The Gospel and Generosity

…when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this “pushes the button” down deep in believer’ souls, and they begin to wake up.  – Tim Keller Generous Justice

I have been reading recently books and articles on the subject of justice and helping the poor.  It has come out of a desire to understand the church universal’s role biblically in the face of a cultural mindset that seeks the answers in government institutions.  I have wrestled with what I think about that – I want to know what the right course of action is – thus the readings.

But I have also found in me a desire to be more generous on a personal level.  One would think that two years on the mission field in Peru, working with some of the poorest in the world, I would have a a heart of generosity.  Unfortunately, the opposite happened – as a result of my experience in Peru, I found myself hard, calloused and cynical.  How could that be?  Well…

I forgot the gospel.

I forgot how poor I am.

I was offended by the bad behavior some of the poor would use to get what they needed.

I wanted them to be honest and grateful and, in some way, earn my generosity.

I forgot that I am just like they are.

Poor in spirit.  Poor in heart.  Self-protecting.  Self-justifying.  I will do whatever I need to do to get what I think I need.

I also am poor – not in the same way – but poor nonetheless.

Tim Keller, in his little gem of a book, Generous Justice, calls believers to consider those suffering poverty and injustice,  just as God considered us – as  poor and in need.  As Jesus so eloquently states to the Pharisees, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5:31-32)  It is because we were shown generosity from God the Holy One, condescending, becoming “poor” in more ways than just taking on flesh, in order to rescue us from the slavery of sin and death, that we would overflow with grace and generosity for others, especially those who are suffering day to day, moment to moment, just to survive without basic needs.  Not out of guilt, as the quote above suggests.  Not out of legalism – we HAVE to love the poor because that’s what we are supposed to do.  Not out of a political agenda that seeks to manipulate the weak for it’s own uses.  Not out of a feeling of superiority – pride – I’m so good I even look after the poor….

We do it because we know that we are just the same.  There are many ways to be poor.  Our Lord Jesus became poor in every way that one can – financially, relationally, physically, and yes, even spiritually – that He might raise us up with him in glory.  It is the gospel that enables us to do the same for one another of mankind.

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Plans of His Heart

Father, I come into Your Presence this morning, and I confess that I am a planner.

I like to plan.

To be prepared.

To anticipate the future!

And yet, it hearkens back to the garden in Eden. I am Eve and I want to know.

Knowing is my idol.

I seek it, as treasure.

I make my shelter in knowledge.

So I make plans and believe somehow that I have lassoed knowledge.

Many are the plans in my heart. (Proverbs 19:21)

I plan without counsel. (Proverbs 15:22)

I act according to the stubbornness of my evil heart. (Jeremiah 18:12)

I am the foolish man, building on sand, LORD. My foundations crumble without Your Guidance.

So I bring it all into close proximity, reining in from future to today, this moment.

And I release control, that weapon wielded in idolatry.

I invite You, LORD, to the center.

Be the center of my life, Jesus.

Make the desires of my heart fully line up with Your design, desire and intent.

Fill me, once again, with purpose. Surround me with wise counsel.

Let me not follow fast after the knowing and find security in unsecured plans.

Secure me in You.

For You HOLD. You do not fail. You order. You lead.

Under Your authority, LORD Jesus, the plans I make are good plans, prosperous plans.

They may not look like wisdom to this world, no.  They are foolishness to men.

But in Your eyes, in your understanding, they are purposed tools, carrying out salvation and revealing Your Glory.

I surrender my plans today, LORD.  I embrace Yours.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.

 He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.” Psalm 121:1-3 ESV

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A Sanctification Dream

About a month ago, I had a dream.  A vivid dream, the kind that makes you ask while you are in it, “Is this a dream?”

My husband and I had just bought a house and were entering it the first time.  As we entered, we entered into a place of refuse, trash, garbage of all sorts, as well as tons and tons of junk that wouldn’t even be bought at a garage sale.  As I stared in horror, mice scurried about the floor, even over my feet.  My husband turned to me and said, “Looks like the previous owners left all their trash.”

I was stunned, but then realized something had to be done with it. I turned back to my husband and said, “Well, I guess we better get to work.”

As I began gathering bits of the trash and junk, I realized that we were not alone – and not only were we not alone, but there were many, many people in the house with us, all gathering up the trash and junk and taking it out of our house.  There were my kids, and my mother, my brother, niece and nephew; there were friends from my campus ministry in college where I first began to grow as a Christian, former pastors and wives under whom we had been discipled and mentored, there were some of our own former students from our campus ministry in Texas whom we had discipled and mentored; friends from our church in Texas, our fellow missionary friends from our time in Peru, some of our Peruvian brothers and sisters, and our church family here in Calgary–people from all across the world, from all across time, from all across my life.

