May I introduce Matt! His first guest blog is based on a talk he did for a men’s breakfast, while it has breached my rules for length it’s awesome and deserves to be read!
I have always loved sport – both watching and playing. Although I have always enjoyed football, my favourite sports have always been Rugby League and Cricket. As a teenager I attended the Scarborough Cricket festival and saw many of the world’s greatest players – Viv Richards, Ian Botham and even Geoff Boycott (bowling – with his cap on! Apologies to all those who have no idea who Geoff Boycott is – shame on you!). Imagine, then, my shock when I turned on the radio this summer and listened to the sport’s news. Allegations of match fixing dominated the airwaves. Allegedly, members of the Pakistan cricket team were being paid tens of thousands of pounds by criminal bookmakers. It seems that all they had to do was bowl a few no-balls at precise moments in the match enabling those in the know, and the cricketers themselves to earn vast sums of money for nothing.
Although no one was hurt and the results of the matches probably weren’t even affected, sport lovers all over the world were appalled that the integrity of cricket had been tarnished.
The controversy made me think. If guilty as charged, these men have risked everything – their careers and their reputations for the sake of money. They took a short cut, the quick and easy way to riches they could have earned by right by simply being the magnificent cricket players they undoubtedly are.
But it’s so easy to become sanctimonious. Are we so different? We may not be match fixers but we all have our short cuts. Pornography can be a short cut for sex – it’s not as satisfying, or so I’m told! The lottery is a short cut to riches – if you’re lucky! Beer is a short cut to happiness and a good time. Facebook a short cut for friendship?! But do short cuts satisfy, or ultimately, do we just get lost?
In the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus had the option of taking short cuts. In the well known story of Jesus’ temptations, Satan is said to come to Jesus while he is in the desert, fasting for 40 days from food. He tempts Jesus in three ways – by suggesting he uses his supernatural powers to turn bread into stone, by throwing himself off the temple in Jerusalem and have the angels catch him and finally by offering power and dominion over the whole world. The temptations offered Jesus a short cut to becoming the Messiah (after his fasting, he was planning to start his public ministry). Why not impress the locals and fulfil every material need? Why not use supernatural powers to gain followers and admirers? What about leading a political revolt and ruling by force? Phillip Yancey, a Christian writer and thinker in his book ‘Disappointment with God’ looks at this story in some detail and points out that in the Old Testament, when God was dealing with the people of Israel, there were plenty of examples of Him providing for every material need, lots of examples of supernatural power and the eventually the establishment of a nation ruled by a King who was appointed by God. In the end, argues Yancey, it didn’t work – not because God had failed but because God’s people were disobedient, unreliable and flighty.
Yancey then concludes by suggesting that at the end of Old Testament God says “what else can I do?” Yancey argues that what God had demonstrated couldn’t be taken by power was instead to be won through suffering.
Instead of coming in power, Jesus came as a helpless baby. Instead of ruling with force he made himself dependent on a mother to give him sustenance. Instead of choosing the easy way, he chose the hard. He chose what Eugene Peterson calls “the long walk in the right direction.”
Ultimately, Jesus was offered a final shortcut as he acknowledges in his prayers at Gethsemane – he could have called upon legions of angels to rescue him. But he didn’t. He chose instead to take the long, hard route, the one that led to the cross.
I wish I had the skills of Ikram Butt, or Mohammed Amir (or any half decent cricket player come to think of it!). I’d like to think that my impeccable personal integrity (!!) would force me to turn down any such easy route to riches without a moment’s thought. But I also know that I’m not yet the man I should be and I’m not nearly as much like Jesus as I want to be. Despite what I might want or think is good for my life and the life of my family, I’m hoping and praying that with his help, I’ll make the right choices.