Monday, November 21, 2011

Project 3:11 - No shirt, no one cares.

No shirt, no cares. As long as I've got some.

Well, I know that's not entirely true. Plenty of people care. And plenty more people probably would when confronted with it. But do we care enough to do something? Do we care enough to change the way we live our lives - even if it's is contrary to the way our society functions?

"If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry." Luke 3:11. Do we take that seriously?

When I was reading John Smith's book, Sharpening the Cutting Edge, he described an incident when a man on the run - a criminal running from other criminals - came to his house with torn up feet because he had no shoes. John gave him a pair. And not just one pair of many, but one of only two pairs of shoes John owned.

That struck a chord with me. Just a few days before, I had been looking for something and opened a cupboard I hadn't opened in a while. In that cupboard are at least 15 pairs of shoes. I got a surprise when I opened it because I had almost forgotten they were even there.

How can one person be giving away one of two pairs of shoes to someone who has none, while I have so many I can forget I even have half of them?

I don't consider myself extremely materialistic. I would normally comfort myself in the knowledge that I'm not a shop-a-holic. That there are people far worse than me. That I'm not excessive in buying clothes, by western society's standards. That I normally only get things I need.

But I was convicted. What is my definition of need? I don't have shoes to match this outfit, so I need new ones? I'm going to a wedding and can't wear the same dress as I did to the last one, so I need a new one. I've had the clothes I currently have for years and they are out of fashion, so I need new ones....

Compare that to someone who has not a single pair of shoes, so they need some. Someone who has only one outfit of clothing that is falling apart, so they need new ones. Someone who is freezing to death on the streets, and needs warm clothes.

My excuses, while valid and acceptable in my circles of friends, sound hollow and pathetic, and downright selfish in comparison.

But what do I do about it? That was my next question. It is no use feeling convicted if that leads to no action, other than an increased sensation of guilt when I next go shopping.

Am I brave enough to refuse to go on the way I have? Will I risk being unfashionable and dated, having clothes that are old, and having people notice that I wear the same things over and over?

Those reasons sound a bit silly - why does it matter? But if we admit it to ourselves, it does. Perhaps it is because of our work, and the image we present. Or our social standing. Or the way we want others to perceive us by what we wear and what we own. The way we want to view or perceive ourselves. For some reason, buying and owning things is very important to us.

What is it that drives us? And what prevents us from seeing how superficial those things are? Or if we do see it, what prevents us from acting on it?

These are the questions that just won't go away. And so I'm taking some action.

I don't know what the best long term action to take is. Consumerism, capitalism, materialism - those are monolithic ideals to grapple with outright.

But I do strongly believe, even in the face of ingrained social structures, one person can make a difference. But it can't stop with one person. It's no good me making a change, then simply going about my life pleased with myself for being so caring.

And what good is me stopping buying clothes if the only result is simply that I have less clothes, or worse - more money to spend on other equally unnecessary things.

So what I am planning is somewhat of an experiment. An investigation. A mission.

My first step is to go 12 months without buying any clothes, shoes or accessories (handbags, jewellery, scarves etc). How will I cope with that? I suspect it will feel easy until something wears out, breaks, or doesn't fit anymore. Or until I have a wedding to go to. Or until I walk into a shop and see a pretty dress. Or simply open a magazine. How will I combat these things?

The second step is to do something good with this experiment. I estimate that I currently spend around $1000 a year on clothes. I think this may be less than average, which means some probably spend less and some far more - But is the attitude and values behind the spending that I intend to focus on. I could be in danger of spending less on clothes only to spend more on something else to compensate.

So step 2a is to investigate what to do with the money I would have normally spent on myself.

Step 2b is to investigate how to better spend the money when we do buy things - eg. Finding companies that give back, such as TOMS and hello somebody. Looking at op shops and second hand clothing options. If you have suggestions, let me know.

Step 2c is to investigate how best to give away some of my more than two shirts, a la Luke 3:11. I suspect, expect and hope that this will involve more than just getting more creative with my wardrobe, but getting more creative with my attitude.

