I recently read of an incredible feat performed by Master Engraver, Graham Short. He took on the incredible yet micro challenge of engraving the names of every England goal scorer at the World Cup competitions from 1950 until 2010 (14 tournaments) onto a very small object. What made it amazing was the engraving was on the base of a football boot stud. It surprisingly totalled to 38 names and the iconic 3 Lions emblem.
Isaiah present the image of our names being engraved on the palm of Gods hands in chapter 49. This metaphor comes off the back of Gods promise of never forgetting us which is incredible considering the estimated 56 billion people that have ever lived. It makes Graham Shorts 36 names on a football stud look lame! That has always been an image that has resonated strongly with me.
So no matter what trends come and go in 2012 or where we end up both planned and unplanned let us be assured that God is with us. He cannot forget us as our names are engraved on his hands.
The worlds lowest ranked national football team American Samoa celebrated this week. They ended a run of 30 straight defeats, which stretched back over two decades. In doing so they also achieved there first ever victory with a hard fought 2-1 win over Tonga ranked two places above them (202nd) in the FIFA rankings list. American Samoa also holds the embarrassing fact of suffering the heaviest ever defeat at international football history when in 2001 they lost 31-0 to Australia.
Having potentially stopped the rot with their first ever victory coach Thomas Rongen said the result would now be "part of soccer history". Talk about over statement of the year!
As amusing as this story is I managed to find a strange encouragement in it. It pointed me to the fact that you can be the worlds worst and still even occasionally succeed and taste victory. As a Christian this is a mighty relief! I defiantly fail more than I succeed and sometimes it can feel a long time between successes. However if I keep plugging away sharing the love of God with all those around me and those whose life I cross paths with I will eventually see success come my way. I propose that we could name this principal the ‘law of American Samoa’.
As followers of Jesus we have set in our hearts and minds an eternal and undeniable hope in Christ in what he has done, is doing and his return. Lets keep going for God and celebrate the victories no matter how few and far between knowing they will come as certain as he will return.
As a Christian of 20 years I feel like I have seen and heard quiet a lot about the faith. Mostly great stuff that has challenged me and caused me to grow deeper in my relationship with Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Somethings though have sounded very complicated and I am someone who does get a little uncomfortable with formula driven faith whilst as an evangelical acknowledging a formula and mechanism to salvation in Christ.
I love simplicity and in many ways the call to follow Christ is a very simple one. Often cunning stratergies, plans and programmes can add layers of complexity to our simple faith of following Christ.
Last week I came across a stunning piece of simplicity found in the Old Testement book of Micah. It was preceeded with a large profound but simple question about walking in the ways of God. In Chapter 6 we hear Miciah take on the question of "what does the Lord require of you?". I guess at this stage a long detailed list could appear which would need to be followed up with a stratergy of implimentation. His reply is thankfully crisp, brief and to the point.....
"To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Micah 6:8 NIVUK
I love love this. I enjoy the published book series KISS (keep it simple stupid) and would be intregued to see a 'KISS Christianity'. I am not aware of it being done yet so I am going to endevour to KISS Christianity Micah style!
My youngest daughter Jaime who is three has recently started to ask me about my day which I love. She will sometimes ask at breakfast what I am doing that day as well as asking me what her day holds. A couple of times as I have walked in from work or sitting at the dinner table with her she has asked what I have done too. It is all very sweet as she is learning how to engage with others. Recently she has really made Kathryn and I laugh as she asks about my day at work.
The conversation starts, “have you been to work today Daddy?” to which I usually reply, “yes I have.” She then asks “did you have a nice time at work” and then comes the punch line of “Did you do singing and ‘glory in the highest’ at work today.”
Although she has been into the Church office where I spend the largest single percentage of my working time she still does not see that as what I do. Her understanding seems attached to our family Sunday morning experience of Church and one particular song by Phil Wickham that she has latched onto. She genuinely thinks that is what going to work is all about for me. Standing in our building singing songs to God and praising him all day.
After the first few times of finding this very funny I moved from laughter to feeling profoundly challenged by her assumption. I started to wrestle with the fact that maybe that is what I should be doing as a Pastor of a Church. I recall chatting with my good friend Steve Harding about how he sees it. He said as a very experienced worship leader in all sorts of settings that he does see the Pastor/Priest/Minister as the primary leader of worship in a Church. So my conclusion has been more singing and less desk time. Can someone hold me to that please!
