fear

scaredWhat are you afraid of? What are your phobias? Some people have some debilitating phobias and some have phobias that, to those who don’t share it, seem a bit silly, although if you are a sufferer they are anything but silly. According to Wikipedia:

Apparently ‘barophobia’ is a fear of gravity. How does that work – it’s something of a given for all of us on this planet.

Koumpounophobia is a fear of buttons. Before the invention of zips, Velcro and the like that must have been a very difficult phobia.

Pupaphobia is a fear of puppets. If you suffer from this I apologise for posting photos of Stew the Rabbit.

I am not belittling those phobias, but it is difficult for those who don’t share them to know quite how they affect someone and how a sufferer copes with them.

I think all humans share at least one phobia. It’s the fear of being found out: the fear that people might find out what we are really like. I can remember reading this (but don’t know the source – if you know it please let me know and I will credit it accordingly) – “I am afraid to tell you who I really am because you might not like who I really am, and it’s all I’ve got.”

The startling thing about God is that he knows what we are like, even the stuff we conceal from everyone else, and he is still crazy about us. He will not reject us. He will not push us away. He knows the truth. That means that we can be honest with him (there’s no point in being anything else). It means that there is one person who can help us with the fear of being found out because there’s nothing for him to find out. It means we can ask him to help us to change the things we don’t like.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

1001 a blog oddity

Not much happened.

I posted my 1000th item on my blog and there was no fanfare, no fireworks display, no laser show. I did get an automated message from WordPress congratulating me on having 1000 posts, but other than that not much happened.

I wasn’t expecting anything to happen. Indeed the message from WordPress, automated as it was, was an unexpected bonus. And yet…

…and yet the fact that not much happened felt a bit anti-climactic. It felt as if someone important had forgotten my birthday. I think the problem is that to me the milestone of the 1000th bloggage felt significant but to everyone else it did not have the same level of significance. In fact to everyone else it was irrelevant, unimportant, insignificant.

I wonder if sometimes we have that problem with other people. We, or they, build something up in our mind to be much more important than the other person does. To one person it is of great significance and to the other it is of little interest. And that is a recipe for disappointment, disharmony or even worse.

So how do we avoid that? I suspect that a significant part of the answer is in effective communication. While I can perform ‘mind reading illusions’ I find it very hard to read people’s minds in normal circumstances. Indeed all of us have that problem: knowing what someone is thinking is very difficult, if not impossible, if they do not tell us what they are thinking.

Can you blame someone for failing to understand that we have attached greater or lesser significance to something than they have if we have not told them about it?

And even though God knows our thoughts even before we have been able to articulate them ourselves, if we don’t articulate them to him in prayer and listen for his response it’s hardly surprising when our plans and his don’t coincide either.

It is said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Actually he gave us two ears so we can find it much easier to locate the direction from which a sound is emanating. I think the lesson from having two ears and one mouth is not so much about how much we listen, but about whether or not we focus our attention on someone else and communicate effectively with them.

And the art of good communication is that it is two way. We need to be open, honest, available to listen, sensitive, interested in the other person, willing to be flexible, responsive and honest. That is in both speaking and listening.

Yes I know I wrote ‘honest’ twice. That’s because we need to be very honest with each other if we are to communicate effectively!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

squeak screech howl (i.e. feedback)

About 6 months ago I joined the Mid Essex Magical Society (or MEMS for short). They have been very welcoming and I have really enjoyed the evenings I have been able to attend. (if you are looking to do a fundraising event in Essex they can provide a good evening’s magical entertainment for you at a reasonable rate. See here for more details.)

Last night I attended a session where we had four different performers offer routines for the rest of the society to watch and then offer feedback. I was one of the four performers and offered a stage routine that I’ve never done in public before. I decided that that would probably be safest so that it was not something I was particularly attached to, but also so that it could be developed and enhanced by the feedback from the rest of the group. I was pleasantly surprised by the response from the rest of the MEMS and helped by the feedback: not only the content but also the manner in which was offered. I have some new ideas to add to and hopefully enhance the routine.

Stew the Rabbit has not yet been introduced to the MEMS
Stew the Rabbit has not yet been introduced to the MEMS

Feedback is vital if we are to be able to grow. If we don’t know how people are receiving what we are doing it is very difficult for us to know how best to address any deficiencies (and indeed we may not be aware of any deficiencies) or enhance our strengths. But receiving feedback, or at least the thought of it, can be very frightening because we place ourselves in a position of vulnerability. We have probably all experienced feedback that was poorly delivered, was unhelpfully negative or even destructive.

