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Joey Barton, football and betting. Maybe the sport itself is addicted.

fun stops

800px-JoeyBartonThe news that Joey Barton’s football career appears to be over after an 18-month ban for betting irregularities may be irrelevant to many but it probably says as much about the sport as it does about the player himself.

The news is being reported as the latest tragedy to befall an undoubtedly intelligent but flawed man. Even Barton himself says, in his statement accepting the FA charges:

“I accept that this is one more mess I got into because of my own behaviour. This episode has brought home to me that just as I had to face up to the need to get help to deal with alcohol abuse, and with anger, so now I need to get help for my issues with gambling, and I will do so.”

The report on the BBC website by football reporter Phil McNulty is analytical about Barton and his many weaknesses but glosses over the fact that the whole professional game is in hock to the betting industry.

Indeed it almost accuses Barton of trying to pass the blame by his reference to this. McNulty writes:

Barton has divided opinion throughout his career – and he was at it again in what was effectively his retirement statement when he said: “If the FA is serious about tackling gambling, I would urge it to reconsider its own dependence on the gambling industry.”

He was referring to the links between betting chain Ladbrokes and the FA Cup.

It was a view that, yet again, polarised feelings. Was Barton making a valid point or simply trying to absolve himself from blame for breaking clear FA rules?

Seriously? Just Ladbrokes and the FA Cup?

You can’t watch football on any pay-per-view channel without being subjected to invitations to bet in every advert break – even in some cases with the very channel’s main football anchor popping up.

As Guardian writer  put it in his piece:

Barton’s ban comes at a time when football has never been more closely intertwined with the gambling industry. Eleven of the 20 current Premier League sides wear the logos of betting companies on their shirts, while the Football League itself is sponsored by a gambling company. The growth in online or ‘remote’ gambling has meant that not just every match but most of the elements within them can now be gambled upon. Recent estimates at the amount of gambling losses accrued in the UK put the total at around £300 per person per year.

I’ve always had a puzzled liking for Joey Barton’s intelligence and tweets that equalled my exasperation at his outbursts, violence and stupidity but I’m gobsmacked at how anyone can place 15,000 bets in 12 years. He says the average bet was just over £150 and many were for only a few pounds but there were 15,000 of them. Staggering. But then he is an addict and addicts do stupid things.

It seems to me, however, that football itself is addicted to betting. Perhaps if the whole business was weaned off there would be fewer Joey Bartons in the future and our children wouldn’t have to see the logos on their heroes’ shirts.

Since February 2013 the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has recruited 26 counsellors and launched a nationwide network to support current and former members who have gambling addictions.

The players’ union has been addressing the wider issues of emotional well-being and addiction for more than 14 years and this is an extra service for current and former PFA members: a safe place to get support and counselling. There is also a 24-hour helpline.

Clearly, players have to be responsible for their actions but there comes a point when the industry itself needs to recognise that its own financial systems are contributing to a problem. If football relies on the betting industry and allows the companies to trumpet themselves on shirts, around pitches, in every advert break and sponsorship opportunity then how long before it recognises that betting is just as harmful as smoking – it’s just that the destruction manifest itself differently.

What does the slogan say? When the fun stops, stop. It stopped long ago.

 

A WORD IN TIME: TUESDAY

This is today’s study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Mark 13:5-13

5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray.6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

9 ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. 10And the good newsmust first be proclaimed to all nations. 11When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;13and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.


“Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray.’” (vv. 5-6)

Background

In the media race for our attention, the crucial thing is to build up an online profile. Using Facebook and Twitter (both probably too old school now), Instagram, Snapchat and many other platforms, anyone who aspires to be a superstar has to be followed by millions.

It’s impossible to opt out and retreat into anonymity if you want people to follow you. Of course, if you don’t keep your latest exploits where everyone can see them, you will fast become irrelevant.

Today’s conversation between Jesus and the disciples came about because his followers were being seduced by the opulence and grandeur of the temple.

“As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.'” (Mark 13:1-2)

Instead of believing the Jewish religious leaders’ publicity machine, they needed to realise what mattered: did they want to defend the symbol of faith or the one the symbol was pointing to?

“Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray” (v. 6).

Jesus knew that his preaching of the kingdom of God had angered the Jewish priests and leaders. He knew the pressure would be on his followers to recant their stories as false teachers and even family disputes threatened the in-breaking kingdom of God.

We read later in the Bible: “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

It’s difficult to “consider it … joy” when you feel all the media messages are against your way of life, but while our Instagram account may not be followed by millions our Saviour’s profile is one we are urged to share.

To Ponder

  • Is it a problem or a bonus that the Church doesn’t have money for multi-million pound publicity campaigns? Why?
  • How do we help people “consider it … joy” when they face trials in their life? What pastoral gifts have you found helpful?

