22nd November 2015

Care for the poor

We can be really pleased to be part of a church that cares for the poor, but when it comes down to our own attitudes towards those in need, we can be no different to anyone else.

Caring for the poor is linked to apostolic mission: it’s linked to planting churches and reaching people for Christ. We see in Galatians 2 that the apostles wanted to ensure that the new churches being started would have the same DNA as the church in Jerusalem – that care for the poor would be at the heart of every church in every city. They wanted it to be in the foundations of every church.

In the Early Church there was a remarkable level of care for the poor (see Acts 4:34-35, for example). The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, and that is what motivated them to sell what they had to provide for those in need. Likewise we need to be empowered by the Holy Spirit if we’re to care for the poor in our town and be prompted to remarkable acts of generosity.

The Early Church is one of the foundations for our care for the poor; another is the nation of Israel. For example, God set out in the Mosaic Law that the Israelites were not supposed to add interest to money they loaned. They were not to do this because it would cripple people and trap them in debt.

God also instructed farmers to leave remnants in their fields so those in need could eat them. He also told the Israelites not to oppress the immigrants among them – actually He said to love them. God also set out that every seven years debts were released, and that every 50 years their land would be returned to them.

God’s Law provided a way out of poverty. People could not be permanently impoverished in Israel’s society. God designed the social structure in such a way that people would always have hope.

The third foundation for our care for the poor is Jesus’ ministry. Jesus identified with the poor in His own incarnation – He was born in a stable; He was a refugee; He died a criminal’s death. When Jesus was starting His mission – when He set out His manifesto – He quoted from Isaiah 61, saying He was anointed to preach good news to the poor.

That’s what Jesus came to do.

There are four things connected with the Kingdom of God coming – an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, preaching the good news, healing and deliverance, and the raising up of the oppressed and poor.

Isaiah 61 is a resurrection of hope – it talks about the poor becoming “oaks of righteousness” for God’s glory. Such a transformation takes place that those trapped in poverty end up displaying the splendour of God. It’s not a gospel of handouts; it’s a gospel of transformation.

If we’re going to see Hastings and the surrounding communities transformed by the gospel, we need to care for those in need. It's not an optional extra if we feel like it. If we don’t remember the poor, we’re not reflecting God’s heart. It’s what we’re called to do.

Our response as a church is important – we step in and make a difference corporately. But what is our response individually? How do I respond when I see poverty at whatever level, whether it’s injustice, oppression, financial need, hunger, exploitation?

We see it on the news every day; we see it in TV programmes and films. We can become desensitised to it. Our hearts have the ability to look at pain and brokenness and, rather than respond with compassion, they can respond with judgment or indifference.

Do I value others in the way that my heavenly Father has valued me?

God’s calling is to be generous in time, in kindness, in trust. Some people will take advantage of us. We’ve just got to get over it. Rich people are just as likely to take advantage of us as poor people are.

Jesus warned us that people were going to take advantage of us, but He expected a radical response from His people. Jesus said: "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from the one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." (Luke 6:27-31)

We need to be wise, but don’t hide behind that wisdom and sit there doing nothing. There is a danger when considering the poor and oppressed that we sound more like the Pharisees than like Jesus. The Pharisees stood far off, didn’t help, but just judged.

We have a clear biblical mandate to care for the poor. As a church we have a responsibility to do it. But we cannot hide behind what we’re doing corporately and leave our hearts un-impacted. The Bible doesn't leave us any room to hide.

Paul Mann

Posted by Paul Mann


9th September 2015

Every refugee's life matters

This blog post originally appeared on the Jubilee+ website on Tuesday and is used with permission.

On Thursday I was wandering around my local supermarket trying not to cry. I was in the toothpaste aisle buying tubes to send to Calais, when I spotted the milk teeth toothpaste. It made me immediately think of the image of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on the beach a few days ago.

I'm often moved by the news, but not usually to tears. On Thursday I couldn't stop myself from crying several times, which is really unlike me. Mostly it was the harrowing image of the little boy – I started imagining his family fleeing from their home, considering it safer in a small rubber dingy in the sea than on the land.

But it was also feeling incapacitated by compassion – I felt compelled to act yet had no idea what I could do. And I felt simultaneously baffled and outraged at some of the attitudes I was reading on social media.

"We have to look after our own first" was one comment that left me indignant. Our own what? Fellow human beings?! Are people seriously suggesting that we turn our faces away from desperate people risking their lives and the lives of their children to find hope for a future?

"But we can't let everyone in!" No, perhaps not, but is that really what comes out of our mouths in response to 3,400 refugees who have died trying to cross water to reach safety?

A central tenet of the Christian faith is that every life matters – every single person has inherent value, no matter who they are, where they're from, or what they've done, because their worth is based on the One in whose image they are made: God.

