Isn’t it interesting how some childhood memories stick vividly in our memories and others are lost in the mists of time? I can vividly remember the day when I learnt to ride a bike. I had a small purple bike that had training wheels and I was quite content whizzing around on it our drive. I had no ambition to have the training wheels removed. But on this particular Sunday afternoon we were going for a family walk and my Dad took the training wheels off the bike, telling me that I was going to learn to ride my bike without them. We started off on the walk with me pedalling along and my Dad holding the back of the saddle. After a little while he would let go and I would unwittingly be riding the bike on my own. However, I kept turning around to see if he was holding me and when I did that invariably I wobbled to a halt and fell off. Eventually I learnt that to ride successfully I had to keep moving forwards and focus on what was ahead of me rather than what was behind.
In Hebrews 12:1-2 we read: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
If you’ll forgive me I would like to offer a paraphrase: “Heaven is cheering you on, so stop looking behind you and being distracted by things that make you fall off. Keep pedalling – keeping your eyes focused on Jesus ahead of you because when you do you’ll zoom along!”
What’s distracting you? Are you looking behind? Are you focused on Jesus?
I was on a train yesterday at silly o’clock in the morning. It was almost full of commuters heading into London, however there was a spare seat between two blokes so, muttering an apology for disturbing them, I tried to squidge my way into the space.
I am not a very wide person and I kept my arms and elbows in front of me in order not to cramp those beside me, but the two of them reacted very differently. One of them (we’ll call him ‘Lefty’ because he was on my left) gave way a little. He moved across and enabled me to fit one side of my back against the back of the seat. I couldn’t get my arms back, but that was okay. He also kept his legs together so there was room for my legs.
The other, on my right, (guess what we’ll call him? Yup. ‘Bob’) did not give me anywhere near the same amount of space. Bob remained spread out. His arms and shoulders were pinned against the back of the seat (and part of the back of mine). I couldn’t lean fully back against the back of the seat because of him, so I remained hunched forward, hugging my backpack. His legs were spread out in such a way that if I hadn’t shifted mine it would have been a bit… intimate. Bob was not giving me a millimetre of ‘his’ space. He also had ear buds in and was playing music loudly enough for me to be able to hear the tinny ‘tshh te tshh te tshh’ that we are often blessed with by fellow passengers.
Because I was so cramped I could not move my arms to get out my phone or my Kindle to entertain myself, so I remained in this position for the rest of the journey. Every time we stopped at the station I willed him to get up and get off the train, but Bob was glued in place and my telekinetic powers were useless against him. It was not a comfortable journey.
Now I realise that I could have asked him to move. But I could see in the reflection of the glass in front of me that Bob had his eyes closed. He was either asleep, feigning sleep, or trying to block out the fact that there were other passengers and that made it more uncomfortable to contemplate interrupting him and asking him to give me my space. And I am British. And I wasn’t sure what sort of response I would get. So I suffered in silence.
At the end of the journey we all disembarked and part of me was feeling quite resentful about Bob. He hadn’t given me any consideration at all. But I had chosen not to ask him to move, and maybe he hadn’t realised how uncomfortable I was.
A part of me also thought, “Well played!” He had maintained his position, preserved his space, and had a much more comfortable journey than me.
So what are my reflections on Bob and Lefty?
There are times when we need to be considerate of others. We need to adapt our behaviour, attitude and approach in order to enable them to grow and flourish. It’s a part of what Jesus meant by us being ‘servant-hearted’.
But there are also times when we should not yield to the demands of others if they are going to cause harm to others or if they are asking us to compromise our core beliefs. In Luke 21:19 Jesus said to his friends (in the context of being persecuted), “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (NIVUK)
The art is knowing which is appropriate at any given time. I would suggest that the difference is to do with whether our core beliefs are under threat. Of course we need to know what they are, and we also need to be sure that we are not elevating secondary issues to the status of ‘core beliefs’ because we want to get our own way.
Do you sometimes wish you could ‘unsee’ things? Do you wish that you could delete what you have seen in the same way that you can delete the viewing history in a browser?
