suarez

Cobblers Column: Character

Today’s match day column for the game against Shrewsbury

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I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who watched with amazement last season as Liverpool, spearheaded by the deadly duo of Suarez and Sturridge, got within an inch of the Premiership title. Suarez was in the form of his life and was pulling defences apart on an almost weekly basis. After the controversies of the season before, he was finally making headlines for the right reasons.

And then we watched this summer as an innocuous challenge turned into something ugly during a World Cup group match. For the third time in his career he sank his teeth into an opposition player. On the one hand, I couldn’t believe he’d bitten someone again. On the other, it didn’t surprise me at all.

I recently read an article by an author who summed up our public lives like this: Character is King.

Our character – the traits and qualities that determine how we think of and treat others – can be our biggest strength or our greatest weakness. All of us have positive aspects to our character as well as negative. Unfortunately, in pressure situations it is often the negative characteristics that come out. We can all think of the “otherwise good bloke” who loses his head from time to time, or the office manager who loves putting others down. Left unchecked, these negative aspects can destroy us. They are worth working on to ensure that they aren’t what people remember us for.

Sixteen years ago, another young footballer was punished after an act of petulance on the pitch on the world stage. Afterwards, he received death threats, was booed at every away game up and down the country for the rest of the season, and was vilified by the press. But four years later, his reputation had completely transformed. He had gone from being seen as the cocky young kid who’d been sent off and had got his celebrity girlfriend pregnant, to a devoted husband and father, and a man who always worked 100% for the team. Earlier this year David Beckham spoke about it like this: “That sending off made me as a person”. It was quite clear to see in the years following the incident how he buckled down and attempted to change his ways.

Sadly we won’t be seeing the silky skills of Louis Suarez in the Premiership this season. He’ll be sitting out this weekend, serving his suspension, as his new teammates in Barcelona kick off in La Liga again. But I do hope he works on that biting thing. It would be nice to remember him not just as a great player, but one who achieves success after reforming from his very public mistakes.

Best of luck to all the lads out there today against Shrewsbury. May they demonstrate their very positive characteristics of determination, discipline, and teamwork in order to take all three points!

caution precaution

Are we listening?

I’m in the middle of reading Jeremiah. He had been talking about the fall of Jerusalem for decades, but no-one was listening. Finally, with the Babylonians at the gates of the city, he is approached for advice. First king Zedekiah. God sword to him through Jeremiah is that the city will fall, best for him and his family if he surrenders, then his life and the life of his family will be spared (Jer 38). Zedekiah listened, but didn’t heed those words. When the Babylonians captured him, they killed his family in front of him and then put out his eyes. (ch 39)

A few months on and everything Jeremiah has said has come true. You would have thought that his credibility would rise. And it had – risen enough for him to be consulted. Unfortunately not enough for his words to be heeded. Again a delegation of officers escaping the Babylonians came to him, headed up by Johanan son of Kareah, an army officer. They ask Jeremiah to pray to the Lord for guidance over whether to flee to Egypt or to sit out the occupation in Judah. Ten days later the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.

“If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’” Jer 42:10-12

He goes on to say that if they go to Egypt, the Babylonians will surely follow and overthrow Egypt as well. Once again they ignore his advice, dragging Jeremiah to Egypt with them.

Twice, the leaders have consulted God (through Jeremiah) but not obeyed. in both cases they have already got a plan and consult as a way of gaining a Divine approval of what they were going to do anyway. Don Carson has this to say on the subject:

“Most movements that spring up from the fertile soil of Christendom appeal, in one way or another, to the will of God. Few probe the will of God too deeply. God is for evangelism; therefore he is for the ways we are proposing to do evangelism, and we invoke his will to sanction our methods….”

Think crusades. Think the angry street preacher pronouncing hell and judgement. He goes on:

“God is love; therefore he is against church discipline except in the most egregious cases (with either never arise, or, if the do, by the time they do they too are covered by the love of God), and we invoke God’s will to sanction our determined niceness. God wants his people top be separate and holy; therefore we must withdraw into huddled isolationism and lob hateful barbs against all who disagree with us, and we invoke God’s will to authorise out tearless harshness and ruthless condescension”

Think Westboro Baptist Church with their tasteless picketing.

“There wretched pits are terribly easy to fall into. All it takes is resolution, and no more real interest in the will of God that what we need to sanction our preferences.”

Are we asking God to bless what we are going to do anyway, or are we seeking his will on it, even if we don’t like it?

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Premiership predictions.

The football season starts tomorrow. Here are my predictions for the upcoming season

First: Chelsea. They have strengthened well in the summer, bringing in some quality midfielders and a couple of people who can score goals
Second: Arsenal. The “no trophies for x years” mantle has gone. Again they have strengthened well. The key this year, as last, is how strong their second 11 is when some first choices get injuries.
Third: Man City. Defending the title is always difficult. Her they improved significantly since last season.
Fourth: Man Utd. I expect a big improvement on last year with new players and a new manager. Van Persie will be a new man with a manager who believes in him.
Fifth. Liverpool
Sixth Spurs
Seventh Everton or Newcastle.

Relegated: Crystal Palace, Burnley, and Leicester. Palace have lost a good manager on the eve of the new season – the guy who kept them up last session, and this is always going to be unsettling. West Brom are also a bit of an unknown quantity. They were a little lucky last year and have changed their manager again, to someone I know little about.

I’ll check back in in May and assess how I did.

sixfields 2

Cobblers Column: A new Start

I’ve been asked to write a column in the Northampton Town F.C. match day programmes for some of the home games. Here’s todays offering for the game against Mansfield.

