Failure

Failures especially public failures are an embarrassment in our society and to be avoided at all costs. So let me say publicly I have failed a lot recently. Which perhaps is why my thoughts today turned to a chap I increasing relate to. Born into a blue collar family he grew up strong-willed, impulsive, and, at times, a brash young man with a temper problem. Failure. He walked away from the family business as a young adult. Failure. He chose to follow a charismatic preacher, teacher and mentor. It wasn’t plain sailing though, theology and mission and he were not natural companions. He would often answer incorrectly when questioned by his mentor on how best to reach out to people for God. Failure. Frequently chastised by his mentor, he seesawed between dedicating his life for God and at other times being frustrated with God. Failure. This culminated in him turning on his mentor and walking away from his faith at a crucial part of the growth of his church. Failure. Who was this failure? Well you may well have guessed by now the man I am speaking of is St Peter the apostle, his mentor was of cause Jesus.

fI have too have failed in ministry, having recently invested emotionally and materially into one area of public outreach. I was convinced there was a need in this area, but we had a very poor response. So I tried harder, pushed it wider, prayed more, but still no response. So we tried again and kept trying and praying but without much in the way of response. Then we quietly shut it down. Failure. Even this weekend I have failed personally as I competed in a triathlon. I had publicly sought sponsorship and encouragement for the 1.1 mile swim, 33k ride and 10k run. I did not complete the triathlon, I had to retire from the swim succumbing to the mental mind games that had plagued my training. Failure.
I can almost hear you even as I type, that is not a failure, you tried your best in the triathlon, you tried your best in the outreach. You completed the rest of the triathlon, you don’t know how you impacted the few who you reached out to in that program. Indeed my own family have misunderstood me in this area and become upset as I have spoken of failure. But failure is not the end, and if we do not acknowledge failure how do we move forward into success? If, as I so often preach we are not defined by our success but by who we are in relationship with our God, then neither are we defined by our failures. If that is true, then why be so scared of acknowledging failures, why not embrace failure?

Embracing failure can bring a freedom to try new things and learn from them. It is something that in the Church I believe we need to do more. For example my triathlon failure:

  • Why did I fail? – I failed because of mind games. I knew this was my weakest of the three disciplines. It was not general fitness, indeed I went on to complete the ride and run, so the fitness levels were on track. I failed because of a lack of confidence.
  • What was good in this failure? – I broke through the initial despair of failure to go on and encourage my running mate and completed the remainder of the triathlon. I completed a duathlon, and my fitness levels now are light years away from what they were six months ago.
  • What can I learn? – I failed because of confidence in one area. That’s not great, but if I over train in this area beyond what I need then I will become more confident.
  • What next? – I know I can do this, it’s not beyond my capacity. Then why not book the next triathlon taking what I have learnt with me.

I have completed the same set of questions with my ministry program failure and leant a great deal from it that I can implement into church ministry life. Had I not admitted failure then I would have not have taken that learning forward.

Incidentally when Jesus was resurrected you will remember that he visited Peter on the beach. Jesus did not tell him that he had not failed, but simply encouraged Peter that his was moving in the right direction with the right motives. Peter was given the job by Jesus to grow the church. He became a great evangelist, preacher as well as a prolific church planter. Once again this was not plain sailing, he often had doubt’s, made mistakes, was imprisoned and eventually killed because of his faith. He failed and succeeded, it was just part of life or the journey God had for him. However he achieved way more than he would have done without admitting failure.

Perhaps us church leaders of the current age, can learn from our own failures, as well as those of the original church planter. If we dare speak the word out loud.

Photograph of lake copyright Ben Mizen - BMiz https://flic.kr/p/fTYzCs

Doubts

I am writing this the morning after the Brownlees’ took gold and silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics. In two days I will be completing in my own Olympic distance triathlon. I am under no illusion that I will be completing that in somewhat more time than the superhuman times that the brothers do. But I will be giving it my all.
Three days ago I was in a different place, I had a different mindset. I decided that I really needed to swim in a lake with the wet-suit on, and daft cap aloft, before the big day. I had been swimming 1 – 1 ½ kilometres in the pool so although not my favourite part of the the tri I knew I would complete it. However I had not experienced the lake and so felt I should do it. It worked out that I should have done it a lot earlier. The moment I entered the lake everything felt wrong, doubts rose up in me. I pushed them down, I was in the correct kit, I swam, this was not a problem. The doubts continued to bubble away down there somewhere. I swam around a short circuit, perhaps one hundred metres. It was hard, much harder than I had expected, the doubts rose again. I pushed them away with a quick exchange of bravado with the lifeguard, and headed towards the big circuit. The rhythm was out, the environment was different, my breathing was all over the place, this was not going to work. Reaching the first buoy I decided I was not going to make it and so looped around and headed back towards the shallows. The guard read this as me needing help and so headed out towards me in the canoe to drag me in. My humiliation was complete. I left the water confused and defeated. Steve, the operator of the lake, encouraged me to do some shorter loops, offering advice and encouragement. I did a couple of short laps in much the same manner and then left with my doubts and fears intact and reinforced.
I emailed my running companion Hilmar about the swim.

