celebrating third place

Recently Sally (my best friend to whom I am married) and I went with a couple of friends on holiday to Center Parcs in UK. It was a great time away and we enjoyed a range of different activities including crossbow shooting, laser clay pigeon shooting, an escape room, meeting some owls as well as splashing in the pool, screaming down the rapids and enjoying being leisurely.

I was interested that at the end of some of the activities (the competitive ones) certificates were awarded for those who had been best (and we got one for escaping from the escape room too). I can understand that for some children that’s exciting but at first I felt slightly patronised when I was awarded my certificate for coming third in the laser clay pigeon shooting (Sally came first). It didn’t feel like much of an achievement. (Of course when I was top in the crossbow shooting I suddenly decided that the certificates were more significant!). However it still felt a bit like some school sports days where everyone gets a medal regardless of where they finished. And that felt a bit silly for people in their 50s!

But on reflection I realised that encouraging one another and building each other up is a really important thing to do. Perhaps we ought to be awarding certificates for: the timeliest provision of a cup of tea/coffee at work; the tidiest bedroom in the house; the tastiest meal of the week; the kindest act in public…

Of course, that’s silly isn’t it? But just for a moment think about the awards that you might receive. Think about the awards that you might give to someone else. And rather than make a certificate (you can if you want) why not take the time to go and tell that person that you appreciate what they have done? Why not give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done by yourself?

There are quite a few times in the New Testament where churches are urged to be places of encouragement and affirmation. Some are good at it, others need some more practice. But the problem I can see is that sometimes we (churches) have kept the encouraging and affirming for ourselves. I don’t think that we’re meant to limit our appreciation. I think an attitude of gratitude should be one of the distinctive things about followers of Jesus that others should be able to see in us and receive from us as a sign of how much God appreciates them too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

dubious dates

datesNo, not that sort of dates.

And not romantic dates… or rather, yes, romantic dates but not that sort of date either.

Let me explain. The curmudgeonly part of me occasionally got a bit cynical about some of the anniversaries that are celebrated nowadays. There seems to have been a slide towards esoteric and trivial reasons to celebrate something. It used to be things that we would celebrate things like 100 years since someone’s birth or death; or 200 years since the founding of an organisation; or 50 years since a significant event.

But then it seemed to slither down that slippery slope towards the banal and we started celebrating every 25 years: 25, 50, 75, 175 and so on. And now we seem to be invited to celebrate any anniversary with a ‘0’ at the end – 10, 20, 90, and so on. Is it just me that thought that this is a bit much? Is it just me that cynically wondered whether it was more about marketing than celebrating?

But I have changed my mind about these dubious dates. You see I think we should take every possible opportunity to celebrate. In fact we shouldn’t even wait for a special anniversary, we should celebrate whenever we can and whatever we can.

Celebrate the fact that you woke up this morning (even if you felt under the weather).

Celebrate the person who last made you laugh or smile.

Celebrate the food that you most enjoy eating.

Celebrate what you appreciate about other people.

And so on.

And in celebrating we can also express gratitude – to the people around us who bless us, encourage us, serve us, love us and stand with us; to those who have gone before us in life who have helped to bring light and joy into the world; and, dare I suggest, to God who made us, loves us and wants to be involved positively in all aspects of our life in the same way that a good parent wants to encourage, bless, support and love their children, who has made himself known in Jesus and who is with us by his Spirit.

I have often written about having asking God’s Spirit to help me grow an attitude of gratitude but now I am also asking God’s Spirit to cultivate and integrate a desire to celebrate.

And that leads me to the romantic aspect of the dubious dates (and possibly where my wife will roll her eyes when she reads this). I am not going to get all mushy and soppy here but I have worked out that today is the 10,000th day since Sally and I got married! And that’s something to celebrate. I should point out that I have not been keeping a running score since the day we got married – I got the internet’s help in doing the calculation a couple of months ago.  I am not telling you to brag or boast, but in order to invite you to find something to celebrate: in the Bible we (in churches at least) are encouraged to rejoice with those who rejoice as well as weeping with those who weep.

So why not join me and seek God’s help to cultivate and integrate a desire to celebrate, and do so with an attitude of gratitude (and possibly a surfeit of rhymes!)?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

and the loser is…

red carpetI am intrigued by all of the hype and attention that the Academy Awards (aka Oscars) have gained in the news media this morning. There is a lot of triumphant jingoistic celebration of those Brits who have won awards. I am not having a grump about that at all. Well done to them, I say.

