Category Archives: Community

There has got to be a better way?

“There has got to be a better way for wealthy churches to partner with churches that are in deprived communities. You know a number of years ago I heard an African-American gentleman who is the head of a ministry that is in a deprived community and he was speaking to the leadership of a very white very wealthy church and this African-American leader said to this very wealthy church that was supporting his ministry I need to confess something to you. I’ve been lying to you for the last ten years. Because you folks want to send short-term teams into my church and into my community and I make up stuff for you to do. I’ve had you paint the walls of my office so many times that the paint is starting to chip off and you folks go out into the community and you do all kinds of crazy things that I spend weeks mopping up after you because of the chaos you’ve created and I keep on telling you that I want you to do this stuff because quite frankly I need your financial support.”

Watch the rest of this challenging video clip from Brian Fikkert below.

Brian is the co-author of the book When Helping Hurts. You can download a free e-book version here.

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Book Review: The Poverty of the Nations

First sentence confession and disclaimer all in one; I chose to order and review this book from Crossway’s Beyond the Page blog reviewers section expecting to disagree with it. I was fairly sure that I would find myself uncomfortable with some of the conclusions of the authors but because I value listening to voices other than my own or those in my camp I resolved to challenge myself with what appeared to be some thoughtful arguments on Christianity and the value of Free Market Capitalism.

How wrong can one man be? I downloaded this book months back and despite being an avid reader I plodded through this book a few pages at a time finding any reason to read anything else but this. If I had not agreed to write this review in exchange for getting a free copy of this book I am confident I would have recycled this book months ago. Honestly I have plenty of stuff on my book shelves I don’t agree with but which pushes my thinking, challenges my assumptions and helps me organise and develop my own thinking better. But this is poorly written, filled with mad tilts at straw men and stingy representations of opposing arguments.  It almost reads like a propaganda document for the free market system rather than a well thought out and reasoned piece of writing by two well-respected professors in their fields.

I grew up in and completed ¾ of my schooling under the apartheid schooling system. As a result I am well versed in this kind of one-sided, parochial presentation of the virtues of a particular system, whilst never allowing the recipients to examine the full range of data for themselves. If you read this book with no prior thought to economics or economic systems (and I am no economist) you can only conclude that anyone who does not support the free market/ capitalistic system is a complete idiot. There is little generosity to the opinions of others; lampooning and presenting the worst or weakest side of opposing systems are common in this book. There is no concern to honestly examine the strengths of for instance democratic socialism or the very obvious weaknesses in the free market system that a growing number of reputable voices are raising. At times it felt like the book was caught in the Cold War or the Middle Ages, arguing against Soviet style communism or feudalism. Which are useful as examples but are hardly the economic questions that the majority of the books audience are wrestling with. Furthermore the almost canonisation of the Industrial Revolution and the economic growth of the Far East without so much as a footnote to the hugely destructive social issues and dehumanization arising from the triumph of greater economic growth left me cold.

Four final thoughts before this descends into the level of a rant…too late you say?

1. The book’s claim to be a Christian book is only borne up at times by an horrific use of out of context verses. A blatant desire to conflate the free market system with biblical economics is deeply disturbing. Even if you do not think the free market/capitalist system does not go against the Bible it is still a rather large leap of justificational logic to imply that it is a biblical system. The “economic system” we see in the Bible is far more nuanced than any one system, and if anything has a preferential option for the poor and the marginalized rather than the increased creation of wealth for the already wealthy.

2. On that point just recently, I heard Professor Piet Naude from the University of Stellenbosch Business School suggest that we have to examine the assumption that “all the boats in the harbour” rise with the creation of wealth. The free market he said has been excellent at creating wealth but very weak in distributing it. This is not an usual insight but a widely acknowledged, contemporary challenge to the free market system. Yet Grudem and Asmus all but ignore it and write instead as if the free market is the saviour of the poor. History simply does not bear that up, even in the United States. I cannot believe the authors are unaware of this. Is their commitment to free market capitalism so deeply entrenched that they are able to simply waive this aside as a petty criticism not worth engaging in?

3. The pro-American bias of this book is hugely off-putting. God Bless America we have the worlds best economic system if only the poor Africans would listen to us. They might not have said this, but I heard it loud and clear. If I was reading a hard copy of the book rather than my kindle I would have been sorely curious to have tested the aerodynamics of this patriotic drivel at times.

4. No matter what the merits and advantages of a free market system are, and I am convinced there are many, this book sadly merely demonstrates for me the problem of allowing privileged westerners with unchallenging assumptions to write books. I have greatly benefited from many of Crossways resources but this is not one. It is poorly argued, parochial and almost without merit. The few thought-provoking moments that I did encounter in the book were so overpowered by the negatives that at 400 pages it just was not worth it.

