Category: encouragement

more negative than an electron

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I am fed up with negativity (I recognise the irony of this statement). All of us have the capacity to be negative (unless you are a proton) but for some reason we humans seem to focus on negatives and ignore positives. I was having a conversation with someone yesterday who remarked that we need 10 positive comments to outweigh one negative one. I am not sure about the ratio but there is some truth in there: we seem to give more weight to negative comments than positive ones.

And, sadly, we humans can be quicker to offer negative comments than we are to offer positive ones. When we offer criticism it requires less thought to make a negative statement than to offer constructive criticism. This is probably why a lot of criticism is thought-less – we don’t think about the impact on the person receiving it we just want to make our statement and feel self-righteous.

Negativity can become a downward spiral too. One negative comment about us can lead us to think negatively about ourselves and others and then make negative comments about others and so on.

So, instead, what if we all resolved to do what Paul wrote to one of the early churches: “Encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)? Can you imagine the difference it would make to other people if instead of negative comments they received encouragement and we built them up? Imagine the newspaper headlines if editors had that attitude!!

Who will you encourage today? Who will you build up? (And if someone does that for you, thank them and receive it).

Be blessed, be a blessing

where you go I will go

In the interests of recycling and saving the planet, here is a thought I had earlier in the week which I shared with the Baptist Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association… perhaps it will bless you.footprints

My daily readings this week have been based on Ruth, and on Monday I read this from Ruth 1:

 1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

 3 Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

 6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

 8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

 11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me-even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons- 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!”

 14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her.

 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

I know the story so well that it’s easy for me to skip over what happened at the beginning to get to the ­good news part of the narrative. But to do so does not do justice to what happened to Naomi and her family. Naomi starts off as a refugee – fleeing famine with her husband and sons. They settle into a foreign country and (contrary to God’s command) her sons marry local, non-Jewish women. Tragically not only Naomi’s husband but also her sons died prematurely (the flight from the famine did not preserve their lives) and eventually, hearing that the famine had lifted, Naomi decided to return home (presumably so she could die and be buried with her ancestors). Let’s remember too that this is part of Jesus’ family history and that his parents too were refugees. Perhaps that speaks loudly to us today about how refugees are being treated by our nation and across the world – an unwelcome problem to be dealt with rather than people to be saved and blessed.

We usually concentrate on Ruth (the book is named after her) but let’s not ignore that Orpah at first was willing to go with Naomi too until Naomi persuaded her to stay. That level of devotion is to be commended, but perhaps Orpah’s heart was not really in it so she was willing to stay in Moab and going back to her gods (had she adopted Naomi’s God?).

And then we get to some of my favourite words in the Bible: Ruth’s response to Naomi’s attempt to get her to stay behind. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried…” It’s an astonishing lifelong commitment to her mother-in-law and her mother-in-law’s God. As the story unfolds we find that these words were not only a promise, they were also a prophecy. These words are some of my favourite words in the Bible because we used them in our marriage vows. They imply a letting go of the past and a leaving behind, but more than that they announce a new beginning and a new level of commitment.

At a recent Induction I reflected that in some ways an Induction is a bit like a wedding: there are mutual promises made in a church. But we know that these promises are not ‘until death do us part’ but ‘until God calls me somewhere new’. However, can we say Ruth’s words about the people to whom God has called us for this season? Even the ones we love but struggle to like? Even our strongest critics? Are we any less committed to these people than Ruth was to Naomi – right up to the moment when we say the final ‘amen’ on the closing benediction of our season in that church?

Be blessed, be a blessing

it’s a yes from me

A good friend of mine is currently appearing on Britain’s Got Talent. He got through the live auditions and this week it will be decided whether or not he will go through to the Live Semi-Finals. He’s Richard Jones and his audition is here. If you haven’r seen it, watch it. If you have, watch it again. And then if you get the chance to vote for him if he gets that far, please do so. He’s a great bloke and a great magician.

I don’t usually watch Britain’s Got Talent but I did watch Richard’s audition. I imagine that when he had completed his audition and the crowd were going wild and the judges were applauding he must have been feeling really good. And when he got four ‘yeses’ from the judges he must have been so excited.