I watched all of these people working to carry the junk out of my house.  And then I woke up.

I was disoriented by the vividness of the dream as well as the emotions stirred up from seeing so many people from my life at one time working together for me.  I thought, “What was that?”  And just as I was telling myself, it was just a dream, one clear thought came to my mind.

“That was you – you are the house and all that trash and junk is the stuff you have brought with you from your former life, your before-Christ life – you are the ‘previous owner.’ Now you belong to Christ, and His Spirit is at work to make you more like Him, but it is an ongoing process, of dealing with the junk that is in your heart – left there by your former self, which is still with you this side of Heaven. You wage battle with that self- everyday, fighting for holiness. And God uses His Spirit, His Word, and yes, His people to help you do that work. You cannot do it alone, you must be in the community of God’s people. God uses them to encourage you, teach you, correct you, rebuke you, counsel you through His Spirit, and through His Word.  It’s the way He made it, for your good and for His glory.”

“Yes, yes, amen,” I thought, and fell back into a sweet sleep.

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other gods

A few years ago, I began an overview study in Isaiah–looking for Christ in each chapter.  Studying God’s Word is not for a select few, it is for everyone, you just need a few tools and a seeking heart for God.  In studying, all you need are a few tools to begin.  Your Bible, pen, notebook, a concordance and a Bible dictionary–or you can find all the study tools you need online with Bible Gateway and Blue Letter Bible. Read the portion you want to study.  Re-read it and write down the words that most interest you.  Engage in the Word, by allowing the Holy Spirit to direct your time. Then dig into the phrases and context.

Today I will share my insights from Isaiah 26, where there is much to glean.  One of the best messages I ever heard was on Isaiah 26:3 by Beth Moore at a Living Proof Live event in Little Rock, Arkansas several years ago. The part of her message that most struck me was about this verse: “You will keep in perfect peace, him whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You.” Picture laying your head on God’s lap and He has His Hand upon your head, as you lay there. He is then applying His thoughts to yours by showing you HOW to think about all the WHAT that is going on.

Do you have a difficult situation? Put your head on God’s lap and pour out your heart before Him. Then let Him speak over you in that situation. I often pray, “Lord, help me to see how to think about all this WHAT going on in my life.” Perspective. Oh, I need it! A good Word from my Sister, Beth!

What I first saw when I read Isaiah 26 was that our strength lies in our salvation! Our salvation through Jesus Christ has become the walls and ramparts (protective barrier prepared to fortify) of our city. We have a strong Defender! His name is Jesus.

I also noticed that the city’s gates are not closed, they are open. Salvation is not an exclusive club. It can be accessed by anyone, who comes with faith. All we need to do is share with others about knowing Christ–his blood shed on the cross to cover all their sins and make them white as snow. Are your gates closed or open?

The third verse has been a stay for me through the years. I have often thought upon the verse to the point, where I have it memorized like this (you will not be surprised): “Holly, God will keep you in perfect peace. Keep your mind stayed upon Him! Holly, put your trust in Him.” I talk to myself like this all the time. Personalize the Word of God. It is for you. It is written TO you. Why should you not insert your name? There are scriptures and promises that through the ages have marked the way of men and women, because they took it for their own. Is His Word something you cling to as your own? His matchless, changeless character has kept His Word. It is true, every bit.

So try it for yourself with verse four: “(Your name), Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.” What does that mean when you say it? It means that the Lord God, the covenant LORD, is worthy of your trust in ALL situations. It means He keeps His promises. And it means that forever, He is strong, steadfast and firm.

Do you want your path to be level and smooth? Then look to verse seven: “The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth.” It doesn’t say He might make, it says He WILL make. Our part is to be righteous. Oh, you say, then I guess I cannot take this verse to heart, righteousness is an impossible standard for me, a sinner.

I have Good News! That Good News is Christ Jesus. When you ask Him to be your Savior, He becomes the righteousness in and over your life. Like clothing, we daily need to put on Christ. In putting Him on, we will long to know Him more by reading His Word. We will long to please Him more, by obeying His Word. We will long to serve Him more, for His love in us COMPELS us to do something for others. Ahhh, the great exchange occurs (His life for ours)…and we are never the same. Jesus becomes our desire.

