Yes. It’s that time of the year again! The weeks (now months) during which we are bombarded by the media with images of the ‘perfect Christmas’. As we inevitably give in to pressure, we empty out our already light wallets. Personally, I’m trying to turn a blind eye to it all this Christmas. With our wedding coming up in April, I can’t really stretch to buying extravagant Christmas presents for anyone this time around.
But maybe I’m not the only one cutting back…
According to moneyfacts.co.uk, shoppers are planning to spend an average of £488 on Christmas this year. That’s 7% down on 2012's figure of £526, according to research from HSBC.
Are many of us feeling the pinch with this current economic climate? Are we tired of being sold the idea that in order to enjoy Christmas, we have to spend a bucket load of money? The inevitable result is that many get into debt, followed by the January blues and months of trying to pay it all back.
This weekend marks the significant time for retail in the U.S.A. ‘Black Friday’ as it’s known, is when shoppers go crazy over big reductions in stores across the country (‘Walmart massacres’ as described by my American colleague, Charlie). This is followed by a relatively new event called ‘Cyber Monday’ where the same applies for consumers at a range of online shopping sites. This shopping frenzy is known to bring many retailers ‘back into the black’ before the end of the year.
I must hold my hands up and say I’m guilty of having been quite extravagant with Christmas presents in the past (especially for my family), and with the UK seemingly adopting the Cyber Monday craze, it is tempting to spend. I really do get a buzz out of seeing a loved one unwrap something I’ve thoughtfully splashed out on and spent ages planning to get them.
However, do I need to repent of this form of generosity? Wouldn’t my money have gone further by being given to Salvation Army to help the homeless, or to Samaritan’s Purse for their Operation Christmas Child campaign? There are so many options out there to be generous in a different way.
On the flip side of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is Giving Tuesday. This is a campaign in its second year, which advocates a national day of giving. People are encouraged give to support non-profit organisations and the United Nations Foundation is one of the major partners. In its first year, it is reported that some organisations processing donations in the U.S. saw the numbers rise by as much as 50% compared to the previous year.*
Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Does my sacrifice of generosity involve the revelation that my family and friends could probably live without that iTunes voucher or bottle of fancy perfume and that actually, would they be that bothered without it? And does it also involve the realisation that there is a real world out there full of people in need and crying out for someone to help them?
Could my generosity extend to those people instead? Instead of splashing out on presents, could I invite a struggling family for Christmas lunch? Could I volunteer in a soup kitchen for a couple of hours instead of spending five hours trawling the internet for deals on Cyber Monday?
In the end, as they say, actions speak louder than words. Maybe we could appreciate the loved ones in our lives all year round, without getting caught up in the tangled web of consumerism this Christmas.
In the end, it is what our Lord has told us to do.
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photo used under Creative Commons Licence by CJ Isherwood
A few weeks ago we told you about The Christian New Media Awards for which we had been nominated for 2 awards:
Innovative Use of New Media in Outreach and People’s Choice Award.
We're pleased to say that we won both.
We are incredibly blessed and wish to thank every one of you that participated in the 40acts campaign by contributing ideas, taking part in the acts, and sharing with us on social media channels.
We are excited that acts of generosity can have a far reaching impact.
What would YOU like to see happen for 40acts 2014? Please comment below- all ideas are welcome!
We give from a place of having received His grace.
We love because He loved us first. Because we have received so much from our God, we can freely give.
John 1 says:
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
From his fullness we have received grace. Out of that fullness we move in generosity.
On the 14th July in Bristol, in what appeared to be a terrible enactment of Guy Fawkes’ night, two men set upon their neighbour, Bijan Ebrahimi, a quiet, disabled 44 year-old Iranian and devoted gardener. They dragged Mr Ebrahimi out of his council house and beat him unconscious. Why? He was falsely accused of being a paedophile and arrested by the police on 12 July. The accusation was groundless. False. No child had been abused. The police set Mr Ebrahimi free the same day. But two of Bijan Ebrahimi’s ‘neighbours’ took what they thought was justice into their own hands. And so, having beaten him unconscious, they burnt him alive in a bonfire.
Every year on the 5th November, we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night with activities that range from fireworks to bonfires. But who was Guy Fawkes and what connection does he have with the events in Bristol? Fawkes was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder the night before Parliament was to open and immediately arrested. He wasn’t the mastermind behind the plot to destroy the House of Lords. Robert Catesby and Catesby’s relatives were. Fawkes was the only non-relative in the small group. What did they all have in common? They were Catholics in a Protestant country; minority outsiders – the marginalised – in a culture that didn’t want them and never listened to them. Catesby asked his priest confessor, Father Henry Garnet, this question before he became a terrorist bomber: is it right, is it moral to kill ‘innocents’? Garnet said such actions could often be ‘excused’, especially in war. This answer was all Catesby needed to justify his actions. The priest’s response was wrong. Let us be clear: neither in the 1600s nor in the 21st century; in wartime nor in peacetime, does God ever desire the innocent to suffer (Genesis 18:22-23).