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sixfieldsI’m sure no-one will disagree with me when I say that last season was difficult for Cobblers fans. A poor start, some injuries and a bit of bad luck led to us spending 7 months in relegation zone. We ended on a high after our great escape and a good run of form at the right time, and condemned poor Bristol Rovers to life in the Conference. They only spent 70 minutes in the relegation zone all season, but it is the place at end of the season that matters. 

But that was last season, and here we sit at the start of a new one with a new sense of optimism. We get to start again with a clean slate. Mathematically at least, everyone has the same chance of finishing in the promotion places. Last season is history.

It’s not often we get to start again with a clean slate in our own lives. Our history, good or bad, becomes part of us and it follows us around. Cleaning our slates is more difficult. Grudges get picked up and are hard to shed. Reputations are hard to restore. Actions cannot be undone. There may even be things we want to erase.

Difficult but not impossible. For a new start, we need to acknowledge our past in order to start again.  Words like ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I forgive you’ can help heal relationships. ‘I made a mistake’ can restore integrity. ‘I don’t hold it against you’ can help us drop grudges. These recognise the past without making light of it. The past does matter, but we do not have to be bound by it. We can make steps towards a fresh new beginning.

Like all of you, I will be cheering the lads on this season, starting today with the visit of Mansfield. Last season is history and I’m sure we’ve learnt a lot from it. This season we have a whole new opportunity.

wolf tide

Wolf Tide

The latest novel discussed in our book club was an accomplished first foray into fantasy fiction from established author Catherine Fox.

Anabara Nolio is a young private investigator in the city of Larrity trying to make her way in business, life and love. The world she inhabits is one filled with sub-species of humans each with their own attributes and traditions. Anabara is half Gull, half-Galen which means she can fly, although she isn’t supposed to within the confines of the city. It is also a world filled with charms, magic, faith and fairies – only these fairies are not ones you’ve ever dreamed of. Less Tinkerbell and a little more vampire.

When Anabara is appointed to investigate the disappearance of books from the university library and to report on the broken charms in the stained glass windows, she makes a solid start. But as she delves deeper she discovers layers of deception, corruption and injustice, even by those she loves.

I’ll not say any more as that would give the plot away.

This is a new style of fiction for Catherine Fox. I first was alerted to her when I was an undergraduate at Durham, and I was told that there was this new author, a former student, who had written a novel about theological students in Durham, and if you knew the place you could actually pinpoint where in the colleges the characters were. I didn’t really read novels at the time, but I gave Angels and Men a go and loved it. Her next two novels were in the same style mixing keen observations of faith, strong characters, humour and love together  – this time following female vicars as they took their first steps into ministry. Wolf Tide is quite different but doesn’t disappoint. Anabara is a well rounded female lead character. She is good at her job, she obviously is looking for love but is not overly obsessed with make-up or appearance, yet there is enough that is vulnerable or uncertain about her 17-year old self which makes her quite believable. She relies day to day on St. Pelago, who is key to the organised religion of the town, and he usually comes through for her.

This is certainly a good addition to this genre. I was able to imagine the world quite well and I liked the central characters – always important to keep you reading. And in the plot Fox keeps the pages turning too. If I was being really picky, i might have liked a little more distinction between the human sub-species – Gull, Galen, Tressy, Zaarzuk. Their difference in character between the groups were described well but I had a little difficulty imagining their general differences in appearance. But that is being picky. Despite, I think, not being the intended demographic of readership, I enjoyed it a lot. I hope there is a sequel and I will certainly read it if there is.

On it’s release Catherine Fox told the Greenbelt Blog a little about how she came us with the idea.

 

(Photo from Greenbelt)

 

bill hybels

Hope of the World

bill hybelsI recently came across these notes I made of Bill Hybels’ talk at the 2013 HTB leadership conference. Some useful thoughts on vision and team.

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The local church is the hope of the world. There is nothing like the local church when it is working right. The local church will only work well if it is fed well and led well. Can’t talk about leadership without vision

Vision casting – often we start by describing the place we want to go. This may not be the most useful way to bring people with you, however well you cast the vision of that place. People like it ‘here’. They know ‘here’. It’s comfortable ‘here’. You might need to start showing them exactly what is wrong with the place you are currently. People need to see the problems. And they need to realise that we cannot stay in the place we are.  Then a solution can be received. Start by building an airtight case of all the reasons why you can’t stay here.

Vision is most under threat in the middle of the project. Initial enthusiasm has died down and the end is not yet in sight. Need to remind people how far you have come in order to keep going. This also might be the point at which leaders are most vulnerable.
Team
How do we attract, develop and maintain a great team. Leaders need people to share the vision with, and to include others in. Looking for people with the five Cs: Character, Competence, Chemistry (someone you get on with), someone who fits in the Culture of the church, and someone with Calling from God. You will regret it if you compromise on these.
Need to take the time to define the culture of the church. What’s unique about it? At Willow Creek (Bill’s Church), they want people who are incessant tinkerers, who will tweak and tinker in order to improve things.
Figure out who are the most important people in the team. If calamity struck, who would you not want to lose. Who could you cope with losing. Why are they the people you’d not mind losing?  What needs to change? What has changed to bring them to that place (assuming they were important to you when they were hired)? Sometimes you realise though this that you are under using people. Make sure people are not under challenged.
We lead people but the toughest person to lead is yourself. It is our own job to keep ourselves refreshed and healthy in our leadership.  We need to find ways to replenish ourselves. Need to find the rhythms to help ourselves remain full. If we’re a pastor the best thing we bring is ourselves filled with the Holy Spirit, where we have life, patience, and humour.

life faith thought

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