Step 3 is to look into the attitudes behind spending,accumulating and possessing. How can we realistically live in a western society and yet follow Biblical principles? Is it possible? And if it is, is it possible without a complete overhaul of society? How can everyone live their lives with social justice in mind without having to become a hippie or a radical?

Is my experiment too extreme to be realistic? Not extreme enough to effect real change?

What will be the affect on my life? What will be the outcome in my lifestyle and my attitudes?

Step 4 is to share it. Affect wider reaching change than just my own life. So I will be blogging ( & jc&me) and vlogging as I go. Answering some of the questions I have posed above, your questions if you have any, and no doubt coming up with far more questions than I have answers. And at the end of it producing something for others to take away from, ie a book.

So follow along if you dare... I hope to do the experiment so others don't have to. So we can all then do the actions that will actually make a difference. But I also want this to be a dialogue, not just a one woman crusade.

A quick google search will reveal that going a year without buying clothes is not a unique concept. It has been done before. So if I'm going to do it, it has to be about more than just 'shopping my wardrobe' or saving money. It has to be about more than me.

If you have any questions for me to investigate, people or companies to talk to, issues to tackle, your own experiences and stories to share - let me know.

The experiment officially begins January 1, 2012 so that I am prepared and there is a plan and method rather than a fumbled knee-jerk reaction.

But my conscience has already got the better of me, and I think, I hope, that the change in my heart has already begun.

Monday, November 14, 2011

God OFTEN gives us more than we can handle

One of the misquotations of the Bible that frustrates me most is when people say "God doesn't give us more than we can handle". It's meant to be a comfort, to tell us that things will never get so bad we can't handle it. And, oh, I know it's meant to comfort us that God is looking out for us. But it is an ill conceived and misleading comfort.

Firstly, nowhere in the Bible does God promise life will never serve us more than we can handle. In 1 Corinthians 10 it says that God will not allow us to be tempted more than we can bear, and when we are tempted he will provide a way out. This means that there is always the choice not to sin.

This has nothing to do with handling hardships and trials, which is what is implied in the misquotation.

It is no wonder people accuse Christians of simply having a god and a religion to make us feel better about the things that are out of our control, like God is a cosmic comforter blanket, when we ourselves treat him so. Like God is there to make sure, once we are Christians, that life is easy and cotton wool wrapped from the harshness of the rest of the world.

The fact is, God regularly gives us more than we can handle. He gives us responsibilities and challenges that are way beyond what we are qualified to deal with.

And while he doesn't give them to us, he also allows to experience events and circumstances in life that are heavy enough to crush us.

The important thing to remember in this is, along with what he gives us and allows us to experience, he also NEVER leaves us. We are too weak to handle much of what life will deal us - but God is not. There will be much we are given that we can't handle - but God can.

We have a responsibility to not be cotton wool wrapped Christians. We should know the words of God well enough to not misuse them and misquote them.

Saying God won't give us more than we can handle simply makes the people who feel like they are being crushed think that there is something wrong with them; it causes disillusionment with a god they think must have abandoned them.

It perpetuates an idea that Christianity is about being a safe distance from the world, on a fluffy cloud free from pain.

And that it is up to us to be strong. That there is something wrong with us if we are in pain.

If Jesus' life is any indication - and shouldn't it be every indication - being a Christ follower is not about a painless, cushy life. How can we expect treatment better than Jesus himself received?

But that shouldn't frighten us if we know the Rock on which we stand. When we know the Word of God, we know God. God may not have promised freedom from hardship in this life, but he is and has promised many things. Immanuel - God with us. Redeemer. Jehovah-Jireh. Almighty. Shepherd.

We have a God who is good. Who will never leave us nor forsake us.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
. Psalm 34:19

We will be given and experience more than we can handle. And why? Because the point is not to rely on ourselves, on our own strength, but on a God who has overcome it all.

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Cor 1:8,9, emphasis mine).

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nothing is wasted

Sometimes what we are doing seems small. We feel small.

We work hard and get weary, and sometimes it's hard to see what we are even achieving. Sowing into people's lives, into relationships, into faith and into a walk with God - it's not results based. There's no quantifiable measurement or report card or award to tell you your progress.

