On Saturday night, Daniel and I were invited to an exclusive charity event in central London.
I spent most of the day beforehand spouting about it to anyone who would listen.
“What charity is it?” they asked.
“charity: water,” I replied, expecting some eyebrows to rise. Perhaps a gasp or two.
Silence. Nothing. The majority of the people I spoke to had no idea who charity: water were. It was a stark reminder to me about how important my job is.
Here’s why I need to tell you about charity: water.
Right now, 800 million people on the planet don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water. That’s one in nine of us. Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.
charity: water is a non-profit organisation bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. They use 100% of public donations to directly fund sustainable water solutions in areas of greatest need.
But really, those figures are too much to grasp for many of us. We know that some parts of the world are in dire need, but 800 million is too great a number for us to comprehend. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve never done a six-hour roundtrip to a dirty swamp, just to carry a 40lb jerrycan full of dirty water back to your village; we just can’t imagine what that’s like. So charity: water put faces to the figures, and tell stories from the front-line. They help us to understand why we need to help them, so that they can help others.
Watch Rachel Beckwith's story, and be inspired:
If you’re a UK giver, and you’d like to make regular donations to charity: water tax-effectively and quickly, you can open up a giving account and start making gifts today
To make a one-off donation, visit www.give.net/charitywater
On Monday 20th May 2013, a huge tornado tore through the suburbs of Oklahoma city.
The official BBC website says:
“Officials have confirmed that 24 people have died, including seven children, and around 120 are being treated in hospital. The suburb of Moore in the south of the city was worst hit by winds of up to 200mph (320km/h). President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster in Oklahoma.”
HopeMob, one of our registered recipients, are raising funds to bring immediate aid and support to those most in need and affected by this tragic event in Oklahoma.
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So you think receiving’s difficult? Sometimes, there is nothing more awkward than giving a gift to someone!
“Should I sneak it under their door?” “Will they feel really awkward that I know they’re struggling?” “Will they feel like a charity case?” Aaaargh!
As someone who has often been inspired to share my possessions with others (Acts 4:32-36), I’ve often grappled with this issue.
I remember pulling up outside a friend’s house. Actually it wasn’t their house – they’d been in house-sit after house-sit for a couple of years because they didn’t own a home and their ministry was one of living by faith. I knew times were hard and they hadn’t made it to church that evening. We’d felt gutted when we heard they were having a hard time but we weren’t sure what to do as there weren’t many shops open on a Sunday evening. We’d gone round to my mother-in-law’s and she’d found a number of food items she didn’t need, and then we’d popped by the only open shop we could find to grab some bacon, eggs, bread and milk. Now we were sitting outside in the car, with our hamper, debating.
Should we go in and say hi? Maybe they needed a hug and encouraging/praying with? Hmmm, they hadn’t come to church so maybe it wasn’t a day for seeing people… Should we leave this stuff on the doorstep so that it was out all night when they might need it now? Should we ring the doorbell and drive off?
We agonised for a good while in the car before we worked out we should just pray. On previous occasions we’d felt it was good to ring the doorbell, give hugs, have a cup of tea and just be with them in their tough time… This time we just left it on the doorstep, prayed for them, and asked God to prompt them to open the door. With slight reservations from our ‘human wisdom mind-sets’, we left it and drove off.
The next morning we got a text. They’d discovered the parcel before bed and had had their first meal of the day: bacon, eggs, toast etc – just what they’d needed.
It still breaks my heart thinking of it. The stuff we gave was really simple – we didn’t have the resource to get anything fancy on a Sunday evening – but it was the delivery that felt really important that time.
Sometimes friends really need to know you’re there and you care and that they’re part of a family. Sometimes, we’ve got it really wrong and have squirmed as we’ve watched friends squirm. Sometimes we’ve realised that our motives weren’t actually right just as we handed over the gift and felt a slight nagging feeling when the reaction wasn’t what we’d expected. Sometimes we’ve seen relationships change and good friends start viewing us in a weird way that neither of us seemed to be able to vocalise and get past. Occasionally, we’ve found friends have been grateful and have felt embarrassed that they can’t give something in return, even though we feel they give us loads in other ways. Often, we’ve found it so much easier to slip an anonymous card through the door and rest assured that the person would know that God is their provider and has heard their cry for provision.
