Sunday, March 29, 2009

I know that my Redeemer lives!

I don’t know about you but I like explanations.  I like to find out things – how did this come to  be, why did that happen.  I had thought winter was over and spring had arrived – it has really!  Why did the snow come, why are we having this cold spell.  The fascination for me about the weather forecast is not so much its prediction, unnervingly accurate as that has become but, the satellite imagery of cloud formations, highs and lows, the isobars and how the next set of lows is coming in off the Atlantic.


All things scientific fascinate me – spotting the space station in all its glory crossing the sky, and recalling the conversations we had with it at the World Scout Jamboree, hunting for fossils up on Cleeve Hill … and this week a wonderful privilege.  I was involved in the interviews for a new Assistant Head and Director of Science at Pittville – wonderful hearing seven Heads of Science departments in other schools up and down the country giving their presentations, great to see four youngsters from the School Council interviewing the 4 on the short list, and getting the two most able candidates.   Great to see how the person appointed engaged with those youngsters, enthusing him for the subject.  And then to appoint someone who by all accounts is an inspirational teacher but also with a Doctorate in Chemistry and having done post-graduate work in the USA as well as here – that’s really exciting.


Why study science?  Was one of the questions the youngsters asked … and great to see the enthusiasm in the response of the prospective teachers.  Because it has to do with everything.


I was itching to have different kinds of conversations.  It’s what also draws me to theology – asking questions about the faith that is important to me, investigating, weighing up different ways of understanding.  Discovering the best way to put into words an understanding of God and his ways.


It’s a great enterprise.  But …  some things go beyond the explanations.  There’s a chemistry in relationships.  You could see it happening as the best of those teachers engaged with those youngsters something was happening.  There was a sparkle there.  A spark of enthusiasm.  Relationshiips can be described – social scientists will have a field day.  But as relationships go further and become friendships there’s something there that defies explanation.  And as friendships go more deeply into love, words become more and more inadequate and the explanations less and less  satisfactory.


I thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to go away from home and take my studying further.  Not unlike science, theology is about making sense of things, and making sense of God.  It involves the kind of study and analytical asking of questions that appeals to me.  Coming to the end of one course, planning to go into the ministry, I wanted to take it further to dig deeper to do research into the way the Bible has been explained over the years.  It’s all about trying to work things out, trying to find explanations, trying to find words that I can use to help other people understand as well.


Theology was known as the Queen of the Sciences – I feel a bit like those science teachers – and I still have the same kind of enthusiasm for explaining things, and explaining God, in the hope others will catch the enthusiasm.


But as I was digging deeper I belonged to Penrallt English Baptist church in Bangor.  One hymn became a favourite.  I haven’t sung it a great deal since.  But it is a hymn that has come to mean more and more to me.


It’s a hymn that uses as its refrain a Scripture verse from 2 Timothy 1 verse 12.  The older Paul is writing to the younger Timothy almost as if he is passing on the work, a work I feel has been passed on down through the gnerations a work passed on to me that I want to pass on too.  Timothy had received the faith from his grandmother, Lois, from his mother, Eunice. It was a faith Paul wanted him not only to value, but Paul wanted him to find the right words to explain that faith.  It was important to keep to the pattern of sound teaching, it was important to guard the good deposit that had been entrusted to Paul and to Lois and to Eunicce and to Timothy – it is important for us to engage in the same task.  But for Paul the essence of the matter went beyond explanations, it went beyond words.  It went deep down into a relationship, a very special relationship with God and a very special relationship with the living, risen Jesus Christ.


Listen to those words …


2 Timothy 1:1-7 and 11-12

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

 To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 

Paul does not say, I know what I have believed.


For Paul the thing that matters is that he is able to say, I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him until that day.


Here’s the hymn.  Explanations go so far.  The truth of the relationship we have with Christ is what matters.


Hymn:  I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me has been given


1 I know not why God's wondrous grace

to me has been made known;

not why - unworthy as I am -

he claimed me for his own.