…It is seriously different to the pool and I now have big concerns that I could do 1k… …I may have to be sensible and make a call about doing the novice or postponing all together. The cycle and run I am ready for so they are not a problem, but the open water is very challenging.

Himlar did not respond by email, but instead called, to encourage me. ‘I am sure you can do it, it can’t be that different, let’s go again Thursday and see how we do.’ So we did, Hilmar left work early and met met me at the lake. I entered with some trepidation remembering Steve’s advice, but this time the short loop felt better. The pace was more appropriate, my breathing was smooth, even the crocodile eyes were working. I tried a bigger loop, the same experience. Hilmar had ignored the small loops and gone of swimming the big loop, even though by his own confession he had done way less training than I had. So I started out on the big loop. Reaching the first buoy, I turned and headed for the second and completed three loops. I had completed the distance I would need to complete, where were the doubts, what was so different today compared to Tuesday? I left the lake with a fresh mindset and mindset that said we can do this.

I joked with Hilmar on the way home that this experience had sermon written all over it. Here I am on a journey preparing for the prize of completing my first triathlon, and the lessons I was learning could be mapped directly to my life journey and goals. Just a few that come to mind from my experience this week:

  • People can look the part but still have doubts and fears.
  • The mind is a powerful tool which can propel you or paralyse you on the journey. Be careful what you feed it, and what you allow others to feed it.
  • Journeying in community is key to reaching the end.
  • Setbacks are part of the journey, not a reason to stop.
  • Planning and preparation may not be all you need, but they are important.
  • Listen to those who have journeyed down the same road before you.

I am sure there are more learning points, and they could all have their own blogs written about them. But for now I shall take another lesson and reflect upon that in my greater journey. That would be the fact that I have not yet actually done the tri, and yet have already learnt so much that I can use in my day-to-day journey. So we don’t’ need to have reached the goal, before reflecting and using what we have learn’t. Journey well, and reflect as you go.
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Blatant piece of promotion: You can still sponsor me for the tri at: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/maxcross

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Photograph of lake copyright Ben Mizen – BMiz https://flic.kr/p/fTYzCs

CVM Triathlon

1.1k Swim, 33k Bike ride, 10k run. Why wouldn’t a bloke in his late forties decide this is the best way to spend a Sunday morning? Well that is what I am doing on the 21st August 2016. I am raising cash for CVM www.cvm.org.uk who are an organisation that exist to show men the real challenge of living this life in a way that their God would have them live it. Bringing the values of that decision into their life and the world around them. It really is a great organisation and one that I want to support to the best of my ability. Thanks for your interest, now click this link to sponsor me ;-)

Thanks in advance, Max.

You can sponsor me here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/maxcross

A Crutch For The Weak

Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. Psalm 88:1-2.

If you make a habit of speaking to those who choose not to follow The Teacher, it’s not long before you will hear the rationalisation that faith is just a crutch for the weak. I’m not sure how true that is, or how often that is the primary motivator of those who choose to have faith. I suspect it is less often than the accusers might suggest. What I do know is that my faith is not based upon that, however my God is a crutch when I am weak.

It is Thursday 21st July 2016 and I sit here in a familiar space. I am sat with my mother in a hospital ward with my father in a hospital bed nearing the end of his life. Forty years ago as a young boy I was sat in the same place, scared and with the weight of the world upon my shoulders. My dad was going to die and as the eldest I was the head of the family. No faith, no crutch, I remember crying out to a god, any god in a superstitious panic fuelled prayer. There was no comfort in that prayer only desperation and angst. Whether that prayer was heard or not, I have no idea, but he did not die. Now a grown man with a family of his own, I sit here in that same place. Once again I have no power over the situation, I am at the end of what I can do, at the end of me. Now I pray to my God, my Leader, my Saviour, my Comforter.

Psalm 88 came up in my Bible reading this morning as I sat beside my father. Was this reading specifically for me? Probably not, I follow the same pattern of readings as many others. However it was plucked from a library of books in which there are many reminders for those in need to turn towards their God in their time of need. Tomorrow there will be another reminder, and the next day and the next day. My Comforter knows there are times when we are all weak. Forty years after a scared young lad cried out to an unknown god for a crutch, I cry out to known God for a crutch. And there is peace. He is still going to die, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and that is OK. God could step in, but He is not going to, at least not in the way we might desire. Forty years however has brought more than just a change in age. Now I know my Father hears my prayer for my father, and that brings me comfort in my weakness.

