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

Son rise

After what some of you may consider to have been a surfeit of pomes (sic) last week, when I was in a reflective mood, this week I am returning to the more ‘normal’ style of bloggage. Except that I’m going to cheat slightly and post a reflection based on something I said in Sunday evening’s sermon at our church. So, apologies to anybody who has already heard this.

Sunrise & Sunset 2
To be fair, this is not an image of the sun rising over Horsham!

In my first church, in Horsham, we used to have a sunrise service on Easter Sunday mornings. We would trudge and squelch our way across some fields and up a hill that overlooks the town. Usually it was after the sun had risen but it was still very early in the morning and we would reflect on the events of the first Easter Sunday.

On one occasion I asked some of the teenage girls in the church to interrupt me as I was speaking. The idea was that while I was speaking about the encounter that the women had with the risen Jesus they would rush down the hill through the crowd shouting, “Jesus is alive! We’ve seen him, we’ve met him!” The girls were quite excited about this and sneaked to the back of the crowd to await the cue. My idea was that I would try to bring a little realism to the narrative. I didn’t count on a retired minister who was part of our church.

As the girls started to make a commotion and ran down the hill shouting, “Jesus is alive!” Gordon turned around to them and told them to be quiet and stop messing around.
The girls were a little taken aback by this but thankfully they decided to continue and ran down the hill as arranged. They were not going to be shushed by anyone!

Sometimes churches are like Gordon: we can unwittingly try to stop the good news of Jesus from spreading. I think everybody is hard-wired not to like change but somehow when we get together in churches we can be even more resistant. Perhaps because God is unchanging we think we ought to be as well.

Gordon also typifies the reaction of the disciples on Easter Sunday when the women burst into their room and told them that Jesus was alive. They were told to stop being so silly and calm down. What did they think they were doing interrupting a serious and important meeting with their excited and exuberant shouting?

Thankfully, just like the girls on the hill overlooking Horsham, those women would not be silenced. They had the greatest news in history and they wanted everyone to have an opportunity to hear it.

Over to you.

Be blessed, be a blessing

waiting fulfilled

For those of you who have been waiting patiently for something vaguely coherent to appear on these pages for the past two days: thank you for waiting.

For those of you who have been waiting impatiently for something vaguely coherent to appear on these pages for the past two days: I refer you to the subtitle of this blog… and you seriously expect me to be coherent?

For those of you who have been waiting patiently for news of the trolley delivery: woohoo! It arrived today!

It arrived in kit form.

Along with a piece of paper with relatively vague instructions. After examining them, turning them upside down and then turning the trolley components upside down I finally got the right pieces in the right places.

You may need to tilt your monitor or head to view this correctly

Trolley!!

Worryingly, however, there are two sets of nuts and washers left over. There are no bolts for them to go on, and they don’t appear on the vague instructions, so I am relatively confident that they are surplus to requirements, but they are there nonetheless to put a little bit of doubt in the mind of the assembler that they may have missed a vital aspect of the assembly process.

Reflecting on this briefly (before I start transporting things gleefully around the house and garage) I wonder whether you think God ought to have given us clearer instructions, especially for being church. I mean ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ is not exactly a detailed blueprint for church, is it?

And therein lies the genius. Within the broad parameters of this church-building, disciple-making, people-dunking, obedience-teaching programme is the flexibility and possibility for the good news of Jesus to be made relevant to every era, culture and person. And there’s the opportunity to establish church in ways and places that most effectively enable followers of Jesus to be free samples to those around them.

It begs the question, “Why do so many churches look the same?”

And, did Jesus leave any room for nuts and washers that are surplus to requirements? Nope – we all have a part to play – whether people think you are a nut or a washer (baptist)!

Be blessed, be a blessing.