But 'I know whom I have believed;

and am persuaded that he is able

to keep that which I've committed

unto him against that day.'

2 I know not how this saving faith

to me he did impart;

nor how believing in his word

wrought peace within my heart.


3 I know not how the Spirit moves,

convincing men of Sin;

revealing Jesus through the word,

creating faith in him.

4 I know not what of good or ill

may be reserved for me -

of weary ways or golden days

before his face I see.

5 I know not when my Lord may come,

at night or noonday fair,

nor if I'll walk the vale with him,

or 'meet him in the air.'

D W Whittle (1840-1901) based on 2 Timothy 1:12

Explanations go so far.  The truth of the relationship we have with Christ is what matters.  And it does matter.


Since Christmas we have been circling around a particular theme.  With the war in Gaza and the growing financial crisis, I set my stall out after Christmas to address the issue – how do we cope in our Christian faith.  What do we do in response?


It has been encouraging to be sharing in doing together.  This last week a number of things that we are involved in ‘doing’ have come to the fore.    It was great a week last Wednesday to be part of the meeting planning to launch Street Pastors on to the streets of Cheltenham, and then at a church leaders meeting working on putting a chaplaincy into the town centre and bulding up our prayer for the town.  That needs to be coupled with real pastoral support and care. Great to be at the Visitors meeting and see how Joan and Olga are in a transition handing over the co-ordination of our visitors scheme to David and Betty Butcher and to Phil and Joyce Arnold.  Great to be reminded of the difference the visitors course has made and ways we intend to build up the strength of our communication.  The focus group working on community involvement is developing our response in the community.  This is all great encouragement.  And the best moment of all for me was as I was sitting in the staff room at Pittville as the candidates were beginning their presentation.  Pittville has a wonderfully quiet atmosphere to the school that is great to see as you go round the corridors.  As the presentations began, however, it sounded as if a herd of elephants were in the room above.  One of the senior teachers, director of performing arts, was quick to go and investigate.  She came back into the staff room with a smile on her face as the noise subsided to report it was the young Christian group doing an ice-breaker game.


I smiled – part of our commitment to the community has been to support schools work – there was I as Governor in the Staff Room, while Becky was upstairs not really causing havoc.  Actually there were 9 there in the group.  On a Wednesday she and Wes just walk the grounds of the school, having conversations with youngsters being a presence.


One element of our commitment to the community.  But a really important one.


Doing is one thing.  But how do you get your mind round things that are going on in the world. How can you keep your faith.  I have found myself since Christmas drawn to the Book of Job.


That’s a place where explanations are sought.  But the tragedy is that none of the explanations offered makes any difference.  Job faces the dilemma of the biggest question of all, why should the innocent suffer so much, and there is no way it is going to be resolved.


We have touched on three wonderful passages in Job 9, 28 and 38-41 where he is confronted with the awesome nature of God in all the glory of creation and while it does not give him any easy answers, it enables him to live with unanswered questions.


I want to draw to a close my dip into Job with another of those moments for Job.  It is a remarkable moment for Job when he has a sense not only of the reality of the God of all creation, but the reality of a much more personal presence of God with him.


Overwhelmed by the loss of all his possessions, the loss of his family, and the devastating loss of his own health, Job has found no comfort from the theological reasoning his friends have given as they have attempted an explanation of his plight.  No explanation is adequate.


You touch the lowest point almost in Job’s experience.


All my intimate friends detest me;

Those I love have turned against me,

I am nothing but skin and bones;

I have escaped by only the skin of my teeth.


Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,


And then comes that lowest moment.  He feels that even God has forsaken him.


For the hand of God has struck me.


Then it is that something dawns on him.


Then it is that he is conscious of something so very special.


Reading:  Job 19:23-27


‘O that my words were written down!
   O that they were inscribed in a book! 
O that with an iron pen and with lead
   they were engraved on a rock for ever! 
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
   and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
   then in my flesh I shall see God, 
whom I shall see on my side,
   and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
   My heart faints within me!

