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…”

 

post it

postit
actually, not this sort of ‘post it’

Yesterday I had three pieces of correspondence relating to the first church in which I ministered (they are still recovering 12 years after I left!).

The first was a letter from the General Register Office, who are the people who oversee the registration of births, deaths and marriages. The letter was sent to the church in Colchester where I minister. It said that they had sent me a letter which was returned marked ‘no longer at this address’ and so they wanted to confirm if this was the case – in which case they would remove me from being registered as the Authorised Person at the church (able to conduct weddings). I phoned the office, negotiated my way through the options in their menu, and explained that I had received a letter saying that I was not at that address (yet presumably sent to the address I was assumed not to be at!) After some keyboard tapping and mouse-clicking from the other end it was found that the letter that had been returned had been sent to the address where I resided when I was in my first church which is 100 miles away in West Sussex.

I was rather surprised at this as I had not lived there for more than 12 years!  The man at the other end of the line put it down to ‘computer error’ and corrected it so that in future correspondence should at least go to the correct town… (In case I have married you or am about to and you are worried that I am not legal, I am!)

The second item of correspondence I opened was a letter. It was from a lady who was a member of the West Sussex church where I first ministered and was incredibly encouraging. That she had taken the time and trouble to find out where I was now and to write (using a pen, children!) to me blessed my socks off. How kind and thoughtful!

The third item was from a friend in Horsham – a Christmas card. Now we get lots of Christmas cards and we love them all, it’s a special way of reminding someone that you are thinking of them (and it blesses Royal Mail shareholders too now). But this one had a personal message about our friend that brought a tear to my eye. (It’s a personal message so I am not going to share it with you, sorry!)

Isn’t it amazing the difference a letter or card can make? A letter based on an error could have made it very difficult next year when I tried to conduct my next wedding if I had not responded to it and corrected the error (it’s better to correct a mistake as soon as you discover it than to ignore it and hope it will correct itself or go away). A letter written to encourage me blessed me so much and revealed someone’s generosity of spirit that reflects God’s generosity and desire to bless. And a Christmas card with a personal note of just 8 words brought joy welling up from within.

So when you are writing the 101 Christmas cards, be encouraged by the thought that it may bless and encourage the person who receives it. And if you have a moment, think about whom you can encourage (I had another card yesterday from another friend with an encouragement in it) – perhaps someone who blessed you a long time ago.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Yesterday my sister posted a joke on Facebook about a hedgehog and it inspired me to find some others. This one made me chuckle:

The devout cowboy lost his favourite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a hedgehog walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth.

The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the hedgehog’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!”

“Not really,” said the hedgehog. “Your name is written inside the cover.”

being a complete tactical numpty

Imagine that you have swum 1500 metres, cycled 40km, and run 10km in a race, only to be finish just a second behind the winner following a sprint finish. That’s what happened to Jonny Brownlee at the weekend in the World Triathlon Championships. Not only that, but it meant that Javier Gomez pipped him to the World title by 5 points (in over 4000!). (But for balance we Brits rejoiced that GB’s Non Standford won the women’s race and was crowned World Champion).

Jonny Brownlee beaten on the line in Hyde Park as Javier Gomez is crowned World Triathlon champion from The Telegraph Online

The Brownlee brothers came to the national consciousness especially during the 2012 Olympics when older brother Alistair won the Gold Medal in the Triathlon. Coming into this year’s final race only a Brownlee brother or Gomez could have won the title, but Alistair was seriously hampered by an injury prior to the event so it was between Jonny and Javier. In the final stretch of the race the front two were sprinting towards the line while other runners were coming up the other side of the course on the same piece of Hyde Park.

We were treated to the astonishing sight of Alistair stopping his race to shout encouragement to his brother. The Telegraph Online report is quite moving: “The love of one brother for another knows no bounds. As Jonny rounded the final hairpin bend and began to sprint for home, he encountered Alistair travelling in the opposite direction. Well down the field and with no chance of a podium place, Alistair had actually stopped running to scream encouragement to his younger sibling.”

Alistair’s comments after the race about his brother’s second place are rather amusing, and will probably go down in sporting folklore:

“I saw him make his move with about 200m to go, and I thought: ‘Oh no, what an idiot.’ I’ll be giving him a lot of stick for that. He’s thrown a world title away through being a complete tactical numpty.

“I know from training with him that he likes to hit the front and push it along. If he sits behind and makes a decisive move with 75 metres to go, he’s going to beat him. I was just yelling at him: ‘use your head’. Unfortunately he didn’t, and he lost.”

