Choose a good reputation

Cliff Richard has won his case against the BBC for seriously infringing his right to privacy. When the South Yorkshire police advised the BBC that they had received an allegation that Cliff sexually assaulted a child in the 1980s, the BBC covered the police search of Cliff’s apartment and named him. The judge, Mr Justice Mann, ruled that naming Cliff was unlawful and awarded him substantial damages. The ruling means that an individual’s right to privacy takes precedence over the public’s right to know.

In interviews following the case an emotional Cliff spoke of the immense stress he has experienced, even though he has never been arrested or charged. He feels that, because he was named, his reputation has been irreparably damaged by a false accusation. He feels it is impossible to undo what has been done by the BBC naming him when the investigation had only just begun. He feels it is unjust that, after spending a lifetime trying to do the right thing, his reputation has been tarnished in the eyes of many people. At first he felt hate towards his accuser, but then prayed to God for the grace to forgive him.

Having a good reputation is more important than enjoying success, being rich or living a celebrity lifestyle. The reputations of some well-known people have been totally destroyed because they have been found guilty of terrible crimes. The book of Proverbs says, “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.”

Cliff has stood out in the entertainment world because of his clean image. He is known as a Christian and his life has often been scrutinised in an attempt to find some flaw or fault. Cliff became a Christian in 1966 and, at first, thought he should quit rock and roll, but was persuaded by friends to continue to sing and perform and to be a witness for Jesus in the pop music scene. He has been an ambassador for Christian relief agencies, such as TEAR Fund, and has tried to use his good name and fame to help others.

Jesus told his disciples that they would be persecuted and falsely accused, as he himself was. He told them, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.”

The God of second chances

In our world today the price of failure is high. A political leader whose party loses an election or referendum is expected to resign. A Premiership football manager whose team has a bad run of results is sacked. The chief executive officer of a major company or bank that performs badly will lose their job. People demand and expect success at all costs and, if it isn’t achieved, there must be a scapegoat; someone who takes the blame.

But the fact is that we all fail and do so repeatedly. We need to know how to cope with our failures and to understand that we may learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. The Bible tells us about the experiences of people who failed and who were restored by God. Many of the great people in the Bible had times when they seriously failed. God is revealed as the God of second-chances.

King David is described as a man “after God’s own heart.” He wanted to honour God in everything he did and to please God always. He was a genuine man with many strengths. The psalms David wrote, like Psalm 23, have brought comfort and help to people from many nations. Yet there was one very dark episode in David’s life when he succumbed to temptation and committed adultery with the beautiful wife of one of his bravest soldiers. Afterwards he behaved disgracefully as he tried to cover his sin and this led to the death, in battle, of the husband. Then David married the woman, who was carrying his child. The Bible’s verdict on David’s actions is clear, “The Lord was displeased with what David had done.”

Yet, when David faced up to his sin and guilt, God graciously restored him. David wrote about that experience in Psalm 32, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”

Mo wins gold again!

It was a joy to watch Mo Farah’s victories in the 5000 and 10000 metres races at the World Athletics Championships in Beijing. He is a great champion who delights to run. He has dominated major athletics championships for the past 6 summers. He has won gold medals at three European Championships, three World Championships and one Olympic Games. He was so much in control of the 5000 metres race that he even had time to make a detour for a bottle of water!

Mo has a wonderful story. He was born in Somalia, a country ravaged by a long civil war. His father was British and Mo spent his childhood in Djibouti before moving to Britain when he was 8 years old. His PE teacher at Feltham Community College recognised and encouraged his athletic talent, which was then developed through a local athletics club. Mo’s success has been based on years of sustained and dedicated training. His daily regime is punishing as he strives to reach his full potential and achieve success.

The Bible uses athletics to teach us important lessons about the purpose of life. In a letter to a church at Corinth in Greece, where the Isthmian Games were held, Paul writes, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.” So Paul lived his whole life in the light of eternity.

It is important for us all to have a clear sense of purpose in our lives. This is far more significant than achieving success in sport or any other field of human activity. It has to do with the kind of people we are and the vision we have for our future. God created us to enjoy life in this world and also to enjoy eternal life with him in heaven. A recent hymn reminds us of this, “For yonder a light shines eternal, which spreads through the valley of gloom; Lord Jesus, resplendent and regal drives fear far away from the tomb. Our God is the end of the journey, his pleasant and glorious domain; for there are the children of mercy, who praise Him for Calvary’s pain.”

What is your aim in life?

Many young people have received their exam results. Those who have achieved the grades they needed are happy and ready to take up their degree courses. Those who did not achieve the required grades are sad and are beginning to consider their options. It is important for those who have not secured a university place to remember that they have passed their exams and have achieved A level qualifications which open the way for a variety of excellent careers.

