Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the tag “stewardship”

What’s Mine is Not Mine

What should we do with the treasures with which we’ve been blessed? Sindiso Mnisi Weeks shares how she’s grappling to let go in a culture holding on.
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Psychologists describe how a significant milestone in child development is when the child begins to understand herself as a separate entity from her mother and the rest of the world. What follows shortly thereafter is the realisation that she can possess things. “Mine!” she says, “… mine, mine, Mine, MINE!”

Perhaps one of the most radical – counter-cultural … even, perhaps, counter-evolutionary! – lessons the Gospel calls us to embrace as adults is the lesson that, though we can possess things, what we possess is actually not ours.

How often does the Bible call us to:

“[N]ot lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-21)

And our hearts should be in God alone.

So, what should we do with those treasures with which we have been so blessed – and for which we might have worked very hard – in this world?

“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3: 11)

Or, in the words of the Old Testament:

“‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. … [T]he land that you hold as a possession … will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.”… “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.'” (Leviticus 25: 23-24, 28, 35)

In this vein it continues.

If the Bible takes such a radical approach to material possessions, why is it so hard to persuade our own hearts of this attitude?

Some would say it’s evolution – the survival of the fittest instinct that has kept us from extinction so far. Some would say it’s our fallen nature – the sinfulness within us that resists all things godly and pursues self-interest at every turn.

Maybe it’s both.

Yet the truth remains that, for most people, the child within who first awoke to the realisation that at least some things could be “mine!” refuses to let go. Very much like Adam and Eve when their eyes were opened to selfishness and greed and they lost their ability to fully trust in God’s provision for them, even as they lost their place in God’s immediate company in Eden.

I can give you the experiential background on why it’s hard for me, personally, to take this radical, Biblical approach to material possessions. I grew up in a family where financial security was rarely experienced. Now, I’m one of few people in my family who has achieved financial security and it’s hard for me not to worry about “having enough”. It’s also easy to tell myself that it’s not just for my sake but also for that of the people who depend on me for support.

Yet, in the moments in which I am able to be entirely honest with myself, I admit to God that what is really at issue is that – despite my ten years of following Him – I remain one “of little faith”.

This is what makes me desperate to possess the things that He has given us all to enjoy in the world and to do so even against the backdrop of deprivation and suffering experienced both near and far. I am pathologically attached to “my hard-earned belongings”. And, because I don’t earnestly trust that I’ll be taken care of if I do let go of them, “my assets” are where my “real, daily functional salvation” lies (to quote Revd. Tim Keller).

More than that, I don’t trust the people to whom the things I would so painfully let go of might be given to use them “well” (whatever that means), which is why it’s often hard to give to those in need.

Just recently, in my quiet time, I returned to the parable of the rich man dining at his table while Lazarus lay at his gate covered in sores that were licked by the rich man’s well-fed dogs (Luke 16: 19-31). The rich man died and went to hell while, when Lazarus died, he went to heaven. And, when the rich man inquired into why this was so, “Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” (Luke 16: 25) At essence, the cause was not the man’s wealth but what the way in which he used his wealth revealed about his heart. After all, “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2: 17, 26)

When I sat at a restaurant later that week, there was no poor person at the door. Yet, nonetheless, the mothers watching their children die from starvation were briefly revealed to my mind’s eye and I knew it was the Holy Spirit tugging at my heart to say that I am that rich man. And, indeed, according to the “global rich list”, I am.

The only question remaining is whether, when I meet my Maker, He will say “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom … [for] as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”” (Matthew 25: 34, 40) God help my heart to let go of the things I so unwisely hold onto and recognise that the present shall pass like the night while eternity is long …

In the Apostle Paul’s words, “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on … those who buy something [should live] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7: 29-31)

How are you feeling challenged to be generous?

– Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is a senior researcher at the Centre for Law and Society at UCT. She and her husband, Daniel, were members of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation until recently relocating to the USA. 

P.S. Other recommended reads: “Hope In An Age Of Hunger” by Roger Wood and “What Is Urban Gleaning?” by Caroline Powell

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A Guide to Clearing Life’s Clutter

If your life is so full of “to do” lists and stuff that you’re battling to find God in among it all then maybe it’s time for an early spring clean, writes Richard Lundie.