A Word in Time: Monday

This is today’s Bible study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Acts 1:1-8

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me;5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’


“… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8)

Background

Living in an age where fake news can travel around the world before the truth has got its boots on – to misquote an old saying – we know only too well the power of communication. Knowing how to get your message out – whether it’s a political campaign or an advertising slogan – is essential if you want to get people on your side.

As Jesus comes to the end of his time on earth, he has been giving the disciples an intensive course in missiology ready for this moment. They are convinced now that he really has risen from the dead, but need a bit more understanding about what comes next.

The answer is not ‘go’ but ‘wait’. Why? Because good communication needs the right network and it isn’t in place yet.

The “promise of the Father” (v. 4) is the gift of the Holy Spirit and a promised power to witness to the truth of the Resurrection and the new reality of the kingdom of God to change lives.

It’s only a matter of days before the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Then the disciples understand exactly what Jesus meant by saying “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

The Galilean boy band will be in on the start of a world tour: beginning where they are but spreading out on the coat tails of the expanding Roman Empire – the very occupiers who have tried to crush the Jewish people. From Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and into the known world the story of a risen Messiah rockets as believers tell it.

Within a very few years the story of Jesus had reached Britain … the ends of the earth?

To Ponder

  • How difficult is it to wait when you have a message you want to share? What can be gained by waiting?
  • What networks do we ignore at our peril?

A Word in Time: Sunday

This week I am providing the Bible study notes on the Methodist Church’s website at A Word in Time. The overall theme for the week is The Gospel of the Spirit and the studies link to the daily readings and prayers in the Methodist Prayer Handbook.

I will repost each day’s reading and reflection here as well.

John 20:19-31 (NRSVUK)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (v. 21)

Background

The work of mission doesn’t wait. Resurrection day hasn’t finished and the risen Jesus is already reminding the disciples that this new reality is not served by hiding away in their meeting room.

The writer uses that strange phrase “the doors of the house … were locked for fear of the Jews” (v. 19) when we know that those behind the locked doors were themselves Jews.

Who are they afraid of? The NIVUK Bible renders “fear of the Jews” as “fear of the Jewish leaders” which makes more sense. Mob rule stirred up by those who had engineered the crowd’s chorus of “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:11-15) would have frightened off most people.

But as they hide behind the locked doors the disciples encounter something even more scary. How do you handle a risen Jesus?

The writer of the Gospel doesn’t give us any of the lead-in that Luke has in Acts 1. There the disciples are sent to wait in their room (Acts 1:4-8) for the gift of the Holy Spirit while Jesus ascends to heaven.

In John’s Gospel, the risen Christ appears on the evening of Resurrection Day, breathes the Holy Spirit on his friends (verse 22) and signals the start of the new outreach campaign: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (v. 21).

Yet again the battle between dark and light, which has been a constant theme throughout the Gospel, is prominent. The people of God can’t hide away when there’s work to be done.

The disciples are now a sent people: apostles. They are no longer locked away, but released with a new story to tell.

To Ponder

  • Can you think of something the Church needs releasing to do but feels ‘locked up’ about? What is it?
  • Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples as the work of mission begins after the Resurrection. How can we show resurrection hope in our communities?

That the world may belong …

It’s Resurrection Day, the morning we celebrate the fact that the tomb was empty. Despite all the attempts of the authorities to silence Jesus and his message of overwhelming love and hope, he had broken death’s stronghold.

On Easter morning hope was reborn. As first light dawned it became clear that darkness would not have the final word and the cross – that foul instrument of torture – became a symbol of rebirth.

Here is a hymn that reminds us of all the ways the cross still stands to call the Church to action in the world for the good of others.

It is sung to the tune for Great is thy Faithfulness.

God of our sunrise and light of the morning,
dawn on our worship, renew us today.
Come by your Spirit and fill with your passion,
set us on fire with the Gospel we pray.
 
Chorus
We are your people, the Church you have chosen.
We are a gift to the weak and the strong.
We are the shape of your love for all people.
Help us to live that the world may belong.
 
Jesus your cross is the hope of the hopeless,
guide of the blind and the staff of the lame.
Here, as the nations are grieving and limping,
Give us compassion to live for your name.
 
Jesus your cross is the world’s consolation,
object of pain yet the strength of the weak.
Here, as we struggle for peace and for meaning
Jesus we ask for your courage to speak.
 
Jesus your cross is the birthplace of justice,
cloth for the naked, refreshment for thirst.
Here, as we seek ways to live out the Gospel,
May we repent of our need to be first.
 