As a boy I remember stumbling (!) across a small stash of items in the bottom of my parents’ wardrobe that were clearly intended to be Christmas presents. I was excited to have found them but later wished I hadn’t as it spoilt the surprise on the day.
After watching an emotion-wrenching and draining television programme a friend of mine commented that they wished they could unsee it. I saw the same programme and can empathise with that feeling.
Perhaps you were sent a letter or an email and, after reading it, you wish you hadn’t and could delete the memory of it from your brain.
At the heart of these things we often find an emotional response has become associated with the memory and when we recall the memory we recall and relive the emotion which makes the memory more difficult to cope with. I am sure psychologists and counsellors would help with the particularly traumatic ones, but what about all of the smaller things that you wish you could unsee? We can’t get therapy for everything!
In time (probably) the impact of the emotional reflex will diminish as the significance of the event fades. It may help to talk about it with someone who knows you well and whom you trust – asking them to help you get a fresh perspective on things.
But we can also use those things to help us to learn and grow as individuals:
I learnt that the joy of finding presents before they are given diminishes the excitement and surprise of receiving them and didn’t go rummaging stumbling in my parents’ wardrobe again.
My friend could decide not to watch any more of the programmes in that series, or perhaps to watch them at a time when they have the space and company to help them process what they saw.
Your memory of how you felt when reading that letter or email can help you think about the impact of messages you send and perhaps soften the approach.
You see what I mean?
This is not ground-breaking therapeutic news. We learn and grow by experience. It’s what people have been doing with ‘stuff’ since Thag got tummy ache after eating some dodgy berries.
But in our multimedia internet-dependent world do we sometimes forget to do the learning and growing as we click and tap from experience to experience? By reacting and splurging on social media almost as these things happen to us we may fail to give ourselves the space to process, reflect and think before responding.
Psalm 27 is attributed to David – the shepherd boy who became Israel’s most successful king. It’s clearly written at a time when he was under threat. He had taken the time to pause, reflect and respond to what was happening – perhaps writing the psalm was an ancient form of blogging – and these reflections led him to these gentle, final words: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
David had clearly learnt that rushing in with a response is not always the best way ahead, and to wait for God’s timing is best.
That’s something I hope I never forget and don’t want to unsee!
When I was at school it was compulsory to have name labels sewn into all items of school uniform, sports kit and so on. This meant that a lot of name labels were needed – double the amount because my sister was also at school and needed name labels too.
My ever-resourceful Mum came up with a clever money-saving plan. She order a number of embroidered name labels with “H LEAR N” on them. This meant that for my sister’s clothes she could fold over the ‘N’ so it said ‘H LEAR’ and for mine she would fold over the ‘H’ so it said ‘LEAR N’. Clever, eh?
What it also meant was that in all of my school clothes was a reminder of what I was there for: LEARN, LEARN, LEARN, LEARN, LEARN!
I am not sure how much attention I gave to the name label learning imperative. If I am honest I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the name labels. But they were there nonetheless and so was the message.
I was reminded of it recently when I was watching a golf instructional video on YouTube in the vain hope that I might learn the secret of how not to slice the ball. In the opening titles to the video were some words including ‘learn’. I thought it was lovely that they had produced the video just for me!
I wonder whether all of us could do with name labels like that? All of us can learn: all of the time. Indeed the moment we give up wanting to learn we surrender one of the things that makes us human – inquisitiveness. It is that inquisitiveness that led Og and his friends to learn how to make fire. It is that inquisitiveness that led to the invention of the wheel that led to the invention of the axle that led to the invention of the cart that led to the invention of the animal harness that led to the ability to move people and heavy loads over long distances that led to… you get the idea.
It is that inquisitiveness that is leading some scientists to explore the particles that make up the particles that make up the particles that make up everything in this Universe, and is leading some others to look into the vastness of space and discern the origins of this Universe.
It is that inquisitiveness that leads a child to ask ‘why?’ (over and over again).
It is that inquisitiveness that makes us ask ‘why?’. Why are we here? Is there a purpose to life? Is there something or someone behind everything?