But there were other people who, in the middle of their performance, suddenly heard a claxon sound and a big red X appeared above them as a judge said that they did not want to send them through. That must have been so off-putting, and then for some they would have got a second X and then a third and then a final X that meant that they were out. How must that feel to be publicly voted out? I imagine they felt awful, discouraged and perhaps even hurt.

I applaud the courage of all who have auditioned, whether or not they have got through, because they were willing to have a go. I don’t think I could do it even if I felt I had the talent!

When Jesus warned people against judging others I am pretty sure he did not have TV talent shows in mind. But he said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured.” (Matthew 7 1-2)

When he spoke about us being judged in the same way that we are judging I don’t think he was just talking about divine judgement. I think he was saying that we can expect to receive the same sort of treatment that we give out to others: an obvious example of this is that in Britain’s Got Talent or similar shows there’s always a nasty, harsh judge and they often receive a harsh reception from the viewing public.

How we make other people feel will reflect back on us.

If we are constantly putting other people down, belittling them and criticising them negatively, then we should not be surprised if people start attributing those characteristics to us. We will gain a reputation as a judgemental, negative person. I think it even extends to gossip (which is a form of judging): if we gossip about others we gain the reputation as a gossip and won’t be trusted.

But I think that the opposite is true. If we look to affirm, encourage, lift up, bless and support others we will gain the reputation of being an affirming, encouraging person. If we refuse to engage in gossip we will gain a reputation that we can be trusted.

I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he said that when you look at a tree you know what sort of tree it is by looking at its fruit.

The great thing is that it’s never too late to make a fresh start, and God gives us his Spirit to help us. We may need to repair some of the damage we have caused in the past, but that will also have the effect of starting to change our reputation for the good.

It’s a yes from me.

Be blessed, be a blessing

PS I apologise for the relative scarcity of bloggages recently. This has been due to a lack of time and opportunity to write anything. I see that Mr Grenville-Stubbs has been taking advantage of this by posting a few items. Sorry about that too.

Don’t forget to vote for Richard Jones!

prayer support

I’ve just been writing my monthly prayer diary, which is sent to a group of people who have offered to pray for me and the Ministry to which God has called me. As I was about to send it out I remembered that my Grandparents told me that they used to pray for me every day. I didn’t doubt it for one moment.

spot the torch
Crowds of people in Colchester cheering on the Olympic Torch Relay

Of course I am certain that they also prayed daily for their children, their other grandchildren, and quite a lot of other people and situations around the world. That was one of their qualities and gifts to others. And whilst I do know that many other people were praying for me, it was one of the things I felt I had lost when they died and joined the great crowd of witnesses cheering on from the galleries of heaven.

So now, knowing that there are others who have promised to pray for me daily, I realise I have not lost that spiritual support and encouragement of others, it’s just been passed on to others. I try to offer the same support to others too.

Yesterday morning I was preaching from Mark 2, the righteous vandals who ripped open a roof to lower their paraplegic friend in front of Jesus. Among the many things that are significant in that passage, as I was speaking it struck me afresh how Jesus acted “When he saw their faith.” Not the faith of the man on the mattress in front of him, but the faith of the four friends peering anxiously through the hole they had made in the roof. It reminded me of how we bring other people into the presence of Jesus in prayer and in faith, and God acts in response to that faith.

So, if you have ever prayed for me, thank you for your faith. If you pray for other people. Thank you for your faith. If you are in need of prayer, and know that others are praying for you, be encouraged that God acts in response to the faith of those who bring people into his presence.

And how much faith do you need? Just enough to pray – God does the rest!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

feeding back, moving forward, building up

Last night I went to another meeting of the Mid Essex Magical Society (available to enhance a charity event near you – so long as it’s in Essex). Once a month we hold a Feedback Night. This is not where we try to see how close we can get a microphone to a loudspeaker before getting the loud screeching noise, It’s an opportunity for some of the magicians to perform a routine and receive constructive criticism from the rest of the club. It might be a relatively polished routine that we are looking to enhance or a work in progress where we would appreciate some advice.