What do Bijan Ebrahimi’s neighbours have in common with Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes and other terrorist groups, like al-Shabaab, the extremist group who attacked and killed in the Kenyan shopping mall? They are people who use force and in using force deny the humanity of others. Simone Weil, expressed this idea in her essay ‘The Iliad, or the Poem of Force’ published in 1939 just as the Nazis were taking power:
The true hero, the true subject, the centre of the Iliad, is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man's flesh shrinks away. In this work at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relation to force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to. (Emphasis mine)
Extremists always ‘imagine’ they can handle it. They are wrong. Use of force sweeps away the human spirit. It is an uncontrollable fire. It excludes others from humanity. How did Catesby and Fawkes and the two neighbours in Bristol get so desperate, so consumed with their beliefs that they used violence? British author and historian Antonia Fraser describes Catesby’s mentality as “that of the crusader who does not hesitate to employ the sword in the causes or values which he considers are spiritual.” People think, speak and act unkindly when they see themselves and their values as so different, so special, or out of step with their culture that they have removed themselves from the class of humanity. They become ‘super spiritual.’ They are themselves consumed by the fire of their beliefs. They leave humanity by the vehicle of the extreme force of their beliefs.
Remember Bijan Ebrahimi when you see the bonfires on the 5th of November. Let it remind you of the outsider in your community. Naturally, we are wary, suspicious of the different, the outsider. How could you include them? Don’t assume you know others; don’t judge them, even unconsciously. Be generous in thought. Listen, by being aware of the other. Speak to them. Invite others in. They aren’t all that different from you. Remember Bijan Ebrahimi. Try to love a neighbour. As yourself.
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Generosity involves sacrifice.
A blog I read the other day said this about forgiveness:
‘It’s status is of the greatest reward and yet only the strongest can do it.’
Forgiveness laid bare can be the hardest and most painful act that you can do.
However, doing so in surrender to God as He forgave us first, brings freedom and liberty.
In forgiving, your love for your neighbour overcomes the hurt. In that moment, you are not only being generous to that person, but to yourself.
Isaiah 43:25 (Amplified Bible)
I, even I, am He Who blots out and cancels your transgressions, for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
Over the next two years, Fusion are hoping to visit every university location in the UK to help equip the local churches to be spectacular with students. And they’re doing it in an iconic VW camper van.
Miriam Swaffield (Student Mission Developer for Fusion) will be road-tripping around the land in the bright orange VW, seeking to raise the profile and participation of the student mission movement. “I’m passionate about seeing students grow as vital parts of the church body,” she says, “I want to see them looking outwards and loving their universities and friends in all the creative and everyday ways God calls us to.”
The VW camper van creates a tangible symbol for the student mission movement, and it’s also a brilliant mission tool itself.
“It gathers a crowd as soon as it’s parked, there’s space inside to have meetings, chill out with a cup of tea that can be made on the camper’s cooking facilities, and there are enough seat belts for a bunch of students to join me on the road from city to city.”
The plan is that any local church can use the VW to serve and fuel their local church student mission and any student can go on the road too. It’s all one beautiful gift.
Miriam believes students matter, and that connecting them with local churches can mean the difference between finding and keeping or losing their faith while at university.
“If students matter so much, if we believe that our university days are hugely important to God and a massive opportunity for people to meet Jesus, are we willing to put our money where our mouth is?”
For Miriam, who is herself an early twenty-something, it’s not enough to ask for money from her parent’s generation to help keep the student mission movement running: “If this generation is serious about reaching our mates and loving the local church, we need to commit to fuelling this movement ourselves.”
Through Fusion’s partnership with Stewardship, students have the chance to pay for the petrol money for the thousands of miles the Loveyouruni VW has to travel.
“It’s not cheap on fuel but this gives us the perfect opportunity to take responsibility for making the movement happen.” Miriam says. “And amazingly, Stewardship adds a tenner a month when you give a tenner or over to fuel the movement for the first year...we’re essentially getting double petrol money!”
The 18-25 giving account from Stewardship was set up with students in mind, to encourage a foundation of generosity long before the full-time pay checks start rolling in. It’s fee-free for two years, so the full amount given goes to support causes, and it also potentially has the benefit of an extra 25% Gift Aid on top. So ten pounds per month potentially becomes £270 to give away per year. Which, for Miriam, is a big help on the mission field…and the motorway…and the campus…
Her call to the students who read this is simple: “Let’s own student mission for ourselves,” says Miriam. “Let’s be generous with our money (isn’t all money kind of like a student loan from God anyway?). Let’s love our unis.”
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Romans 12:1 (The Message)
Place your life before God
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering…
The clocks may be changing, leaves falling, temperatures dropping and cold days a-heading, but autumn half term is a great way to celebrate God’s wonderful world and to share his gifts. Here are 10 generous things to do this half-term with the kids.
1 First of all – get ready
Create a holiday planner calendar and allow each family member to choose one favourite activity. The key is that everyone has to take part and no grumbling! It could be watching a favourite movie, playing a board game, going for a cycle or an autumn walk.
2 While the sun is shining...or at least if it isn’t raining
Go on an autumn treasure hunt: collect leaves, seeds, conkers, pine cones, anything that you might be able to put to good use later.