Nowhere is that caught more wonderfully than in Handel’s Messiah.  The 2nd part comes to a climax with the Hallelujah chorus.  There is a short break.


And then those wonderful words break in.


I know that my redeemer liveth.


No reasoning, no easy explanations,

no dotting of every ‘i’,

no crossing of every ‘t’

simply a deep down feeling,

that is more than a feeling.


I know ...


Not a creed, not an argument,

not a conclusive proof,

and yet a certainty,


I know that my Redeemer liveth,


for he has indeed

risen from the dead,

and he lives.

The Messiah who is My Redeemer.


I know that my Redeemer liveth.



We began after Christmas trying to figure things out.


We have addressed the things we should be doing, practical things, things that make a difference.


We have glimpsed ways of living with unanswered questions as we have sensed the glory of God in all creation.


But today is Passion Sunday, next Sunday is Palm Sunday, then Holy Week will lead us up to Easter. And once again we focus on Jesus Christ.


How?  We will tell the story using the wonderful BBC serialisation of the events of Holy Week, the BBC passion.  Much more, we will give space and time for prayer.


Becky will explain the way Holy Week will unfold.



We can only reach resurrection through Holy Week, the suffering and the death of Christ.


But as we reach resurrection we can echo those wonderful words of Job.


I know that my Redeemer lives.


Hymn:  I know that my redeemer lives

 1 I know that my redeemer lives-

what comfort this assurance gives!

he lives, he lives, who once was dead,

he lives, my everlasting Head.

2 He lives triumphant from the grave,

he lives, eternally to save;

he lives, to bless me with his love,

and intercedes for me above.

3 He lives to help in time of need,

he lives, my hungry soul to feed;

he lives, and grants me daily breath,

he lives, and I shall conquer death.

4 He lives, my kind, wise, constant friend,

who still will guard me to the end;

he lives, and while he lives I'll sing,

Jesus, my prophet, priest, and king.

5 He lives, my saviour, to prepare

a place in heaven, and lead me there;

he lives, all glory to his name,

Jesus, unchangeably the same.

Samuel Medley (1738-1799)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wanted! Wisdom!


What is for you the greatest example of human inventiveness, human ingenuity, human discovery or human achievement?


A quiet reflection for a moment or two.


Now share your own thoughts with one or two people sitting near you.


And now an opportunity for those who want to, to share their experience with all of us.


For the writer of the book of Job one of the greatest feats of human achievement and human endeavour was to be found in the ability of miners to mine the depths of the earth for precious metals.


Job 28: 1-11

There are mines where silver is dug;
There are places where gold is refined.
Miners dig iron out of the ground
And melt copper out of the stones.
They explore the deepest darkness.
They search the depths of the earth
And dig for rocks in the darkness.
Far from where anyone lives
Or human feet ever travel,
They dig the shafts of mines.
There they work in loneliness,
Clinging to ropes in the pits.
Food grows out of the earth,
But underneath the same earth
All is torn up and crushed.
The stones of the earth contain sapphires,
And its dust contains gold.
No hawk sees the roads to the mines,
And no vulture ever flies over them.
No lion or other fierce beast
Ever travels those lonely roads.

Miners dig the hardest rocks,
Dig mountains away at their base.
10 As they tunnel through the rocks,
They discover precious stones.
11 They dig to the sources of rivers
And bring to light what is hidden.


It is essentially the same fascination we have for the wonder of human achievement, human endeavour, human inventiveness.


There is, however, a problem.


The great problem with human inventiveness, with scientific advances is that they can so often be used for good or for ill.


On occasions the difference between good and ill is clear.  It is stark.  It is plain for all to see.


However, all too often, the distinction between good and ill becomes blurred.  It is not so clear.  There is an immense area of grey.


That is the point at which we require wisdom.  Wisdom to discern good from ill.  Wisdom to understand what we ought to do with the discoveries we make.  Wisdom to cope with the world we shape through our human ingenuity, inventiveness and endeavour.



Where can that wisdom be found?