What I found inspiring and encouraging was the relationship between the brothers. There is clearly sibling rivalry and they are fiercely competitive. But above that is love. Love that means one will stop his race to encourage the other. Love that means that they can give each other stick and one can call the other a “complete tactical numpty” on national television and it does not affect their relationship.

It seems to me that there are some parallels with the godly love that we are called to have for one another as Christians. Sometimes we need to stop what we are doing and cheer on someone else, putting them before ourselves. And sometimes we need to be honest enough to say when someone has got it wrong, but doing so lovingly and gently (I think ‘complete tactical numpty’ was said affectionately and relatively gently for the brothers). We need to know and love one another enough to be able to have fun with each other and not take offence.

I sometimes try to encourage people who are following Jesus by asking them to imagine Jesus saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (from his parable about ‘talents’). Sometimes I also hear him when I have failed gently ribbing me with the loving equivalent of ‘complete tactical numpty’. I think I can take that from him because I know how much he loves me!

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

ooohs

On Sunday morning we played a game in our all age Mothering Sunday service. It is a relatively simple game that makes the participants look a bit silly (see the picture). The idea is that you put the basket arrangement on your head and attempt to fling the balls into it. On Sunday morning we did a mother vs child version.

Other than to have a bit of fun point of the game was that whilst we all aim to do the best we can we don’t always manage to ‘hit the target’. That is true of parents as much as anyone else and the wonderful thing is that God’s grace and forgiveness are available for us all, and he gives us his Spirit to help us to hit the target more frequently.

(We reflected on the supermum in Proverbs 31 and how none of us could ever live up to that. In addition to sometimes missing the target we also should rejoice and celebrate when we hit it. Rather than seeing the biblical standards of perfection as being something unattainable we can see them as God’s ambition for us: asking for his help to try and be more like the people he has created us to be, asking for and receiving a fresh start when we fail, and rejoicing when God helps us to succeed.)

When the mother and son were playing the game on Sunday the congregation cheered when they managed to get a ball into the basket and there were groans and ‘ooohs’ when they missed. Often as Christians we are better at the groans and ‘ooohs’ then we are at the cheers. We weep with those who weep and neglect to rejoice with those who rejoice.

As well as personally rejoicing when we manage to live in the way that pleases God we can also encourage one another. Perhaps it is our natural humility that makes us not want to tell other people when we have done well but if we can see something to encourage in somebody else, let’s not hesitate to do so.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Game related joke:

Two friends went out to play golf and were about to tee off, when one fellow noticed that his partner had but one golf ball.

“Don’t you have at least one other golf ball?”, he asked. The other guy replied that no, he only needed the one.

“Are you sure?”, the friend persisted. “What happens if you lose that ball?”

The other guy replied, “This is a very special golf ball. I won’t lose it so I don’t need another one.”

Well,” the friend asked, “what happens if you miss your shot and the ball goes in the lake?”

“That’s okay,” he replied, “this special golf ball floats. I’ll be able to retrieve it.”

“Well what happens if you hit it into the trees and it gets lost among the bushes and shrubs?”

The other guy replied, “That’s okay too. You see, this special golf ball has a homing beacon. I’ll be able to get it back — no problem.”

Exasperated, the friend asks, “Okay. Let’s say our game goes late, the sun goes down, and you hit your ball into a sand trap. What are you going to do then?”

“No problem,” says the other guy, “you see, this ball is florescent. I’ll be able to see it in the dark.”

Finally satisfied that he needs only the one golf ball, the friend asks, “Hey, where did you get a golf ball like that anyway?”

The other guy replies, “I found it.”

beyond profound

Do you ever wish you could say something really profound? Something so astonishingly significant that it gets retweeted, forwarded on Facebook and becomes an internet phenomenon?

what goes on underneath can make a bigger impact on others than what is visible

I’d like to do that just once. I don’t think it’s eg0-driven. It’s more the excitement of being the originator of something that resonates with lots of other people.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to try out a whole load of profound statements on you to see which might fly.

But when I thought about it I realised that each of us have the ability to say something profound to those closest to us, and that is of far more worth than a trite / profound internet sensation that is here today and replaced by the next one tomorrow.

So go on, try some of these out:

“Thank you, I appreciated that because…”

“I love you.”

“What would you like me to do to help you?”

“God wants you to know how amazing you are: he made you and he doesn’t make mistakes.”

“Life may be tough right now, but I am here for you: we’ll go through it together.”

Be blessed, be a blessing.