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Sunday, 22 June 2014

Relief at Last?

Today as I sauntered through the shopping precinct and the malls in Reading, a large town some eleven miles from my home town of Bracknell, and reached by a short train ride, I could not help the feeling of casual sense of relaxation and the feeling of ease among the shoppers as they sauntered by. It was a beautiful sunny day, with the temperature soaring to a pleasant 22 degrees Celsius, on Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Oh well, as I sat on a public bench and mused: Christmas will soon be here.  
The relaxed atmosphere tells me a lot. First of all, sunshine weather does lift the spirits, minimises personal stress, and makes the whole world looking cheerful. But there was another aspect to this air of tranquil. As I write this, so I read, England are out of the World Cup tournament in Brazil. This was due to losing two opening matches, the first suffering a defeat from Italy, the second lost to Uruguay. Then for England to have held on to any hopes of going through to the knockout stages, Italy must score at least two goals against Costa Rica. But instead, Italy lost to this tiny segment of Central America by one goal to nil. As the complicated mathematical probabilities show, England are out of the tournament.
So the Media keeps telling us. So as I went to do the weekly grocery shop at the local supermarket, I actually watched a member of staff take down all the English St. George flags and bunting which were, before that evening, displayed everywhere in and out of the store. Homes in my neighbourhood also took down their flags, and the environment began to look as normal as any other time of the year.

Well almost. As I exited Bracknell station, the first thing I saw was a taxi at the front of the rank, still displaying two English flags. And across the street from my home, one house still has its large St. George hanging from the front bedroom window, and just two or three blocks away, another home is fully garnished with white and red flags and garden bunting. Despite what the Media says, backed by a public apology from the team broadcast on the BBC, as these fans see it, England is still, officially, in the tournament, a matter I agree with. The enduring presence of flags and bunting testifying to their ardent patriotism and devotion to the fact that England is not yet out of the contest until the moment the team boards the 'plane for the flight back to the UK.

So their hopes lingers on, regardless on what the Media tell us. Even with the 0.01% chance that England could still get through purely by a fluke, they believe miracles can and do happen. They have that longing for history to repeat itself maybe just once more in their lives, when those of my generation recall the mass hysteria nearly half a century previously, when the London street was so tightly packed with a million happy fans cheering the open-top double-deck bus, that Alf Ramsey's team were literally confined to a very slow crawl as the bus made its way to Mansion House. The feeling of sheer exuberance, the ecstasy shown by the vast crowd was something forever imprinted in the memory of our nation, and so brought up over and over again every four years when the World Cup football tournament kicks off once again.

Over the past 48 years since that great day, hopes builds on a four-year cycle, and each time this same enthusiasm crashes to the ground, particularly when England makes it into the knockout rounds, but usually does not get past the quarter finals. Monday morning comes round and it's back to the workplace, whether its in the office or at the roadworks, the drudgery goes on, the last of the hangover peters out as their consolation drinks in the pubs and bars fades with the lost contest into history. There is always the next time, perhaps. 
But as I sat on the public bench in Reading, I was aware that this time things were different. Sure enough, I could spot a downcast face here and there, but as for the general mood, I could not help feel a sense of relief in the air, helped a lot by the fine weather. At last, there is no more of this nail-biting tension whenever England plays in a knockout match. Relieved from this ninety minute agonising moments when a last minute equaliser scored in injury time condemning both teams to a thirty minutes of extra play, if not end in a penalty shootout, or after nearly two hours of near silence due to a goal-less draw. I felt so much relief from being delivered from the sheer frustration that the lack of goals could be so consistant with the game. Give me rugby anytime. The final score of say, 25 to 5 points would make a lot more exciting event to watch. But as I sat down on that bench and watched so many families saunter by, most with reasonably behaved children, with a few other toddlers screaming to get their own way, I was wondering why so many were ready to follow with devotion eleven men kicking a football, but the great God in Heaven was virtually unknown to them.

It was only a few days earlier, when speaking to one of my customers, that the reality of the spiritual state of many hit home. This wife and mother of three was aware of my wife's infirmity, and showing interest on how we were coping, her look of surprise when I explained our trust in God to sustain us, was something of a revelation. She was a typical Miss Average Brit whose working husband is a keen England supporter, supplying his twin son's bedclothes, as well as bedroom wallpaper, decorated with the England three lions and images of black and white footballs respectively.

