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:

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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

 

critical thinking

As you will know by now if you have read my previous bloggages, or follow me on social media, my friend Richard Jones has won Britain’s Got Talent. He is the first magician to win this and, in my humble opinion, is a worthy winner. He’s also a really nice, genuine, humble bloke.

But it is distressing to see that some in the media have decided to attack him. If it distresses me, how much more must it hurt Richard? There have been claims that he was repeating illusions performed elsewhere. There were even (amazingly) claims that he was not performing real magic! And some magicians have criticised him for not performing more difficult illusions.

Let’s be clear about a few things. First of all Richard has never claimed to have supernatural powers. What he does is perform illusions with style, charm, skill and panache. Of course he’s not performing real magic if you mean that he is using spells and incantations to invoke dark powers to enable him to do what he does. But he’s a member of the Magic Circle and a member of Mid Essex Magical Society, neither of which admit people who don’t know what they are doing.

The second thing I want to clarify is that many illusions are available for sale commercially through magic shops (online and physical). So the chances are that if some of what Richard did was based on something that is commercially available someone else will also have performed it somewhere else, assuming that they have secured the right to perform it on television. Even illusions performed by famous televisions magicians are also available commercially. Criticising Richard for what he has done is like criticising a musician for performing a cover version of another song. But actually what he also did was add his own twist, style, presentation and personality onto the illusions he performed.

The final thing I want to clarify is that Britain’s Got Talent is about the performance and the effect that it has on the audience. It is not a show that rewards technical excellence, but a show that promotes talented performers. Richard’s performances in the audition and live shows were excellent. He presented the illusions superbly. You can tell that by the reaction of the judges and the audience, and of course by the fact that he won! If I was in his shoes I would not try to do something technically risky in order to wow the magicians if I could perform something I was more confident with pulling off successfully that would get the reaction he did.

All of this criticism needs to be kept in perspective. They are criticisms by just a few people who happen to have a public platform from which to proclaim their negative opinions. In my mind their opinions matter less than the opinion of those who voted for Richard, and the opinions of those who know him. But why do people feel it is necessary to criticise others in that way?

In part I think it is because they are jealous. They are jealous of the success of others and need to tear people down in order to make themselves feel better. One of the Ten Commandments is that we should not covet what other people have. It’s not just to stop us being jealous, it’s because wanting and focusing on what others have stops us appreciating what we have.

In part, too, I think it’s because they want to try to make others think better of them. It’s pride. If they are critical perhaps others will think that they are an expert. If they put other people down then perhaps others will assume that they are above the person they are putting down. Pride is as corrosive as jealousy because it makes us oblivious to our own faults, it empowers us to judge others but masks our own inadequacies from us. Jesus said that you will be judged in the same way that you judge others – in other words those who are negative and critical will be perceived as such by those who hear them and those who are positive and affirming will be perceived as positive and affirming.

We don’t know the impact our words can have on someone else. I hope and pray that Richard will not have been too badly hurt by the negative comments and will recognise them for what they are. I hope and pray that he is enjoying his well-deserved success. I hope and pray that he will be able to continue to respond with grace.

A verse from the Bible, written to a church, has been bouncing around in my head form the past few months and seems appropriate here:

“Encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Imagine how different it would be if those who have a public platform tried to to that…imagine how different the world would be if we all tried to live like that!

All of this has made me reflect again on myself. I hope and pray that my words are positive, affirming and encouraging not negative and destructive. I am trying hard not to be judgemental of those who have criticised my friend. If I am being judgemental, please forgive me. I have tried to defend Richard not only because he is a friend but because he doesn’t deserve it and the criticism is unfair. But I also want to use this to reflect again on my own behaviour and ask for God’s Spirit’s help to point out where I am jealous or proud, seek his forgiveness, apologise where I need to, and start afresh.

Be blessed, be a blessing

just what I wanted

giftIt’s been a bit quiet here recently hasn’t it? I had some time off between Christmas and New Year and decided to take a break from blogging too. I hope you are not too disappointed… but despite popular demand I am back!

So how was Christmas? Were there enough socks, aftershave and handkerchiefs to last until next Christmas? How about the blokes? (boom boom) I wonder what the most useful present was? Which will be cherished most? Which gift will still be significant this time next year?

Did you assume that the questions in the previous paragraph were all about the gifts you received or the ones you gave? As I was reflecting in anticipation of writing this bloggage I did reflect on the gifts I had received – on the generosity of those who gave them to me; the surprise when I unwrapped some of them and they were unexpectedly ‘just what I wanted’; on how useful they will be; on how the vouchers have been spent already (and we’re just waiting for the postperson to come with them). And it struck me that by giving gifts to others we can multiply that experience. It was not just about me as recipient but me as giver: how does it feel when someone appreciates a gift that we give?

And then I got to thinking about God (as I do). The Bible describes him as generous, loving to give, gracious and desiring to give good gifts. I often think about how God has been generous to me, but have not stopped so often to think about how it makes God feel to be generous, to give gifts, and to bless us. If it’s anything like we feel when we have given a gift and it’s ‘just what I wanted’ then it’s no wonder that heaven is a place of joy! If you can cope with the anthropomorphism, can you imagine the smile on his face as he sees us using the gifts he has given?

But what if the gifts that are given are put away in a cupboard and forgotten until the next charity collection or jumble sale? We would not tell the person who gave them to us that this is what we have done with their generous gift, would we? Or what about those things we plan to take back to the shop – ‘have you got the receipt?’ is not the most gracious response when receiving a gift! So what about those things that God has given you which you have put in a cupboard and forgotten about, or those things you don’t think you want or need? Here are just a few to get you started:

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control, forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, generosity, hospitality, administration, teaching, encouraging, building others up, faith, hope…

Why not get them out, dust them off and use them for the purpose for which he has given them – that we might be blessed and be a blessing.

Happy New Year to you all.

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.