why God is more generous than a crisp* manufacturer.

I like receiving parcels in the post. Usually it will be items that I have ordered online, but occasionally there’s a surprise and that’s the best…

A while ago I had lunch in a well-known coffee-retailing emporium. I chose to have a sandwich and crisps (*’chips’ for my North American bloggists) along with my cup of coffee. I started eating the crisps and thought that the taste was a bit strong, but I persisted because they were not a brand I often buy and I thought that they may have changed the flavour since the last time I bought them.

But as I delved deeper into the bag the flavour got stronger and stronger. By the time I had got most of the way through the bag of crisps it had become unpalatable and I noticed that I could not see much potato through the herbs that were piled on them. I emptied the bag onto my plate and there was a massive mound of herbs. There was quite a long queue at the counter so I didn’t want to go back and complain, so instead I took a couple of photos and sent them to the customer service email address on the bag.

The next day I had a very polite and apologetic email from the company thanking me for alerting them to the problem and explaining that by sending them a photo of their packing codes they had been able to highlight the issue and take steps to resolve it. In order to try to win my allegiance back they also offered to send me some samples of their flavours, and I was happy to receive them.

Last Saturday I came home to find a card from the postal service saying that they had tried to deliver a parcel but nobody was home. I could collect it from the post office on Monday. I was intrigued because I was not expecting anything and had not ordered anything. On Monday I attempted to collect it, but the office had closed by the time I got there so I was unable to do so and the intrigue and expectation was heightened. Today I was able to go to the office in time and this is what I received:

IMG_0293.JPG

It was in a sealed box, but you can see how generous the company has been. In fact you can’t because several large bags are hidden under the pile! I was impressed, and my allegiance may have been won (as long as I like the flavours).

It got me thinking about whether this has some parallels for churches. We believe so much in our ‘product’ (Jesus) but I wonder whether for many people their experience of church has been poor in the past and they have drifted away or stormed off. Others simply don’t think we have anything they’d want. But what if we were as lavishly generous as this company? What might that look like?

And while you’re contemplating that (if you are) let me remind you that God is far more lavishly generous than the most lavishly generous crisp company on the planet. You want proof?

He’s created this incredible planet and doesn’t charge us rent to live here.

He has provided an ecosystem that is perfect to sustain life and give us all we need to survive (subject to human greed causing it and making it worse and human-caused climate change).

The resources contained within the planet are more than enough for our needs (subject to human exploitation and pollution).

He has created us amazingly. And he has created us with the capacity for communication between us, meaning that we need not be alone (something he has been keen to avoid since day 1 (or if you prefer day 7).

He has created us with the intention of being in close relationship with him, and has given us the choice whether or not to accept that. He intends that the relationship lasts beyond our linear timeline.

He has repaired the damage caused by our rejection of him at great personal cost (see Easter).

He offers to fill us with his Spirit so that we can experience life more like he intended it and be gently transformed to be more fully human in relationship with him and others.

And that’s just for starters.

So how are you doing in your thinking about how churches can reflect God’s extravagant generosity?

How can we be more generous with our time, with our listening, with ensuring that all are welcome and included, with our grace, with our joy, with our encouragement, with giving dignity… ? Did you notice that none of these things cost a penny? That means anyone can do them.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

maintaining your balance

balance stonesYesterday I blogged about my response to the ice bucket challenge and my desire not to be ostentatious in the way that I give to charity. Subsequently I realised that in writing that I don’t want to be ostentatious and then posting it on t’internet I have been ostentatious. D’oh!

And then this morning in my daily Bible reading the passage that was set was from 1 Chronicles 29, where King David was very ostentatious about his generous donation to the building fund for the Temple and that generosity inspired the people to give generously too.

Hmmm. It’s tricky isn’t it? How do you hold the two in balance?

I think that the difference is that David was in a leadership position and was trying to inspire his people to be generous to the project for which he was responsible by leading by example.

The Motor Neurone Disease Association is a very worthy cause, doing great work to help people whose lives are blighted by this horrible illness. If you are inspired to support them in any way, even by drenching yourself in icy water, please do so. I am not against that at all.

But I am not personally committed to them as an organisation in the same way that I am committed to supporting other charities. And while I am in leadership of a church, it’s not my place to tell people to give to charities of my choice – in our church the charitable giving to other agencies is agreed by the church membership.

But if I am saying that David’s experience is different because he was inspiring people to give to a cause that he was leading, does this mean that I should be telling people how much I give to our church?

Hmmm. It’s tricky isn’t it?

