For those who of you who are wondering how things are going in my local health club in Belfast, or praying for the 'strangers in saunas' with whom I was conversing, I thought it might be helpful to give you a brief update:
I'm not sure how a clerical collar would look in the sauna, but I was tempted to consider, for future ventures, wearing a 'onesy' or 'Lycra body suit' or a bathrobe, following my next encounter with another stranger in the sauna. Perhaps you may have guessed, by my slightly prudish comments, it was an older lady who entered the sauna a couple of days later. Happily we were seated in opposite corners of the sauna, but it didn't take too long before she introduced herself, WAIT FOR IT, by her christian name FAITH.
Well, after I had recovered from the surprise (o ye of little faith!), I couldn't help but ask "Well, tell me FAITH ....do you have faith?" It turns out, actually, that she does - and she also attends a local church, whose former minister I know of (who is, I think, very mildly evangelical). Anyway, she goes to church regularly, and expressed her thanks for the pastoral care of her former minister, when he called to see her in hospital, after her recent cancer surgery.
Happily I was able to guide her to some of God's promises (I suppose she could be a nominal Christian - the conversation was too short to find too much out), and to remind her, that however long life was, whether long or short, by putting all her hope in Jesus, the Son of God who died for sinners - and no hope in herself or anything else - she could leave this world confident of hope in the next world. I trust, that before or after, this was or will be rather an occasion of 'SAINTS IN SAUNAS'!
If you have been praying for our Atheist friend, let me encourage you to keep on praying. I bumped into him again about a week after that, this time not in the sauna, but in the changing rooms. I told him that I had been thinking about his question 'Why does God give us a Law that we cannot keep?', and then stated warmly, "You have asked exactly the right question! That's a question with which the bible actually begins the Gospel in the Book of Romans (or words to that effect)!"
I wondered, by his pause, followed by silence, if I'd pushed the boat out too far ...but then he just changed the subject and asked me about something else. Still, until today, I had the niggling thought in my mind 'Does he view me as persona non-grata?'
Well, it would appear the lines of communication did not come down in the storm of scripture references. He started to chat as I baptised myself (I'm not saying by what mode!!!). And then, with another of the sauna strangers, we met again in the sauna after I did my, by now increasing (mainly in terms of flailing arms, hypoxia and waves), 40 lengths of freestyle. We didn't talk about the bible, as it happens, but the conversation flowed freely, and was more than friendly.
So please continue to pray (without ceasing), or start supplicating if you didn't, for this former 'Everest Climber', with whom I have a common interest in Rugby. He did ask me had my son recovered from the disappointment of losing in the St. Patrick's Day, Schools Rugby Cup Final, to begin the conversation: so pray, by God's will, he would eventually pluck up the courage to ask me 'If I asked the right question, can you tell me the right answer?' And pray that if he does, in the providence of God, I would give a clear concise answer with gentleness and respect, for this precious 'stranger in the sauna'.