First up, a confession. If you were hoping for a step-by-step guide on how to live simpler, this isn’t it. But it will hopefully point you to the ultimate life coach: Jesus. Jesus said some radical things about how we should live in the Bible. Often so radical that we tend to skip these sections so we don’t have to feel too uncomfortable. I have this experience when I read Jesus’ teachings on material possessions.  In Luke 12:15, Jesus taught, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

A little uncomfortable.  A little hard to contemplate.  A little awkward when I consider how much stuff I have.  And even more awkward when I consider how much more stuff I want.

We run, chase and pursue things that we believe will bring satisfaction, but rarely do.  We then cling to these things, these inanimate objects that have no ultimate significance in our lives. How much of our joy is consumed by worry over these things?  How much of our fears are based on the loss of these items?

These ‘things’ are not bad, just as wealth and physical comfort are not bad, but when we want something out of them – some meaning, fulfillment or identity – that it is impossible for them to give, that’s when they can become bad for us.

As a family, we’ve had to make some tough decisions around how we’re going to live simpler and steward our finances for God’s glory. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was struggling to finish his studies.  He was in his final year of Bible college but having grown up in an under-resourced community didn’t have money to pay the final semester. By cutting back on other things and creating margin financially, my wife and I were able to invest in his education so that he didn’t have to leave college.  It wasn’t easy but by choosing to live more simply we were able to bless not only him but the future of his family as well.

A few years ago, we also decided to unplug our TV so that we would have more time for each other and more money to spend on things that really mattered.  I think back to how I would drop everything to make sure I watched the next episode of my favourite programme.  I don’t miss that.  Our evenings are simpler now.  I read to my kids every night. I enjoy conversation with my wife, and there is no rush to wrap things up or have serious conversations during ad breaks.  I enjoy my simple evenings.

But it’s difficult. I have to keep reminding myself that who I am is not dependent on my material possessions.  Life is not about keeping up with what “The Jones’” have.  How much of my hard work is steered towards impressing others?  Will I give them the power to determine how I live my life? Or will I realise that all this striving and chasing is for a temporary comfort and satisfaction that doesn’t lead to contentment?

I think part of the problem is that we trust the voice of culture a bit too much. Billboards, the Internet and TV are constantly telling us that we need more – more clothes, more gadgets, more stuff. With all this ‘noise’, we can lose our ability to hear the still small voice of the Spirit. God may want us to get involved with a particular initiative, to build a relationship with someone, or to contribute to something that will help the city to flourish… But we need to take the time to listen to him.

A strange thing happens as we start to simplify our schedule to make more time for others, and as we give more freely of our finances and things to bless others. Our hearts change and we begin to desire God more than we desire anything else. With this comes a realisation that there is nothing simpler and yet more powerful than relationship – with God and with others.

Perhaps what our country needs is not more stuff but more people willing to give of their finances, time and talents to love their neighbours. So let’s begin clearing the clutter in our lives, not out of guilt but out of hearts so moved by gratitude for all that God has graciously given us that we can’t help but live generously in return.

– Richard is the Initiative Programme Manager at Common Good and serves on the Common Ground Church Wynberg leadership team.

P.S. For more on living simpler, read The Not So Simple Life and our June newsletter.

Your Thoughts on Simplicity

We’re currently exploring what it means to live simpler in today’s “give me more” culture. Here’s what some of you had to say…

Living Simpler Helped Me Display God’s Love

401301_10151545617250535_302571359_n“At the beginning of this year, I was given the privilege to lead a street ministry in Wynberg. Once a week, we make sandwiches, share the gospel and build friendships with people living on the street. A few weeks ago, as we were about to begin our Bible study on the theme of generosity, a lady approached me from a business situated opposite to where we regularly meet, and offered to contribute towards the costs of making the food for the ministry. I was amazed but that wasn’t the end! The lady’s colleague then started asking me why we would give our time and money to help street people, and I was humbly able to tell him about a God who does the same for us. This incident showed me how when we live simply, and give freely of our time and money, it displays God’s love through us.” – Tessa Brown (P.S. This donation was made on the same day that the ministry’s budget had increased to employ two new people!)