That is the plaintive cry of the book of Job.


Job 28:12-19


12 But where can wisdom be found?
Where can we learn to understand?

13 Wisdom is not to be found among mortals;
No one knows its true value.
14 The depths of the oceans and seas
Say that wisdom is not found there.
15 It cannot be bought with silver or gold.
16 The finest gold and jewels
Cannot equal its value.
17 It is worth more than gold,
Than a gold vase or finest glass.
18 The value of wisdom is more
Than coral or crystal or rubies.
19 The finest topaz and the purest gold
Cannot compare with the value of wisdom.

The question becomes more pressing.  Listen to the final part of this passage.  The way Job arrives at the insight that makes all the difference maps out for us a route to follow.


The insight he arrives at is an insight we would do well to take to heart. 


Reading:  Job 28:20-28


20 Where, then, is the source of wisdom?
Where can we learn to understand?
21 No living creature can see it,
Not even a bird in flight.
22 Even death and destruction
Admit they have heard only rumours.

23 God alone knows the way,
Knows the place where wisdom is found,
24 Because he sees the ends of the earth,
Sees everything under the sky.
25 When God gave the wind its power
And determined the size of the sea;
26 When God decided where the rain would fall,
And the path that the thunderclouds travel;
27 It was then he saw wisdom and tested its worth —
He gave it his approval.

28 God said to human beings,
“To be wise, you must have reverence for the Lord.
To understand, you must turn from evil.”

Wisdom is not to be found simply within human endeavour.  Not all would agree with that statement.  Many have mapped out systems of thought that seek to explain things.  Are human systems of thought satisfying?  Do they answer all questions?  Hopeful, or not hopeful.


One problem is the sheer scale of things – the possibility of having a single theory that encompasses all is attractive but elusive.  Maybe there is something.  The writer of the book of Job has the conviction that none is to be found that fully satisfies every eventuality.  I think I am with the writer of the Book of Job.


Is there an alternative.


It is at this point that faith comes into its own.  Faith points us to one who is greater than all we see, greater than the greatest human endeavour.  Faith points us to God beyond, within, around, beneath, above all that we see.


The wisdom to understand, to find purpose, to live in the world of God’s creation, is to be found in the God who is creator of the world.


Job 28:23-27

23 God alone knows the way,
Knows the place where wisdom is found,
24 Because he sees the ends of the earth,
Sees everything under the sky.
25 When God gave the wind its power
And determined the size of the sea;
26 When God decided where the rain would fall,
And the path that the thunderclouds travel;
27 It was then he saw wisdom and tested its worth —
He gave it his approval.


Is it possible to tune in to this wisdom?


Job has the conviction that this wisdom is available to humankind.


“God said to human beings …”


It is a remarkable feature of the human mind that it is capable uniquely among all the creatures of the planet to grasp the nature of the world.  Let us not under-estimate the human ingenuity.


One of the things that I find most remarkable is that the human mind has the capacity to identify just six mathematical equations, that have a beauty to them, which are capable of describing the whole universe and everything in it.  I think that is remarkable.


The human mind is capable of receiving insight from the creator.


“God said to human beings …”


In my faith that is because the human mind is made in the image of God.


So we reach this wonderful verse :  Job 28:28


God said to human beings:

“To be wise, you must have reverence for the Lord.

To understand, you must turn from evil.”


This is the key.


This is the essential wisdom.


This is the way to understand our place in the world, who we are, where we are going.


To b e wise you must have reverence for the Lord.


First, to acknowledge with awe and reverence.   God is God.  This world is the world of God’s creation.


That means putting God first.


Secondly, as we acknowledge God that gives us a framework to distinguish good from evil.  And then a reason to depart from evil and follow the good.


“To understand you must turn from evil.”


Were it only Job that we had at our disposal at this point, I would not find that altogether helpful.


It begs so many questions.


What is God like, what is the evil we should avoid?

What is the good we should do?


