my tenuous link to Leicester City

shocked
Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600

So the impossible has happened. Leicester City won the Premier League this season after almost being relegated last season, and being most pundits’ favourite for relegation this time around. At the start of the season the bookmakers were giving odds of 5000-1 for them winning the Premier League. This is being proclaimed as the most astonishing sporting story of all time. They might be right.

I don’t support Leicester City, but as a supported of Ipswich Town I can relate to the surprise that they have been so successful. My only link to Leicester is that about 10 years ago a friend, who was a season-ticket holder at Leicester City, lent his tickets to me so I could take my son to watch a football match (my friend was unable to go). He did warn us that his ticket was in the rowdy section of the Leicester fans, but it was too generous an offer to turn down so we went.

Two things in particular come to mind when I remember that football match. The first was about the Leicester City tradition of a huntsman in full regalia playing a rallying cry on a hunting horn as the players ran onto the pitch. That still happens, and it still strikes me as somewhat incongruous. It is a rousing sound, but Leicester City’s nickname is ‘The Foxes’ so to have a huntsman playing a hunting horn seems to me to be more likely to rouse the opposition who are there to hunt the foxes.

The second thing was that although we were in the rowdy section of the crowd we were on the edge of it. Most of the chants and songs were generated (in the mystical way in which they happen at a football ground) from in the middle of the section and the rest of the ground joined in. But just in front of us was a young man who obviously fancied himself as a chant-generator. When it was a bit quiet he made us jump by standing up and shouting, “Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?”

Nobody joined in.

It was quite embarrassing.

But it didn’t deter him. A little later on he stood up again and sang a chant at the top of his voice (I can’t remember it) and kept repeating it in the hope that others would join in.

But nobody did.

It was cringe-worthy.

And yet through the whole match he kept on at it. He did not give up. Perhaps he thought that eventually he would wear down the resistance of the crowd and that they would join in with him. Or maybe he thought that if he was good enough he’d get invited into the middle of the rowdy section and be allowed to join in with them. Or it’s possible (and this is what I think is the truth) that he didn’t care whether anyone joined in with him – he just wanted to express his support for Leicester City at the top of his voice.

When I have heard football crowds chanting and singing I sometimes remember that young man.And I have stopped being embarrassed for him. Now I admire his persistence. I admire his loyalty. I admire his desire to express himself without worrying what other people are thinking. And I wish Christians would worship God more like that.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

eclectic ecclesiastical extolation*

I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to my preferences for ecclesiastical music. I like a lot of the modern songs and hymns. I like choral music (Handel’s Messiah anyone – in full, not just the Hallelujah Chorus). I like some older hymns. I like simple chants. I like harmonies. I like singing along to a single instrument (or even a capella) and to a multi-instrument group.

There are two criteria against which I tend to evaluate my preferences: the first (and most important) is whether it helps me in my following Jesus – if it doesn’t then it doesn’t tend to last long in my ‘playlist’. It could be inspiring, challenging, thought-provoking, worship-enabling, encouraging, comforting and even prompting me to remember past moments in my faith-journey (‘And can it be’ was sung when I was baptised). However I relate to it a song or hymn will be one to which I will gladly return if it points me to Jesus.

The second criterion is more difficult to nail down, and varies for many of them according to my mood. It’s the ‘ear worm factor’. At different times songs or hymns will get into my head and remain there. No matter what I do the tune and words will be playing gently in the background as the sound track to my day. This is even more subjective than the first criterion so I need to be careful that this is not a major factor when I am choosing songs or hymns for a service. I tend to choose those that resonate with the theme of the service.

worshippersBut there are some (a few) that seem to transcend the second criterion and resonate with me regardless of how I am feeling. One is the hymn we sang at the end of the service in which I was preaching yesterday:

LOVE DIVINE, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down!
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit,
Let us find Thy promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy grace receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish then Thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee!
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place;
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.

Charles Wesley

The words of this hymn are so rich, and the tune to which we usually sing it (Blaenwern) is so powerful that I can return to it again and again and find it enriching and blessing my relationship with Jesus. If you have skimmed over reading the words please go back and read it slowly.

Have you done that?

No? Go on.

Please. It’s worth it.

Isn’t it astonishing? There is so much in it. Yesterday I was speaking about how Jesus offers us fresh starts and realised that this is incorporated in this hymn too – we are being changed, restored, improved, enhanced as the Spirit of Jesus fills us. And that’s there in the text of the second and fourth verses.

The heart-felt prayer of the tormented soul that is wrestling with the human tendency to let God down – “Take away the love of sinning” – finds its answer in divine love: the closer we are as followers of Jesus the more we are drawn to him and the less attractive other options seem. There’s no point in God taking away the love of sinning if it is not replaced by something else – the love of goodness, godliness, holiness – because otherwise we will fill the void with something else and find ourselves back in the same place.

It’s a welcome sound track to my day – what’s yours?

Be blessed, be a bles-sing (see what I did there?)

*another new word from the Nick Lear dictionary – meaning worshipping God ‘to the max’

the unspoken question

silenceIn the past I have been involved in youth work and as part of the programme that we ran we would talk with young people about relationships and sex. There was one question that they all wanted to ask, but few had the courage to speak out (especially if they were already going out with someone) so I used to pre-empt it by answering it. The question went something like this:

“How far can we go?”

It might be more creatively (or crudely) put but the ‘How far can we go?’ question was an important one. I admired the fact that these young people wanted to know how to live as a follower of Jesus in this area of their life, even if they found it embarrassing to ask.

Sometimes I would offer three guidelines to them (coming originally from Rev Steve Chalke):

  1. Don’t lie down together
  2. Keep your hands outside each other’s clothing
  3. If you haven’t got one, don’t touch someone else’s

The third one usually raised a laugh. But it was important to give clear and memorable guidelines. We’d also give clear and practical advice about all aspects of relationships and sex, not just ‘how far can we go?’

However, there is another way of interpreting that question – ‘what’s the most we can get away with without actually going against what God says in the Bible?’ That approach is legalistic and inflexible. It seems to be close to the attitude Jesus was criticising in religious people of his day – keeping the letter of the law but not the spirit of it. He challenged that approach in the Sermon on the Mount when he spoke about how our attitude can break the law even if our actions don’t – hating is as bad as hurting; lusting is as unfaithful as adultery… what’s in our heart is what counts.

I still encounter this approach today – the ‘what’s the most we can get away with before we have gone too far’ or ‘what’s the minimum we have to do to get by’ approach is alive and well in churches. But Jesus was not about half-hearted measures. He encouraged an ‘all out’ approach to following him and our relationship with God. Paul described it as ‘living your life as an act of worship’ (literally ‘living sacrifices’).

Paul also wrote these words (Colossians 3) (my italics):

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

When dignitaries visit places the locals go to great lengths to make them welcome and make sure everything is ‘just so’. Why should it be any different with God? Indeed, surely as he is GOD we ought to exceed those standards of excellence for him!

Whatever you do…

If it’s washing up, make the plates as clean as you can.

If it’s feeding the hungry, give them the best food you have.

If it’s performing magic tricks, perform them as well as you can.

If it’s telling people what you believe about Jesus, tell them as clearly as you can.

If it’s singing your least favourite song or hymn in church, sing it as if it’s your favourite.

If it’s making a cup of coffee for your colleagues at work, make it the best you can.

If it’s driving, be as careful and courteous as you can.

You get the idea!

Be blessed, be a blessing