I have said before in bloggages that I do not see any conflict between science and faith. Both of them are ways of exploring our Universe. Both of them enable us to use our God-given inquisitiveness and discover more about life, the Universe and everything (42?). Both of them (if they are honest about each other) are human attempts to make sense of what we see and experience. But both of them (if they are honest about each other) are explorations of the infinite that are limited by the finite.
We won’t know everything. We can’t know everything. Our brains are amazing but no one person can contain and access all of the facts in the known world at the moment, never mind what we will discover. But we will keep exploring and learning.
We won’t know everything about God. We can’t know everything about God. But we can keep exploring and learning. The wonderful thing is that he has made it easier for us by limiting himself to our capacity, making himself comprehensible and at the same time sorting out the biggest problem that we humans face – death and separation from him. Want to learn more? Read a Gospel!
Last night we had a Church Meeting where, among other things, we appointed new deacons (those who serve by leading and lead by serving). Three people had generously agreed to be nominated and I was thrilled that all three had agreed to stand – they are all brilliant Christians who have so much to offer us as a church.
I was upset, therefore, when one of the three did not receive sufficient votes within the meeting to be elected. If I am honest I was a bit annoyed too. And I was very concerned for the person who had not been elected – how would they feel having been willing to stand and then not been appointed?
Immediately after the meeting I was able to meet with the person who had not been successful and was instantly blessed by their grace and wisdom. Her wisdom, faith and humility humbled me. And I had to change my attitude.
At the start of the meeting I read a passage from the Bible and mentioned how we believe that God speaks to us all when we are gathered together. I prayed that he would guide us. And before the ‘election’ I said that it was not a democracy but a theocracy, where we are seeking God’s will together and using the method of voting as a way of discerning that (it’s less messy than some of the methods mentioned in the Bible!).
In our time together after the meeting Silvia (she’s given me permission to use her name) told me that she felt peace about the outcome because it was God’s will. That blessed me more than she could have known, and also made me stop and reflect.
When the meeting voted and discerned that it was not right for one of the nominees and I was upset and annoyed I was actually behaving a bit like a petulant child who did not get his way, and I was actually upset and annoyed with God! Oops.
So a couple of apologies are in order: sorry to God for ignoring him when he had led us and being sufficiently arrogant to believe that I knew better than him; and sorry to the church for not practising what I was preaching and not having enough faith in God and trust in his people that we would get it right.
I need a big badge saying, “Please be patient, God hasn’t finished with me yet.”
The wonderful thing is that God is gracious and willing to give fresh starts when we ask him.
Today marks the end of the second week of my sabbatical leave. I am pleased with how things are going. I am ahead of schedule in my reading and am getting some helpful responses to my enquiries about growing churches. Next week I hope to sift the data coming back and start to arrange some visits.
In my sabbatical reading so far I have come across a number of very helpful and pertinent passages. Some relate to me and my faith, some relate to me as a church leader and some relate to our church. One of my tasks is to sift these prayerfully and try to discern which are more relevant at this time than others. I have decided to post some of the things I have discovered so far here and offer you the opportunity to comment on them too:
I am too busy if I lack time or space to be with God, or I justify not doing so by reference to all the things I have to do for him.
God intends churches to grow. But numerical growth is more than just attendance at Sunday Services – it’s about making disciples.
If God intends churches to grow we should be asking what we are doing that is hindering that growth.
Leadership is about influence, not position. If nobody is following you you are not a leader.
“Churches with money problems often actually have a vision problem.” (Rick Warren)
Goodness is more contagious than evil.
Laughter is more infectious than grumpiness.
Open-ended communication (perhaps through creative arts) can leave space for God to speak creatively.
What do you think?
Be blessed, be a blessing.
A little girl pointed to the dusty Bible on the shelf.
“Whose book is that?” she asked her mother.
Her mother quite startled by her daughters question replied, “Why honey, don’t you know? That is God’s book!”
The child demonstrating that she had a very practical turn to her mind said, “Don’t you think that we had better give it back to him? No one around here ever reads it.”