too good to be true

iStock_000008192999SmallFollowing on from the Spam, spam, spam, spam bloggage earlier this week a friend told me about how they had clicked on a link on a well-known social media website (rhymes with spacehook) and a pop-up had come up saying that they could be in line to win an iPhone 6 or other consumer tech from a giveaway section on a large online retailer named after a South American river. They clicked again and found that, lo and behold, they had won a top of the range iPad!

But they were a bit suspicious. The link supposedly to this retailing giant’s website was to the .com version not the .co.uk version, but it was still showing the value of the items in £s.

And more than that, they had never heard of this retailer giving away such expensive items. And why would they?

In the end they applied the ‘if it seems too good to be true then it probably is’ and tried to leave that page. But the pop up kept popping up, and when they tried to delete it the page it was referring to was definitely not the online retailer.

They managed to close the windows in the end, but when they were telling me about it I wondered whether that might be similar to how some churches go about things.

We tell people that we have an offer that is too good to be true, offering them things that they would want, and then when they decide that it’s not true we make it difficult for them to leave. That sounds like a cult to me!

What do I mean? Well, some churches seem to promise a relationship with God where all your dreams come true. Or they say that if you become a Christian then everything will be wonderful after that. Or they suggest that following Jesus will answer all your questions. Or they say that your problems will fade into insignificance if you become a Christian…

And (forgive me if I lack faith here) that’s just not what I read about in the Bible, and it doesn’t match with my experience of following Jesus. Your problems don’t disappear, but you do find that you are not alone with them because you can become more aware of God’s Spirit in you. All your dreams won’t come true, but you may find that your hopes and dreams change to become more in line with God’s will. Everything is not always wonderful, but grace, hope and forgiveness are available in abundance. All your questions won’t be answered, and you’ll still doubt at times, but you’ll find that the questions might seem less important, or might even change to better ones…

I wonder whether churches add special offers to the Good News of Jesus because they wonder whether it’s enough – a relationship with God, a fresh start in life, God’s Spirit in you, a worldwide family, a purpose to live for, hope for the future… But I believe that if we are honest with people that ‘life in all its fullness’ includes the side of life that can lead to the expression of expletives but knowing that God is with you in it, perhaps they will be more ready to believe us with the rest of what Jesus has to offer.

Just a thought.

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Be blessed, be a blessing

the effect of irritation

old phone 2I’d had enough. I couldn’t cope with it any more. I snapped.

And with vouchers saved judiciously over several years I bought a new set of phone handsets for our home landline. The reason was that I was fed up with the regular bombardment of unsolicited phone calls — recorded and live – trying to get me to sign up for house insulation (it’s well insulated), new windows (our house is rented), claim for payment protection insurance refunds (I have never had PPI) and all manner of other annoying scams. I have never, and will never, signed up for anything where I have been cold-called but these people don’t seem to realise that.

So I bought new handsets. They are special phones that intercept all calls and filter out any that are unwanted. This means that when someone calls for the first time (unless I have been able to add them to the ‘welcome’ list) they will hear a message asking them to identify themselves. We then get called by the system and hear the caller’s name. At that point we can choose to allow the call once, always, never, or send it to the answering machine.

If you call our house (other than to sell us stuff) I am sorry that you will get a message to start with – but it should only be the once. After the system knows that we want you to call us you will be able to call us as you usually do without interception or delay. It is the effect of irritation.

I think it’s brilliant that phones can now do this, and with a certain amount of glee check the system regularly to see how many nuisance calls have been intercepted.

I also think it’s awful that such phones are necessary. We are bombarded by unsolicited attempts to sell us stuff and sign us up for stuff that comes through the letterbox, knocks at our door, harasses us through our phone line, sends unsavoury emails, lobs unwanted text messages, stops us in the street and who knows what they will come up with next.

The suspicious part of me wonders whether all of the unsolicited phone calls are actually sent by companies that came up with a way of blocking phone calls and wanted to create a market for them. But that couldn’t be true. Could it? You see what this has done to us – we are suspicious and cautious about approaches by strangers. When I am stopped in the street I always try to be polite but start by saying that I never give out my details or sign up for anything in the street. That deters some, but the more persistent keep going and say that they don’t want anything from me… only to ask me a little later for some way of contacting me to get me to sign up later.

I do like approaching the people who are trying to gain support for charities that we already support. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to be able to tell them that we already support the worthy cause they are promoting. I got a high five from the last one!

The purpose of this bloggage is twofold. The first fold is to encourage you to persist, say your name when prompted, and wait for us to answer if you try to contact us and get the interception machine. Don’t be put off.

The second fold is to ask us to consider our approach when Christians are sharing our faith. Does it come across as an attempt to sign someone up for our cause, to get them to sign on the dotted line, to make a snap decision based on a ‘chance’ encounter? If so, perhaps we should not be surprised if people don’t want to listen – it’s the effect of irritation.

We need to reconsider, reimagine and restore our approach: instead of selling Jesus to people we should take every opportunity to offer people grace, acceptance, dignity, peace, prayer and so much more that our culture leeches out of them. We have good news to give away not bad news to sell. It might simply look like a hug, a listening ear, a free cup of tea, a Foodbank parcel, an affirmation of value, or any number of grace-rich encounters… [insert your own examples here]

It all sounds suspiciously like us being free samples of Jesus (see previous bloggages!).

Be blessed, be a blessing