But, every now and then, we’ve been absolutely blown away when we’ve prayed about how to give and have modelled generosity and God’s economy well. I’m still not entirely sure what the rules are – maybe there are none – but we’ve generally found that God knows what each person needs and if you allow him to test your motives and prompt you about how to handle each gift, it really can bless both the receiver and the giver!
What parts of this post could you relate to? Are you used to that awkward feeling when you give a gift, or have you nailed how to read situations? Do you ever give in a way that could make you, and your recipient, uncomfortable? If your answer’s no, is that a good or a bad thing? Let us know in the comments.
Peter, a good steward
Simon Peter is a worshipper.
He serves what he worships. And he also stewards and manages what he serves. What does Simon Peter steward? And how and why is his stewardship good?
These two questions have together one immediate solution: Before his campfire meal with Jesus, (John 21) Simon Peter served men. He was a people pleaser par excellence. A well-liked leader, a ruler of a team of fishing boats, people depended on him and he was totally dependable. He worshipped being liked and respected. And he was. Peter pleased his god ─ men’s approval ─ and was well-rewarded.
But Peter begins to change after he first encounters Jesus (Luke 5). It is the morning after a poor night of work. Peter's two boats and crews have laboured and caught nothing. Jesus enters Pete’s boat and requests that they move out a little from the shore. Peter listens. After teaching, Jesus asks Peter to fish again. Simon Peter's revealing response:
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break…both boats so full that they began to sink.
A miracle: where there was nothing, now there is everything.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Peter falls to his knees, but he is not worshipping. He is caught in fear. Jesus is no longer a “master”, one of many good masters and teachers. Jesus is “Lord”. Peter is deeply attracted to Jesus, yet he is also repelled. He needs Jesus to “go away.” But Jesus stays.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Jesus’ first command to Peter is to banish Peter’s fear. Peter then leaves everything behind: his fear, his boats, worship of man’s approval. Change begins because Peter’s object of worship is different: Jesus.
Peter is drawn in by a perfect love that removes, casts out fear. Peter, now a good steward, follows.
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Receiving is hard. We’re raised in a world where gaining and acquiring – receiving, in other words – is only acceptable if you work hard and earn it, or if you somehow ‘get lucky’.
Receiving because you’re genuinely in need – when you can no longer rely on yourself – is frowned upon. There is the temptation to feel like a failure; a charity case; dependent.
But the Bible says we’re all receivers, and we’re all in genuine need. ‘For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.’ John 1: 16.
When I was growing up, I was fairly proud of the fact that I paid my way. I got a job at a young age, learned how to save, and enjoyed spending money on myself and others. I was raised with the Destiny’s Child anthem ‘Independent Women’ ringing in my ears and I was determined to rely only on myself.
So when I became a single mother at the age of 23, and then spent the following three years locked in a cripplingly expensive court case, everything within me fought to try to preserve my pride. I tried to carry on as normal; juggling a job with motherhood, studies, bills, learning to drive and running my own home.
I gladly accepted practical help – it was a blessing to have family and friends around who could babysit when I needed to get an essay written. But financial help? Absolutely no way. It was only when I was faced with a £3000 barrister’s bill and only £1500 to my name, that I began to realise the mess I was in. I was at the end of myself. I couldn’t magic up the money. My self-reliance had essentially counted for nothing, and slowly God began calling me back to a revelation of his generous, undeserved love.
When my friend learned of my situation and offered to lend me some money, my first reaction was deep shame. How did I get to be so in need? Even though I’d be paying the money back, their generosity overwhelmed me in every sense of the word. I accepted because I had no choice, but I was utterly determined to pay back the full amount as fast as I could so that I wouldn’t feel indebted to him. I had been conditioned to see receiving as the worst thing in the world, even though I’d spent many years previously on the flip side – seeing how blessed it was to give.
