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Complainers 

Learn to be a thanker rather than a complainer.

During the Israelites’ journey from Egypt they frequently grumbled, rebelled and on more than one occasion nearly stoned Moses. Even Moses and his brother Aaron, were stopped from going into the promised land because of their complaining.

Despite the amazing events of their escape from Egypt (where they had lived as slaves), the rich donations given by Egyptians, the crossing of the red sea, manna and quail literally from heaven, water from rocks and victories against armies who blocked their path, they still complained about the lack of food variety, how it had been more comfortable in the Egypt and why was Moses in charge.

Their complaining leads to God almost wiping them out in his anger, those left punished by being told that their generation will not enter the promised land, with 2 exceptions Caleb and Joshua.

Both these men had consistently reacted to the same difficulties that the others faced with trust in God rather than complaints.

Paul in his letters again and again tells us to be thankful, which is the opposite of complaining.

Yes there are examples of complaints against God in the Psalms, and our communication with God needs to be real and at times emotional.

In Dale Carnegie’s book How to make friends and influence people, he explains that complaining and critising may make us feel better but doesn’t have the desired effect on other people, people are not wired to react well to complaints. Having worked in customer service for many years I often found I reacted better to customers who didn’t negatively complain.

Christians like the Israelites have been set free from slavery, this time from slavery to sin. God blesses us again and again with his wisdom, with provision, with his hope, joy and peace and so many other things. So if we moan and critise and complain we are not living in the fruit of what God has given us, we are still harking back to Egypt.

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How to spread the good news 

We who know Jesus have been given so much. Unlike cults like the Jehovah Witnesses or Later Day Saints, our salvation is not dependent on getting others to join. God has saved us without requiring us to work for it.

Therefore our wish to tell others about this wonderful gift, is because we want others to benefit. We are like homeless people who have found somewhere warm to stay, telling other homeless people.

Why the good news needs to taste good

I want my children to grow up healthy, and able to eat a wide range of foods. I could cook unappetising food; that smells funny, is difficult to eat and tastes rubbish and make them eat it. Tell them it’s good for them and they should eat it regardless of its taste.

It would be far better (if I am able) to cook nice tasting food, food that is easy to eat, looks good and smells good, so that they eat the healthy meal more willingly.

The good news is even better for people than good food, so we should make it as palatable as possible without weakening it. Paul was a great fan of this:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. –

1 Corinthians 9 v 19-23

That is why there are so many ways to spread the good news. God wants to use our creative abilities.

In fact I would go further and say that by making the good news dull or hard, we are as bad as the cook who over boils the cabbage, or overcooks the steak (at least for me). We are putting a stumbling block in the way of people.

A strategy

So borrowing from Laurence Singlehurst this is a way to share the good news in a way that will help people along the journey to faith, rather than take them too fast along it, or put them off.

At each stage most people will not be ready or willing to move on to the next stage, and that’s fine because we don’t make new Christians, the Holy Spirit does.

Sowing 1

Objective: Leave people thinking you are OK and God is good

How: Let people know you are a Christian and that you believe in God, and do things that people consider good.

Examples: Messy Church, Street by Street, Offer practical help, throw a party

Sowing 2

Objective: Explain the good news including the ups and downs

How: By either inviting people to a low key event that will have it explained, or by more in-depth one to one conversations.

Examples: An music event with a testimony , chats with friends/colleagues/neighbours, Alpha, Start Course

Reaping

Objective: Give people an opportunity to make a response to the good news

How: When someone is ready to take the next step, then help them to accept Jesus’ gift.

Examples: Evangelistic event, one to one, Alpha, Start Course

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. Galatians 6 v 9

Keeping

Objective: Help people to grow in their faith, and to become mature Christians

How: This is a lifetime’s work, as they grow as a disciple. Healthy small groups and involvement in the mission of the Church help to make people feel involved and motivate them to take often difficult steps.

Examples: Moving On Course, Small groups, Sunday sermons

Love one another 

Jesus’ way challenges us still, it’s not an easy well trodden path, following Jesus (which is what a Christian should be) is difficult, we daily have to surrender our own human selfishness and walk his narrow path.

John records in his gospel that Jesus laid down a challenge to his disciples (followers), by giving them a new command to love one another as he had loved them. This was going to be very hard, the disciples were not a naturally huggey feeley group, they were fishermen, ex-terrorists and tax collectors among other things. They argued, they fell out, they undermined each other, they followed Jesus for many reasons, loving each other was not one of them.

