This Easter we decided to try express the death and resurrection outside the walls of a church building or the confines of a church service.
It was a low-key time of meeting with brokenness and neglected people as we followed Gods spirit into the streets. We cleaned streets and parks as a sign of restoration and new life. We ate together as a sign of restored community. We walked the streets praying, listening to God and learning from those we met. We asked God to show us where to serve as we looked to the future. We learned fresh things from Scripture because of our experiences on the streets.
We discovered the mix of people in the East City area all over again. The division between races and classes. The hatred towards us cleaning the streets and the appreciation for us doing it. We saw the brokenness, the solidarity, the escapism, the hopelessness, the laughter and the lies. We saw our community with fresh eyes and listened with hopeful ears. We mapped the area and discovered more about what is happening – good and bad. We prayed for people and shared the Jesus who came to transform the mess in the world at Easter.
It was a good Easter.
Mez has a brilliant and hard-hitting post that I think is hugely relevant to us in South Africa. Especially us middle-class, evangelical Christians, who often seem all too willingly ignorant of the vast gospel needs in the prosperity gospel infested townships, the drug-flooded Cape Flats and the desperately poor rural areas such as the Eastern Cape. The gospel cry is for a new generation of downwardly mobile Christians to give up their small ambitions of nice houses and good schools and move into these less than sexy neighbourhoods with the gospel. Will it cost us to leave the safe suburbs and follow the gospel need? Definitely but did it not cost Christ everything to leave the glory of heaven and take on humanity, suffering rejection and betrayal and ultimately death on the cross, for our sins. Where we deserving? Not a chance. But we move in with the Good News of resurrection, of forgiveness, of new life, of peace, of joy and of hope!
Here are a few of my favourite parts:
“Jesus is more important than your family. He is certainly more important than your children. Deal with it. Or walk away. There will always be issues and worries and problems and questions concerning the Christian life… But the bottom line will always be whether you are prepared to put your allegiance to Christ before all and above all, including those wonderful, fluffy, cute, sweet-smelling bundles of (often) idolatrous joy that we call our offspring.”
“Church planting might actually cost us something. That something might even turn out to be everything. It might turn out to be every sacred cow we hold dear in our middle class, educationally driven, child centred, play it safe, let’s cover all the angles before we step out, Christian culture.”
“Really? You mean those biographies of long since, dead people who buried their children on the missions field after suffering all sorts of wasting diseases, might actually have some relevance for my coddled, sanitized Twenty First Century life? Are you suggesting that I may have to make difficult decisions today that may even be (in human, earthly terms) detrimental for my loved ones? Well, that sounds a bit over the top. That doesn’t even sound biblical, or even closely like my God who wants me and my family to be safe and sound. What would Joyce Meyer or the guy with the nice teeth on the God Channel say about that? God wants me to take decisions that make me and my family happy, doesn’t He? God wouldn’t really want me to suffer for His namesake, would He? OK, maybe a bit of name calling and some strong debate with my atheist friends. But, to move my family to a tough scheme without thought to my young ones? C’mon. God wouldn’t want me to do anything that is irresponsible, surely? We should, at least, consider some sort of risk assessment? You seriously mean to say that my children might suffer for the gospel? My wife might suffer for the gospel? I thought I might have to suffer but not like this. Actually, when I come to think about it, I’m not actually sure what I mean when I say that.”
TSK posted this poem by Steve M recently as a tribute. Thought this might resonate with some of my friends.
can i take my addictions into your church
can i sit on your padded pews
can i bleed on your carpet or do you want
me when i’m clean and not now.
can i take my addictions into your theology
is it big enough to face my pain
or will i stain your glass with street smells
where can i go
where can i go when i’m addicted . . .
It also reminded me of this poem by Steve Turner:
THE GOD LETTERS:
The Lord God says:
‘Share your bread
with the hungry,
bring the homeless poor
into your house,
cover the naked.’
Dear Lord God,
We have got
so this will
not be possible.
Most Christians instinctively know that consumerism is wrong. Most of us are confused by what is wrong with it.
1) It is not the fact that we consume that is wrong. Eating food, buying clothes or living in houses are not sinful or wrong. These are all basic services where we consume a product or a service that is legitimate. You could take the moral high ground and point to those who own fancy-high end sedans or 4×4′s.