What I am trying to say is: the vast majority of people in Britain do not seem to know God or his salvation. But not only in Britain, but all over the world, and particularly in the Far East where at certain days of the year, vast crowds gather to celebrate their Hindu or Buddha's holy days. Over here, it is the rare case, when the home team brings an international trophy back into the UK, that gathers the huge crowds, all enthusiastic in giving glory and honour to their sporting heroes.

I sat on that bench, and wondered just how believing that Jesus is the Son of God who was risen from the dead could so easily change a person's eternal destiny. As I watched mothers pushing their baby's pram or chair, I could see how the parent wants the very best for their offspring, and dad ensuring that the family is well provided for. Although the majority were white, representatives of all races sauntered past the bench I was sitting on. I was asking myself, why isn't the truth of the Gospel getting through to them? What is the eternal destiny of the newborn asleep in the pram? And what if one was born in a Hindu, Islamic or Buddhist country? As I visualise the newborn, crying to inflate his or her lungs so soon after being born, does it seem like a luck of the draw that this baby's parents happen to be Hindu? Even in one of the streets I work at, I watched a daughter born in a Muslim family, and grow up to learn about the works of Mohammad. In turn, one of our church elders is a devout Christian, who himself had married a believer, and their two sons are growing up under Christian instruction and guidance, just as the elder himself and his two brothers also grew up in a Christian household.

What is it that keeps many from believing the simple truth of Christ Resurrected? As I look around, I sigh, wishing that everyone came to the knowledge of the truth. I imagine vast, vast crowds gathering together to celebrate the victory Jesus Christ has won for us, defeating the forces which had enslaved the human heart since the dawn of history. Sure, I have been to Christian festivals such as Spring Harvest and Stoneleigh, where a crowd can fill a large top, but this would be minuscule compared to the crowds that would have filled the streets of London as the England team holds aloft the World Cup trophy, as it happened in 1966.

Sure enough, there was a large crowd who greeted Jesus during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. They cried out, Hosanna to the Son of David! - as a result of witnessing his miracle of raising Lazarus physically from the dead. They had not only cheered him, but threw palm leaves on the road in front of his donkey. But all this was little more than hero-worship, very much like England received in 1966. But the sheer fickleness of the heart is exposed by the attitude of the very same crowd, this time crying out for him to be crucified. Perhaps not that different from the binned flags and bunting found across the country after this year's early defeat.

How I long in my heart to see many more people believing in Jesus and being saved. How I would like to see an enormous crowd thundering their praise to God as a result of spiritual regeneration rather than hero-worship. Wouldn't it be wonderful so see the result of mass regeneration - members of the Police force needed to find alternative work, the doing away with train tickets and the need for ticket inspectors and barriers, the closing down of law and civil courts, prisoners set free. I know, this seems cloud-cuckoo land in this present age, but the Bible promises a future age when all of these dreams will be realised, together with the elimination of all sin, illness, negative emotions, anger and frustration, boredom and finally death. And this fantastically beautiful world will not be confined to Disney or Grimm's fairy tales. Instead this new age will become a reality, and furthermore, a free invitation to enter God's kingdom is available to all who would receive it.

Maybe if Jesus was the national and international icon rather than England football team, who knows what day-o-day life would be like?


  1. Dear Frank,
    Thanks for the excellent and thought-provoking post. Sadly, hero worship in all countries nowadays is for the most part not of the only One worth worshipping, but of media figures, sports and rock stars, many of whom do not even have good character or moral standards, and some of whom enjoy the notoriety of breaking the law. One day -- soon, I hope and believe -- He will reign in perfect peace and justice, but until then, chaos will prevail.
    God bless,

  2. Sadly, even most church groups are more concerned with some sports figure, singer or speaker than with Christ. Wonder what the effect if a few churches put Christ first?

  3. Hi Frank,
    Yes it is sad that many worship the created instead of the Creator but God wants all to be saved. We can pray for all men everywhere to come to the knowledge of salvation through Jesus. The Bible tells us that no man can come to Jesus except he is called by God and that no man can come to God except through Jesus, so there is a time for everything. The lovely thing is that Jesus does not 'bin us' when we fail Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
    God bless you and Alex