The future for those who are going to university will certainly have its challenges. The National Union of Students has estimated that students beginning their degree courses this September will leave university with an average debt of £53000. Those studying vocational courses will probably find a job soon after they graduate, but there are many graduates who are unemployed and finding it difficult to get any kind of job.

Our society values people according to their achievements. It is assumed that those who achieve high grades in school or university, or achieve sporting success, are more valuable than those of us who do not. In the Olympic Games it was sometimes implied that winning a silver or bronze medal was a failure! They were not the best but “the best of the rest!”

Ultimately the most important thing about us is not what we do, but what we are. Most of us are ordinary people who will never achieve great success in education or sport. Our true value lies in the fact that God created us and we are precious to him. We can find true happiness and fulfilment through knowing him and living our lives in fellowship with him.

What is your aim in life? Young people who want to go to university work hard in order to achieve the grades they need. Athletes who want to win an Olympic medal train hard in order to succeed. As he reflected on the purpose of his life in this world, the apostle Paul said his goal was to please God. He knew that at the end of his life he, and everyone who has ever lived, must stand before God. Ultimately that is the only test that matters. Paul knew his need and rejoiced that God sent his Son, Jesus, into this world to give us hope. As we put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour he gives us real confidence for time and eternity.

Reflections on Andy Murray at Wimbledon

Over the past two weeks many people in Britain have been following the progress of Andy Murray at Wimbledon. Hopes were high that this year he would win the tournament, but Roger Federer narrowly beat him in the final. A player from Britain has not won the Wimbledon men’s championship since 1936. Immediately after the match Andy spoke emotionally about his appreciation of all the support he has received from his family, coach and team, and the crowd on the Centre Court. He knew that many people were willing him to win.

Our society puts great emphasis on success. We praise people who get to the top, but put little value on coming second. Television interviewers sometimes give the impression that winning a silver medal is a failure! Andy Murray played really well and lost to a man who is one of the greatest ever tennis players. There is no disgrace in that. Indeed the rise of Andy Murray to sporting excellence is cause for great thankfulness.

On 13 March 1996 Andy was a pupil at Dunblane Primary School when Thomas Hamilton entered the school armed with 4 handguns. He shot and killed 16 children, aged 5 and 6, and their teacher, Gwen Mayor, who was killed trying to protect the children in her care. Hamilton then committed suicide. Andy remembers taking cover in another classroom. He attended a youth group run by Thomas Hamilton and his mother gave him lifts in her car. Andy could so easily have died that day but, in the providence of God, he survived and has gone on to become one of the world’s best tennis players. Every year he is getting better and one day he may well be the Wimbledon Men’s Champion.

The determination of great athletes is a challenge to us all. They are single-minded in their determination to succeed and get to the top, even though their careers last just a few years. Do you have a goal in your life? There are more important things than success. The most important thing is the kind of people we are, rather than great achievements. The Apostle Paul was a man of great energy and determination. As a Christian he had one great goal in life which was to please God. He knew that one day, like us all, he would appear before God and nothing was more important than receiving God’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

The Olympic Torch Relay

The Olympic Torch Relay is making its way around the British Isles. 8000 torch bearers are carrying the Olympic Flame to 1019 communities. Some torch bearers are famous, others have been chosen because of their bravery in the face of adversity or their service to others. Most of the torch bearers are young people, some as young as 12. The flame was ignited from the rays of the sun at Olympia in Greece, the site of the ancient Olympics. The Torch Relay will end on the day of the opening ceremony when the flame is lit in the cauldron in the Olympic Stadium, where it will burn until the closing ceremony.

The motto of the modern Olympic Games is “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” In every Olympics new world records are set as athletes achieve success. The Games demonstrate what can be accomplished by people who are single-minded and dedicated. The Paralympic Games show this in a very special way. The hope is that this Olympic Games will inspire a new generation of young people in Britain and the world and bring a new spirit of hope to us all.

The Olympic Games will be a brief interlude in our lives, an opportunity to focus on human achievements rather than human failures. I remember hearing Jack Dain, Bishop of Sydney, say that when he read his daily newspaper he always started with the back page, to see what people had achieved before turning to the front pages to see their failures. Today our failures are great and potentially very serious. All of us, young and old, need to find real and lasting hope.

The apostle Paul speaks of life as being like a race. We are all running in the race. Like any good athlete we need to keep our ultimate goal before us. Near the end of his life Paul wrote, “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Not many have the honour of competing in the Olympic Games, but all of us can live our lives in loving fellowship with Jesus Christ who guarantees us a safe and happy arrival in heaven.