Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the tag “Jesus”

On finding the perfect gift… and missing the point

Presents, food, tinsel, more food and more presents. In a society where Christmas is driven by consumerism, Julie Williams shares how she and her family will go counter-culture this year by putting Christ at the centre of their celebrations. 

Photo Credit: Shandi-lee via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shandi-lee via Compfight cc

If you’re hoping to find a blog post berating Father Christmas as the anti-Christ and linking his poor reindeer to hell’s apocalyptic horsemen, let me save you the time. Regrettably for you, this is not that post.

In fact, I am particularly fond of Christmas and all its pagan traditions. The Christmas tree, the gifts under it, the fake mistletoe, and good old Father Christmas. When I look back on my childhood, it is punctuated with happy memories of this time of year. Believing in Father Christmas (for a few brief years) did not make me lose all trust in my parents or create an inextricable pull towards the occult (that came later, after watching Harry Potter). Jokes aside, if I’m honest, I’m not so sure that everything that comes with the festive season is all together festive or healthy…

Like our collective irrational desire to get more. More tinsel, more of those nuts that everybody seems to have in their homes that you have to crack yourself, more crackers (seriously, has anyone in the history of forever, ever pulled something out of an over-priced cracker that was worth keeping? Even just until pudding?), more stuff we think we really need but really don’t, more stuff that our kids really don’t need, and a whole lot more food.

Like most of you, I also like to give more too… I write lists of the most thoughtful gifts for my loved ones and then spend loads of energy and time tracking those things down. And in the process, taking my credit card limit to new heights (or lows according to one less festive spouse, but nobody asked him to write a blog post fortunately).

I love it – all of it. Even the end of January toast and baked beans that are bound to follow. But over the last few years, as I skip around crowded shopping centres that seem full of irritable people, I have been wondering, am I missing the point? Worse still, am I perpetuating this missing of the point onto the next generation now that I have minions, I mean, kids?

I’m a Christ-follower, and I know what the real meaning of Christmas is, but in the actual day-to-day busyness of life, it’s difficult to see the wood from the trees. Or in this case, the Christ in the chaos. As someone who loves Jesus, this should primarily be a time to celebrate his arrival. That means putting down the fairy lights and shopping lists for a second and reflecting on what that actually means.

What should we be celebrating at Christmas? That God put skin on: That the Maker of the Universe who holds everything together, whose hands span the galaxies, let go of all of that to become a tiny, helpless babe. He gave up his riches to become poor for us. All because of love. Christmas is about celebrating the ultimate downgrade. It’s about reveling in the ultimate gift – not a flattering outfit or entertaining toy – but a person. A Saviour who satisfies our weary souls like no ipod, gift voucher or glazed ham ever could.

I’m really not wanting to rain on anyone’s festive parade. I’m just calling for a bit of perspective. Like the thin layer of icing above the fruit cake – all of our traditions should be small and inconsequential beside Christ this Christmas.

How will we practically do this? You get to work that out in your own life. But this is what we’re doing differently this holiday season…

A debt of love, minus the debt.

We’re going to spend less on gifts. Not because we love our family and friends less, but because going into debt to show how much we care is just really dumb. And because despite what advertising tells us, the perfect gift to give this Christmas doesn’t cost a cent – it’s our time and love. When it comes to our own kids and gifts, I stumbled across this list a year ago and found it super helpful. Our kids get four things each: Something to read, something they need, something to wear, something to play with. They really do need new shoes and swimming costumes, and cultivating a love of reading is a priority for us, so really, they’re getting one ‘real’ gift, but don’t tell them that! We think it’s also important for them to realize that everything they get is a gift and not a right, even the necessary things.

Santa’s our little helper, not the other way around.

We’re not hyping Father Christmas up as the hero of the story. He’s a side act to the real show. How do our kids know this? By virtue of the fact that he gives the smallest gifts every year. Not the biggest.

Christ-centred Christmas traditions.

We’re early in our journey as a family. But we want to better reflect Christ’s love in this time. So we spend time shopping and putting together Care for the Carer gifts, and on Christmas evening, we have a time of reflection together, we talk about the day and look at all the things we got given, than we pray together and thank God for our gifts, and especially for the BEST gifts of all, Christ and his great love for us. The day after Christmas, as a kind of detox, we give each of them a box and ask them to give away some of their good-quality toys and clothes to bless others.

