Wisdom for Charitable Gift-giving

Have you ever wanted to buy a gift from one of those charitable gift catalogues? Maybe a goat, or chickens, or school supplies for people in need. These are incredible opportunities to teach your kids to think of others – I’ve done it in Children’s Ministry – and for those of you without kids, it’s also just a really fun way to do charity.

But most gift catalogues also imply that you will tell people about the gifts you buy, suggesting that you do it “in their honour” over and above or instead of buying “stuff” for them.  Have you ever given your grandma the gift of “books for Guatemalan schoolchildren”? I have. It’s awkward. It might’ve been thoughtful, “because you love schoolchildren, too, right?” But what grandma wants is a token – and it doesn’t have to be big – that communicates I care about her.

But let’s not give up on those gift catalogues just yet…

Jesus, I’m sure anticipating the temptation to use Christmas to buy baby goats for people and brag about it, said this:

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4

I’d say that’s a Biblical imperative not to give your gift catalogue gifts away if there ever was one. Just give to the Guatemalan schoolchildren, and your Father, who sees what you do on the internet, will reward you.

But back to the Bible for a sec. Why the hyperbole? Commentaries suggest that the trumpet thing might’ve happened, but was likely as extreme sounding as suggesting you could keep something secret from one of your hands

Jesus challenges us about the danger of public piety with such forceful language precisely because we don’t think it’s a problem for us.IVP NT Bible Commentary

This isn’t saying that if you could do something good that will draw public attention you shouldn’t do it, but rather that we have a tendency to see an opportunity for doing good and use it to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others.

Doing good isn’t for the sake of doing good, rather it’s for the sake of deeper intimacy with our good God.

If you want to know what intimacy with God looks like, look to Jesus. He loved – and trusted – the Father enough to say “thy will be done, not mine.” Jesus’ actions were not an attempt to win the Father’s approval (Jesus was given that before he even started his ministry; Jesus was his son, after all, not his employee). Jesus wasn’t oriented towards impressing people, either (he made lots of enemies and continued walking towards the cross even when his closest disciples had abandoned him). Jesus lived with his eyes on his Father – the only one whose approval mattered – so that we can now say, “Our Father.”

When you follow Jesus (even to the cross) it may be hard and lonely at times but God’s way is the truth and life: God’s way is Jesus.

Here’s a prayer you can pray. It’s my prayer, too.

Lord,

We adore you because you sent your son. We see perfect love in Jesus Christ.

We confess that the hopes and yearning of our hearts often point in the wrong direction, away from you. We vie for position over and above others. We compare ourselves to others, and compete in an imaginary race, when you have already made us children of God.

We thank you, Lord, that you offer us acceptance and a love that satisfies our deepest need because of what Christ has done. We thank you for the scriptures and ask that you would help us have eyes to see the truth: to see your son, Jesus Christ.

Please help us be aware of where in our lives we’ve oriented our heart towards people’s approval before yours. Give us your courage and strength to follow you even when it is unpopular. Please be our source of security, our peace, our hope. Orient our hearts towards you.

Amen.

This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. – Psalm 91:2 (NLT)

Should I buy Fair Trade as a Christian?

Salvation is and has always been BOTH a spiritual and physical deliverance. In Judges 6:9, God identifies himself through a prophet as rescuer and deliverer – in a physical sense – for his people.

I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.

– Judges 6:9, referring to the enslavement of the nation of Israel in Egypt and the Exodus

While ancient Egypt is a valuable metaphor when taken as a symbol of slavery to sin, the Israelites suffered from real, literal slavery. And God really, literally delivered them from it. 

As Christians we have duties that – while not less than spiritual – are more than “just” spiritual. Jesus spoke often about “the Kingdom;” it was something “of Heaven” and yet also somehow “at hand.” It was (and continues to be) a future and present reality, something that we will only see fully consummated in the new creation, but something that we can nevertheless participate in whenever and wherever we make Jesus Christ our King.

Which is a complicated way of saying: believing in Jesus without it changing your behaviours or habits proves you don’t really believe in Jesus (faith without works is dead).

Justice, in fact, is kind of a theme in God’s word.

For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; Isaiah 61:8

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.  Isaiah 1:17

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3

So let’s look a bit closer at Fair Trade.

When it comes to helping others, being unreflective often means being ineffective.

MacAskill, a Scottish Cambridge-and Oxford-trained philosopher, who likes “effective altruism,” a movement that has been called “generosity for nerds.” 

MacAskill makes a good point.

His views on Fair Trade, however, are fairly utilitarian:

…when you buy fair-trade, you usually aren’t giving money to the poorest people in the world. Fairtrade standards are difficult to meet, which means that those in the poorest countries typically can’t afford to get Fairtrade certification. For example, the majority of fair-trade coffee production comes from comparatively rich countries like Mexico and Costa Rica, which are ten times richer than the very poorest countries like Ethiopia.

For MacAskill, he would rather buy the cheapest products possible in order to be able to give more to worthy charities. And Fair Trade products are often more expensive.

Aiming to purchase the cheapest product possible (a virtue I grew up with) because you want to be able to “give more to people who deserve it” has serious flaws.

First: Our unending quest for the “cheapest” products drives up the demand for what is essentially slave labour (see: Joe Fresh, iPads).

It’s true that, for many workers, getting a job at a garment or sportswear factory is better than some of the alternatives – that is why so many depend on them. The fact that people are desperate isn’t an excuse to exploit them. […] millions of people are earning a wage. However, this alone is not enough to lift them from poverty if employers can hire and fire at will, deny union rights, pay low wages that drive people to work inhumane hours just to survive, avoid paying sick leave and avoid observing maternity rights. For many workers, these jobs carry devastating hidden costs, such as poor health, exhaustion and broken families, all of which are unacceptable and avoidable. Everyone wants and is entitled to a quality job that pays “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his [or her] family an existence worthy of human dignity.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23(3)).

From Top 10 Excuses for Not Paying a Living Wage

The problem with deciding who really deserves help: MacAskill suggests that ultimately he can decide who most deserves charity, a word which, in Christian terms, is synonymous with love. Christ, thank God, does not give to only those who deserve it, but “gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” God so loved the world … that he sent Jesus. It is in the pattern of Christ, in his footsteps that we give up our incredible privileges for the sake of others.

You will have to go with less, be that time or money, in order for others to have more.

Everything has a cost. Either the consumer pays it, or the worker. (- I have no idea who said this, but it’s amazing.)

And you can do it because Christ did it first:

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Phillipians 2

Fair Trade is not the be-all and end-all solution. But consider it one way you can make a difference. Alleviating poverty, increasing demand for sustainable farming practices and promoting fair wages and safe working conditions is important and makes a huge difference in the lives of those working there. 

For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – James 5:4

Do for one what you wish you could do for all.  – Andy Stanley

More info: Buy Fair (USA), Fairtrade (UK), (there wasn’t anything interesting enough to warrant linking to from Canada. Shame.)