backhanded compliments

Following my lengthy period of convalescence after my surgery in February I am now back at work full-time. I was blessed by being able to phase my return slowly rather than jump straight back in. And this has led to some very interesting comments from people who saw me early on in the process and have seen me again recently.

complimentary nutsWith the intention to encourage me and generally be upbeat about my progress people have been making comments about how much better I am looking. They don’t mean that I have grown more handsome, but that I am looking healthier. Some have been even more specific and have commented on how I have much more colour in my cheeks and generally look a more ‘normal’ hue. And some have gone even further by suggesting that they were rather worried when they first saw me because I looked pale and ghostly, but now I looked well. One colleague even suggested that when she first saw me I wasn’t so much pale as translucent but I was now looking better!

Now I know that these compliments are meant to be positive and making me feel good about the extent of the improvement that they can see in me. And I do receive the comments in the spirit with which they are offered. I am grateful for people’s love, concern, encouragement and prayers. But there’s a little part of me that asks myself just how ill I must have looked a couple of months ago. I didn’t think I looked that bad, but (bearing in mind that these conversations take place on a very regular basis) I must have looked more poorly than I realised.

I am going to try to take the positive aspects of the comments on board much more and not allow the negatives to bother me because I know that my health is much improved, my stamina is better and I am far more capable of living normally (not the same as ‘being normal’ – my wife will testify to that!) than I was previously during my convalescence. I am so grateful for that: grateful to the medical staff who have been brilliant, to my family who have been wonderfully supportive and encouraging, to the many of you and those in the churches I serve who have been praying for me, and to God who has sustained me and created bodies in such a way that they can recover from trauma.

But (and this won’t surprise regular readers) I had another thought. If we are willing to comment on someone’s physical health, why not their spiritual health too? How often do we take the time to say encouraging things about people’s spiritual growth and health? Do we take the time to speak positively to someone after they have preached – more than just, “Thank you” – and share how God spoke to us through them? Or do we take the time to reflect on the way someone has show spiritual maturity through difficult circumstances and encourage them about that? How about finding someone who has prayed for us and sharing how we have seen answers to those prayers? What about simply encouraging someone because we have caught a glimpse of Jesus through them?

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

audience participation

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Regular bloggists among you will know that I have been dropping very subtle (!) hints about the magic show I performed with my friend Richard Jones on Saturday. I really enjoyed the evening, and it went really well (apart from one card illusion that didn’t work). The audience was really receptive and got involved, and their feedback afterwards was very encouraging. If you want a sense of what it was like, have a look at this YouTube clip of our last illusion. My favourite moment is the audience reaction half way through – you will have to watch it to see what I mean.
One of the things about performing (comedy magic in my case) is that you feed off the audience. If they respond warmly to you, it encourages you and you perform better, which then makes the audience more excited… and so on. It was quite a shock to me when the card illusion didn’t work and I struggled to know how to recover from it, but the audience lifted me and kept me going even though it must have looked a bit naff.
I have often remarked how, in life, we live for an audience of One. He responds warmly to our every positive activity, and responds with grace when we get things wrong and have turned back to seek him again. That is part of what Christians celebrate at Pentecost (yesterday) when the Holy Spirit was poured out in a new way so that he is within us. His presence within Christians. God’s Spirit lifts us when we fall, comforts, encourages, inspires and renews. If you want to know what he does, look at what Jesus did with people – his Spirit does the same things.
And Jesus shares that task with us and invites us to do the same for one another. Whom can you encourage, lift, inspire and bless?
Be blessed, be a blessing

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passing the baton, sharing the blessing

Embed from Getty Images

Yesterday I wrote a tongue-in-cheek irony-laden bloggage about us being better than God at delegating. Today I want to offer the antidote to that: when God’s Spirit inspires people to say, “Yes” when a task is delegated they spread blessing far and wide. Let me give you an example:

This morning I have been blessed and encouraged by two different people who have said, “Yes” when I asked them if they could take on a task – when I passed the baton to them. That has blessed me because it means that I no longer have to worry about those tasks and I know that they will be done better and more diligently than if I tried to do them.

By the simple act of saying, “Yes” to help others these kind people have not only blessed me but they will bless the other people whom they are helping too, and lighten the burden on still others. The blessing is multiplied! In fact, the people who have said, “Yes” probably won’t ever know quite how many people they have blessed by their generous acts of service.

Today I have already had the opportunity to be blessed and be a blessing. May you have that experience too.

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…”