Last year, I had cancer of the oesophagus. How did this horrible thing happen to me? And, more important, why? – Was it a quirk of fate? A flaw of biology? A malign sign of Satanic machination? Evidence of my own sin?
Having asked myself these questions for months, I now think I have the answer. Cancer was God’s way of demonstrating to all who knew me that He – the same God who lived in and inspired the early Christians – also lives in and inspires me!
And this may also explain why a whole host of unusual things have happened in my life. To take an equally momentous example: why did God make available to me, in 2015, the Pastorship of a chapel that hardly anybody knew about, very few attended, and (in the Local Authority’s view) was functionally obsolete? Might it be that He did it to give evidence of the power that He can bestow on an ageing, frail, meek Christian like me? After all, if Christianity has one supreme secret to reveal to the world, it is the secret of victorious living. And, for most of my life up to then, I’d struggled with precisely that!
Let me invite you to zoom back two thousand years to First Century Rome, where the masses (whose main desires in life were panem et circenses – bread and circuses) regularly flocked to the Colosseum to see gladiators raise one arm to Emperor Nero and chant “Morituri te salutant!” – “Those about to die salute you!” – before grasping their armaments and slashing each other to death.
Also on the Colosseum programme: a group of newfangled cultists calling themselves “Christians”, whom Nero ordered to be thrown to the lions, or tarred and set alight, or tied to stakes and pierced by archers’ arrows. And, in the midst of the mayhem, a realisation was dawning on the masses and the nobility alike: these Christians had something different about them. What was it? Well, having experienced persecution from their earliest years, they had somehow discovered the secret of victorious living! Despite being harried, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and slain, this little company of men and women could never (the Romans found) be conquered!
It would be only a matter of time before those who witnessed this unconquerable Christian character would begin to crave it for themselves. Indeed, at every historical moment when Christianity has been able to demonstrate the message of victorious living, the religion has blossomed and spread. And, conversely, every time it has taken taken its focus off this message in preference for secondary issues, its power has been lost.
This very day, churches are closing and congregations are dispersing – precisely because of this loss of focus on the message of victorious living. Yet this is the very message that the broad masses of humanity are are looking for!
In my role as a Pastor, I have a duty to emulate the early Christians in living victoriously. If I myself cannot find the secret of doing that, then what use am I to the countless men and women around me, living lives defeated by worry, fear, prejudice and sin?