Simplifying Helped Save My Company

263036_10151905376356978_500378962_n-001“In 2012, our company closed down a division that had been running for 15 years and was struggling financially. It contributed 20% of our company’s turnover but consumed 80% of its time and resources. When the division was closed, turnover dropped and jobs were lost. However, within a year, the group had regained the 20% turnover initially lost and had re-employed even more employees than we’d previously had to retrench. This has taught me that as hard as it can often be to simplify – whether it’s a strategic business change or cutting back on personal commitments – it can lead to a level of focus and clarity that God can use to do new and exciting things.” – Roger Warr

I’ve Realised It’s A Lifelong Grapple

556256_10151552833700556_1165619309_n“The question that I struggle with most when it comes to living a life of material simplicity is one of degree: how simple is simple enough? In the Gospel of Luke we are told to sell our possessions and give to those in need. Is it all of our possessions, or just some of our possessions? Is it just enough to feel like we’ve done our bit, but not enough to make our own lives less comfortable? There is always one more thing you can cut back on, one more expense you can do without. A less expensive coat that you can buy this winter, or a dinner at a fancy restaurant that you can cancel. The question is something that I am still exploring for myself, and am not even close to finding an answer to. I do believe that everyone is on his or her own journey, and we cannot judge someone for making a lifestyle choice different to our own. My prayer is that the Spirit will nudge me in the right direction.” – Megan Jackson

What does living a lifestyle of simplicity mean to you? What are some of the questions you’re grappling with?

P.S. For more, read The Not So Simple Life

The Not So Simple Life

How can we live simpler in a world that is demanding that we consume and do so much more? Mother and freelance copywriter, Julie Williams gives us an honest glimpse into how she is grappling with this in her own life.

A funny thing happened as I settled down to write this piece. I was going to fill it with inspiring thoughts on the art of living simply. But then I got blind-sided. By the giant log in my own eye.

You see, my story of living simply is not as simple as I’d like to admit. Let me let you in on some of my struggles, in the hope that we’ll find real simplicity on the other side of complexity…

A few months ago, our beloved domestic help, child minder, kitchen whisperer and general wonder woman of grace, Fez, was diagnosed with cancer. Amidst all the thoughts I have grappled with in response, the one that I have felt most frequently and acutely is this: “Life sucks for me right now.”

Yes. I did just write that. And I’ve thought it a hundred times.

Life sucks. For me. Right now.

As a mother with 3 small kids, and a freelancing career that I juggle between nappy changes, school runs and church meetings, I depend on Fez to keep all the plates spinning. Without her, the plates don’t spin. They just pile up and risk breeding new forms of bacteria that could wipe out half of the human race.

Life does suck when she is not around. But when did my life, and the idea that it should run according to plan, overtake my humanity? When did my (trivial in comparison) needs eclipse her own?

As I’ve wrestled with this question, I’ve begun to see just how entitled I am. And if simplicity is a superpower, entitlement is its cryptonite.

You see, simplicity is about living with others in mind whilst entitlement is all about me.

Entitlement tells us we deserve all the good things we have, and none of the bad. It helps us to constantly justify our insatiable desire for more – and to expect the best of everything as if it were our ‘right’. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the more we have, the more entitled we can become. I’ve come to this conclusion after witnessing one too many hostile encounters between luxury sedans in the Constantia Village parking lot. In essence, entitlement is the opposite of simplicity – which is rooted in the idea that your needs are not more important than those around you. And hence, you have enough (yes, even you).

Below are three points I want to remember as I attempt to gouge entitlement out of my own life. I suspect, like pulling weeds, it’s going to be a life-long exercise.

1. I have enough. I already have all that I need. I don’t like to admit this but it’s true. Of course, there are tons of things that I would like, but I will never be happier than I choose to be right now, right here – with our siff brown couch, our chipped plates and the oldest car on our road. Replacing these things will feel momentarily wonderful, but that euphoric feeling will wear off quicker than cheap perfume, and in no time, there’ll be other things I feel I should, no, must have in order to be truly happy. Let me be clear here, there’s nothing wrong with getting nice stuff, but in acquiring that stuff, have you cut off your ability to be generous toward others? Get comfortable with the space between what you have and what you want. Settle in there, and don’t try to make it go away too quickly. Remind yourself that the purpose of this life is not to have all your desires met. He who has the most toys at the end of his life is not the winner! This is not being complacent. It’s learning the forgotten art of contentment.

