Strangers in Saunas

After the swimming pool today, where I swam 30 lengths freestyle, I spent twenty minutes in the Sauna. It happened to be full of aged 50+ years men who were pontificating loudly and crudely about the politics of Northern Ireland.

As the air was getting ‘blue’ I thought I’d introduce God into the conversation. To a stunned silence I pronounced confidently ‘the problem with the nation is we have turned our backs on God – our people no longer have any time for Christ’ quickly followed by, half-smiling ‘I thought that would be a conversation stopper!’

Now, of course, the men felt obliged to talk. I was happy to confess I was a Christian minister. This began a debate on the role of church and state – in both European Catholic and Protestant churches. I was, with the Lord’s help, able to answer one inquirer about these matters (just about), and, to give a couple of little snippets about the US separation of powers (I hope I got it right!), when that was raised.

There ensued a free lively exchange for the next fifteen minutes or so. One man proclaimed himself an atheist and said one thing he could never understand, brought up in the Catholic Church, was why God expected people to obey Ten Commandments when they couldn’t.

This, of course, is where the Gospel starts! What I realise now (I hope to tell him next time I see him – we’ve actually talked ‘sports’ before – he asked the correct question but drew the wrong conclusion. By the grace of God, and the help of the Spirit, I was able to take him to Paul and, eventually getting time to speak, told him that ‘the reason why God does that is to show us we are sinners who must give account to God in order to lead us to the Saviour and taste the grace and love of God.’

We touched, after that, on the need for a new heart as Jesus told Nicodemus. I managed to pluck from somewhere Augustine’s ‘posses and peccares’ (though I gave it to them in English not Latin). It really took be by surprise – the bench of the sauna almost seemed like a mini-pulpit (probably the best opportunity to witness I have in many months) – Protestants, Catholics, an Atheist, all talking about the bible. If I’m really open, the trigger to my boldness was that I just got annoyed by the angry man who started calling people **********s. I’m getting a little older, more crusty, and less tolerant of foul-mouth profanities. Yet, God works all for good – it turned out to be more refreshment than I bargained for (swimming, sweating and speaking): it has encouraged me to be bolder in future!

I should also confess that, by temperament I find it quite easy (or used to) to be forthright about faith – this I suspect would not be everybody’s ‘cup-of-tea’ as some are quite reserved: yet, the embers can grow cold in those more naturally inclined to speak – I’d recently realised that I’d drawn back from witness, perhaps having got my fingers burnt a few times, or maybe because I’d lost a little heart at the lack of response.

This time however my ‘heart was in my mouth’. I really, by God’s mercy, made a bold move, and by the grace of God, it seems to have really been worthwhile (that is judging by the friendly comments of two men who left when I did, who volunteered: ‘this was the best conversation we’ve had in ages’ and ‘nobody talks like this today!’

Could it be true that souls created in God’s Image are bored-to-death of talking about bland superficialities when their hearts are achingly empty? Just a thought! What then could be better than men talking man-to-man about real manly things that truly matter! Pray for more opportunities to speak to sinners, and ask your people, as Paul himself taught ‘that words may be given us …that we may boldly open our mouths …as we should.’

Of course, next time at the pool, I’ll probably be persona-non-grata – perhaps I may even be the talk of the gym (perhaps you’re thinking that’s why I wouldn’t have done it!)

…But then again, maybe for them, or maybe for me, THERE WILL NOT BE A ‘NEXT TIME!’

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