On balance, I don’t think so. Because when Jesus said that we should not be ostentatious in the way that we give to good causes his concern was that people were making the act of giving in public into a virtuous act. It’s almost as if the people he was criticising were gathering a crowd around them as they put some money in the busker’s hat, bought a copy of the Big Issue or put a donation in the collecting tin and then turned around to receive their round of applause. They had turned charitable giving into a self-promoting publicity stunt to raise their own reputation rather than to raise funds.

I want to encourage as much generosity as I can. I hope and pray that our society will become even more generous in the way that we support those who are working in so many amazing ways to improve the life and circumstances of others. I hope that we will do it gladly, joyfully, cheerfully, even hilariously. I hope that we can inspire others to give (and sometimes by our own example).

Perhaps too we will reflect on what impulse is within us to want to support and bless others. Why do we give to charities? Is it guilt? Is it a way of salving our conscience? I would suggest that at its best it is an echo of our Creator’s generosity to us.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the Baptist who refused to get wet

Yesterday I was challenged to tip a bucket of icy water over my head and give some money to charity. If I am honest I am surprised that it took people that long to nominate me. The person who challenged me also included a sensitive ‘this is optional’ clause and I sensitively opted out. That may surprise you because if anyone should be keen on getting wet it should be a Baptist Minister!

It’s not because I am a wuss (although I may be). It’s not because I am against having fun or looking silly (read the rest of my bloggages and see the photos below if you doubt me). It’s not because I am against the important charity that is being supported through this (they are a worthy cause and have done so well to raise money and awareness through this challenge). It’s not even because I am a stubborn bloke who doesn’t go along with the crowd (you can debate this one if you like). 

It’s because my charity giving is between me and the charities I support.  I chose those charities because they are working in areas and ways that I want to support not because someone challenged me to support them. I chose to support those charities quietly, under the radar, without publicity. I support because I thought not because of a well-intentioned challenge. 

Jesus said, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret.”

And to me that settles the matter. I can’t do the ice bucket challenge because if I am going to tip a bucket of icy water over my head I am going to need both hands!

I hope you realise that last statement was facetious… but actually I do think that giving to others should be between us and the others, witnessed only by God.

Now, please, if you have given by tipping a bucket of icy water over your head, if you intend to, if you have given in other ways to that charity, bless you. Well done. Congratulations. I am not criticising you. I am just trying to explain why I have declined. If you have done the challenge, can I challenge you further: don’t let your giving cease once you have dried off and warmed up.

childhood nickIn the spirit of making a fool of myself in public (which seems to be behind the viral spread of the ice bucket challenge) I am posting some photos of me as a child for your entertainment.

Yes, I am in all four photos!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

proverbial tension

“The Lord will provide.” How many times have you heard that or said that? Let me say that I do not doubt the truth of it.

But there have been times when I have heard it said and it has been (in my opinion) a little bit of a cop out. It has been said in a context where it lets the person who said it off the hook from being involved, from contributing, from budgeting or planning. Because God is so good and so gracious and so generous we can sometimes use him as a safety net to catch us and our plans when we have not done all we could or should.

“The Lord helps those who help themselves.” That’s another little gem that I have heard and it seems to be the antithesis of the first one. And I am not doubting that God wants us to get involved, but some people have used it (in my opinion) to suggest that he only helps those who are able to be active and involved and leave little room for the miraculous.

My experience is that one of them must be wrong. Or we have to hold the two in creative tension. Or both are wrong. Or we need to merge them: “God provides for us and through us.”

I had an amazing phone conversation with someone today who felt that God was telling her to contribute generously with food donations to Colchester charities. I was able to point her towards Open Door and Colchester Foodbank as two local charities that give out food parcels. What a blessing! To me that illustrates the merger of the two ‘proverbs’: God is providing for others through her.

I often talk and think about living life as an act of worship. It’s not just about doing our best. That is the Scout ‘Dyb dyb dyb, dob, dob, dob’* approach. We strive to be good.

I am talking about an attitude, or an intention, to do things well in order to praise God. If you sing, offer it to God before you sing. If you administrate, offer it to God before you administer. If you give, offer it to God before you donate. Whatever you do, do it all as to the Lord and because he is worthy of our best, give your best as an act of worship. And as you do, you will find that God uses you to bless others, and you will have an attitude of gratitude to him and to others for the ways he provides for you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Dyb is an injunction from the leader: “Do your best” and dob is the response: “Do our best.”