I think giving good feedback is an artform that requires trust on both sides, honesty, tact, humility (and perhaps humour) and a genuine desire to improve and be improved. Good feedback is not personal in its nature; seeks to enhance and build up; is thought through and reflective; and is offered as opinion not fact. That was certainly the nature of the feedback that we received last night. In one of his letters Paul wrote to a church (1 Thessalonians 5:11) that they should:

Encourage one another and build each other up…

That is a foundation for good feedback. This does not mean that we do not offer advice and comments that will identify possible weaknesses but it is not possible to say “that was rubbish” if you are seeking to encourage one another and build each other up. Instead you could say, “Do you think that it would be better if you [insert suggestion]?”

Next time I am tempted to open my mouth and offer some advice I pray that I will remember that I should encourage and build up.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

These astute visionaries (from Clean Jokes) may need to improve their feedback techniques and expand their vision somewhat.

“But what … is it good for?”
–Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
–Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”
–David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the1920s.

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
–Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.”
–Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
–Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

wrestlemania

Doesn’t it strike you as odd? In the midst of one of the most profound and exciting theological documents ever written we find an admission of failure by the author.

I am talking about Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is a theological gold mine, with a rich seam of gold sprinkled with priceless jewels of truth about Jesus.

And then we find this:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am!

Photo by ramzi hashisho, used by permission

It’s Romans chapter 7 (NIV). What was it that motivated Paul to write this very personal admission? If you read the preceding verses we see that Paul is talking about our new life in Christ. In that life we are no longer bound by the law (by which he means the codified rules and regulations of the Old Testament and the assorted regulations that had grown up around them) but we live in freedom because of Jesus. Paul is not denigrating the Old Testament law but he recognises that all it could do is bring an awareness that we have fallen short of the standards.

It seems to me that as he was dictating this letter he realised the truth that whilst we have freedom from the effects of sin in Christ and God’s Spirit is at work in us to transform us and make us more and more like Jesus, we are also prone to falling short of God standards (and the law reminds us of that). As a Christian leader, looked up to and perhaps even revered by many people, Paul was perhaps more acutely aware of his own weakness and failure. When people are put on pedestals one of the problems is that they are slightly further out of reach and imperfections and blemishes are less obvious.

Perhaps this is Paul’s attempt at ensuring that people did not put him on a pedestal and an attempt at showing everyone that even Paul struggled with sin in his life. He did not deserve to be put on a pedestal and certainly did not want to be.

If we are honest, especially those of us in Christian leadership, we all have the ability to present a shiny veneer to those around us that suggests we are sorted, close to perfection, super spiritual believers. And if we are really honest we will admit that these verses from Romans 7 resonate with us. All of us are prone to falling short of God standards. Some of us come up with new and original sins, others of us return to the same old sins.

So what’s the antidote? What are we to do about this? Well for one thing I am sure that Paul was not content with the status quo. You can see that in the last verse above where he declares himself to be a wretched man. Sin becomes more of a problem if we become used to it, are content with it, and it doesn’t bother us any more. Wrestling with sin is at least a step in the right direction because it shows that we do not like that aspect of our lives. This is not something we can do on our own, even though we wrestle. This is what Paul continues to say in the verses immediately following those I have quoted above:

Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (NIV)

I think the chapter divisions in our Bibles sometimes mask the truth. if we are reading the Bible we can often stop at the end of a chapter that when Paul wrote the letter there were no chapter divisions and his train of thought did not stop at the end of what we call chapter 7. That’s what the therefore is there for. We cannot sort out our propensity to sin and feel condemned by the law on our own. But God has done something about it.

We need not feel condemnation if we are “in Christ Jesus” because he has sorted out the condemnation of sin (the law has been fulfilled, the sentence served, guilt is unnecessary) and he gives us his Spirit to help us to sin less. I believe that the Spirit joins us in our wrestling and helps us by nudging our conscience, reminding us of Scripture, helping us to think about what Jesus might do and so on. But whilst he can help us, he does not take control of us. We still have to make the choice and still act on that decision.

So let’s have a little Romans 7 honesty and recognise that we all wrestle with the sin in our lives, nobody should be put on a pedestal, and pray for one another that we will listen to and receive the help of God’s spirit each day in our wrestling.

Be blessed, be a blessing.