This may sound very Brady Bunch, but the reality is, our kids will probably be climbing all over the couch while we’re praying on Christmas night, and wailing like somebody is wanting them to donate a vital organ when they have to part with some of their things the next morning. It’s not going to be all that festive, but then again, maybe that’s not the point. It certainly wasn’t Christ’s.

Julie Williams is a part-time freelance copywriter, mother of three and pastor’s wife. She serves on the Common Ground Church leadership team together with her husband, Terran.

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Show love Like Julie, you too can make this Christmas more meaningful. Our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign offers a few ways you can make a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need. For more information on how you can get involved, click here.

Is this an Opportunity or an Obligation?

This isn’t a question many of us ask as we go about our days, but when it comes to responding to the needs of this world it could be a very important one. Richard Lundie explains.

Photo Credit: Amy L. Riddle via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Amy L. Riddle via Compfight cc

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was diagnosed HIV+. She was working her hands to the bone to earn enough to prove that she could take care of her children who had been placed in a foster home. As her friend I wanted to do everything I could to help her, but her situation also made me ask myself, “If I help her, shouldn’t I also be doing something to help the millions of other South Africans with stories similar to hers? Why should my compassion stop with her?”

The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 demonstrates that our neighbour is anyone in need. Anyone. In a world that is so fill of need how do we show love to all our neighbours?

Helping a friend or family member is one thing, but what about the needs of the millions of other people in this city, this country, this continent?

It’s easy to become overwhelmed when the needs are so broad, so deep and so big!  But should we treat each situation equally? With limited time and resources, where should we be focusing our efforts?

How can we sift through these immense challenges and point our time, talents and treasures towards a few? We are only human after all. If we tried to respond to every situation we could risk burn out, or we might become so demoralised by our attempts to ‘save the world’ that we’d eventually stop trying to respond at all.

There is a concept called ‘moral proximity’ which I think can be a helpful lens to look through when deciding how or when to respond to an injustice or a need.

Let me explain.

When reading scripture, we see how the early church was called to provide for their families.  1 Timothy 5:8 uses pretty strong language to get this point across saying that not providing for your family members makes you “worse than an unbeliever”. Yikes!

But I think the reason Paul made this bold statement is because our family is the closest to us in terms of our ‘moral proximity’.

Moral proximity states that the closer the person is to you, the more responsibility you have to act and participate in addressing their need.  This is not necessarily a geographical proximity, but primarily a relational proximity.

An example is: your sister, who lives in another part of the country or continent, has a particular need.  You feel a stronger desire and perhaps obligation to assist her, compared to another person who lives in the same city as you, but whom you barely know.  That is moral proximity.

This is why in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul urges, encourages, inspires and blesses those from the church in Macedonia who contribute towards supporting the church in Jerusalem undergoing famine, but at no point does he say that if they don’t give they’ll be “worse than an unbeliever” – the strong warning he gave to the believers in 1 Timothy 5:8.

I believe the reason for his change in tone is because the two churches he’s speaking about in 2 Corinthians were far apart, but connected, so the contribution was an opportunity, rather than an obligation.

The closer the person or the need is to you, the greater the obligation.  The further away it is the more responding to their need becomes an opportunity, and less of an obligation.

This is not about drawing a line so we can ‘get away with less’.  It’s more about distinguishing between those situations which provide an opportunity for us to be generous and those situations where we are obligated as Christ-followers to sacrificial love. And, here’s the tough part, where not responding is actually sinning.

So what does this mean for us?  As we face the wide range of human needs in this world, the first people we should be looking to help are those around us.  We should be careful not to clamber over people in need who are in our midst to help others ‘further out’.

Who are the people in your life in need who you could move towards in relationship? Have you perhaps overlooked the person that works with you or for you?  Or the congregant in the seat next to you?

While God still wants us to take those opportunities to love our neighbours across cities, oceans and continents, he has mandated us to care for those who are nearest to us in space, kinship, time and geography.

There could be people who are outside of your social circle, but who fall within your moral proximity. The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 shows us that we should not limit our love to those in our ‘inner circle’. And moral proximity should definitely not be used as an excuse to only help those who are like us.