What's more, God has always required His people to extend the mercy He has shown them to others who need their help. Take Deuteronomy 10:17-19, for example: "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt."

Or look again at the story of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus makes it crystal clear that His followers can longer define their neighbour as just the person living in their city.

For the Christian, the Bible really leaves us no choice but to show mercy, kindness and compassion to our fellow humans, whether they live next door to us or oceans away. But crying about it isn't enough – catching God's heart is fundamentally important, but so is demonstrating it to people made in His image who He loves.

The one thing that was a joy to watch on Thursday was the rising number of people signing a petition to get the Government to accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK. When I signed it in the early hours of Thursday morning, it was at 49,000 signatures. By Saturday morning well over 400,000 people had signed it – the highest number of signatures on any Parliamentary petition of its kind.

As well as signing the petition, which forced a Government debate on the subject, there are other things we can do – we don't have to be incapacitated by our compassion.

Firstly, we can pray.

Secondly, we can give – there are a number of charities working in war-torn countries in the Middle East (for example, Tearfund and Christian Aid) and a simple search on Facebook of the word 'Calais' brings up numerous pages about local groups taking clothing, toiletries, etc., over to the refugees in Calais.

Thirdly, and more radically, could you provide a home for a refugee? The Government has now committed to taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees by the General Election in 2020, but there are 60 million displaced people in the world today according to the UN. It's estimated that if every council in the UK took in 10 refugee families, there would be nearly 10,000 more refugees cared for. If that's what councils could do, what could churches do? There are many more churches than councils in the UK. Could we be a significant part of the solution to the refugee crisis? If you think that your family or church could, get in touch with Citizens UK or Home for Good for advice on how to go about it.

Fourthly, if your church wants to help, wants to connect with those who are helping, or is already taking action, please get in touch with Jubilee+. We want to help you to network and coordinate practical support.

Finally, and crucially, keep asking God to align your heart with His, so that you reflect His heart to those around you, whether that's through direct contact with refugees or in conversations with your friends and family. Don't walk by on the other side, even in your heart and thoughts.

Jubilee+ has produced a briefing paper for churches on the refugee crisis. You can download it here.

Jubilee+'s fifth annual
Churches that Change Communities conference takes place in East Grinstead in October – the early bird rate closes on Friday 18 September, so book here if you'd like to go!

Natalie Williams

Posted by Natalie Williams


10th June 2014

Out of the mouths of babes

No rehearsed party line, no clever rhetoric, no agenda, just this from a hungry 10-year-old: “It shouldn’t be like this. All people should have food.”

Last night’s Breadline Kids on Channel 4 made for uncomfortable viewing, even for someone involved in a local foodbank and already too familiar with heart-breaking stories of poverty in Britain. Hearing about such desperate realities from the mouths of children is incredibly moving – of course, that’s why the programme was made – but it also brings fresh insight that leads to renewed compassion and impetus to do something to help.

The arguments used by politicians on both sides of the polarising debate about food poverty are familiar and lack nuance; the children featured in Breadline Kids spoke in more articulate and profound sentences than many adults. We’re not so used to hearing about what hunger is like from the perspective of a child: “When you skip a meal you get a really sore feeling like something is biting you,” says 10-year-old Cara, who moved in with her grandmother Lucy when her mum became seriously ill. Lucy is on a zero hours contract so the money coming in fluctuates from week to week.

It’s hard (I hope) to keep believing the myth that in general foodbank recipients want to go to foodbanks when a 10-year-old speaks of the shame of it, saying: “I don’t want to tell my friends I went to the foodbank!”

It’s equally difficult to maintain a query over the rise in food poverty that someone involved in politics recently asked me about – “Do you think the real reason more people are using foodbanks is because there are more of them and they’re now widely known?” The Government’s own research says that there’s no evidence for this. Yet there are countless stories of people plunged into poverty by circumstances beyond their control.

Take Tom, who can’t feed his 14-year-old daughter Niomi and his 12-year-old son Drey. Tom had a good job, but when Niomi was diagnosed with leukaemia he gave it up to take care of her. He can’t get Job Seekers’ Allowance because he can’t look for work. Niomi feels guilty. Their story is the antithesis of the benefits scrounger stereotype.

Another child on the Dispatches Breadline Kids programme said this: “She used to be a lot cheerier... Now she's just destroyed, and that's not what mums should be like.”

And then there’s a different mother who’s been destroyed too, mum-of-two Susan, filmed in Breadline Kids telling of such desperation that she has turned to prostitution: “I hate what I do. I’m blown apart inside every time I have to lie down and be an actress on a mattress, but I do it out of necessity.” Through tears, she admits that she has sold sex while her two daughters are downstairs watching television, but she says: “I’m doing this for my kids,” adding: “I’m telling my story so people know how bad things can get for families.” There are many more real-life stories on the Trussell Trust’s website.