It is at that point for me that the Christian faith becomes good news.  The God of creation discloses himself to us in humanity itself.  God, the God of creation, becomes as one of us.  He speaks our language.  He confronts our problems.  He weeps our tears.  He shares our vulnerability.


In Jesus Christ.


Many think the most powerful image of Christ is this remarkable painting, ‘The Bound Lamb’  It captures in a way that is so hard-hitting, the sheer vulnerability and weakness that is at the heart of our Good Friday Faith.


He is surely echoing Job’s insight when he suggests there are two fundamental dimensions to living in the world of God’s creation.


First, love God – to be wise, love God.


Second, love your neighbour – to understand, love your neighbour.


There are immense grey areas … but these two things give us a framework within which we can grapple with issues and seek a way of living in a world filled with human ingenuity but fraught with humanity’s inhumanity.


The very nature of the God we focus on in our Christian faith is love.  God is love.  Let us always come back to that as the touchstone for living our lives.


The very essence of the life we are called to lead is of love.


We are preparing to mark the story of Jesus – through Holy Week.


The Greatest Week of our Lives

A Journey with Jesus at Highbury Congregational Church (Oxford St, London Rd)


5th April Palm Sunday – The Procession

9am – Sunday Special children’s breakfast

10.30 and 6-30 Palm Sunday Services


Monday to Saturday – The Greatest Week

10.30-11.30 am and 7-8pm a space for Prayer – with The Passion on DVD with Communion on Maundy Thursday


Good Friday – Hero to Criminal

10.30 to 12-30 a space for prayer and 12-00 a walk from Imperial Gardens to St Mary’s Church


Saturday – The Quietest Day

10am-2pm, Easter Holiday Club meet at St Luke’s church

7-30 The Passion on the big screen


Easter Sunday – The True Hope

6.15am at Crickley Hill – sunrise service

10.30am and 6-30 Easter Celebration








It is almost an anti-story of human endeavour.  It tells of weakness, suffering, vulnerability.  And yet it tells of God’s presence.


God is in the suffering, in the weakness in the vulnerability of our world.  Maybe this is the greatest human creativity for us to celebrate.


The way for us to follow is precisely this way.  The way of the cross.  The way of weakness, suffering, vulnerability.  The way of God’s love.


Here is wisdom indeed.


Here is the key to it all … the beginning of unravelling the mystery of life and all it means to live in the troubled world of God’s creation.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Running the Race

So, I’m talking about running the race this week.  And there are so many different references to running or to races in the bible but why is it so repeated?


Well, a lot of the things that link with running a race or in fact doing any type of sport can link with what following God is like.  In fact, it fits with all the different things we can do in our relationship with God, whether it be the daily toll, becoming a deacon or struggling through life situations.


Now, I don’t know how many of you are into your sport.  But I felt that to talk about this subject I really needed to push myself at the gym.  I’m not someone who runs races.  Every race I ran at school I came last in.  This is short distances, like 100metres or medium size distances or even long distances.  I am not a runner and could never be called one.  So how can I and others like me relate this race metaphor to our daily struggles.  Well, that’s what I hope to talk about today.  And I’d like to say it is pure coincidence that I am talking about this at the end of race week.


Now, every race as a beginning, middle and some sort of an end.  But before we start we might need to get ourselves in the zone.  If you notice before runners start running, before any exercise happens, they prepare themselves for it.  Get ready for what they are facing.  So they might get on the right clothes, stretch, decide on the plan for that race.


And the same is true for our relationship with God, we can’t just expect it to happen.  When we start services here we usually start with worship songs or a hymn.  That can be getting yourself in the zone.  Many different bible notes recommend that you start with prayer, to get yourself mental ready, help you focus on what is ahead.


In the same way we might start our day with God by reading some of the bible, praying or committing our actions to whatever he has planned for us.  But we make sure we are ready, prepared and focused on God.


So we get to the start, we are in the zone – we know what we want to achieve and how we mean to do it – like life things may not and probably won’t go to plan but we have an idea of how we want it to go.