3 Even if it is raining
Clear the leaves or rubbish in your garden or outside area and then offer to clear your neighbour's as well.
3 Plant some bulbs
Choose some spring bulbs: hyacinths, daffodils or tulips. Plant them either outdoors or indoors. Decorate the pots with paint or stickers. Why not make two and give one away?
4 Go on a penny hunt
Collect all the small change in your house; don’t forget down the side of the sofa, under the beds and the back of drawers. Add the money up and discuss as a family where you would like to give it away.
5 Read a harvest passage from the Bible
Talk about the seasons and why celebrating harvest was so important to the farmers in Jesus’ time. Talk about God’s harvest. Here are some helpful passages:
Matt 13: 1-23 The farmer scatters seeds
Matt 13: 31-32 A tiny seed and a big tree
Luke 12: 16-21 The parable of the foolish farmer
Older children could write the story again from a different angle, from the point of view of one of the seeds for instance.Younger children could draw or paint a picture to describe the story.
6 Get crafty
Make some cards or an Autumn collage using the things you found on your walk. Send them to friends and relatives as a surprise.
7 Make pine cone bird feeders
Help our feathered friends during the colder months. Simply coat pine cones in peanut butter and then roll in seeds.You can hang these anywhere: from sticks, on branches or the garden hedge.
8 Cooking mayhem
Autumn is the time to make jams and chutneys from fruit collected at harvest time. Kids and grown-ups could make some together. Or try making toffee apples. Click here for a great recipe. Make some for an apple party and invite all your friends – see below.
Donate some food to the local food bank or soup kitchen or clear out your wardrobe and toy cupboard and again, donate to a local charity.
10 Hold an apple party
Apples are as much about Autumn as anything else. Did you know there are over 3,000 varieties grown in the UK alone. Can you name any?
>Play apple bobbing
Fill a tub with water and float apples in it. Have players hold their hands behind their backs and try pick up apples using only their mouths. Have towels handy.
>Play apple pass
Divide players into teams. Place an apple under the chin of one team member. When you say "Go!" players must pass the apple from one player to the next using only their chins and necks. If an apple is dropped, teams have to start over.
->Apple on a string
Tie apples to long pieces of string and suspend them from the ceiling, a door top or a tree. Each player is assigned one apple and must try to take a bite out of it without using his hands to hold it steady.
So no need to be bored this half term: bake, cook, stick, send, invite, donate, plant, hunt, give and, most importantly, have fun!
What are your ideas for entertaining the kids this half term? Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page here.
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Family occasions do seem to bring out the worst in us when it comes to gift buying.
And today, as Prince George is christened, we’re sure to bear witness to some of the most extraordinary and peculiar gifts of all (what does a young prince do with a wild flower meadow in the Transylvanian hills?).
The most ludicrous have a sense of inevitability about them but, refreshingly, his family are keen to turn the generosity spotlight from their son to children in much more need than their own.
No gifts please – other children need your generosity more than ours.
As a spokesperson for the palace comments "To harness this extraordinary generosity of spirit, they suggest people might at this time look to support those more in need; perhaps a children's charity local to them."
He doesn’t know it yet but, in his honour, other children in much less extraordinary circumstances may recall today as the day that they too were treated like royalty
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” the old Proverb goes.
Using this important family occasion in the quiet, generous service of others gives a refreshing glimpse of the values that his parents wish to instil in him as he grows.
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Today a 3 month old child begins a quite extraordinary and public journey towards the throne.
Prince George of Cambridge in many ways is a most extraordinary baby – his path and place in history decided at birth. And yet, like all children, his future is still to be written. As the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us in a video this week "All babies are unbelievably special, not only royal babies".
In the midst of the extraordinary spectacle today we will see glimpses of a very special kind of ordinary.
Yes, there’ll be the glitz and glamour that follows young royals, but those present will gather in the privacy of the Chapel of St James’ Palace, a venue rich in meaning for both the Duke (where his mother, Princess Diana, lay before her funeral) and the Duchess (where she took Holy Communion before her marriage). A poignant reminder of a family’s love for one another and personal conviction of the faith they are destined to defend.
There’ll be the glare of cameras and the usual media circus; the pundits, the critics and the hash tags.
At the heart of it all, yet hidden from view, two young parents will quietly and privately dedicate a young life to God in a ceremony, according to the Archbishop, that pays little attention to status.
‘I will mark Prince George with the sign of the cross on his forehead, and that’s exactly what every single priest does at every single baptism. It’s an extraordinary moment because that is the sign by which we understand that this person belongs to God.’
There’ll be water, the most abundant and ordinary of compounds, used as a marker of the most extraordinary gift of all – God’s gift of spiritual life that two parents wish to share with their child.
“We’re celebrating baptism. And baptism is, at its heart, about … God’s gift of life; of ordinary physical life but also the offer of spiritual life to all of us, of life forever.”
Let us pray today for the Prince and all the children in our lives; that they may grow to live extraordinary lives marked by generosity, set steadfast in God’s most extravagant gift.
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blogs by the Stewardship team and selected guest writers.