Why not prayerfully consider those people who God has placed in your sphere?  What are the opportunities that God is offering you to be generous and loving?  Who are those closest to you – in your family, your small group and so on – who you could moved towards in compassion and support during a time of need or injustice?  What can you do to journey with them?

God wants to use us as his instruments to bring hope and restoration to this world but he can only do this if we’re willing to open our eyes and see the people in our midst who he is calling us to love and serve.

-Richard is the Partners and Initiatives Programme Manager at Common Good. He also serves on the leadership team of Common Ground Church Wynberg, together with his wife, Ruth.

(Author’s note: I’d like to credit the book “What is the Mission of the Church” by Kevin deYoung and Greg Gilbert as a key resource in writing this post)

What are your thoughts on this? How do you decide when and how to respond to those in need? Do you think ‘moral proximity’ could be a helpful lens?

P.S.  Related articles you might want to read: “Social Justice and the poor” by Kevin DeYoung and “What does it really mean to live social justice?” by Rigby Wallace

What does it really mean to live social justice?

Rigby Wallace shares five key pieces of wisdom he’s learnt after years of grappling. (We reckon this is worth printing and sticking on your fridge!)

1. It all begins with encountering the authentic Jesus:

For Jesus it was about being and bringing good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). Paul calls the Christ-follower to put off his/her old ‘self’ and put on the ‘new self’, which is our call to become more like the most compassionate and just person in the universe. Col 3:12 makes it clear that putting on compassionate hearts is a way to evidence our relationship with Christ.

The more we follow Christ and become like Him, the more we will have hearts that care for the least, the lost and the lowest in our city.

2. Make your home the first frontier:

The way we pay our domestic workers and gardeners needs to be evaluated. If you can’t pay any more, then reduce the work hours so they can work a bit more somewhere else. This is an area that God is clearly watching over.

James makes the point when he says, “The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you” (James 5:4).

Whenever you get a bonus, give your staff at least the same percentage. Help with school fees and extras wherever you can. Speak to your staff and all those who are economically disadvantaged in any way with great respect. The gospel calls us to guarantee all those we meet the dignity God created them with.

3. Learn the power of team:

Wherever we can operate from community, we will bring more to that moment than we could ever bring as an individual.

That’s why I am so excited about Common Good. This team of dedicated ‘social justice’ champions, stand ready to equip and mobilise us towards the poor and marginalised in our city. I love it that they can cater for the guys wanting to take baby steps to the seasoned campaigners who are ready to slay the giants.

For Sue and I we have seen the wisdom of giving some of our mercy giving towards their efforts, rather that indiscriminate acts of kindness at robots or when our doorbell rings. Whilst we still respond to these requests from time to time, we find it easier to look people in the eye and say ‘Sorry sir/madam, not today, we are helping through our local church in projects where we are helping people we know!’

If we all did this together, we could empower Common Good with some of their big initiatives. Doing it together in team keeps us wise, focused and encouraged.

4. Keep informed:

Practice noticing the challenges facing our city and church as we seek to follow Christ as an opportunity for gospel faithfulness. Their is no virtue in hiding our heads in the sand.

Read the Common Good blog. Sign up for their newsletter and read it! Read Tim Keller’s ‘Ministries of Mercy‘. Listen to the media as they report on the socio-economic challenges facing us in Cape Town specifically.

And don’t be intimidated, because we have Jesus as our heavenly champion ready to give grace and wisdom wherever He is calling us to respond.

5. Embrace an empowering economic philosophy of life:

I learned the following economic wisdom 15 years ago:

a. Earn more: Live in your full income generating potential (Study, develop skills continually)

b. Consume less: This tempers and helps draw a circle around our life-stage monthly budget . Sue and I need to revisit this periodically as our circumstances change.

c. Hoard nothing: This calls us to regularly get rid of stuff that may benefit others. When we buy new clothes we can give away some of our good-quality clothes. We moved house a couple of years ago and were amazed at how much stuff we had been hoarding.

d. Be generous: This includes more than financial generosity. It’s time. It’s hospitality. It’s growing your relational range by opening up your home. We have been doing this over the years.

A highlight for Sue and I is opening our home over most Christmases to displaced people that have made Common Ground their home. Having four or five of these amazing people in our home, seated with our family for a Christmas feast has been special. And listening to their incredible stories has enriched our lives wonderfully.

e. Celebrate life: This is a call to avoid the ascetic trap of doing all the right things but being miserable in the process.