So we’re there, nervous, wondering how we will do and then the starting whistle goes off and everyone starts running.


Now you could just stand there and think, well, maybe I’ll get to the end.  There are lots of important things in running a race but one of the main ones is that you need to start it.  If you’re not willing to start running, start going forth in the race then you will definitely never finish. 


You can’t finish a race if you never start it.  Now I have had in my lifetime of gym trips a lot like this.  Ones where I never made it, I was mostly in the zone, had my gym kit with me but I never actually made it to the gym, other things took my focus instead.


If we never start the race with God, start following him with all that means then how will we know how it will go.  We might be rubbish Christians, we might struggle with being kind to all people or letting him be the most important being in our lives.  We might be great at those things, at telling people about God and really focused in prayer.  But if we never start by following him then we will never know.  We have to start that relationship with him to find out.  Running at our own speed, in our comfort zone.



When we start running it’s not about copying the way those around us run.  When I’m at the gym I have an order and a time limit in the way I do the machines, I like that order, it fits with the way I like to push myself.  Some people run for miles on the running machine, I walk, my balance was not made for running on a machine.  I am doing it my way, not someone else’s.  It is the content of a much longer talk but when following God we don’t have to do it like everyone else does it.  We will meet great followers of God who we might long to be like but God has a plan for each everyone of us. 


As I have different skills and needs when exercising so I have when it comes to life and my relationship with God.  In that way I cannot be like my friends or people in my family.  God has a plan for me and a race for me to run.


 So, we’ve started the race, we’ve be going a couple of miles but this is when another significant issue arises.  Something we hear several times in the Hebrews reading.  Discipline.

11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”


Have you ever been someone who goes and does the gardening after a while away for it, or who suddenly goes on a long walk, bike ride or does some form of exercise when you haven’t done it in a while?  It’s then, or usually the next day, that you realise the effect of sudden exertion.


If our bodies can keep at a form of exercise or can compete in a race then we need discipline.  There is a football phrase of “the game isn’t won on the day but throughout the week” – or in Cheltenham Town’s case not at all.  What I mean is that following God isn’t just something that just happens on a Sunday or at a certain event or occasion, it is part of “training” in the week. 


This might mean reading the bible, singing praise to God through everything, constant prayer, meeting with other Christians to discuss issues, reading books by others.


Discipline is an intimidating word but it means making sure we can face the difficult, daily situations by continuing on the walk with God.  Not expecting ourselves to sail through the problems and understand what God is doing when we don’t know his ideas on anything.  Preparation is key, whether we are running a marathon or following God. 


Our relationships with God can be like a marathon, with ups and downs, euphoria and pain and there might be sprints and short bursts but generally we’re in it for the long term and if we are going to stay in it for the long term then we need that preparation, that discipline.


I remember that when I used to face difficult situations or want to know what God had planned I did that thing where you close your eyes flick through the bible and then point to a passage, open your eyes, read it and hope it fitted with your situation.  Now sometimes that worked.  But really that isn’t the way God wants to deal with a situation, by immersing ourselves in his word, but having regular conversation with him we can have more of an idea of how he wants us to deal with different situations.


We might do this discipline in different ways – there is a way of exercising called cross training, doing different things, exercising different muscles.  Understanding that with all training there are weaknesses.  So we combine it with other things.


This might be as I said through reading the bible, other books, talking to friends, hearing Christians speak, prayer, etc.  And even these ways may be different, we may choose to pray in different ways and settings, we may try listening to worship music at home or we may try reading different versions of the bible.

 Story about Geoff and graphic version of the bible.


We don’t all learn in the same way and we may need to adapt the training to suit ourselves.


So you’ve got yourselves in the zone, you’ve started the race and you have even been really disciplined.  But there is something else that runners talk about – the wall! 


This is the bit on the race where you face a barrier, not a physical barrier but a mental one. And it’s like being suddenly faced with a brick wall. I’ve never experienced it but there is one thing that I think relates.