Two problems with this; firstly we make the assumption that this is not a legitimate consuming of a product. Owning a 4×4 could be considered a legitimate expense for a game ranger, worker for a human aid organisation or a farmer. Secondly, we raise the question of where do we draw the line in determining what is legitimate to consume. You may for instance own a very old vehicle, in decent condition and with low insurance. That still makes you exceedingly wealthy by the standards of most of the world’s population.
It is right that we consider how we consume and in particular in light of our poorer neighbours, both locally and globally. Over-consumption is a massive problem in our world but it is not the heart of consumerism. Given it is often a natural result of consumerism but it is not consumerism itself.
2) Consumerism is not primarily about selling, advertising or marketing. If you have a good product that will meet the need of people who need it then by all means let people know about it. It is not wrong to sell high-quality sports shoes to athletes who will benefit from such shoes. Nor is it wrong to design advertising for makers of fine silver, beautiful furniture or home appliances. God gave us a mandate to take up the raw materials of creation and create function, beauty, music and technology. To make people aware of new products, beautiful designs or functional devices is surely not sinful.
3) Nor can we legitimize consuming functional products or services over creative or beautiful products or services. Creation displays for us something of a God who delights in both functionality and in beauty. The cultural mandate affirms not only function but music, art and beauty. Besides who decides what is functional and what is not. In certain contexts one product may be functional whilst in another it may be considered a luxury. A basic car or computer would not be frowned upon as a luxury in my context but in many other contexts it would signify extreme wealth. And honestly speaking who has ever died from lack of internet access?
4) Nor can we limit the “evil of consumerism” to a matter of what is expensive. I suspect that many relatively inexpensive trivial products constantly bought or desired may more deeply ensnare us to the spirit of consumerism than one or two carefully considered, expensive purchases.
What then is consumerism?
It is not the buying, selling, marketing, advertising or expense of a product that ensnares us to consumerism. It is the stories we tell about these products.
Consumerism tells a story about the product that is simply not true. Most marketing will make claims that overstate or distort the product (“buy this tractor and you will be desirable to women”) or raises questions about your identity (“a good mother feeds chocolate spread to her kids every morning”). It is not the product itself which is necessarily wrong but the stories we tell about it or about ourselves that go beyond what the product can deliver.
We cannot find joy in the car we drive, peace in the bank we use, life in the soft drink we drink, satisfaction in what running shoes we wear, contentment in what we eat or rest in the food we eat. Yet these are the stories we tell ourselves and the lies advertisements feed us constantly. As good as the product may be it simply cannot fulfil the hopes that we place in it or the claims that the producers make for it. To believe these false-claims and orientate your desires and lifestyle around these false-stories is the heart of consumerism.
The antidote to consumerism:
1) Gospel Identity: The gospel is not merely a bunch of propositions to which we give mental assent. But it is a radically different alternative story around which we alter our entire lives. In Christ we are caught up in a new and better story which defines not only who we are but also drastically reshapes our values, rhythms and lifestyle.
We no longer need to prove ourselves through achievement because Christ has achieved it all on our behalf. We no longer need to justify ourselves before others because in Christ we are already justified. We no longer need to seek satisfaction in a new product because in Christ we have been given every spiritual blessing. We no longer need to prove our worth in what we have because we have already been declared worthy in Christ. We no longer need to seek our security in things because in Christ our future is secure. We no longer need to seek peace of mind because in Christ we have peace with God. We no longer need to seek status in what we have because in Christ our status is both secure and glorious.
An identity based on any other story is an identity that must be earned and maintained, while a gospel identity, however, is one that is given to us, does not depend on us and cannot be taken from us. We are set free to walk in what Christ has already done for us.
2) Contentment: Contentment is first of all a trust in God’s sovereignty. I trust that God is in control and that all I have is all that he has given me and therefore all that I need. Because I know that God is sovereign I can rest in his provision for me.
Contentment is secondly a trust in God’s goodness. As early in the Bible story as Genesis 3, Satan was out to convince man that God was a tyrant, holding back the best for himself. The story of the Bible is the story of God over and again demonstrating that it is, contrary to the lie, good to live under his reign. Satan’s all persuasive lie was revealed as such once and for all at the cross. God does not hold back his best from us, on the contrary he gives up his very best and dearest in order to win us back from the slavery of Satan’s lie. The cross stands as definitive proof that God is not a tyrant but rather a good and loving King, who gives his very best for his people.