2. People matter most. They matter more than stuff. Much more. And in a country with one of the biggest disparities between rich and poor, it’s inexcusable for me to be overly concerned about a new couch, and not attempt to narrow the gap at some level. How? That’s up to each of us to work out. But work it out, we must. We must aim to simplify our lives so that we can have the means to be generous and let others less fortunate than ourselves share in our good fortune. Does that hurt to think about – let alone do? Good. It should hurt a little when you punch mammon in the face. It will hurt each of us in different ways and to different degrees. Remember that this life is not all there is. And that all that will remain amidst the dust and the bones, the gold teeth fillings and the bronze belt buckles… will be the memories of who and how we loved

3. God simplified. It’s really not about me in the end. Ouch. Again. I am part of a much bigger story. One in which the true hero gave up everything to come and find me. Talk about simplifying life! Christ stepped away from everything he was ‘entitled’ to. Because of love. It’s not because of my hard work that I have, it’s because of God’s kindness toward me. I want to remember a man giving up far more than a latte – but his last breath. For me. I want to lock eyes with that man more often. And in so doing, let the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

– 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. 

P.S For more on the topic of generosity, read “How I Learnt to Give” and “Confessions of an Amateur Giver

How I’ve Learnt to Give

Sometimes, the simplest way to determine how to give is to ask ourselves how we would like to receive. By Tim Hoffman

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How do I channel my desire to give so that it doesn’t make the receiver feel awkward, or worse, come across as arrogant and belittling? I’m sure many of us are pondering this and similar questions as we take part in Warm Up Winter. Here are some of my reflections based on what I’ve learnt from being on the receiving end.

The importance of relationship

My father is one of the most generous people I know. When I’d go home for university holidays, he’d never let me leave without giving me some cash for fuel for the drive back to campus. Even a decade later, he continues to give to me in so many ways – often unexpectedly and sometimes lavishly.

So does his giving make me feel awkward? No – because he’s my dad! We have a well-established, 35-year-old relationship where no matter what is said or what is done, there is an unspoken and profound basis of understanding regarding our actions. I know that my dad expresses his love through acts of giving. It’s not that he loves me any less than those fathers who do more talking and hugging, but his primary way of showing me his love is through his giving.

But if it wasn’t for the fact that I have a deep personal bond and relationship with my dad, I would probably have felt incredibly awkward about the untold expenses that he’s made on my behalf. The presence of relationship makes a massive difference in the transaction, both in the giving and receiving. Those in relationship can know each other’s needs and respond meaningfully and appropriately, even without ever being explicitly asked for help.

The importance of how a gift is given

A while ago, my wife and I were on the receiving end of an extremely gracious act of generosity. A couple, whom we hadn’t seen in several years, offered to pay a significant debt of ours. They may not have been close friends, but we were comfortable with receiving their generosity because of the way they gave it.

The offer came after a wonderful evening of sharing what God had been doing and was doing in our lives – in other words, relationship building! We casually, and unintentionally, mentioned that we’d recently incurred some debt through life circumstance. The next morning as we were saying good-bye, one of them told me that they’d been struck by something we had said the night before and that they wanted to pay our debt.

We hadn’t asked for help and we hadn’t even specified how much money it was! In fact, I’d mentioned that we’d figured out an affordable payment plan that would allow us to pay it off in the next two years. When I asked him why he wanted to help us, he replied that as they were now free from their own financial debts they’d felt the Holy Spirit prompting them to help us do the same.  Within the next few weeks, we received a check in the mail that covered our debt in full.

I’m still in awe of their generosity. What a blessing! Did it feel awkward? At first, as we weren’t yet the deepest of friends. But does it still feel awkward or make me feel dependent or inferior to them now? No! In many ways it’s improved our friendship, because of the way the giving was done.

They were so humble about it, which in turn humbled us. They didn’t seek recognition. They didn’t proclaim their act of generosity from the mountaintops of Facebook. They wanted to help quietly because they’d felt God prompt them to do so. How we give radically changes when we give out of a revelation of what God has done for us and not out of a sense of guilt.

Generosity is about more than just material giving

Around the same time, we had some other friends who weren’t able to help us financially but who were still extremely generous to us.  Having a lot of experience in personal finance, they graciously made time to give us insight and advice over several phone conversations and emails, even though they were both very busy.

Thanks to them, our budget is now more realistic and better balanced, and this has helped us avoid getting into debt again. Out of love, they gave us something worth just as much as the check in the mail– their time and talents. There are so many different ways to give! Even if we aren’t able to give financially, we can still bless people with our time, talents, and resources.

In what ways has Warm Up Winter challenged you to think about how we give?

Do you have any similar experiences of giving when you’ve been on the receiving end?

How could this experience change how you give?

This blog post is part of our Warm Up Winter blog series. Read our previous WUW posts here

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