What a failure…

success-or-failure

Okay, before you read on, let’s get the obvious joke out of the way.  Yes, I am a Leicester Tigers supporter and, after last weekends result, I know all about failure.  Let me also point out the obvious, I know a good amount about success too!

With that out of the way, and if you are sitting comfortably, I will begin.  I have been reflecting on the words success and failure recently.  You may know the poem “If” written by Rudyard Kipling in 1895 – this isn’t quite an accurate rendition but, it makes my point;

253093-rudyard-kipling-quote-if-you-can-meet-success-and-failure-and

Matters came to a head for me this week when I read a good friends comments on Facebook he said;

In the eyes of some, my leaving church leadership was failure, I felt their displeasure – scrap-heaped. But, thrown on mercy I now see success/failure differently

I felt that I needed to make a response and so I rattled this reply off;

I believe the church needs to be free of what the world sees as success and failure.  In God’s eyes there is obedience and disobedience and I would much rather go with his opinion. God never asks us to be successful, only obedient

I am not one of those who believes in “management speak” – “this isn’t failure only an opportunity to excel differently” and I do feel that the language of success and failure have their place.  What concerns me is when we draw this language into the speech and life of the Church.

In denominational speak, I have heard the word “success” used to equate to large or “innovative” congregations.  Whereas the word “failing” or “failure” attached to small or “traditional” congregations.  Whilst we cannot be blind to economic realities, equally we must not be blinded BY perceived economic realities.  We do, after all, worship the God who owns “the cattle on a thousand hillsides” (Psalm 50 vs. 10).

The danger with the language of “success and failure” is that it assumes everything can be measured against a criteria.  The problem with The Kingdom of God is, it cannot!  As Jesus said;

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  (John 3 vs. 8)

I found this, by Billy Graham, really helpful;

download

Wouldn’t it be interesting if, instead of trying to measure Success and Failure, we tried to understand calling and obedience?

Ear Ear

listening-ear-clipart-ears

The other day I pulled up in a car park and noticed something a little strange happening across the road.  There was a chap on his mobile phone screaming, shouting, pacing up and down gesturing furiously at the person on the other end.

What was he talking about?  I have no idea! I noticed him because, it was hard not too.  He seemed very angry and wound up.  I don’t know who he was talking to, what the circumstances were or what had upset him too such a level.  What my experience tells me is that, often, people get this wound up when they feel as though they are not being listened to.

Listening is, perhaps, one of the most underrated and under valued gifts at there is.  To give somebody that moment in time when we hear their story, joys or worries,gives them a value and worth that is truly incredible. When we don’t listen,then, it tells that person “you are not worth bothering with”.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that many people are looking for somebody to listen to them but,

“They do not find it among Christians, because Christians are talking when they should be listening.”

In her wonderful book “Listening”, Anne Long says that we need to learn to listen to four significant ‘voices’; Ourselves, Others, The world and God.  I might want to change the order around a bit but, in her book, she raises the valuable questions of both “who” and “how” we are listening.

In the book of James we find this piece of advice;

Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. (James 1 vs 19 The Message)

So, let me ask you, when did you last really listen to somebody?  I mean really, give them your full and undivided attention?  It’s not easy is it?

As I thought about listening, I reflected that when we come before God in prayer, God gives us His full and undivided attention.  He listens, truly listens.  He listens to our worries, guilt, concerns and also the joys and happiness.  Now, that does not mean He will always give us what we want, or demand but, I can be assured, that God is more willing to listen than I am to talk to Him!

My reflections then led me to the most uncomfortable question of all! If God gives me such a level of attention, do I give Him the courtesy of listening to Him?  In my prayer life, am I too quick to speak and too slow to listen?

7695499_orig

 

I see

man_with_flashlight

It may come as a surprise to you, dear reader, for me to confess that I am one of those awkward people who, from time to time, has difficulty in sleeping.  Just before we go any further, I do wish to point out that, I am not at THAT stage of life (far too young) but, I wake at odd hours.

When I have difficulty with sleep I have a tendency to get up and go for a wander around.  Now, I am considerate, I don’t want to disturb anybody else, I don’t put the light on.  Somehow, my best intentions don’t work out.  I seem to step on the dog, fall down the stairs or crash into something along the way.  The family will never forget the occasion when I met a fruit bowl on the stairs, the sound of half a dozen apples bouncing down the stairs at 2am did not bring joy to their hearts.  It seems the harder I try, the worse it goes.

The, a little while ago, I had an idea that revolutionized our family life.  A moment of pure genius (I don’t have many) – I got a torch.  It’s only a small torch, it fits easily into a pocket.  This torch has saved me (and the fruit bowl) pain and embarrassment.  I am able to use it to guide me for a midnight cup of tea without disturbing anybody else.

It seems simple, easy – almost too easy yet, it has changed my life for the better!  Jesus once said;

“I am the world’s Light. No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness. I provide plenty of light to live in.”