Breadline Kids made compelling, distressing, frustrating viewing. Thousands of tweeters took to Twitter to voice their shock, outrage and compassion. But the challenge is what we do when we get out of the comfort of our armchairs. There are 3.5m children in Britain in poverty – almost a third of all children – and yesterday’s Below the Breadline report (released to coincide with the Dispatches programme) by Oxfam, the Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty makes for bleak reading.

We must do more than tweet in response.

Whether you can give several hours to volunteering at your local foodbank or give a tin of food, please give it.

Whether you can spare change the next time someone asks you or think creatively about solutions to the root causes of food poverty, please do it.

Whether you have a platform to speak to those in power or a fence over which to speak to your neighbour about food poverty, please speak out.

Whatever you do, don’t just tweet, and definitely don’t do nothing.

This blog post originally appeared on the Jubilee+ website.

Natalie Williams

Posted by Natalie Williams


10th November 2013

Church is_____ Inclusive

How do you feel when you read newspaper headlines such as:

'British jobs for British workers'

'Secret report warns of migration meltdown in Britain'

'A massive rise in immigration next year could trigger a devastating crisis in Britain's schools, housing and welfare services, according to a secret Government report leaked to [this newspaper]'

'One in four adults in Britain are binge-drinkers and the UK recently topped a poll as Europe's heaviest alcohol drinkers'

'Inactivity is "as deadly as smoking" – a lack of exercise is now causing as many deaths as smoking across the world'

How do you react to those headlines? What goes on in your heart?

In Deuteronomy 10:12-22, we read about what God requires of His people. This is a great question to start each day with! The first thing is to fear the Lord – we read elsewhere in the Bible that this is the beginning of wisdom. Christians aren't to fear anything but the Lord. These verses tell us that God owns the highest heavens and the Earth and all creation. He knows what's best for us, and these verses also tell us that God has set His heart to love you!

This passage of the Bible soon moves to the specifics of what it looks like to fear God and follow His ways. We read that God's people are to walk in His ways and to be socially inclusive. God cares about people; He cares deeply about the most vulnerable people in society. He is full of mercy and compassion for the fatherless and the widow, who represent anyone and everyone who is financially vulnerable, has no protection and no voice, is open to exploitation or overlooked in the population, and who is hit hardest in times of crisis.

God's people were told to care for the most vulnerable. He created safeguards for the Israelites so that the poor didn't get poorer: whatever situation someone got into – whether it was their own fault or caused by someone else – they would get a fresh start when the Lord's Year of Jubilee came around. In the New Testament Jesus is even more provoking, saying that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, the sick, those without clothes and those in prison, is a test as to whether or not we are following Christ at all! (See Matthew 25)

Who are the socially vulnerable in our society? Perhaps the mentally ill, those who don't fit into mainstream education, the elderly, the long-term unemployed, the poorly educated, victims within broken families… God cares about the socially vulnerable, and His people are to care about them too. We might feel we have good reasons not to -- maybe you think they brought it on themselves, or they may abuse your kindness, or you think it's your money -- but what would Jesus think of those reasons?

"While Romans generally despised the poor and viewed their misery as largely self-inflicted, the early Christians won the [Roman] empire to Christ by demonstrating the gospel by the way they helped the poor." (Phil Moore, Everyday Church, London)

When we encounter those who are poor and vulnerable, are we hard-hearted and cynical? As Christians, our default setting should be compassion. That's where we should start. If we don't start there, we need to ask if we are thinking with a renewed mind, or a polluted one? Are we thinking in a 'merely human' fashion? (See 1 Corinthians 2:4) Or are we following Christ in our attitudes, thoughts and words towards the poor?

As well as being socially inclusive, God's people are to be racially inclusive. God loves the immigrant -- Israel was told to love the immigrants among them too, because they knew what it was to be immigrants themselves when they were in Egypt. Likewise, Christians are described in the Bible as foreigners here on Earth. The purpose of the Church is to be a light to the nations -- this isn't just going to the nations, but as they come to us too!

"I draw a lot of parallels with Wilberforce's battle with slavery: he saw a whole nation and even the Church changed from thinking that slavery was ok to seeing it abolished. There is a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding about asylum and a lot of injustice, but it's my belief that God can turn a nation's attitude around in the space of a lifetime. That's my prayer: that we become a nation that's proud to take care of the most vulnerable once again." (Julian Prior, Action Foundation)

Again, is compassion our default setting? Are we thinking we a renewed mind, or a polluted one? Are we being 'merely human'?

To listen to the sermon and download the life application PDF, click here.

Paul Mann

Posted by Paul Mann










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