I gave it one star on Amazon simply because there was no category for “makes excellent recycling.”

The Silence of Cheap Grace

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“If we communicate only that part of the gospel which corresponds to people’s “felt needs” and “personal problems” (‘Are you lonely? Do you feel that you have failed? Do you need a friend? Then come to Jesus!’), while remaining silent on their relationship to their fellow men, on racism, exploitation and blatant injustice, we do not proclaim the gospel. This is the quintessence of what Bonhoeffer has called ‘cheap grace’. After all, ‘(God) is especially moved to wrath when his own people engage in such practices. It makes them disgusting in His sight, an offence to His nostrils; and in the face of this evil-doing He cannot stand their religious posturing. He cannot bear to hear their prayers; hates their festivals; is weary of their hypocritical sacrificings; views their faithful attendance at His house with loathing, as nothing more than an uncouth trampling of its precincts: “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly”‘

David Bosch: Witness to the World p206

Photo Credit: joybot via Photopin

Sacrificing your kids on the altar of missions?

origin_6989065271What’s the best thing about having kids?

No, not the cute antics or the learning to speak or walk or the hugs or total undying obedience to your every whim (ok I made that part up)…

Body shields!

Kids make the most incredible body shields.

When you don’t want to seriously consider or God forbid, actually do something that makes you feel scared or uncomfortable just hide behind your kids!

Imagine this highly improbable, never happened to me before situation… You are enjoying a nice robust discussion over a drink of your choice with a sincere and thoughtful Christian friend. The discussion turns to the issue of say… I don’t know… public schooling, urban mission, downward mobility… Good, healthy discussion ensues.  But then the debate starts to spiral dangerously out of control… out of the theology books…off the blogs…into our city…into our lives… But don’t fear good citizens our intrepid Christian has packed with him his trusty “Get out of Jail Free” card. With a merry glint in his dilated pupil he pulls out of his back pocket the trump card, the discussion-ender, the obedience crusher and with great relief places on the grand table of ideas “Yes I see the importance of these things but really I am not about to sacrifice my kids on the altar of missions!”

*crickets*

*awkward*

End of discussion

I mean who can possibly be in favour of child sacrifice right?

If the alternative is say dead kids or public schools then lets rather keep our kids alive right?

But honestly what does this quasi-spiritual, pious sounding phrase actually mean? Oh I know we have all met the kind of pastors who are so busy running around with their underpants over their trousers trying to save the world as some kind of subordinate Holy Spirit that they give off the impression that kicking a football with their kids is somehow beneath their high spiritual calling.

So perhaps if at this point we can all just start off by agreeing that kids are important. And looking after your kids in a healthy environment is important too… right… yes… we all heard that. I am firmly in favour of loving and protecting your family! I love my family and am truly humbled and shocked that God would entrust such an incredible responsibility to a knucklehead like me. I get it… I’m terrified I’m going to get it horribly wrong and screw them all up… badly…

But where does this fear come from? For that is surely what underlies this non-offspring sacrificing purported spirituality? Fear of obedience. Fear of public schools. Fear of messing up our kids. Fear of our kids getting hurt. Fear that we won’t be able to protect them. Or give them all the stuff we never had. Fear that they won’t follow Christ. Fear that they will get confused. Fear that we may have to sacrifice our own comfort or respectability. Fear of… trusting God with our lives, our family, our future…

I am by no means suggesting that all of the issues raised above are not real, complicated and nuanced. Nor am I suggesting that there cannot be legitimate reasons to answer questions of schooling, housing or area to live in either way. But please let’s stop hiding behind our kids as some kind of get out of conviction free card.

It is arrogance to think that you can protect our kids through home schooling. It is foolishness to think that you cannot equally sacrifice your kids on the altar of suburbia or comfort or status or achievement.

We, as a family, have made our choices about where live and where to school our kids. We want to be self-aware when it comes to the choices we have made. I want to deal with my idols and my fears when making decisions for my kids. It is difficult some days to send my kids to public schools in our area. I envy my friends whose choices have allowed them to send their kinds to private Christian schools. But I am not sacrificing my kids. We are intentionally choosing as a family to engage on mission in this community and that means going to the schools the kids in our area go to.

When we decided to follow Jesus we did decide to “sacrifice our lives” on the altar of mission. Our lives are now caught up in God’s greater, bigger and more beautiful story. This is what it means for us to no longer be king of our own lives. This is what it means for us to no longer idolize family. We have intentionally chosen to sacrifice some of our preferences and comforts in order to serve others. So no we don’t get to sacrifice our kids but we are as a family called to model and practice sacrificial living.