The seeds you sow today may not sprout or be harvested for years. You may never see the outcomes.

And sometimes it feels like if you just gave up and did nothing it wouldn't even make a difference.

But when you feel like throwing it all in, that's when we need to remind ourselves of what it is we are actually working for.

It's not for immediate results or recognition. It's for eternity.

And nothing we do to serve God is ever wasted. Even if it seems small now, even if you can't see how it will ever pay off, even if not a single person notices how hard you are working - God sees. And it counts.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58

Monday, November 7, 2011

Faith that He is and that He will

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
-Hebrews 11:6

Without faith, we cannot please God. And faith in what? That God exists. That's the first thing. But I just noticed something that I had never noticed in this verse before. It doesn't end with just believing God exists, but also having faith that God cares and will respond to us.

The Message version words it helpfully:

It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.

All this time I've believed and had faith that God exists, that God is there, that he is real. And I am seeking him. But where my faith has faltered, and where I think many people's does, is in really believing that God will actually come through if I earnestly seek him.

And so I've half-heartedly sought him, afraid that I'll just be wasting my time, that nothing will happen, that he won't be found and I'll just be left disappointed.

But to approach God, I can't just have faith that he is there - I know that - but also have faith that I actually can draw near to him and that he will draw near to me.

Why do we find it so hard to believe? The Bible is full of verses telling us that - come near to God, and he will come near to you. Seek, and you shall find. Call on [him] and [he] will answer. 'You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart'.

And therein lies the rub - that's risky, that 'all your heart' business. We are used to our hearts being breakable, fragile things. The thought of giving all of it - well, that's scary.

But if we want to approach God, that's what he requires. Not that we do enough good deeds and pray the right prayers. But that we earnestly seek him. That we give all of our hearts.

And our faith that he will respond.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Blogging through... Sharpening the Cutting Edge #2

I don't know about you, but when I imagine defending my faith and standing up to injustice I imagine the 'other' people being those who aren't called Christians, those who believe something different to me.

I forget that a counterfeit that is labelled the real thing can be even more dangerous.

John describes an encounter in the Philippines. The mayor of a village was bulldozing villagers houses for his own building projects. John and others with him ran in front of the bulldozers and attempted to disable them. That was when a vigilante pointed a rifle at John. But it was the t-shirt that drew his attention. The man pointing the gun and supporting the bulldozing of villagers homes wore a t-shirt reading "Kill a Communist for Jesus".

These people who called themselves Christians also later used scripture to justify asking these people to turn in those who had supported their opposition of the corrupt mayor.

It should remind us that our faith is not defined by going to church or knowing Bible verses, or by calling ourselves "Christian" - it is defined by our actions, our beliefs and the love of Jesus acted out in our lives. It's about a real encounter and relationship with God - because without that we open ourselves to twisting even the words of the Bible to suit our own purposes.

And isn't that what the devil loves. A counterfeit that looks like the real thing. The boundaries between the Truth and a warped version can get so much more blurry, than if we compare our faith to someone who believes something completely different.

The truth is not just knowing the words - even the devil knows the words. The Truth is Jesus. The living Word is Jesus.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Blogging through...Sharpening the Cutting Edge #1

With a name like Sharpening the Cutting Edge you would expect John Smith to give it to us straight, and he doesn't disappoint. Which is refreshing. I even see it in myself - a tendency to get too concerned about being offensive or saying the wrong thing or being misunderstood that I dull the blade of what I really think. But sometimes things become so safe and palatable that they've lost any meaning.

And so do our lives become insular and sheltered from what is really going on.

The first thing that really got me as I read this book was the sentence: "But how many people deny themselves chocolate on the basis that a large proportion of the world's supply is produced from cocoa farmed by slaves?"

I felt sick.

I had never bothered to think about it. I can't excuse myself for lack of knowledge - I'd heard about it and the information is not hidden had I looked for it. But I had chosen not to care.

Do I need chocolate that much that I don't care if people are in slavery to produce it?

We joke about being addicted to chocolate, needing our chocolate fix... but when we really think about it, how pathetic are we, relying on a sugary luxury to the detriment of others. It's chocolate. Not water. Not medicine. Two things which many people are denied and yet we value a confectionary product and our own taste buds over those things.