That legal bill was the first of many. More money had to be found from more places. But more friends and family stepped in in various ways, enveloping me and my daughter in a type of grace and kindness that left me lost for words. That year, I learned what it meant to accept love, to receive help and to allow God to be my strength. It was an important, humbling lesson.
It mirrored a truth that’s hard for all of us to accept sometimes: Jesus gave us something we didn’t deserve. It’s something we abuse daily, reject, misunderstand and often don’t even fully recognise. I wonder if some of us grapple so hard with receiving salvation because our pride would prefer us to believe that we can save ourselves? That was certainly true of me. Grace is an incredibly difficult thing to comprehend, and sometimes it takes our very lives to be shaken out from the edges before we can start to receive it.
The Bible teaches that it’s more blessed to give than to receive, and that’s true. It’s definitely harder to receive, but there’s blessing in that too beyond simply receiving whatever it is you’ve been given. Arguably it’s impossible to know how to truly give, unless you’ve first learnt how to receive.
So today consider how you receive. Is it graciously, with thanks? Is it reluctantly, with pride? Is there an area of your life where you couldn’t bear to be dependent upon others? Ask yourself why. Consider also how you give, bearing in mind the potentially strong emotional responses of your recipient. Are you giving sensitively?
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Judas: desire at the door
Whenever I meet new people I tend to get a little over excited, talk too loud, too fast and too much. So when I attended my first home fellowship group at the new church, I took plenty of deep breaths and told myself to listen.
Minutes into a discussion of the seven deadly sins, a primary school teacher spoke up.
“My students don’t sin.”
I violated my own rule, asking:
“When your students consciously choose a wrong behaviour, how do you address it? What happens when they misbehave in class?”
“Well, it’s like last week. I had a little boy who I was sure was taking another little boy’s crisps at lunch. This went on for two weeks. I asked him whether he was sure that he wasn’t taking the crisps, because maybe he was hungry or it was an accident. He denied it for about a week and a half, until, finally he admitted it was him. It turned out that his parents didn’t want him to have crisps at lunch, but he really wanted them, so he took them. He admitted his mistake, I spoke with his parents and now he has crisps at lunch. It ended up being a really good learning experience for everyone.”
“But isn’t this sin?” I asked. “Wasn’t the boy controlled by his desire?”
If we want to understand sin, then we could do worse than start by looking at the story of Cain and Abel, as told in Genesis 4:
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it."
That word ‘crouching’ is an interesting one, and is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘röbëtz’. It connotes an overwhelming desire, like a predator awaiting its prey.
Sin desires all of us. All of me. It starts on my outside, my door, and then enters and controls. I see the crisps and I want them, so I take them and then I keep on taking them. Once the desire has got in, I find it hard to stop. At some time in each of our lives, haven’t we all struggled to tame the overwhelming desires that take us further from God?
Sin - like the desire that accompanies it - always starts small, even when it grows big. While Judas ended up overwhelmed and overrun by evil intent, we can see the roots earlier on in his story, when (in John 12:4-7) he questions the anointing of Jesus by Mary with expensive perfume:
Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.
When Judas asks ‘why’, he is not interested in the rationale behind Jesus’ actions. He’s interested in the profit. He knew the cost of the perfume, but not its anointing value. Even further back in Luke 9 we read of how he heals the sick, preaches the kingdom and performs miracles. What changed?
Judas let sin crouch at his door and enter his heart. He let it master, control, and finally destroy him.He served his sin and betrayed Jesus, becoming an ugly steward in the process.
Perhaps Judas was fearful of living day by day, moment by moment and being materially poor. After all, fear can be a compelling motivator. It can freeze us from acting and hold us hostage. Yet that fear-induced inactivity can so easily control us.
Like so many of us, Judas failed to deal with the problem when it was in its infancy. What are the issues in our lives that need to be addressed? We can’t take the smallest bad desire for granted. If we do, the desire will take us.
