From Charity to Justice

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St. Francis once said, “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. For it is in giving that we receive.”

Being involved in charity, which is not a bad thing, means to give to a person or an organization who will be doing the reaching down and the lifting up of people.

They are what you would call, a middleman, buffering you from the actual experience of reaching and lifting.

Charity allows you to help someone or a group of people without having to experience the pain or discomfort or inconvenience of what they are going through. Charity protects you.

But charity also robs you. It robs you of depth, purpose and the joy that can only come from reaching down and lifting up the people that your charity has actually protected you from. Charity can actually distance you from God.

Did I say that charity is not bad? I think I did. And it’s true. We need charity. We need generosity. We need to give to causes that we cannot personally be involved with.

Organizations that are on the front lines of war, disease, hunger and extreme poverty need our charity.

Yet…ultimately, God is not a God of charity but a God of justice. And because God is a God of justice, then so must we.

Justice is about a young girl in Africa having the same rights and opportunities as a young girl in the United States.

Justice is about a mother in Guatemala having the same access to medical care as a mother in the U.K.

Justice is about an inner city student being given the same quality education as an upper class suburban student. Bill Gates has said that “Until we’re educating every kid in a fantastic way, until every inner city is cleaned up, there is no shortage of things to do.”

Justice is about a foster child in America receiving a family support system that will propel them towards a sustainable future.

Justice is about a hungry belly at the bottom of the caste system in India having the same access to food as the bulging bellies of the upper caste system.

Justice is harder than charity.
Justice demands results.
Justice requires skin in the game.
Justice means sometimes eliminating the middleman.
Justice means we have to get our hands dirty, our knees skinned, our ego’s humbled and our comfort shaken.
Justice means we must learn to get along with each other so we can accomplish a greater good.

Justice is harder than charity, but it is exactly in these hard places that we see and experience the heart of God.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

He also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, which reminds us that we must be involved in local and global justice.

I am not sure if you will meet God in a worship service and I am not sure you will meet God in a sermon(there are some bad ones out there), but I am sure that you will meet God when you get involved in justice.

Shane Claiborne says “Charity can function to keep the wealthy sane. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, also function as outlets that allow Christians to pay off their consciences while avoiding a revolution of lifestyle. People do their time in a social program or distribute food and clothes through organizations which take their excess. That way, they never actually have to face the poor and give their clothes, their food, their beds. Wealthy Christians never actually have to be with poor people, with Christ in disguise.”

This is counterintuitive to our segregated, protected, “stand at a distance” kind of church life, but we must not just care about the poor, or give to the poor but we must meet, hang out, know, befriend and touch the poor.

Shane Claiborne goes on to say, “But when we get to heaven and are separated into sheep and goats (Matt. 25), I don’t believe Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they fed me” or “When I was naked, you donated to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions: “You fed me, … you visited me, … you welcomed me in, … you clothed me.…” If we are to truly be the church, poverty must become a face we recognize as our own kin.” http://www.thesimpleway.org/resources/content/downward-mobility-in-an-upscale-world-by-shane-claiborne/

When Jesus says feed, shelter, comfort, visit, clothe,  you are doing justice and it can be difficult but that is where you will meet him and you will experience a joy that cannot be taken away.

When the prophet Isaiah says to defend the defenseless and to fight corruption and abuse, you are doing justice and it can be painful, but that is where you meet the God of Justice and your legacy will be as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of cities, and you’ll experience a sense of fulfillment that you have been  searching for.

When the writer of Proverbs says that when you give to the poor, you are lending to God and he will repay you well, you are doing justice, and it may be cause you to have to change your lifestyle, but you will learn to trust the God who will provide for your every need and you’ll experience a spirit of generosity that will set you free.

God simply asks us to show up, for a grieving mother, a lonely elder, a sick child, a hungry family, a struggling addict, a lost soul, and as we show up, though we can’t solve everyone’s problems, somehow God uses us as agents of healing and miracles happen.

I see it all the time, by just showing up.

A few Saturday mornings ago, 250 people showed up to my church campus at 8am in the morning. All in glow-in-the-dark t-shirts.

What were they doing? Where were they going?

They showed up to love forgotten seniors by fixing abandoned decks and to build liberating wheel-chair ramps.

They showed up to plant 1600 life giving vegetable so that hungry families can eat nutritious food this year.

They showed up to bring dignity where there was too little and hope where there was only despair.

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250 people.

Saturday morning, 8am.

What were they doing?

They were doing justice.

They were meeting Jesus in disguise.

I challenge people who call themselves Christians to show up.

Show up in your own backyard where orphans are called foster children, to the jungles of Peru where mosquito’s kill children, to the slums of India where young girls are violated, to the famine deserts of Africa where bloated bellies scream for nourishment, to the inner cities of America where young men are growing up fatherless and drug dealing is the career of choice, I challenge you to show up.