Need a verse for your life? Verse eight is a life verse for our family: “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” I am laughing, because His Word never returns void. In our lives, we have over and over and over had to wait on the LORD. Every single time, we have understood that in the waiting, we were growing in the Lord and declaring His renown wherever we went. Oh, it is a hard path to travel, but I would never exchange it–no, not for all the wealth and fame and honor this world might offer.

You see we have longed for Him in the night, we have seen His Hand upon us, we have learned His ways (oh, there is much left to learn!) and He has established peace for us in our family.

How has this come about?

Verses 13-14 say it well:
O LORD, our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honor.

They are now dead, they live no more;
those departed spirits do not rise.
You punished them and brought them to ruin;
you wiped out all memory of them.

Oh Praise the LORD! I am so glad. For indeed, we HAVE had other lords besides the LORD our God. We have bowed down to other gods. They ruled over us, and we walked bent over and with a limp–blind to see anything of God’s Hand. Only now, walking under the authority of Christ, have we found that we can truly see how we were before. We are quite familiar now with all our ways during those times. God has taken His Word and spoken over those times. He has put to death our sin. He remembers them no more.

In light of who Jesus is and who we were, we begin to see that even then, He was there. Today, we walk in that Light, His Light…oh, Praise God for that. So many gods…not one worthy. Every one, cast down before the feet of Christ. Then in love, our Savior, Jesus, became the Lifter of our Heads.

Is your head hanging low today over some situation? Lay that situation down. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16). Let Him fill your mouth again with laughter (Psalm 126:2, Job 8:21)! The King of Glory has come in (Psalm 24:7-10)! Open wide the gates of your city, that many may come and know Him. Let Him come in and enlarge the boundaries of the city. There is room…Christ made room. Come on in!

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Listening as a Shepherd

It feels like just an ordinary day. The kids are all home, and I am their cruise director, chef and captain for the day. The laundry is in process. I have breakfast dishes to wash by hand, until the blessed part comes in the mail to fix our dishwasher. Water is boiling on the stove with orange peels and apple pie spice–to add humidity to our dry Colorado air and to bring a delightful scent in the air, as well.

I have packages to wrap and one final gift to finish knitting. I have gingerbread cookie dough to prepare and chill, as well as chocolate chip cookies to complete the platters I will give away to family tomorrow. My heart is at rest.

Even my devotional in “Streams in the Desert” this morning spoke of being still and quieting ourselves before the Lord. And so I have.

Every part of my body is at rest and peace. I feel no hurry or scurry–no worry. Even though our circumstances may be financially tight, I feel completely at peace about every bit of it. This is the kind of peace that comes from my waking early to kneel at the manger and be reminded of no ordinary day.

This morning I awoke with a choral song called “Kneeling at the Manger” in my mind. The words go something like this:

“Kneeling at the manger,
only half aware
Mystified and awe struck
Shepherds stare.
Still amazed at hearing
Angels in the sky
Singing of God’s glory
from on High.

I am as a shepherd
brought in from the wild
mystified and awe struck
gazing at the Child
kneeling as a sinner,
trusting as a lamb,
Kneeling at the manger,
Lord, here I am.

(leaving out second stanza)

You became their king then,
as you now are mine!
Kneeling as a sinner
trusting as a lamb
kneeling at the manger,
Lord, here I am.”

Can you even imagine? This tiny baby, I imagine, was bursting at his very skin to contain His Glory. Jesus. The Son of God. Wrapped in more than swaddling–wrapped in majesty. Our Peace, who walked a journey unlike any other man. Our Hope, who never gave up hope. Even in giving up His own life on the cross, this man, who is God’s one and only Son, would keep His power contained for a greater purpose–His resurrection and our salvation.

So today, I am listening, as a shepherd. I am listening for the angels’ chorus–singing the Wonderful story of Awesome God Incarnate!! I am gazing at this child in a feed trough and mystified by His Presence with us.

I am trusting Him with my whole life, until even my own skin will burst to contain His glory. For my Jesus is not only with me, He is IN me.

Won’t you kneel with me? Won’t you listen to the chorus? Let this song resound in your soul and bring you peace that transcends your understanding. Let this babe be your King of kings.

For you will find that with Jesus, even an ordinary day can be extraordinary.

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Heart Prompt #4

“For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6

Today, decide to be deliberate this holiday season. Choose to not let the hustle get you. Make time to decorate, small as it may be.  Make the time to bake cookies, by yourself or with family and friends.  Choose to put in a Christmas CD. Sing carols. Look at lights. Be purposeful. Above all, remember the One who was sent for a purpose.

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