I was so encouraged and felt very excited last week as I was invited to attend the launch of ACT Sussex (Active Communities Against Trafficking) at Windlesham School. A really eye opening evening was punctuated with contributions from Sussex Police, Nick Herbert MP and Stop the Traffik (www.stopthetraffik.org). My eyes were well and truly opened to the huge problem we are facing with Trafficked people now the second largest global illegal trade only surpassed by the Illegal Arms Trade. I also learned that people are enslaved within countries to including our own. I learned the tell tale signs and what we need to be looking out for to be the Polices eyes and ears. Sussex Police are committed to exerting the full measure of the law on this abhorrent and most cruel of crimes. They are also aware of reality of the issue in our own county and deploying significant resources at the crime Stop the Traffik’s slogan of ‘People Shouldn’t be Bought or Sold’ was ringing in my heart, mind and soul. There was an encouragement that came from the evening to me though. As I scanned the room of 250 people other than the impressive Police presence across all ranks was the amount of Christians, Churches and Christian Organisations represented in the room. The Clapham Sect would have been proud I felt with people motivated by to bring the literal freedom to the captives as Jesus exalts in his earth shattering manifesto in Luke 4 drawn from Isaiah’s words. Jesus was the fulfilment of the Prophets words and now we are called to likewise to be that fulfilment.
You can imagine the red mist that descended on me less than a week later when I saw the shame of a breaking scandal ‘ninos robados’ ,the ‘stolen children’ on the BBC. The scandal is breaking over mass trafficking of Children around and out of Spain in the 1930’s until as recent as the19 90’s. To our shame it is looking like the Catholic Church played a big role in this. It is estimated that 300,000 babies were taken and then sold. Their parents being told they had died shortly after birth.
From glory to shame in one fell swoop for the Church. I was spitting with rage as the Church in moved from Pioneer and agent of change to accused and seemingly imminently to be convicted. I was so angry and ashamed it made me cry.
Having reflected a few days on I feel the only way forward is to continue to try and be that fulfilment of Isaiah words. Whilst acknowledging anything we do will be imperfect but runnig towards being part of the answer not the problem. The anger, embarrassment and frustration are still there but I feel driven even more to crack on 'set the captives free' and at the same time bringing the Bride of Christ back to glory.
The other week whilst in a rush I made a decision I thought I could regret. However with time pressing me I took on what a thought was a small risk. I pulled into our office car park to find two spaces vacant. One was about a 10 second walk from the entrance door the other about 5 seconds but parked under a tree laden with big orange berries. I went for the 5 second saving option as every second counts after all when you are in a rush. In the next 30minutes the heavens opened and a monsoon ensued. The fruit laden tree surrendered pretty much its entire harvest over my car. Not only that but the ferocity of the rain had turned the berries into some sort of smoothie like paste. The car was covered and I was furious. Slowly it dawned on me that my fury was old justified being unleashed on myself. I took a risk to save 5 seconds and it had not paid off. Even worse was the fact that it took me 15minutes to clean it all off the car!
Once I had finished cleaning and moaning about the stupid tree I realised the tree was just doing what it was created to do. It was dropping the only fruit it would ever grow in the only place it could, immediately bellow its branches. It was only that I put the car under it that it covered my Honda with its organic berry face pack.
The law of Mumps and Measles states that if I have Mumps I cannot give someone Measles not matter how hard I wish to or try. I can only pass on Mumps to those near me. The Bible encourages us to learn from others who are listed as examples, models and teachers in the faith in the New Testament. Always pray and think wisely at whose feet you place yourself. You will catch what they have both the good and bad.
I was staggered to read yesterday the headline that Football Clubs across the Premier League and English Football Leagues have spent a staggering £99million in firing managers. This is the estimated cost in to football clubs in the top for English leagues last season according to a report released this week by the League managers Association (LMA). The cost was equated by the accumulation of compensation, legal fees and double contracts (where you are still paying the old manager and the new one). This figure would have been much higher if agent’s fees and the changing of back
room staff that often accompanies a new manager had been included.
LMA chief executive Richard Bevan, who believes managers are not being given enough time to prove themselves. "We want to move away from
managers being judged on their last three results," Bevan said.
I have worked to the motto of ‘Try and fail but don’t fail to try’ in my life. I have made some howlers and failed over the last 14 years as a Church Leader. I also know that there are times where I get it wrong consecutively. If I was a manager in the Football League or Premier League I would be another one of the statistics of failure. I thank God that I have men and women around me who took a risk on me and stood by me as I learned and got it wrong. I thank God for those who have cheered me on, shaped me and picked me up when I have fallen.
But here is the challenge for me. Can I show the same kindness, love, generosity, commitment, support, patience to the generation behind me as they learn their lessons in Godly leadership of Jesus bride? In my experience no one is ever the finished article let alone starts out as it. We are all a work in progress at best.
“Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64: 8
We have a great garden which I truly thank God for. It is mainly grass but a few years back we created a vegetable patch. It was a bold move as we decided to step out of the comfort zone of grass maintenance also known as lawn mowing! Now we are mere amateurs when it comes to the green finger stuff but over the last few years I have tried to cultivate some vegetables and fruit in our modest patch. We have read books, sought advice and done my best to create the right environment.
During the past few years we have noticed my garden has a major problem. It seems to be a touch temperamental. We can grow cucumbers for fun and we end up with way more than we could ever eat, so we have to give them away. In fact we risk losing
friends as we will not let them leave our house without at least a couple when they visit. However broccoli, well brocolli it will not have a bar of it. They take ages to grow and when it eventually matures towards harvest it goes straight to flower. There is about a 2.6 second window from bud to flower. How can one garden produce some crop with such ease and in abundance and rebuff one of its close vegetable family members?
It is slowly dawning on me that no matter what we try it, makes not difference - we can't grow BROCOLLI! Therefore I can't help but blame it on my garden. Well who else do I blame it on if it's not us? There are some things our garden is good at producing because of its unique conditions. As humans we have all been created unique with unique combinations of strengths and gifts we are able to grow and encourage in others. Over many years of following Christ I have learned to do what I am gifted to do and not the things I am not. This is not, by the way, an excuse to not put in the hard yards, pull a long shift or throw in the towel on serving. I just know
there are things I can do through the gifts I have been given and see fruit grow. I have learned and continue to learn that I can also create space for others to shine in their gifting areas where they are completely at home and yield a plentiful harvest. Find the fruit you can harvest in plenty and draw in the rest of the body in areas your yield is precisely zero no matter how hard you try.
I noticed it was announced this week that the ongoing and continual job of painting the world famous Forth Bridge is due for completion in December. The 1.5mile bridge built in the late 19th Centaury is about to lose all painters for the first time in its 220 year life. A break through in paint technology (I did not know there was such a technology!) means the latest paint applied will last for 25years.
The phrase ‘it’s like painting the Forth Bridge’ was coined to describe a never-ending job. A job that takes so long that once you have finished it, the time is right to start again. "The old cliche is over" exclaimed Colin Hardie the Construction Superintendent of the bridge.
There are certain things in my world like the washing and ironing pile that feel never ending tasks. With a very sober assessment of myself I know that I am one ongoing construction and renovation project. Maybe Father God looks at me thinking I am his very own Forth Bridge project! In many ways I hope so. I also know that no break though in technology (paint or otherwise) is going to mean I only need a maintenance overhaul every 25years! With me it is a daily job.
Isaiah talks about us being like clay on the potter’s wheel in chapter 64. Like the Forth Bridge, we need the Father to keep caring for us, protecting and shaping us.
“Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
Lord, continue to shape me each day.
I found myself in a meeting this week at Chichester Police Station. I was invited to attend to talk about how Sussex Police are looking to work closer with the churches. As you can imagine this ticked so many boxes for me I nearly imploded!
On arrival I was taken into a small room upstairs after being issued with a sticker to identify myself and a cup of Police tea. The walls were covered with pictures of people who were wanted. I found it really hard not to keep looking at the pictures just in case I might spot someone I know! After introductions with the Inspector and one of the Force Chaplains, the Sergeant kicked off as to why she had asked to meet with Roger and myself. “Sussex Police are looking to roll out ROC (http://www.redeemingourcommunities.org.uk/) Projects in every town and city. We realise that the Police are limited in what we can and should be doing therefore we would like to look at working with churches to change our towns and cities for the better." I could not help but smile like a kid in a sweet shop! I actually pinched my self to check I was not dreaming and to my surprise I was definitely awake. She then asked, "Are you familiar with the story of Nehemiah in the Bible?” I gently nodded and she said, “this is the inspiration from which this idea is drawn. We need the Church to do two things like Nehemiah. Firstly we need help to re-build the City walls, as they are broken. Our society needs fixing, even the Prime Minister keeps stating this. The Church has people that can help fix our broken society. Secondly, like Nehemiah, we need the Church to pray for our towns and cities!” I was now more stunned than excited. I could not believe what I was hearing so I pinched myself again. She said, “I don’t really understand the prayer bit but I know you do and we need it." I was then asked if we could help the other churches in the city get involved. I nodded again and all I could say was "we are in and we want to play our part, thank you for talking to us."
I know I should not be surprised as I have prayed and lived towards moments like that over many years, but I was. Later that day I found myself repenting of being surprised by the answered prayers and dreams but equally thankful to our Father in Heaven for the surprise and keeping me on my toes.
He is truly amazing!