For big causes of justice and small causes of justice, show up!

Albert Einstein said, “In matters of justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.”

…is not this the kind of fast I have chosen:

Fasting is the denial of self to allow us to become more sensitive to God and more passionate towards the things God is passionate towards. And then to act on those things.

Fasting does not change God. Fasting changes us.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

Recently around a thousand people at my church fasted for a week on rice and beans, just to more closely identify to people who do not have the food options most Americans have.

Most of us are not worried about whether we will eat enough today. In fact, most of us are worried that we will eat too much today.

I know there are hungry people in America, but compared to third world hunger, even hungry Americans have great access to food.

For most third world countries, rice and beans are a delicacy, yet in America, we take these nutritional staples for granted.

Rice and beans may be a step down for us but it is a delicacy in poverty stricken nations.

In Haiti moms have come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau.

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A meal of rice and beans costs nearly $1, but a dirt cake only costs a few cents.

By eating these dirt cakes, patties, Haitian children almost certainly ingest intestinal parasites.

The parasitic worms that were in the dirt will devour up to 25% of the nutrients you eat. Without a 2 cent de-worming pill these parasites will linger in your digestive tract perpetually, thus drastically stunting a Haitian child’s mental and physical development.

When I shared these facts about Haitian mothers and children, our congregation was humbled and broken.

We handed out a starter pack of rice and beans at the end of every service, with a list of things to pray for during the fast and a list of organizations they could support.

At every meal people prayed for those around the world and in our own country who were hungry.

Because rice and beans are a delicacy in poor countries, we were not really sacrificing too much.

But by not eating anything else for a week, it taught many how to simplify. It taught many to be more thankful.

After the fast was over, many realized how much food Americans waste, and how we should and could eat more simply.

wastedfood

Since that week of fasting, grocery bills have been less, because people learned they could still eat well, with a smaller budget.

Since that week, a 20 thousand square foot organic garden was started on our churches property by people who are passionate about people eating healthy food.

It was interesting how children led the way.

One family was going to fast one meal a day, on rice and beans, until their 8 year old son, broke down and told them in tears that if they were really going to be like people who are hungry, they needed to eat rice and beans for all three meals. The family followed his lead.

One woman during the “fast” realized how much she was spending on diet Coke. She decided at the end of the week to stop drinking diet Coke (her husband called it rat poison) and she has used the savings to sponsor another child through Compassion International.

That one week has made our church more compassionate towards the things God is compassionate for.

The definition of compassion is: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

That one week taught us that true fasting is always “accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate suffering.”

We are doing a better job of following the words of Mother Teresa, “Live simply so others may simply live.”

I would challenge churches to try this “beans and rice” fast. It will change you and bless you..

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This is the information we handed out with the starter pack of rice and beans:

“…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” Isaiah 58:10

Get the facts about hunger and how it affects children and their families:

>One person in seven battles hunger every day.

>More than 9 million children under age 5 die every year, and malnutrition accounts for more than one-third of these deaths. Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

>About 5.6 million deaths of children worldwide are related to under-nutrition. This accounts for 53 percent of the total deaths for children under 5. Worldwide, 161 million preschool children suffer from chronic malnutrition.

       >923 million people worldwide are undernourished, and there are more than 9 million deaths related to hunger each year.

Sources: http://www.wfp.org, http://www.unicef.org, http://www.who.int, http://www.un.org

WHAT CAN I DO?
>Fast and Pray for those who are hungry (Join us for a 5 day fast of eating rice and beans, while praying for the hungry and discussing ways to solve hunger with family and friends. Let us know about your conversations and how the fast has affected you by posting your experiences on GVCC’s facebook page. Remember, rice and beans are a delicacy in third world countries.)
>Sponsor a child through Compassion International. (Sponsored children and their families are given proper nutrition through education and balanced meals. For more information go to Compassion.com)
>Tithe and get involved with GVCC’s Saturday Morning Café. (GVCC is able to buy groceries for our Saturday morning giveaway for 10 cents on the dollar. Your tithe allows us the buying power to have adequate amounts of food. Plus volunteering in the Café will help you see and understand the face of hunger.)
>Volunteer and help support GVCC’s organic garden. (This garden will help supply the hungry of El Dorado county with nutritious fruits and vegetables. Food that is not often available to the hungry.)
>Be a voice for the voiceless. (Proverbs 31:8 says to be a voice for the voiceless and to speak up for those who cannot be heard. The hungry need more voices to speak up for them.)

My Life Verse – A Useful Sacrifice

There are a lot of useless sacrifices in our world.

If my wife was to go out of town for a week, I could perform a lot of meaningless sacrifices for her while she was gone.

