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The Hand of God

One of the front page headlines that announced the death of Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona, who died last week aged 60, described him as hero, villain, and genius.

Pundits were agreed that he was one of the best players ever, up there with the great Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and Bobby Moore.

The Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp said that there was Diego and there was Maradona.

Diego was the lively prodigious talent, who dazzled crowds — Maradona the big personality, who resorted to drugs to feel the vacuum left between dreams and reality.

For England fans memories of Maradona will be of the World Cup game in 1986 when he scored two goals against England, one the infamous “hand of God” goal, the other a virtuoso goal that showcased all his God-given skills.

Human beings are very complex. We are all a delicate mix of dust and glory.

I am reminded of the rabbinic story of how everyone should have two pockets, each containing a slip of paper. On one should be written: “I am but dust and ashes,” and on the other: “The world was created for me.” From time to time we must reach into one pocket or the other. The secret of living comes from knowing when to reach into each.

Preachers need to learn how to use both of these pockets in preaching.

There can be a style of preaching that fails to celebrate human value, dignity, beauty and skill. Such preaching can communicate an extremely negative self-image. Alternatively, there can be a style of preaching that overemphasises the power of positive thinking and is therefore overly optimistic about human nature.

Preachers need to keep in mind both how high human beings can rise and how low they can stoop.

I recently heard Arsene Wenger say that as a football manager you speak to three people: the child, the teenager and the adult.

The child wants to play. This is the desire that consumes them.

For the teenager everything is black or white. The question is: “Are you stupid or are you a genius?”

The adult is a guy who lives with his internal suffering but has to find a compromise with the external world and then he can find a balanced life.

I was interested to hear him say: “You speak a lot to the child. To be creative if you have to do something. You have to use your initiative, courage and shrewdness.”

Whether it be a world-famous footballer, a high-profile politician, our boss, or a member of our congregation, it matters who we think we are.

Too many people live as if they are a child in a teenage or adult body.

Life is about growing up. Luke’s gospel gives us a unique glimpse of the childhood years of Jesus, (Luke 2:40–52). The incident concludes with the profound statement:

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)

Preaching needs to constantly remind us that we are a work in progress. Dallas Willard in his book Renovation of the Heart reminds us that there are three things we need to make progress:

Vision — Intention — Means

A vision of life here and forever in God’s will and presence. Perhaps the hardest thing for sincere Christians to come to terms with is the level of their real unbelief — that can daily shape the way we look at life.

An intention is brought to completion only by a decision to fulfil the intention. There are lots of people who say they intend to do things which they don’t do. Sometimes this is because vision has not been fully formed.

Means: We have rich resources available for doing what we intend: in the example and teaching of Christ, in the Bible, and in his people.

The resources are available.

If spiritual transformation is not taking place it is because it is not intended. It is not intended because the vision of Christ has not captivated our hearts and sparked our imaginations.

It is all a case of deciding which version of ourselves we would rather be.

Photo by Jack Hunter on Unsplash

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