Honestly I am not sure how else I raise kids to be live sacrificially, generously or intentionally except by living, sacrificially, generously and intentionally myself. How else do I show them the character of the King who gave up all the glory of Heaven to serve and redeem us? How else do I teach my kids that Jesus came to rescue us and liberate us from our own selfish desires except by daily choosing to put to death my own desires for comfort, security and playing it safe? How else do I teach my kids that we find life when we give it away in service to the weak, the poor, the lost and the broken except by doing just this? How else do they fall in love with the beauty, grace and passion of God’s mission except by tasting it and living it?

We spend our whole lives protecting our kids, serving them, providing for their needs and their desires. Keeping them safe, comfortable and happy. And then we wonder why they grow up to be exactly what we trained them to be.

And they walk away from a Jesus who does not serve them…

Or they apathetically warm a church building designed to serve them…

And their children…

And the world dies a little bit more each day.

Photo Credit: rejik via Photopin

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

origin_7979114341American soul and jazz poet,  Gil Scott-Heron,  once famously wrote during the black power movement of the 1960’s and 70’s that  “the revolution would not be televised.”

There would be no theme song sung by famous singers. The main parts would not be played by famous and beautiful white actors and actresses. There will be no corporate sponsors , highlights on the eleven o’clock news or commercial breaks. There would be no time to stay home,  get high, get entertained or tune out for a while, because the revolution will not be televised.  The revolution will not be televised because the television is controlled by those in power. The revolution will not be televised because it would interfere with the drugged on comfort entertainment culture more concerned with what will happen in the latest TV show than with fighting the injustices of the day. The happenings of those TV shows will no longer be “so damned relevant” “because black people will be in the streets looking for a brighter day.”

Scott-Heron’s point was that the thing that was going to change people and change communities was not something that would ever be able to be captured on television. If you stay home you will miss the revolution.

And yet I find myself wanted to say something similar to the church of my day.  We are living in a world that is used to everything being “televised.”  But hear me most clearly the revolution will not be tweeted, liked, pinned, blogged, hyperlinked or instagrammed. The revolution will not be found on your church webpage. It will not be forwarded by tweets or likes. It cannot be watched on YouTube or blogged about. You will not be able to get the app or season one off your friend’s hard drive. Please allow me to reiterate, the revolution will not be televised.

Using the word revolution may seem like cheap sensationalism (do you get any other kind?) and I was loath to use it at first. But the more I thought about it, the more apt it seemed. Jesus did come to bring about revolution. He came to overthrow the world order. To wrest back and to invade the kingdom of this world with the Kingdom of God. He came to overthrow the ruler of the air, to tie up the strongman and to win the decisive victory against Satan.

But it would not be the bloody, anti-Roman revolution that his disciples expected. The Jesus revolution would be more far-reaching, insidious and long-lasting than any mere political conquest could be. The Kingdom of Jesus is the Kingdom of the King who lays down his power, gives up his rights, who loves extravagantly and who forgives scandalously. This is not the revolution that is primarily concerned with swapping the features of the powerful at the top of the pile. It is the bottom-up, inside-out, upside-down revolution of the Kingdom of God. It’s greatest weapon is love and it’s greatest warriors are the weak, the forgotten, the broken and the lost. The revolution will not be a battle for power but a fight to serve.

This revolution will not be televised but everywhere it seems the church is fighting for the airwaves. Slicker websites, more likes, tweeting pastors, blogging elders. We are clambering to be heard, to have our brand recognized, to be invited to the table, to have our stories told and our cause legitimized. The revolution cannot be televised. Ideas and concepts about revolution can be branded and downloaded but the revolution can never and will never be televised. You cannot watch the revolution from your seat at the Sunday show.  You cannot subscribe to the podcast of the professional revolutioneers.

The revolution is happening all around you but you have to look in all the wrong places. The revolution came from Nazareth and what good can possibly come from there? The revolution may not be educated, clean or articulate. The revolution is found in every Christian who sticks their flag in the cracked concrete of the inner city or dusty street of the township and says there is a new king who is invading here today. They fight the good fight with shared meals, kind words, laughter, inclusion of the outsider, forgiveness, mercy, grace and justice. They will tell of a different story, a better story, a story of hope and of glory. They will tell this story with words, with hugs, with food and with football in the streets.

As a church we are in danger of being more concerned with the appearance of the Kingdom than with the Kingdom itself. We are fooling ourselves into believing we can watch, download, tweet, blog, pin or like the revolution. We are obsessed with the appearances of revolution and the trappings of appearance. But the revolution will not be televised, it must be lived, experienced, caught up in, participated in, sacrificed for. Anything less is simply the delusion of those who like the idea of changing the world rather than actually changing the world and being changed ourselves in the process.