Living social justice will have difficulties and bring serious challenges to our lives, but when we do it from gospel ravished hearts and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are going to experience mountains of joy.

And, finally, remember, it all begins with encountering and following Jesus…

– Rigby oversees the leadership team of Common Ground Church in Cape Town, together with his wife, Sue.

What from the above really stuck out to you? Do you have any wisdom you’ve learned you’d like to share with us?

How a traffic light encounter changed my idea of giving

Just another church clothing drive. That’s what Fuel Team member Caroline Maile thought of Warm Up Winter before one experience changed her mind.

Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

I honestly never really thought much about Warm Up Winter other than that it was a great opportunity to clean out my cupboards. I knew it would help someone somewhere along the line but I didn’t expect to feel the real weight of what we were doing or ever find out whose lives we might be impacting. But my whole perception of the campaign changed drastically this year on the way to drop off my small group’s clothing collection.

It all started with a mix up. My small group had decided to give the clothes we’d gathered and sorted to one organisation, but we got the drop off details confused and so had to change our plan to give to Westlake United Church Trust instead. Initially, I was a bit upset as we’d prayed about it and I’d felt that our original organisation was the one that really needed the clothes. Little did I know that this was all part of God’s plan.

On our way to Westlake to drop off the clothes, we stopped at traffic lights in Claremont and I noticed a guy standing next to our car with the warmest smile. I smiled back at him and then I noticed that he was holding a crutch in his right arm and a sign board in his left.

I never usually read these signs because they usually say the same thing: “dear madam/sir in need of a job and money pls, have 5 kids to feed God bless.” But this guy seemed different so I took a moment to read his sign. It said, “All im asking for is clothes to keep warm and anything else you have to give please, thank you and God bless.”

I laughed out loud at the thought of God’s sense of humour. People don’t usually carry around spare clothes in their car, so this guy was really taking a chance out of pure desperation, but we happened to have a boot full of warm clothes. This was all he was asking for and we had it. We pulled off to the side of the road and I chose a bag for him filled with some smart shirts, jackets, pants, new shoes and warm scarves. As I walked closer to him I noticed he had tears streaming down his cheeks. He was so incredibly grateful for this single bag of clothing.

I took the opportunity to ask him his name and to get to know a little bit more about him. I told him a bit about myself and that these clothes were a blessing from God. I told him that God loved him and was looking after him even though his life might be really tough right now. I encouraged him to not give up hope and to pray to Jesus. The more I spoke, the more he cried.

When I asked him about his limp and his life on the streets, he told me that he’d been using drugs as an escape and that he’d had a stroke as a result which had damaged the whole left-side of his body. He had no use of his left hand and could barely use his left leg. I asked him if he was still using drugs and he told me that he wasn’t because God had warned him that the next time it would be his life. I asked if I could pray for him as I felt a word for him from God on my heart. I prayed for healing, restoration and a real revelation of Christ in his life. Afterwards, he threw his arms around me as best he could and thanked me. I was filled with such joy and my heart overflowed with love and a deep desire to change the world.

It’s crazy how God used us to bless this guy and to give him a sense of hope and dignity. We were also able to remind him that God cares deeply for us and loves us even in the midst of our suffering. This encounter also really changed my perception on giving. I’m now more aware of the opportunities we are given to give and the greater plans that God has for us to bless and be blessed.

So not only was someone’s life warmed by the clothes we were able to give them but my heart was also warmed and changed by this simple act of giving.

Do you have a Warm Up Winter story? We’d love to hear it!

P.S. Other great articles on generosity: How I’ve Learnt To Give and Minding The Gap

Grappling with Gratitude

By Lindsay Carlin

Take a moment and think of all the blessings you’ve received over the entire course of your life. Yes, your entire life. Go back, far back. You could even start with that award you received in primary school and move on from there. Perhaps to this blessings list you add the fact that you have a roof over your head to protect you from the winter rains, or food on the table every night. Maybe you have clothing to choose from in the morning, or a car that will get you to work on time. You may actually have a job to go to every day. If you’re blessed enough to have friends or family to share your life with, don’t forget to add them. I bet the list in your head is getting pretty long, because the simple truth is that most of us have many reasons to be grateful. Why then is being grateful just so hard at times?

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