Bearing in mind that MEMS is full of brilliant magicians, many of whom are members of the Magic Circle and have years of experience, you would have thought that performing in front of them would be quite scary. In fact it is something that I really appreciate because of the intent, tone and content of the feedback that I receive. The feedback is offered (admittedly because it has been invited by virtue of performing on Feedback Night) in a constructive way: “Have you thought about…”; “I noticed that…”; “You could try…” What is offered is not critical in the negative sense but it is thoughtful and considered, providing the performer with the opportunity to draw on years of experience, ideas, wisdom and skill.

Last night I performed a routine that I used in a service on the previous Sunday morning because after the service I reflected on what I’ve done and came up with an alternative way of performing the trick. I decided to run it past MEMS for their reflection. The feedback I received was very helpful and has given me food for thought (which is actually a pun if you know the routine I performed (actually it’s a pun whether or not you know the routine but you won’t recognise it as a pun unless you know the routine)).

How often do we invite feedback from others? I think most of the time we run away from it because we are afraid of negative criticism. But if we can learn to offer positive, constructive feedback that is designed to enhance and improve and is offered with grace and consideration of how it will be received then I think it is more likely to be welcomed (even better if it is invited rather than offered!).

In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 we read these words: “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” That’s certainly what happens at MEMS. I hope you get that experience too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

humbled and blessed

Stew with some of the cards, letters and creativity
Stew with some of the cards, letters and creativity

Yesterday I was given a large plastic bag. It contained lots and lots of cards and pictures and letters that children from a local school had made to say ‘thank you’ to Stew the Rabbit (and me) for supporting the school during my time at the church, especially the Assemblies.

I was blessed and encouraged by the time that they had spent making the cards, drawing the pictures and writing the letters. I was blessed and encouraged by the kind ‘we’ll miss you’ messages – some were even for me rather than Stew!

But most of all I was humbled and blessed by those who had thanked me for telling them about Jesus. That’s the main reason I went and it was so wonderful that they had recognised this and appreciated it.

The church will continue to support and bless that school, but those children who wrote and drew and created had no idea how much they have blessed me. Stew will be writing a thank you note back!

It reminded me of how important it is to say ‘thank you’ and how much something we might perceive as a simple act can multiply in impact in the life of the person on the receiving end.

Be blessed, be a blessing

you shouldn’t walk alone

iStock_000008457626MediumToday I head off for three days with a large number of Baptist Ministers.

You might think I must have done something very bad to have to suffer that. But you’d be wrong. Not necessarily about me being bad (see recent bloggage about pastors and pedestals), but about it being a punishment. It’s the Eastern Baptist Association Ministers’ Conference, which is an annual gathering for inspiration, encouragement, challenge and increased beverage intake (of the tea and coffee variety of course).

I look forward to this conference every year. It’s not because of who the speakers are (although I am looking forward to this year’s speakers in case they read this), or because of the singing but it’s first and foremost an opportunity to meet friends and make friends with people who understand some of my context because they also live in the goldfish bowl we call Baptist Ministry. Everything else is a wonderful bonus on top of the conversations before, between and after the sessions and over meals.

One of my favourite passages in the Bible is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica. In Chapter 5 verse 11 we read “Encourage one another and build each other up…” That’s a really important aspect of church life. You can get it in church on Sundays, in small groups, in prayer triplets, in conversations with one other person. But you can’t get it on your own. For me this Conference is another place where I receive that. Where’s yours?

(By way of warning: I may post bloggages reflecting on the conference over the next couple of days, or I may be so absorbed that I forget).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I have a challenge for you: I will post the joke with which I opened Sunday morning’s sermon and (if you weren’t there and haven’t listened online) you have to try to work out why I told it:

Three men were scheduled to be executed. Their captors told them that they had the right to have a final meal before the execution and asked them what their favourite meal was.

The first man loved French food. “Give me some good French wine and French bread with French cheese,” he requested.

So they gave it to him, he ate it, and then they led him away.

The next person was a fan of Italian food. “Give me an enormous pizza,” he said, “followed by a big bowl of Italian ice cream.

So they brought it to him, he ate it, and then they led him away.

Now it was the third man’s turn. “I want a big bowl of strawberries,” he said.

“Strawberries? They aren’t in season for months!”

The man smiled: “I’ll wait…”