The primary teacher and I disagreed on the whether to call it sin, but we could agree on this one thing; that in asking why the boy desired the crisps she was beginning the process of dealing with the issue.
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I recently attended the funerals of two amazing people; both of whom left gaping holes when they exited this world before 65. Listening to their families and friends telling stories of how much both had packed into their years, and the inspiring ways they’d lived to serve God and others, I found myself feeling gutted that I hadn’t known them better. I remember sitting and listening at one of the funerals and thinking “if I’d known this about this person earlier, I would have asked them to mentor me – they are so inspiring.”
On a similar note, I know for a fact that there are amazing acts of generosity going down regularly in my church family, and yet I don’t often get to hear of them and be blessed / inspired / challenged in my own life by other people’s example.
Matthew 6:1-3 says:
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
I understand that this passage has often been the reason for people not sharing their inspiring stories, and I totally respect that there are different interpretations and teachings on passages… Personally, I believe you can read this passage two ways. There’s the way that focusses on the instructions: ‘be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others…’ and ‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets…’ And then there’s a way that focusses on the motivation: ‘…to be seen by them’ and ‘to be honoured by others.’ I wonder whether it’s possible to share stories and experiences, without the details of the nitty gritty, in order to inspire others – to pass the baton to the next generation?
Take, for example, the couple who mentored my husband and me. I don’t actually remember them telling me any specific stories about gifts they’d given – even though they live a generous lifestyle - but they told us about amazing ways God had provided for them through anonymous donations and they taught us some excellent principles on how to hear God and trust Him in the area of finances.
I believe there are two ways to learn radical generosity. One is to be on the receiving end of mind-blowing generosity until what you’ve seen modelled becomes your blueprint for life. The other is to hear the type of story or experience that gives you goosebumps; fills you with joy; makes you start to wonder if there’s something bigger out there than your current experience… until you’re hungry to see that kind of transformation in your own story.
So, as a plea from a generation that is really hungry for inspiration: I totally respect your privacy and understand that there might be some things that you struggle to share because your motives aren’t quite where you’d like them to be yet but that inspires me too! I don’t want to know amounts, or specifics, but I would love to sit at your feet and hear a few of your best stories, or ones you’ve heard from others. I want to hear about what excites you and where you’ve lived in the fullness of life. Please don’t keep it all bottled up until I hear it all at your funeral – I need your inspiration now.
Has God given you wisdom in a particular area, which you could be sharing to inspire others? Or are there people you admire whose stories you’d like to hear? Why not meet up with them and ask some of your inquisitive questions? If you click, why not ask them to mentor you for a longer period?
“Are you settled in yet? How are you and Priscilla settling in? Are you sorting things out?“
Following our move to the United Kingdom from New York City, kindly Brits have asked this ‘settling’ question of me more then a few times. (This is one of the key differences between a Brit and a NYC native: the seasoned New Yorker never asks if you are settled in. It is understood that isn’t happening till the end of a lifetime).
Yes, we are settling in. Yet, I worry about ever getting too comfortable. I hope I always go where the Lord desires me to be. I never want to ‘settle’.
Terah, Abram’s father, settled for Haran and is a bad steward as a result. Terah is so obscure in bible history that most people don’t know who he is. His name in Microsoft Word spell check always comes up underlined in red. Even though he is Abram’s father, he is not known. Abram is known primarily by his God-given new name, Abraham. This illustrates a core fact of Abraham’s life: he was a man of faith. God, as his father, renames him Abraham and calls him to be a father of many nations.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God….And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. Hebrews 11: 8-10; 12
Terah was called before his son Abram was called. He left his home and family in the city of Ur for the land of Canaan.
This is the account of Terah’s family line. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah. Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran. Genesis 11: 27-30
Note verse 31: But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Haran is actually half way from Ur to Canaan. Terah moved from his home and set out leaving part of his family (his son, Nahor and Nahor’s wife, Milkah). He was supposed to go to Canaan. He never made it to where he was called to. Why? The writer of Genesis gives us a clue that this is a failure through the two words, “but” and “settled.” They speak not only about Terah but to and about us.