We look back on the abolition of slavery in the 19th century and applaud those who stood in opposition to the status quo and stood up for human rights. We probably imagine ourselves being those people - because we are at a safe distance from those events. No one can actually call us to action on that issue. And yet most of us probably sit on our couches eating chocolate quietly ignoring the fact that slavery is still happening.

This was my first introduction to John's book. It must have shocked me so much I didn't dare pick it up for a while after that, because it was months ago that I read that sentence.

Take the quote on the back seriously when it says, "This book is dangerous in the righteous sense of the word. One simply cannot read it without feeling the ground on which one stands being shaken..." (Alan Hirsch)

So with that in mind, I read on with trepidation but excitement. I love a good ground shaking....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

For yourself vs By yourself

We can't copy someone else's journey.

While God is the same, an absolute Truth, and what he has done for us, he has done for ALL of us...we can't simply copy the way someone else does it and expect it to work for us.

God works individually in each of us. And there are many things you will need to work out for yourself. Something that is right for one person, may not be for you. You have different talents and gifts. You also have different weaknesses and problems.

If you see other Christian's drinking wine without problem, and yet you know that alcohol causes problems for you - saying, 'well they do it so it must be ok' is only going to get you into trouble.

And simply following a rule someone else has set without actually understanding why, or without a change in attitude or in your heart, does little good in the long run.

If I say to a child "Don't touch the oven", with no explanation, that may work for a little while. But if the child never believes for themselves that it is actually hot and touching will be a bad thing, one day they are going to want to touch it for themselves to find out.

You are not a passive passenger in your faith.

"work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)

Don't take this as permission to ignore good advice from others or have a pick and choose faith - like I was tempted to think of it when I was younger and (more) rebellious. But it does mean there are things to be sought after, things to be worked out and learned and understood. And you need to do this for yourself. No one else can hand you a close relationship with God, or give you a recipe to follow from their lives. Your faith takes active participation on your part.

But for yourself is not the same as by yourself. By yourself means isolation, carrying the burden alone, and often a dangerous lack of perspective and accountability.

God of course needs to be involved, or what are we doing?

But God gave us other people for a reason. Taking another person's story as an exact to do list won't work, but neither will ignoring other's story because it is different to your own.

Learning from advice, leadership, friendship, example, teaching - these things all add to and guide your own journey with God.

Don't fall into the trap of "No one understands me. I'm not going to listen to them because they just don't get it." or "They couldn't handle that, but I'm stronger than that." We are all different and you will never find anyone who exactly 'gets' everything about you - but what you are looking for in finding people you can trust to have influence in your life is godliness. The commonality of a desire to pursue God is a powerful connector, no matter the other differences.

When we set ourselves apart from, away from or above others the only yardstick by which we measure things becomes our own. Everything seems right if you wrote the rule book.

Don't wait for someone else to work out your faith for you. Be active and pursue God. And remember that in pursuit of God, a relational God, other people will be and must be a part of it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Blogging through "Sharpening the Cutting Edge" by John Smith

For a man with the most unassuming name possible, John Smith has certainly had one H-E-double-hockey-sticks of a life.

From the cover of his book, it introduces this fascinating and challenging man as the "founder and Executive Director of Concern Australia and the founding President of God's Squad Christian Motorcycle Club of 35 years.... He is as much at home talking to business leaders, academics, church leaders, politicians and the media, as he is with school children, university students, the poor and marginalised, and outlaw motorcycle club members."

I heard him speak at my three day chaplain's conference earlier this year. There was some controversy as a few people were perhaps offended when he shouted at as during one of his talks. But I, for one, loved it. I think we need people who are not afraid to give it to us straight; who don't care if they make us uncomfortable; who, in fact, use discomfort as a powerful tool.

But it has taken several months to actually get around to reading his book. Perhaps because I knew it was going to be challenging, so I put it off.

I'm going to blog my way through it, commenting on the things that stick out to me. I've barely got through the first two chapters and already I've felt convicted, uncomfortable, near tears, and profoundly inspired.

Get ready for a bumpy ride.