A tale of two men

1.    Our First Man

Let me start by introducing to you the 1st man of our conversation.  A Scot, born on New Year’s Eve of 1941 in Glasgow.  His father was a plater in the ship yard and he himself worked part-time in shipyards.

The rest of the week was taken up with training and playing for Queen’s Park, where he made his debut as a striker aged 16.  After a career playing for various Scottish football teams, our 1st man, joined East Stirlingshire in 1974 as the manager at a young age of 32, he earned £40 a week.  The following October the young manager joined St Mirren, a bottom half 2nd Division team, watched by a mere 1000 fans.  Yet 4 years later St. Mirren had undergone a remarkable transformation and were Division 1 champions in 1977.

Alexander Chapman Ferguson was sacked by St. Mirren a year later, incidentally, the only club to ever to do so. But his sacking did not deter him. Alex Ferguson joined Aberdeen in 1978 and after a rough start led his team to victory in the early 80’s.  In his time at Aberdeen he led his team to European glory twice.

Whilst at Aberdeen he was offered 4 jobs at different clubs, all at large successful clubs.  But it was only after the sacking of Ron Atkinson that Alex Ferguson took on the job of managing Manchester United.  With 25 years as Manchester United’s manager he is the longest serving football manager – overtaking Matt Busby’s record in Dec 2010.  Ferguson holds the record for the number of times that he has been awarded Manager of The Year.

I won’t begin to list the achievements that he has brought to Manchester United, but let’s consider this…..he sure demonstrates a willingness to stick at things.

And it is that line….a willingness to stick at things’ that is the main focus of this post….

2.    In a word

A willingness to stick at things…in a wordFAITHFULNESS.

Faithfulness is one of those things that seems to fit on wedding days.  That’s the place for that word, that characteristic, that hallmark of a character that is unbreakable.  But not in everyday situations surely?

I’m a big believer that to understand something it is always helpful to deconstruct it, have a play, see what is going on under the surface.

The word used for faithfulness in the New Testament part of the Bible is the noun pistis, which comes from the larger idea of faith and the translations that spring from faith can be belief, trust, reliability, fidelity.

So being faithful, having faithfulness as a part of your character can be translated as being full of faith.

So the idea of faithfulness has to engage a bigger concept of FAITH.

Faith in action.

People can often talk about having faith in something, “have faith, it will be fine” but how do we keep focussed when there is work to be done?

3.    What does faithfulness look like in our own lives?

Faithfulness in action in our lives is engaging faith and fixing our eyes on the things that we want to see.  Consider a building project that you could be involved with – you can imagine the finished project but it is in those lowest moments when you wanted to dip out – but you chose to stick at it and be ‘full of faith’ in the cause and the project, and it is focussing on the end game that will see the project through to completion. A project that might be an extension, training a puppy, getting that promotion or landscape gardening, it doesn’t matter – what does matter is fixing your eyes on where you are going.

Fixing your eyes on your destination, on what the finished project will look like really is FAITH IN ACTION.

4.    Faithfulness towards others.

Faithfulness to others is where the richer elements of the translation come into play.  The concepts of steadfastness, reliability and fidelity, and it is that idea of fidelity that is really quite interesting.

Fidelity takes it meaning and context from when staff would work for a Lord & Lady.  The staff would even live under the same roof as their employers.  The service would often be for years and years, sometimes a whole lifetime.  It was the faithful serving of the staff that kept the community and the estate going.

Faithfulness isn’t about idly standing by someone but in every day circumstances being involved in the workings of the community.

I love the idea of faithfulness being ‘full of faith’, because faith has a contagious DNA to it.  It will drive others to remain on track, to continue pressing on, to live with faithfulness at their core – faith in action.

We give people permission to set their eyes on the goals and the future and NOT on the challenges that might lie ahead.

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others” – Marianne Williamson, famously quoted by Nelson Mandela.

Faithfulness to others works when we keep our focus OFF ourselves and ON where we want to go or where we think a relationship should go or what we think our life’s work should achieve.

5.    Look ahead

When I learnt to ride a motorcycle the natural reaction was to look at the road that is right in front of you or look at the side of the road so that I was sure that I wasn’t going to veer into the footpath – but that is exactly what happens – you are drawn to the things that you focus on.