But what about all those who were unsuccessful? I don’t watch awards shows (mainly because I find them a bit tedious) but I know that one of the things they do is show the faces of those who were nominated but were unsuccessful. Those who have lost have to sit there, smiling, being gracious, trying not to look too upset, and trying to convey a ‘well done to the person who won, it was an honour just to be nominated’ attitude while inside they may be feeling really disappointed. That must be difficult!

And then there are the many people who were not even nominated. What about them? I would watch a TV show that celebrated everyone who was never nominated for an award (including those ‘unsung heroes’ awards which suddenly make them ‘sung heroes’).

Celebrate the single mum whose patience was rewarded when she has just seen her difficult child make some progress.

Celebrate the person who baked someone a cake ‘just because’.

Celebrate the woman who gave up her seat on the train for the person who was struggling to stand up.

Celebrate the car driver who let someone pull out and smiled as they did it.

Celebrate the bloke who sent and encouraging text to his friend.

Celebrate the child who gave come of their lunch to their friend who had forgotten theirs.

Celebrate the neighbour who took in your parcel that could not be delivered because you were out…

You get the idea.

These small acts of kindness will never gain public recognition. They may not even receive a ‘thank you’. But they are good. They are kind. They are wonderful. They are worth celebrating. They are signs of God’s kingdom.

“Woah! Hold on!” you may say. “I was with you until you started getting all ‘preacher’ on me.” I don’t mean to ‘get all preacher on you’ but I do believe that it is true. We are bombarded with so many bad news stories by the media (which is perhaps why they go so overboard with awards that counterbalance that) that I think sometimes we are predisposed to focus on the negative, the nasty, the unpleasant and even think that God is either indifferent to us or doesn’t exist. And that then can lead us to a very unbalanced view of the world.

But if we look for the good, the lovely, the blessing we will see that life is not as bad as we might have feared. And I believe that goodness, loveliness, blessings and the like are glimpses of God’s kingdom because they are like his grace, his mercy, his kindness, his love and so on.

Whether or not you attribute them to him or just to human nature is irrelevant, I still see them as signs of his Kingdom (where he is in charge). Just because you don’t thank someone for a birthday present does not mean that they didn’t give you the present!

So, today, I encourage you to celebrate those who will never win an award but who are making a difference nonetheless.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

so long and thanks for all the fishing

Da dada da da da daaaah!
Da dada da da da daaaah!

Today’s is my last bloggage!

…while I am working for the wonderful people at Colchester Baptist Church*. To use one of Jesus’ analogies for following him, we have been fishing for people together (see this bloggage to understand the nukelearfishing bit a bit more) but after today I will be in a different boat.

PTWOING! (That’s the sound of an analogy being overstretched and giving way).

I have decided that today’s bloggage is not going to be sad, downcast, weepy or upset. It is a party bloggage – a celebration bloggage.

It is a celebration of lives changed through encountering Jesus through the ministry of the church (aka the people).

It is a celebration of every time I have had an opportunity to use my baptismal towel (which was given to me for that purpose by some friends when I left my previous role to come to Colchester).

It is a celebration of companionship in the gospel – travelling together with the same group of people on the journey of faith is a wonderful privilege.

It is a celebration of emotions – we have laughed together (sometimes even at my jokes), we have cried together, and we have shared lots of other emotions together too.

It’s a celebration of grace. I am by no means a perfect Minister (just ask my family or the church) but when I have made mistakes and asked for forgiveness those in the church who have been hurt have shown amazing grace.

It’s a celebration of events. Weddings, funerals, infant dedications, birthdays, anniversaries… all have marked significant moments in people’s lives and I have been privileged to share in them.

It’s a celebration of sadness. There are few greater privileges than accompanying people as they travel ‘through the darkest valley’.

It’s a celebration of growth. I am not the same Minister who was called to the church in the spring of 2008. I have learnt. I hope I have matured. I have understood more of how much I don’t understand. But I have seen many people grow in their faith and that is brilliant.

It’s a celebration of high fiving. I consider it an immense blessing to have worked alongside the other minister in the church: my colleague, Lynsey. We have not physically high fived much, but there has been such a sense of teamwork, support, encouragement and joy in working with her. That has been based on mutual respect, honesty, laughter, tears and agape.

It’s a celebration of blessing. I sign off most bloggages with ‘be blessed, be a blessing.’ I know that I have been so blessed and if I have been only half that blessing to the church and community I will be content.

But most of all it’s a celebration of Jesus. Churches and Ministers are nothing without him. We’re just social clubs full of do-gooders. But with him, inspired by his Spirit, wow! We can be good free samples…

So celebrate with me!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*The bad news for you is that I will be continuing to unleash bloggages on an unsuspecting world in my new role.