 

Another classic oldie:

A man fell over a cliff and on his way to his certain death he held onto a tree root that was sticking out.

The devout man started praying that God would help him.

Soon a helicopter appeared and a man was winched down to him. The man sent the helicopter away: “God will save me.”

Then a rope was lowered down from above and a man came down the rope. Again the victim sent his rescuer away: “God will save me.”

Eventually he could hold on no longer and let go. By now the tide had come in and he plunged into the sea. A lifeboat came to him and he sent it away: “God will save me.”

Finally, exhausted, he drowned and appeared before God in heaven. He was most upset with God: “Why didn’t you save me?”

“I sent you a helicopter, a rope and a lifeboat, what more did you want?”

time’s up!

Hello

The blog is back.

timeOf course you knew that because you had already seen a new blog entry was available and had clicked on it to get this far.

I had an email last week that surprised me. During my time working for the Baptist Union of Great Britain I clocked up a few BA Miles. Every so often I get an email from them telling me about the wonderful offers that they have which I can take advantage of. Every once in a long while I go on their website to see how far my BA Miles will take me. It seems to me that the ratio of BA Miles to actual miles travelled is poor – something like 10:1! Perhaps they should stop calling them ‘Miles’.

Anyway, the email that I got surprised me because it informed me that the accumulated BA Miles have an expiry date! I was completely unaware of this and wonder what it is that makes them expire. Do they go off? Do they diminish in effectiveness? Or do BA not want to bother with me if I have not used them for a couple of years?

I fear that some people experience church like that. They discover suddenly that church has an expiry date of which they were unaware. They have not been around for a while and instead of a gentle ‘we’ve missed you, how are you?’ approach I have heard of some churches that send a ‘warning’ letter that their membership will lapse if they do not come back. Seriously!

Approaching people who have drifted away is not easy. They may be embarrassed or even guilty because they have not been to church for a while. The church may be feeling embarrassed or even guilty because they have not been in touch sooner. So we end up with a Mexican stand-off where neither does anything because of embarrassment or guilt and it just gets worse.

To anyone who has not been to ‘their’ church for a while and feels awkward about going back I would say, “Go! Do it! Take your courage in both hands and turn up. There may be a little awkwardness for a moment but I reckon you will be welcomed with open arms.”

To churches that have people who have not been around for a while (including ours) I would say, “Go! Do it! Pick up the phone, drop around, send a card, make contact. There may be a little awkwardness for a moment but I reckon you will usually be welcomed with open arms.”

Be blessed. Be a blessing.


A well-worn five pound note and a similarly distressed twenty pound note arrived at the Bank of England to be retired. As they moved along the conveyor belt to be burned, they struck up a conversation.

The twenty pound note reminisced about its travels all over the country. “I’ve had a pretty good life,” the twenty proclaimed. “Why I’ve been to Lands End and John O Groats, the finest restaurants in London, performances in the West End, and even ended up on a cruise to the Caribbean.” 

“Wow!” said the five pound note. “You’ve really had an exciting life!” 

“So tell me,” says the twenty, “where have you been throughout your lifetime?” 

The five pound note replies, “Oh, I’ve been to the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Anglican Church ….”

The twenty pound note interrupts, “What’s a church?”*

*Notes of all denominations are welcome in church!

generosity defined by a sweet manufacturer

My wife, Sally, has recently been trying to track down some banana-flavoured chews. She remembered enjoying them as a child and has been disappointed not to be able to find any in sweet shops. She was quite pleased, then, when she came across a goodie bag by Swizzels Matlow that contained some Banana and Toffee Chews. She bought a bag and opened it in anticipation only to find…

… there were no banana sweets in the bag.

Boo.

She was disappointed. So she wrote to Swizzels Matlow and expressed her disappointment that in a whole bag there was not one banana and toffee sweet, and that they are very difficult to find in shops.

Yesterday a package arrived from Swizzels Matlow with a letter expressing their regret that Sally had not had any banana sweets. In order to make up for her they did not send her a voucher (she might have had a repeat of the no-banana sweets in goodie bag disappointment) they sent her some banana and toffee sweets.

10?

Nope

20?

Nope

30?

Nope

40?

Nope

50?

Nope

(you get the idea)

They sent her a box with 100 banana and toffee sweets!!! Wow!

That is way beyond what might be considered a reasonable response. That is what you call generosity. In our house all meals have now been cancelled so we can eat banana and toffee sweets.

(Only joking)

Our children have taken handfuls of sweets to share with their friends and the box still looks full.