What am I settling for? What are my “buts” when I can’t do or finish something? Do I really believe in my journey, no matter how long and tiring and difficult? Am I “settled?”
Whether Terah was weary of travel; in love with Haran; or lazy, the point is he settled for Haran. He never went where he was called to go. He didn’t follow through. In contrast, Abram, after his father’s death was told by the Lord, Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show up. Genesis 12:1
He didn’t know where he was going, except it was the land the Lord desired him and his descendants to possess. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Hebrews 11: 8.
He went by faith. He found out later it was Canaan, his father Terah’s original destination. The place Terah never got to.
Is ‘only going half way’ as bad as not starting at all?
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I used to have really strong views on tithing. It used to really wind me up that I was obeying the law and paying my church taxes while others had signed up unfairly to the equivalent of the ‘church dole’, resulting in church ministries suffering and modern day Levites (those who lead us in our worship at church) struggling to get by on measly salaries…
Thing is, I still do have personal views on tithing, but I’ve had enough conversations with others whom I admire, to recognise that there are a number of different interpretations when it comes to this subject.
Does God have a problem with the person who gives strictly 10% as opposed to someone who gives in response to how they see the Father giving, regardless of amount? I don’t know. It’s certainly not for me to judge.
So here’s a question: if God loves a cheerful (hilarious) giver, does that mean we shouldn’t give until we can be cheerful about it?
My experience of giving was that I began as a legalist – thou shalt tithe the first-fruits (oh yes, I went the whole ‘giving-before-tax-and-other-deductions’ hog). But I realised that I often felt nervous that I wasn’t giving enough or fulfilling my ‘duty’ to God. On the advice of our spiritual parents, my husband and I started asking God how much we should be tithing (based on a 10% minimum which we both agreed was our personal benchmark interpretation of scripture). We would both ask God how much we should give, listen to God, compare our numbers, go back to God if they were different and discuss until we both felt a peace that we were doing God’s will with His money.
Based on the passage in Acts 4:32-35, we believed that we didn’t want to dictate how that money was used. The early church brought their giving to the apostles’ feet to be distributed, so we gave that money to the church with no restrictions. Immediately, we both knew we wanted to be able to also give to other people and ministries that touched our hearts. As things were pretty tight – we were newlyweds on one salary whilst my husband was studying – we decided to step out in faith and support a missionary from our church with a really small amount on top of our tithe. The next year, we increased it in faith that God would provide. We reviewed our giving together with God every time we had a pay change, and we honoured Him with the first-fruits of any other one-off income we were blessed with. Funnily, the provision kept on coming (Malachi 3:10).
Soon, we were giving way over a ‘traditional tithe’, although we always made sure that whatever God wanted us to give to, our giving to the church remained at the core. We supported three friends through education, a number of missionaries whom we knew personally, charities whose work really tugged at our heartstrings, a sponsored child, and our church building project. Before long we decided to keep a monthly amount of money aside as well so that we could respond to situations that were burning in our hearts at the time.
We didn’t just pray about our giving anymore. We prayed about all our money. 'The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it …' Over time we’d realised everything we had was entrusted to us and actually, God wanted to partner with us in spending it so that we could experience the joy of giving – not just to the things we wanted to be obedient in, but also in areas or people He’d laid on our hearts. We put off saving for a house because giving was our priority. We gave away bonuses and tax rebates. We sometimes gave away from our savings, and later discovered how much people had needed the money at that exact time. We paid people’s monthly bills (it was interesting explaining our regular Direct Debits to the mortgage company when we finally did buy a house!). We lived an exciting life of generosity with the view that we owned nothing. God owned everything. If Jesus gave his whole life, how could we radically respond?
I’m not saying we’re there yet – with God there’s always more. But in less than seven years, this is our story. I’ve definitely got things wrong, and my motives and attitudes were pretty sucky at the start, but I can humbly say ‘this is what I’ve learnt’, and I’m most definitely a convert to hilarious giving now.
blogs by the Stewardship team and selected guest writers.