Jesus your cross is the mystery that beckons:
drawing us close till we see face to face,
sharing your love with the world in its turmoil,
blessing with your uncontrollable grace.
Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

On the radio: panto and Pontypool

Panto pioneering (Thursday)

Church leaders like me have to handle a number of different tasks, like public speaking, leading worship and organising events, but until I worked in one particular job I had no idea it included being the Wizard of Oz!

For a few years, I worked as a Pioneer Minister – doing church with people who don’t do church – in a community where there were no Methodist buildings. It meant I had to build links with the community through other means and so Joy and I decided to join the local panto group.

We’d spotted a poster advertising the start of rehearsals and nervously walked in one evening. We needn’t have worried. Instantly we were welcomed in, ‘adopted’ by a friendly group member and helped through our first visit. When we went for the second rehearsal we were greeted with a delighted: “you came back!”

We were part of the society for three years: performing in the chorus, playing in the band and, yes, I was the Wizard of Oz! There are even a couple of embarrassing photos on Facebook. Now, even though we don’t live in the area, we still keep in touch with people from the society and go back a couple of times a year.

I learned a huge amount from the panto gang about how churches can be better at welcoming and keeping people. We were simply accepted for who we were and what we could offer, encouraged to offer our best and challenged to grow. We were welcomed back every time and reminded about the core purpose – to play our part and get the show on stage.

Although only one of the company had any kind of church connection, a number began to refer to me as “our minister”. It felt as though I was doing my job too.

 

Pontypool rugby (Friday)

This time of the year is one of my favourites. It’s got nothing to do with the weather but everything to do with the Six Nations Rugby tournament which this year is turning out to be one of the best in a long time.

I grew up in Pontypool in the Welsh Valleys, home to the Pontypool Front Row and a whole collection of Welsh internationals. In my teenage years we lived alongside our heroes and on more than one occasion I would travel to school with Terry Cobner, captain of Pontypool and a future Welsh skipper, sitting in the front seat of my Dad’s car.

My own rugby ability didn’t amount to much. The nearest I got was as understudy to Pontypool full-back Peter Lewis … but that was as an actor in our school production of Oliver!

Anyway, back to rugby. I’ve got my Welsh rugby jersey, hat and scarf – I’ve even got some Welsh cakes – and I know which of my Scottish friends I’ll be exchanging banter with on Facebook tomorrow morning before kick-off.

When Wales beat Scotland I will, of course, be generous in victory. Should the unthinkable happen … well, I’m not thinking of it!

Of course, at the end of each game someone chooses the Man of the Match, the player who outshines everyone else.

The Bible tells of how God used prophets and others to try to get his message of love across but in the end needed Jesus to come and demonstrate that love by teaching, healing and ultimately through his death and resurrection.

The salvation of the world needed someone to reflect God’s glory and bear the imprint of God’s character. It needed God’s Man of the Match, living alongside us: modelling heaven’s love on earth and defeating death for all.

Oh, Cymru am byth, by the way!

New hymn for a new circuit

Tomorrow we celebrate the launch of the new Winchester, Eastleigh & Romsey Methodist Circuit with a special service at Chandler’s Ford Methodist Church.

We’ve pulled together a band from the 16 churches for the occasion and we’ll be singing a new hymn I wrote to reflect what we hope will be a new unity across this part of Hampshire.

Please pray for us as we embark on this new adventure.

The words of the hymn are printed below. The tune is sine nomine which many congregations use with the traditional words For all the saints who from their labours rest.

We come as one, united by the call:

drawn to declare that Christ is Lord of all.

Clear in our purpose, firm in heart and voice:

the Church of Jesus singing hallelujah!

 

Praise be to God, who blesses us in Christ:

Son of the Godhead come to bear the price.

The empty tomb declares that Life has won

and calls the world to sing a hallelujah!

 

In Christ we know the riches of God’s grace:

Love freely given, Death has been displaced!

In him we have redemption through his blood

and so we join in singing hallelujah!

 

With one accord we lift our voices high,

as all Creation joins to glorify

the one great God who chose us for his own.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Copyright © Gareth Hill Publishing/Song Solutions CopyCare, 14 Horsted Square, Uckfield, TN22 1QG www.songsolutions.org

For prayers it’s the best


Every year the Methodist Church produces a prayer handbook. It’s full of reminders that we are a world church with 80 million members.

Each day there is an encouragement to pray for specific parts of the world and part of Britain with prayers written by Methodists around the wider Church.

It is, without exception, the best thing Methodism publishes, and informs the prayers of Christians every day. 

It includes links to daily Bible passages and much more. 

You can now place orders for the next edition, which runs from the beginning of September.

https://www.methodistpublishing.org.uk/books/9781858524122/methodist-prayer-handbook-20162017