You may have heard about it or even seen the documentary, but a couple of weeks ago I was obsessed with the Red Nose Climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.  9 celebrities attempted to climb this mountain in order to raise money.  They had done all the discipline and got themselves in the zone but while going up this mountain they each, in turn hit the wall.  Whether through injury, altitude sickness, lack of sleep, exhaustion, drained emotion or any of the other things they had to go through. 

But they each hit it, not sure if they could go on. 


Not sure if they could face another step. 


But they did, they all made it to the top.


But what got them through it? Well, they knew their goal – they knew what they were doing and who they were doing it for. 


In Hebrews it talks about running with perseverance, it talks about fixing our eyes on Christ. 


In Philippians 3 it talks of straining towards what is ahead, pressing on towards the goal and the prize. 


In our relationship with God we hit a wall, everything gets too much for us, stress, life, worries, pain, sadness and we’re just not sure we can get past it.  But we can fix our eyes on Jesus, the only constant in this world, straining towards him.  Thinking about one day being in Heaven with him, where there will be no more tears, sadness but His love and presence.


We, like those climbers have some other things.  They had their guides and we have the bible and wise teachers.  They also had those going through it as well.  Those who felt their pain, shared in their struggles and encouraged them in all the steps, including the last steps to the top of the mountain.  If you look around you then you can see that we all face struggles, times when we can’t go on but we have each other to help us, to share stories with. 


To share moments of joy and terrible sadness. 


I have been so grateful for all the people praying for myself and my family recently, this church is full of great prayers and to know that there is love and caring makes it possible for me and others to get passed this wall.


So finally, we come towards the end.  But I haven’t yet mentioned, the most significant thing still not mentioned.  We have our friends, teachers and discipline but we have something more amazing. 


We have Jesus.


We can struggle, we can stumble, we can think that we can’t go on, that it is all too hard and we can’t be called to experience all of the cruel and painful things life has for us.


But… we have Jesus


He is here, he is running with us, looking after us, keeping an eye out for things that will hurt us, bring us down or even the things that will keep us going.  He is there for all of it.


There is a prize and Jesus wants us to share in it with him.  2 Timothy 4 says:

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.8Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.


There is a prize but also there is Jesus the whole journey.  Standing firm and taking care of us.


So what difference will hearing this today make in our lives?

  • maybe we will go home from church today and decide to run a real marathon
  • But maybe we are instead going to take up that other kind of race, going to get in the zone and start doing that walk with Jesus.
  • Or maybe we will work on our discipline, the thing that has been missing from our race, not trying to do it like everyone else but reading the bible and pray in a way for us
  • Maybe we will try and get past that wall that I talked about, finding people to have to talk to about issues or joining the Highbury prayer group
  • Maybe we will remind ourselves what our goal is and find all these race references in the bible
  • Or maybe we will ask God to help us to remember that he is with us the whole time we are in the race no matter what


And I want to finish with this, the whole idea for this sermon came from a clip that I saw on 100 Greatest Tearjerkers, one of those awful programmes that you don’t really want to watch but somehow end up watching.  And even talking about this clip tends to involve me holding back the tears.


But I felt when I watched it that it was the true image of how God helps us on the race.  There is some back story to this clip.  In 1992 a runner called Derek Redmond had got to the Olympics.  He had been dogged by injury in his bid for medals at the Olympics before but he thought finally, this was his chance.  He got to the semi finals and he started to run, doing fantastically.  Until he heard a pop and he realised it was something in his leg.


He went down, knowing his dreams were gone and he suffered.  But then he got back up, determined to finish the race.  His dad, his trainer, the man who had stood by him in everything got on to the track.  And at this point Derek thought his dad would make him stop, that they would be fighting because Derek knew he had to finish the race.  But instead his father took hold of him and helped him finish. 


This clip expresses so much about our relationship with God, we fall down, we suffer.  But instead of stopping us, taking us out of the situation, he helps us to get to the prize, to the finish line, he holds on to us and loves us all of the way.

Click here to watch Derek Redmond's Olympic Race in 1992

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light