Love not Like

Most importantly Jesus had not ask them and doesn’t ask us to like everyone, we don’t have smile and pretend we are best friends, we don’t have hang out with each other. I am not going to get on with every christian, personalities will clash.

What Jesus asks us to do is to love other Christians, in the same way he loves us, so what does this mean?

Jesus’ Love

Most importantly Jesus’ love was not a feeling that went up and down based on his mood, his love was action, it just was.

Costly Love

Jesus laid down his live for us – that was the best demonstration of his love for us, we need to copy him and do the same.

We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers – 1 John 3 v 16-18

Sometimes this means we need to actually trade our lives for others, I imagine that many of our brothers and sisters in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have had to make this choice.

For most of us it means counting our lives as less important than our Christian brother and sisters.

Caring Love

Jesus cared for his disciples, he was protective of them, he wanted the best for them. Sometimes that meant challenging them, love is not always looking for peace in every situation. To guard each other that may mean snatching some from the fire (as Jude puts it).

We need to do this in love, otherwise we become a hostile critic. Its a bit like caring for a child, if you love them you will stop them doing something that harms them.

Committed Love

Jesus knew his disciples would fail and yet he was committed to them, he didn’t give up on them. He showed his love by restoring Peter who had denied him.

Other Christians will fail us, they are not perfect – Jesus hasn’t finished with them yet, just like he hasn’t finished with you – the love we need to use takes this into account.

Inclusive Love

Jesus loved all regardless of their background. The Church is meant to be diverse, people who shouldn’t get on , should show their love for each other.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, you are all one in Christ Jesus – Galatians 3 v 28

Commanded Love

Jesus commands us to love each other, therefore he will give us the love.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5 v 5

Love is not a feeling, it is an action, commanded love means we love even when we don’t feel like it.

Street By Street

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The Church that I lead is the Woodbank Community Church on Woodhouse Road in Whitehaven. This week we are praying for Greenbank Avenue and Gameriggs Road, part of our ongoing plan to pray for every road in Woodhouse and Greenbank.

What we do

Every couple of months we choose one and drop flyers into every house, telling them that we are going to pray for them.

Then we go to each home and ask those in, what they want us to pray about. A full list of these prayers is given to each of our members, to pray about in the week. To protect people’s identities, we only put the first letter of their Christian names in front of their prayer need. My name being John would be written ‘J’. I’m sure God knows who we are talking about.

It is a real privilege to take people’s requests to the God who answers prayer. Now we are a Church that is used to knocking on doors. For the last three Christmases we have delivered boxes of chocolates to local streets as early Christmas presents. But going to ask people what we can pray for them has been a real pleasure.

The response has been a mixture of bewilderment and thanks with very few refusals. The fact that we also put it on our Facebook page means some are ready for us when we arrive.
But I think it is going to take years to cover the whole area, if we ever do. New homes are being built around us as we look.

So why are we praying for our streets?

Because we believe that God is interested in all of us and the lives we live. He is not some benevolent grandpa in the sky, but the creator God who cares about us, is listening and wants to get involved with everyone. A lot of people ask me to pray for them because they think that as a ‘religious leader’, God will listen to me.

The truth is that God listens to us all; we are all special to him.

So as we are praying for Greenbank Avenue and Gameriggs Road this week, why not talk to God yourself about the needs you have. You could add those of your family, friends and neighbours as well. Let’s get West Cumbrians well known in heaven as those who talk to God about things that are important to us. You never know, the angels may get used to the accent. 

Turning the world around.

At the beginning of the year I started a sermon series called Attractive Christianity. What got me going was reading Acts 5 vs 12-14. It talks about all the believers meeting together, but ‘none of the rest dared join them.’ That’s fine until you look at verse 14,

And more that ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.

What’s going on here?  Something is turning these people around. They want to walk away but find themselves joining in.

The words between these two phrases help us understand what’s going on. We know that God is involved in all this but He has decided to have agents on the ground. Luke tells us that

the people ( the ones that wanted to walk away) held them (the believers) in high esteem

That seems to have had an amazing effect on the population of Jerusalem. In front of their eyes God’s promises were being worked out in ordinary, very visible people. My goodness, how our community needs to see that today. This is not a time for us to hide behind our Church walls but get out and live it with all our might.