Our instructor knew when we weren’t focussed on the road 100m ahead, because we would be heading towards the curb.

When we set our eyes on where we want to end up, we are drawn to that future and we are full of faith in our own way and we follow our eyes gaze.

Faithfulness really does become one of the bedrocks of our life.  It is the ability to stick at something that makes all the difference when we would rather give up or move onto something else.

6.    What about when the circumstances are beyond our control?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book – the Tipping Point, he describes how in 1994, the Mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani adopted the ‘Broken Window Theory

At the time, the crime rates in NYC were astronomical, it was a deadly place to be at night and you certainly wouldn’t use the subway.  There was an environment developing where anyone could get away with anything and got away it.

In a certain part of town there were blocks of disused building and the windows in these buildings were being broken.  So Mayor Giuliani waged a faithfulness war against the criminals that were vandalising the area.  Each time a window was smashed it would be replaced with 24 hours, the windows would get smashed again and they would get replaced again.

At first it may have looked like no one cared, that no one was watching, but the authorities in NYC were faithful in their efforts to raise the image of the city and to make the city a better place to live. Finally there came a tipping point when the efforts and actions of the faithful few tipped in their favour and the crime rate reduced significantly and the look, feel and environment of the city was turned around.

It was the willingness to continue repairing windows, probably at great expense, that sent the message of “this is our city, this is our watch and we are taking back this city.”

7.    Our Second Man

The second man was born in 1948, in south Boston, Massachusetts.  At the age of 12 he and his mother walked down a street together, they stopped to sit for a while. She instructed him to sit there and wait for her to return. He sat and waited for three days straight. She never returned to that street corner in Pinellas Park, Florida.  Dave Rudenis, a local mechanic and committed Christian, found him there and took him to his home. Rudenis offered to pay this young man’s way to a Christian summer camp.

After college and then graduating with a degree in Bible and Theology from Southeastern University of the Assemblies of God, Bill Wilson returned to his home church and pioneered one of the first bus ministries in the United States. Each week, Wilson and his team picked up thousands of children from the projects of St. Petersburg, Florida and presented a weekly program that included games, music, puppets and a weekly message. After years of success in Florida, Bill Wilson was invited by Tommy Barnett to replicate this ministry in Davenport, Iowa. Within four years, Barnett and Wilson helped create one of the largest Protestant churches in America.

Bill Wilson established Metro Ministries in 1980 in what was one of Brooklyn’s roughest neighbourhoods, the Bushwick community, most commonly known for its history of gang violence, crime, drugs, and poverty.

Here, violence is a way of life and a constant threat. Pastor Bill has been beaten, stabbed and even shot in the face. Yet, he perseveres and refuses to leave the area or give up on the children growing up in such an environment. Because of that, his efforts have made a difference, not only in the lives of children but in the community as well.

Metro Ministries is currently the world’s largest Sunday School serving more than 42,000 children with Sunday School services, child sponsorship, special programs and personal home visits on a weekly basis.

Today, Pastor Bill travels widely, speaking in churches nationally and internationally each week. He is frequently featured on Christian television networks throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. And his programs, curriculum and techniques are being duplicated in cities all over the world. However one thing remains the same. Every Saturday, Pastor Bill is there in the heart of the urban jungle in Brooklyn, driving the school bus to pick up boys and girls for Sunday School.

To me that is an astounding example of faithfulness, the willingness to stick at something.  What an great example!!

8.    When nothing seems to happen

It is said that some species of the Chinese bamboo tree does absolutely nothing – or so it seems—for the first four years, but sometime during the fifth year, it can grow by up to ninety feet in sixty days. Now we might ask the question, “Does the bamboo tree grow in six weeks or in five years?

Being faithful in our lives and responsibilities is often like the bamboo tree. Sometimes we continue to expend a great deal of effort and see few results – nothing appears to be happening.  But in a faithfulness economy, nothing is wasted, nothing is forgotten and it all counts.

When we are ‘full of faith’ and set our eyes on the goal that we are aiming for, when the cause is bigger than ourselves and more important than we are, then the dips, the low point and the obstacles become insignificant because our faithfulness is what makes us unbreakable.

Faithful men develop unbreakable spirits.

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