It is my prayer that finally we will get out the building, shake our neighbours hand, get to know someone who is different to us, play with the kids in the street, buy a homeless guy a cup of coffee and go looking for signs of Christ at work in the unplugged, unphotoshopped, untweeted or liked world of the ordinary. Perhaps then all these other things will no longer be “so damned relevant” because Christian people will be in the streets looking for a brighter day.

Photo credit: Yvonsita via  Photopin CC

Corner Shop Christianity

In my community there is a corner shop on… well every corner.  If not quite every corner at least at the top or bottom of most streets there is a corner shop.  They stay open late.  They know your name.  You know where to get your bread, milk, cigarettes or 2 litre coke.  For some of them they have been in the area for generations, like the famous Mr Parkers on Roodebloem Road.  For us, though, Mrs Cassiem’s house shop is our local.  She knows my boys and they will run from our door all the way to her house before I have even gotten half way there.  We normally chat about the weather, her plans to extend her shop, how big the boys are getting and lately she has even given us some good health care advice.

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I cannot help but wonder if the church was more like a corner shop than the large franchise store in the main street.  What if on every street there was a place where people knew Jesus followers lived?  A place where they could find rest, help or prayer.  A place where people laughed, cried, ate together and shared life.  A place where kids were welcome.  A place where people knew they were loved.  A place where people knew they could go when they were desperate, when they had blown it or when they needed help.  What if throughout the east city area there existed scattered communities of light and of life and of hope?  What if on every street a home like this existed?  What if more of us intentionally chose to be move in and to share our lives in order to be these kind of people?

I’ll fight to the very end

With the South African elections coming up tomorrow we are inundated with talk of this party fighting for this right or that right or this cause or another. Even Christians seem to be primarily concerned with standing up for and defending our rights or protecting our religious freedoms.  At best case Christians will stand up for one or two personal morality issues. As commendable as this is and as necessary as it is for Christian men and women, in all the various parties, to go to parliament and to conduct themselves with honour and integrity; what I really want to know is what we middle-class Christians will be doing to change the context in which many of our great injustices are given born. Or put another way, what will we do in order to fight for the rights of those who are not like us

Let me use the contentious issue of abortion as an example.  It is easy for me as a white middle class male to be anti-abortion (and in principle I am) but far harder for me to be about changing the context in which most abortions in this country occur.  It is easy to point fingers at the people getting abortions as lacking morality, and whilst not discounting the reality of our own sinful hearts, I think the truth is more nuanced than that.

There is a reality that in many communities life is cheap, sex is disposable and your worth is measured by your sexuality.  Rape is an ever-present shadow of possibility.  Sex can be used as a powerful tool to get out of poverty or abusive situations.  Young girls barely able to care for themselves get pregnant.  Get abandoned.  Possibly even ostracised by their family. Alone and desperate they face what seems to them to be the only option open to them.

But what if we as Christians spent less time protesting at abortion clinics or picketing parliament to change the laws but instead went to the source and got our hands dirty changing the context in which the need for most abortions in this country take place.   Abortion is not a problem, it is an inadequate solution to a far bigger problem.  What if we as Christians were more concerned with creating the kinds of communities where abortions were not necessary rather than kicking against what is, in some cases, the inevitable outcome of a broken society.

What if some of us moved into these communities bereft of role models and lived our lives there as signs of hope?  What if we intentionally chose to open our lives to young people, modelling family, worth, integrity and love?  What if we were more concerned with showing young women they had value and honour and did not have to use their sexuality to prove their worth? What if we taught the young men on our street to be men who stand up to their responsibilities?  What if we stood with them, when it was easier to run away?  What if we showed them that real men use their power not to dominate or possess but to love and serve the weak and the vulnerable?

What if we opened our homes to rape victims?  What if we took in young moms or soon to be moms who had nowhere to go except the abortion clinic?  What if we were prepared to adopt these “unwanted children”, to include them in our family, our homes?  To spend our finances and give up our plans so we could love the most vulnerable of society?  What if their problems became our problems?  What if their community became our community?  What if their brokenness became our brokenness?  What do you think Jesus said when he meant we are the light of the world?

Some Christians have a problem with me voting for a party that is pro-abortion and say that I am complicit in that act.  I say no, I would rather vote for a party that promotes dealing with the issues that underline the context out of which most abortions in this country occur.  I choose to fight not for my rights but for the rights and value of those who are forgotten or marginalized.

In the words of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army:  “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in an out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end.”