(John 8 vs. 12 – The Message)

Sounds so straight forward doesn’t it?  So, why not give it a try – better than stumbling in the darkness!

Chch

6cpoab9ei

I was a bit wary of writing this because, it relates to a dream I had last night.  Now, let me be clear, I am not the sort of person who has prophetic or spiritual dreams, mine are usually the result of something I have eaten before bed and are more than a little strange!  This dream, however, was a bit different.  I haven’t been able to shake it and so I offer it to you for your own reflection.

It began with a sign (outside a building) that said

bumpersticker-ch__ch-whats-missing-ur_557c79489ad21_365xauto-jpg-keep-ratio

I know, it seems a bit corny and, as a minister, you would expect me to dream about Church and Church attendance (just for the record, I don’t!).  But then the dream went on.  So let me tell you a story….

fe0d406eed5cab1bd7400732a1320065

It was the biggest, the best the most wonderful jigsaw there had ever been.  It was full of colour and variety and it was a little tricky for them to put together but, they thought, when it is complete it will be worth it.

They began at the edges.  Working out the corners and then they moved on to the long straights that linked the corners.  It took several days and a lot of thinking time but, they thought, when it is complete it will be worth it.

Once the basic outline was in place, they could begin with the trickiest bits of all; filling in.  Some pieces went in easily and some did not.  Some had to be taken out and tried elsewhere.  As they sifted through the pieces and sorted them into groups they thought, when it is complete it will be worth it.

After what seemed like an eternity, the picture took shape.  It was beautiful, amazing and useful all rolled into one.  It was the sort of picture that made the world a brighter place and the fine detail showed the skill and the imagination of the artist.  No matter how you looked at it you just knew that, when it is complete it will be worth it.

Finally the grand day arrived and the last piece was to be put into the jigsaw.  Try as they might, they could not find it.  They searched high and low, they pulled out all of the furniture.  But with one piece missing, the picture was incomplete.

If you have ears to hear, then listen….

 

missing

Talitha Koum

talitha-koum

 

I wish I could convey to you, dear reader, just what an excellent time I have had at this year’s Fresh Streams Conference. If you are not familiar with Fresh Streams, may I suggest you take a look at them (www.freshstreams.net)

One of the highlights, for me, was the teaching given by Rev Dr. Kate Coleman. Kate has this incredible skill of taking a passage and helping you see it through different eyes. She did that with the story of Jairus daughter (Mark 5 vs. 21 – 43, Matthew 9 vs. 18-25, Luke 8 vs. 41 – 56).

In a nutshell,  Jairus is an important official and his daughter is ill and dying. He risks his reputation and status by coming publically to Jesus and asking for help. Jesus agrees and, whilst on his way, Jesus is interrupted by a woman who touches the hem of His garment. The result is that by the time they reach Jairus house, his daughter is dead. Jesus puts out the professional mourners, enters the house with a few close disciples and raises the girl back to life again. Talitha Koum (“little girl arise”)

Kate brought a few things out of this passage for me and so, I want to share with you some of her thoughts and jumble in with it some of my reflections and responses (Kate, if you read this I apologise)

It’s interesting that neither the girl nor the sick women are named. Our names are important, when people know who we are we feel valued. I used to work at a company where the MD did not know my name; every time he saw me he would call me “um err”. The next MD knew my name, my wife’s name, even the names of my children. When he used our names I felt valued, I felt that I mattered.

Even though we don’t know either women’s names, God does. Even when nobody knows our name, God does. God works in our lives because we matter.

The one in the story who is named is Jairus. I like Jairus! In a society that didn’t value women or children very much, you can almost imagine those “well meaning” friends assuring him that it doesn’t matter if his daughter died maybe, next time, God would bless him with a son.

Jairus loves his daughter, he risks reputation, status, and position within the community to get to Jesus and kneel before Him. He doesn’t care what others think or how others react, his daughter needs help and Jesus is the only one who can do it. His daughter is not in a position to do it herself (she is dying) and so he is going to do it for her.

As Kate observed, there are times when we all need our Jairus. There are times when the struggles we face, the battles we are fighting, the exhaustion we feel just mean we cannot do this alone. We need a Jairus.

Jairus is somebody who will lift us in prayer. Somebody who doesn’t care what others think, or say, or do. They will stand with us when nobody else will. They will stand with us when the “professional mourners” are saying “that’s it, you are dead and buried”. Jairus doesn’t give up but keeps on until Jesus turns up.

I have been blessed in my life with the occasional Jairus. What does it take to be a Jairus?

Patience :- Jairus doesn’t grumble when Jesus is interrupted, He waits for Jesus timing
Humility :- he kneels before Jesus. A sign of laying down his status and acknowledgment of Jesus position
Perseverance :- even when the mourners say the cause is hopeless, He still trusts that Jesus can and will do something

If my Jairus are reading this then, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

But, what did occur to me, was that perhaps I should be a Jairus for others. Perhaps you can be a Jairus for others. So my encouragement to you is be a Jairus, who knows you may even see a few resurrections along the way!