomes cursed by an angel to dance and she is unable to stop, resorting to cutting of her feet in an attempt to stop dancing, but the shoes, still with her feet in continue to dance blocking her way. There is a direct parallel in the Bible to the cutting off of Karen’s feet. We find a direct parallel to the cutting off of Karen’s feet in The Bible. Matthew 18:8 (NKJV) tells us “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.”

Even trying to get to the church the red shoes blocked Karen’s way. She was taken in at a parsonage where she worked for her keep, forgoing wages. The next Sunday the clergyman invited her to church with his family but she declined, knowing the red shoes would stop her. She went to her room and opened her hymn book and called out “O Lord, help me”. Karen had found her faith again. Only at this point did Karen fully repent her sin, even the cutting off of her own feet had not been enough.

The angel came again and Karen found herself in the church, it had come to her. “It was mercy” she said, moments before “Her Soul flew on the sunbeams to heaven”. God had not cured Karen but he had healed her and forgiven her.

An Unexpected Visitor

A re-telling of Luke 10: 38 – 41

Diego Rodríguez da Silva y Velázquez 1599 – 1660

Glancing out of the window by chance, the sisters saw him approaching their home. Going to the door they opened it just moments before he was about to knock. Mary and Martha invited Jesus into their home, even though their brother, Lazarus, was away at that time.

After welcoming him in, Martha went to the kitchen to finish some chores and prepare a meal, leaving Mary to make their guest comfortable. She expected Mary to come and help her, after seeing to their guest’s needs but half an hour later thee was no sign of Mary, who seemed to be leaving Martha to do the chores.

When Martha looked through the kitchen doorway, she saw Mary sitting at the feet of their guest, seemingly hanging on to his every word as he spoke. Martha could feel her ire rising. She started rattling and banging pots and pans as she worked in their kitchen, hoping her sister might hear and take the hint.’Why does my sister Mary do nothing, leaving me to do all the work’, Martha thought ‘Time she got up and helped me, instead of sitting there like a student learning from a teacher’.

Eventually, Martha became really angry and stormed out of the kitchen determined to vent her frustration but she didn’t speak directly to Mary of her annoyance. It wasn’t just that her sister wasn’t helping her but she had not kept to custom. By sitting at Jesus feet, Mary was behaving like a man.

Martha asked Jesus to send her sister to help with the work. She was hot, tired and aggravated at having to do it all on her own. Jesus didn’t send Mary to help Martha, instead he told Martha she was too pre-occupied with doing things that could wait, and was not doing what was most important.

My Other Family

Family is not just relations.

Regular readers might remember a few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences of emergency admission to Bristol Eye Hospital. That was mainly about my treatment and experience in hospital. This is about what happened after my discharge as an in-patient, until I no longer needed to be under the hospital’s care as an out-patient.

The treatment had a major effect for about six weeks on what I could and couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do. I wasn’t supposed to bend down for more than a minute or so; just enough time to put on a pair of shoes, for example. I couldn’t do any heavy lifting or exert myself physically and I couldn’t drive.

Whilst I was an in-patient TC & JC had visited my wife (she has poor mobility). They brought me overnight things in to the hospital, so I didn’t have to wear the awful hospital gown, and on my discharge TC drove to the Bristol eye hospital to collect me and take me home.

They checked up on W and I from time to time, and lent me a shopping trolly to use while I couldn’t drive. TC also helped with some one-off jobs that I couldn’t do, which once done enabled me to manage a number of other things without assistance. TC also mowed my lawns twice and IW once.

In the week of my discharge two people, JF & LD cooked meals for us and JC took me to do a week’s shopping. In subsequent weeks, until my all-clear from the hospital I’ve had vacuum cleaning, bed remade and laundry washed and dried by GB and JJ.

JC. also took me shopping each week for the next 5 weeks, and accompanied me to two hospital checkups until I was discharged from out-patient care. Her daughter RC came withW and I to an opticians appointment, to lift W’s wheelchair in and out of the car and push it whilst I couldn’t

None of these people are related to me, yet they are still my family. They are my church family, without which it would have much harder to cope in the weeks after my surgery. They may not be family by blood in the traditional sense but they are in the Christian sense. Family by the blood of Christ.

Thank you everyone who helped.

Brexit And The Will Of The People

What if all the people of the European Union had a vote?

The people of Britain have spoken. On the 23rd June 2016 the United Kingdom decided in a referendum they wanted to leave the European Union (EU). The vote to leave was only by a small margin, but a majority nevertheless.

It has been suggested that there could be a second referendum. Not necessarily a repeat of the first but a vote on the terms of our departure from the EU, once they are negotiated. Suppose the citizens of remaining EU countries also have a vote on the terms of our leaving? After all, UK leaving the EU affects them too.

I believe it is in UK’s best interest to remain part of the EU single market for goods and services. The price of doing so is almost certain to include continuing to accept free movement of EU citizens, exactly what the leave proponents did not want, but let’s suppose for a moment free movement is not in the negotiated settlement.

What if the citizens of the EU were also given a referendum on the terms of our leaving? Does anyone seriously think they would vote to allow us to remain in the single market, without accepting free movement of people?

That would be the will of the people, just not British people. But if it’s the will of the European people, how could we argue? After all, we’re a democracy and doing what we voted for, so we could hardly expect the EU not to do the same.

Intercession Prayer

For Sunday Sunday 24th July 2016 The Ninth Sunday after Trinity.

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Prayer1-1-small.jpgInvisible and eternal God, who sent Your Son into this world to teach us your ways, as Luke reminds us that Jesus taught His disciples to pray, may we learn His lesson of prayer too, and pray to You in faith. We ask You to hear our prayer, offered in Jesus name.

As the children and young people begin their school holidays, we pray that those who will be returning to school or to higher education in the autumn will be refreshed. We pray for those awaiting the results of exams; give them patience; and for those leaving education to begin their working lives; give them the opportunity to find fulfilling careers. Father we pray that they thrive in a world of love and hope, knowing your grace.

We pray for our new Prime Minister and her government. Guide them as they lead our country into a new and different relationship with the remaining members of the European Union. Help Teresa May and her team find common ground on which to focus, as they negotiate our departure from the European Union.

We pray for places where there is hate and conflict, where those weak of heart, mind and faith try to compensate with strength of arms and persecution of the faithful and peaceful. Help them to see that faith is stronger than weapons. That forgiveness brings freedom and that love is stronger than hate.

Father forgive those responsible for the blast in the Afghan city of Kabul, which killed 29 people yesterday and injured many more. Forgive too the killer of the 9 victims in shot in Munich. Comfort and strengthen the bereaved. Let the perpetrators face justice, not revenge.

We pray especially for the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, for the 300,000 innocent victims trapped in the rubble and devastation of the nation’s civil war. Help us to show generosity to the fleeing refugees, by sharing your generosity to us giving them safe and secure places in which to make new homes.

Father God, through Your son you freed us from death, yet still we fear it. We pray for those who have departed this life, especially those whose death was by human hand and not your will. We ask you to comfort and strengthen those bereaved by their passing.

Gracious God we pray for your healing of those who are sick in body, mind or spirit. Give strength to the tired, hope to discouraged and those living in fear.
Glorious and gracious Father, when we leave this place, let our ears hear you, let our eyes see You and our hearts perceive your presence. May we dream Your dreams, reflect Your love, do Your work and may we taste your peace.

Merciful Father, accept this prayer for the sake of Your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.


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