And, in the best traditions of cheesy children’s talks, God’s like that. He is generous to us beyond what we deserve or can expect. He gives and gives and gives. And it’s not sweets that he gives, he gives of himself. He gives us grace, forgiveness, peace, joy, inspiration, encouragement… He gives us Jesus. He gives us his Spirit.

We can’t ever out-give God.

Postscript – Sally has written a ‘thank you’ letter to Swizzels Matlow.

When did you last thank God?


A woman went to a sweet shop to buy some sweets (unsurprisingly).

The boy behind the counter said “Gosh, you’re old aren’t you? I’ve never seen anyone as old as you come into this shop before. You’re too old to be buying sweets. Are you sure your false teeth can cope?”

“Young man,” she replied, “I didn’t come in here to be insulted.”

“Really”, he said, “Where do you usually go?”

an election-free zone (well almost)

In the light of the electoral confusion and (perhaps) chaos I feel the need to offer something that is not about the election. That is not to say that I think it is unimportant (far from it) but it seems like the whole country is on the radio, TV and twittering and blogging about it and it’s almost overpowering. I don’t think I have anything to add, save that I would like to invite all my Christian friends to pray that the elected politicians will put aside partisan power politics and seek to serve the country and the best interests of the poorest and most marginalised. That’s my take on it all.

Having said that this would be an election-free zone I have failed in the first paragraph. Sorry. I will do better now.

We have got to the stage in our household where our faithful second car is in terminal decline. It has decided to water the ground on which it stands and drives – sharing its coolant with everyone. A recent visit to the garage resulted in the mechanic informing us that it was not worth repairing. We can keep it going for the time being by carrying around a big bottle of water and topping up, but that is far from convenient! (picture not of our car, but one like it)

So we will be looking for a replacement car. I feel torn about this. Not out of any sentimental loyalty to the current car, even though it has hitherto been reliable and relatively cheap to run. My angst comes from a realisation of how privileged we are that we can even consider having two cars. In order for both Sally and I to maintain our employment and act as parental taxis it is most convenient for us to have two cars, but there are many in this country for whom one car is an aspiration and many across the world for whom it is a luxury.

How do we live as ‘rich Christians in an age of hunger’ (which is the title of a provocative book by Ron Sider)? I think the answer lies in our attitude. If we consider our wealth and possessions to be our entitlement and right we have missed the point of much of Jesus’ teaching. We should move from greed to generosity and seek to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for all that we have. Everything we have is on trust from God and it is up to us how we use it. But he will want us to give an account for it!

A billionaire became a Christian and was profoundly affected by the encounter Jesus had with a rich young man. Jesus had told the man to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and then follow him. It was too much for that man, but the billionaire decided to try.

He set up charitable trusts to run hospitals and orphanages all around the world. He gave away much of his wealth to help lift people out of poverty. He even donated some of his houses as homes for the homeless.

Jesus was impressed. One night he came to the millionaire (he had given away most of his wealth by then) in a dream.

“We are so pleased with you,” he said. “You are an example to so many. Bless you!”

“Thank you, Lord,” said the millionaire. “But I have one request. Do you think I could bring something into heaven to remind me of my wealth?”

“Well, my son,” said Jesus, “the rule is that you came into the world with nothing and you can take nothing with you from it. However in your case we will make an exception. You can bring into heaven what you can carry in your briefcase.”

The millionaire woke up and went to his safe. From the safe he picked up a gold bar and put it in his briefcase. Then he handcuffed the case to his wrist. From that day onwards he was never separated from his briefcase. He became known as a bit of an eccentric because of this, but the millionaire did not mind.

Finally the day came when he died. He arrived at the pearly gates with his briefcase still handcuffed to his wrist. St Peter met him.

“Welcome!” he said expansively. “We are thrilled to have you here…” His voice tailed off as he saw the briefcase. “I’m sorry about this,” he said, “but the rule is that you can’t bring anything with you.”

“But Jesus appeared to me in a dream and said I could bring what I could carry in my briefcase,” explained the man (no longer a millionaire because he had left most of his wealth behind on earth).

St Peter excused himself as he went off to check. He came back smiling. “I am so sorry to have doubted you, but it’s so unusual I had to check. You are right, Jesus said you can bring in whatever you can carry.”

He paused.

“I hope you don’t mind my curiosity,” said St Peter, “But I would love to know what you have brought in your briefcase.”

“Not a problem,” said the man and he proudly opened his briefcase to show his gold bar.

St Peter looked at him, puzzled.

“You brought pavement?!”