It’s fair to say that I don’t usually enjoy watching the England Rugby team but last Saturdays match was a notable exception, I really enjoyed it. It comes down to being part of a small nation next to a big nation and most of the media seem to cater for the majority population which is of course English. The main stream media outlets get totally swept up in the euphoria, the Grand Slam (beating all of the other nations in the tournament) was a foregone conclusion and the last time England won the Grand Slam they went on the win the Rugby World Cup so hopes were high. The advertisers were quick off the mark with an advert to celebrate England’s Grand Slam win. Sadly, for England, these hopes were completely snuffed out by a brilliant Irish performance.
Let me make some things clear, overall this year England were the best side (there I’ve said it), they played the game in the way it should be played and rightly deserved the trophy. Worryingly for the Celts, they will get better. They are a young team and will certainly learn from the pain of this setback. Finally, the players themselves and the management team had nothing to do with the hype surrounding them; they have conducted themselves with humility and dignity both before and after the games and that has not always true of the Welsh management.
Whilst I enjoyed most of the final day of the Six Nations, I recently read something that I didn’t enjoy at all. It was an article by Eric Lax on the Daily Beast, a right of centre online newspaper from the US. In it talks about his book ‘Faith, Interrupted’ which charts the story of his loss of faith in God. It’s a sad and honest article in so many ways (read it here). He recounts childhood memories of helping his father, an Episcopalian Priest, during Sunday services and writes warmly of summer camps, great Christian friends and the joy of a shared faith. He writes;
“My faith was precious, I miss it. I miss the peace and the comfort and the community it gave me, and sometimes wish that I could return to the camp with my friends and we could be the adult versions of who we were as kids.”
“Things of the past may be out of reach, in that we no longer hold them, but that does not mean they have to be out of touch. My parents’ ashes are scattered down a hillside behind the chapel. In many ways, those of my faith are, too. Every time I go to the camp, I visit them, not to mourn but simply to remember.”
It’s desperately sad stuff but it challenges us to question where is our faith focused? From the article, it seems that Eric Lax shares something with those trusting in the England Team, or any sporting team for that matter, in that their faith is in people and people will let you down. Many have been known to laugh at the sight of grown men reduced to tears at the sight of their team missing out on a trophy or being relegated but faith in God is no laughing matter.
The trouble with the church is also its beauty in that it is made up of fallen human beings. It is beautiful to see God at work in the lives of individuals, to see people being transformed into the body of Christ. It can be a problem because he hasn’t finished yet and people, even Christian people make mistakes and so often others get hurt. It is also the case that since the church is such a great place to be, among people who love and care deeply for each other, it’s easy to take our eyes off Jesus and look to each other instead.
In the Alpha series of talks, Nicky Gumbel devotes one talk to the question of assurance, how do you know that you are a Christian? From memory he has three points which tell us that we can rest in God
The Word of God
God has given us his word. We can count on his promises even when we fell alone since we are saved not by how we feel but by what God has said. If you are going through a difficult time right now, hold on to God’s word, it never fails and is always true.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
The Work of Jesus
We are not saved by what we do; we are saved by what Christ has done. His death on the cross has won our salvation and his resurrection gives us a hope that goes beyond this life.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)
The Witness of the Holy Spirit
When we trust in the promises of God and look to Jesus, we begin to experience the witness of the Spirit.
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15-16)
Let us take our eyes off the many distractions around us and once again trust in God. He will never disappoint us.
“I have buried my life in the cold earth with him
Like a seed in the winter, I wait for the spring
From that garden of tombs Eden rises again
And Paradise blooms from his body
And never will end
He’ll finish all he began
Creation hopes in a crucified man” (Crucified Man by Graham Kendrick, website here)