I’m OK with needing a crutch right now.


Postscript: Dad died at 23:30 Thursday 21st July 2016.
I was privileged to hold his hand and say prayers as he went to meet his Father God.

Photo Credit: Rock Rose Photography
Photo Credit: Rock Rose Photography

Have We Made Our God Too Small?

I felt the nudged to publish my sermon from this morning. So here it is:

Fifty young people gunned down in Orlando just because they have a different idea about sexuality than a lone gunman? Where is God? A young bright mother, campaigner and MP gunned down in a Yorkshire village because she has different ideas to a lone gunman? Where is God? As we stand here this week (12th-19th June 2016 ) and look at the headlines in our papers and on our television, increasingly it seems it is not unreasonable to ask where is God in our world today. Is God impotent, powerless? Where is the God of power we so often sing about.

I do wonder if he appears to be powerless in our society today because that is what we have made Him. God so often chooses to use His followers to bring answers to prayer, rather than intervene directly, and yet in our culture we seem to have retreated into our churches and apologised for believing in a powerful God. I am not pointing the finger, I find this as challenging as the next person. I am as guilty as the next man or woman who calls themselves a Christian, of making our God powerless. I am apologetic about our God, I all to often take the politically correct route of God works for me, but I don’t want to bother you with Him. There is a children’s song my children use to sing by Doug Horley. The words go like this.

Have we made our God too small, too small?
Have we made our God too small?
He made the heavens and earth and He reigns on high
Yet He’s got the time for you and I
See the glory of God light up the sky
As the clouds proclaim He reigns on high
See the huge expanse of the oceans wide
And a billion stars that grace the sky
I am awed by the power
Awed by the marks of God all around me
Yet I’m humbled everyday by my unbelieving ways
I really, really want it to change.

So my question today is have we made our God too small? Jesus meek and mild has been doing the rounds in our churches for many a year, and yet I don’t see Jesus meek and mild in the Bible I read. I see Jesus caring I see Jesus full of compassion and love for His people, However I also see Jesus strong, Jesus powerful, I see Jesus our Leader. A Leader and Saviour that any woman or man would be proud to follow, proud to shout about from the rooftops. It might not be our English way, but it seems our English way has ended us here, where we are today. We look at Luke’s gospel and we see demons quake at the idea that the Son of God is amongst them.

‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me’

Luke 8:28b

Jesus does not hesitate, He cast the demon out of the man, and heals him. Whether we choose to believe in literal demons, or whether we choose to believe it was mental illness the result is the same. Jesus heals the man because He had the power to do so, and He still does today. We should not mistake compassion for God’s people with being meek and mild. When we pray for change to come to this nation, and we should pray for change to come to this nation, we pray with the power of the God who created the universe behind us. If we pray for the men and women of violence in our world, then what pain and devastation can be avoided? If we pray for the men and women of violence to be transformed by the healing power of Jesus, how could this world change? Have we made our God too small by not speaking of Him and his power to heal? If we accept the powerful God into our lives then we can expect transformation in our lives, and then transformation in our country, and then transformation in our world.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with [Jesus]; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Luke 8:38-39

Again in our Gospel we so often see transformation moves to declaration. The man who had been healed could not help himself, he was not English, he declared his faith to those around him. And I have no doubt that those around believed. How could they not? The transformation was so dramatic. I wonder how transformed we have allowed our lives to become? I think I have made God so small that I have boxed Him up. I bring Him out in Church and set Him up as I would the candles, and then when I leave I put him away. I wonder if I am alone in that? The demons in our lives, must laugh at the way we treat the Creator of the universe, as though he has no power. Have we made our God so small that we dare not breathe His name in public? Have we made our God so small that we dare not allow transformation in our lives, or speak of that transformation to others?

If God is the same God today as He was yesterday and will be tomorrow then it is clear God is not impotent. It is clear He is not powerless? It is clear He is not small. I want you to know that is the truth. God is God, despite what we see around us. I want you to know that God is powerful, despite what we might see at this moment. I want you to know that He wins. There may be evil on our screens, there may be evil in our papers, but there is an answer, and that is the God you know, the Jesus you read about in your Bible.

But we have a part to play. That part is to stop talking about the Creator of the universe like He is some slightly embarrassing relative. And I am sorry for the times that I have done that. I believe that God is calling to His people, to acknowledge that He is God, to be transformed in our lives and to declare that He is the God who transformed us to the world, to His people. What people?

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26-28

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

Matthew 28:18-20

God is greedy, He wants all the world’s people to return to Him. So we had better get busy, and see the transformation of this world from evil to God.