When my wife comes home if I tell her, “Honey, I sacrificed a lot for you while you were gone. I didn’t watch sports while you were gone, I didn’t eat my favorite foods while you were gone and I didn’t listen to my favorite music while you were gone. I did all of that for you.”

Her response would be, “Who cares! Those sacrifices don’t mean anything to me. Those sacrifices were useless.”

But if while my wife was gone, I deep cleaned the house, mowed the lawn and finished some house projects that needed to be done (This is all theory by the way), then my wife’s response would be, “Wow! You are an amazing husband. Those sacrifices mean everything to me. Those sacrifices were so useful.”

There are a lot of useless sacrifices in our world.

Even more so, there are a lot of useless sacrifices in the religious world.

My life verse is Isaiah 58 because it reminds me of what a useless sacrifice is and what a useful one is.

The people of Israel were busy going through the religious motions of the day. They were attending church, fasting from food, giving their alms and wearing clothes that showed everyone how spiritual they really were, yet God was not impressed, in fact He told them that all the religious hoops they were jumping through were useless sacrifices.

They were useless, not because going to church or fasting is wrong. They were useless because while they were doing those things they were oppressing workers, fighting and quarreling, forgetting the hungry and homeless and ignoring their own relatives who were in need.

So God reminded them what useful sacrifices look like:

“No, this is the kind of fasting [useful sacrifice] I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.”

Isaiah 58 shows us that useless sacrifices lead to our prayers falling on deaf ears, and God’s blessings seem fleeting.

Isaiah 58 also shows us that useful sacrifices lead to God not only listening to our prayers, but our useful sacrifices lead to healing, protection and answered prayer.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.”

Ultimately, our useful sacrifices lead to our lives being a light of hope, our lives being guarded and guided, our strength being renewed and we will be known as people who care and help our communities and families become strong.

“Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.”

Mother Teresa’s words challenge us, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”

These are the useful sacrifices that those of us who say we are followers of Christ should be involved in.

The Definition of Success

God’s definition of success is different than mine.

Most of the time, those of us who call ourselves believers, are still trying to live out the world’s definition of success.

We expect that giving our lives to God will save our souls, while our American dream will be enhanced because God is on our side.

Churches proclaim the words of Jesus, “You have to lose your life to gain it”, yet still define success much the way corporations define success.

How many people attend?
How much money is coming in?
How large is the building?
How do we ‘compare’ to other churches?

The apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus showed us what the true definition of success is:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

The older I get, the more I realize that the “real” successful people in this world will never be recognized this side of heaven.

I think of a man I know, 85 years old, a widower who lost the love of his life years ago, who quietly serves the poor in his local town, serving meals to the hungry, delivering groceries to the elderly, while sponsoring 20 Compassion International children all around the world.

He will never get on CNN, yet he is one of the most successful people I have ever known.

I think of a woman I know, who has suffered much tragedy in her life, her only son murdered, who is helping people who are experiencing severe loss, helping them heal and find hope.

She will not become rich by doing this, though there is a richness she is experiencing that cannot be explained.

She is one of the most successful people I have ever known.

I think of a couple who lost their son to drugs. As they are raising their beautiful granddaughter, they are helping broken young people move away from the destruction of drugs and moving them towards hope and God’s Grace.

They will not get their son back, this side of heaven, but his legacy will now be about the saving of hundreds of lives from the destruction of addiction.

They are two of the most successful people I have ever known.

Life brings pain.

God takes ashes and makes them beautiful.

God takes darkness and tells us to hang on because the morning promises joy.

God says in this life their will be tears, sorrow and loss but one day that will cease.

God redefines success.

Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote, “We fail to see the place of suffering in the broader scheme of things. We fail to see that suffering is an inevitable dimension of life. Because we have lost perspective, we fail to see that unless one is willing to accept suffering properly, he or she is really refusing to continue in the quest for maturity. To refuse suffering is to refuse personal growth.”

To refuse personal growth keeps us from true success.

One of the things that concerns me about the American church is that it is possible to be “popular” without still being “relevant”.

Our definition of success is too often about how many people like us and is what we are doing fashionable.

God’s definition of success states that however unpopular and uncomfortable the cross is, it is possibly the most relevant gift the universe has ever received.

Risking our lives feeding the empty belly, rescuing children out of the dark dungeons of trafficking, inviting people to the kingdom party who have nothing to offer, praying for, forgiving and loving our enemies, giving God our first 10%, putting others before us, investing in the next generation where it is hard to see instant fruit may not be the most popular thing to do in the church world, but I believe it is the most relevant thing.

The true definition of success is far more about relevancy than popularity and comfort.

True success is about trust.

Success is trusting that my life is safe in the arms of my almighty creator.

Brennan Manning wrote in Ruthless Trust, “The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”