Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Continuum of Heart Change...On the Poor

My friend Katherine posted a video sermon on her blog featuring Tim Keller speaking on The Gospel and The Poor. Watching it this morning, spirited debate began in our home. Where does one draw the line on caring for the poor? How simply must we live to really be following this Biblical mandate?

I need to start by retracting something I recently wrote in part 7 of my prayer series, in which I stated that all luxury consumption is greed. Well, that's pretty stupid now that I think about it. If no one bought luxury items, what about all the jobs in this industry? They'd be lost, affecting many families. I wasn't thinking clearly and I'm sorry about that. Too much zeal. You probably had this thought while reading my piece, but you didn't want to comment and tell me so. Always tell me your contrary thoughts, please?  I need your input.

Tim briefly discusses, in response to an audience question, the 60% tax rate in some parts of Europe. Is it fair that some work very hard, but have a standard of living equal to those who don't work at all? No, says Tim. That isn't Biblical justice. But neither is a government that does nothing for the poor, well the rich keep getting richer. Coercing people to give through tax code is not as good as people doing it willingly, in response to Biblical mandate. Since too few give willingly, however, governments do well to provide some sort of safety net, at least to provide food for hungry bellies.

Tim was quick to point out that Christians should try to steer away from public policy debates, and concentrate on what the Bible says to do. I think this is good advice, since neither liberals nor conservatives get it quite right.

Tim makes it clear that if you don't have a burden for the poor, you probably don't have a saving faith (from the Book of James and other Books, which he quotes). Mind you, he doesn't preach that you must sell everything you own, but you do need to be on a continuum of heart change in regard to the poor. The Holy Spirit meets you where you're at, as always.

For example, if you've got $20,000 in living-beyond-your-means consumer debt, you're at the starting point. Change won't happen overnight, but neither will God leave you in your sin. If you're a Christian, you will respond to the Holy Spirit's nudges in regards to your finances.

Now....on to that spirited debate we had here this morning.

I have more of a "calling" to be poor than my husband does. He wrestles with God daily regarding our situation. His conversations with the Father go something like this: "Why give me four children, God, without also giving me the talents needed to support them with some modicum of security?"

My answer? His grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in our weakness. This sentiment makes my dear husband feel ballistic. He wants to support his family as mandated in the Bible. That means, in his mind, we should have enough to repair cars and pay the house payment, rather than choosing one or the other.

My answer?  Well, this has been going on 2.5 years, and we are still in our house and husband has always had a working vehicle to use for work. Therefore, despite our budget deficit, God is providing. And His grace is always present.

I keep in mind that everyone is gifted in different ways. Our experiences have been very stretching for my husband, but they've been the best thing for me personally. My heart is forever changed.

While I don't have an evangelism gift, I might be developing a heart for missions. A very good friend of mine had to wait many years--into her sixties, in fact--before she could get out in the mission field. Her husband felt very differently so she couldn't pursue it until after he'd passed away. She's loving the mission field, after spending two years in China, and now, two short-term mission trips to Africa.....all as a teacher.

Every story is so unique, isn't it? The Lord can sure weave a tale!

Anyhow, my Peter was wondering, upon listening to the sermon and hearing our debate, if he could buy as many bird feeders as he wanted someday, to make his backyard a bird sanctuary. Would that be excessive, he wanted to know? And husband stated emphatically that if we ever have the money to buy a better camera, he will, without hesitation. He missed his calling, he feels, in not becoming a nature photographer.

Is a better camera needed?  Well, if you have ADHD and nature photography relaxes you, I'm guessing a better camera is fine. And the bird feeders? My answer is the same....nature watching relaxes my son and sets his gaze on the Lord.

What I really think after mulling this over all day, is that the death of Christ on the cross brought us the New Covenant in which the truth is written on the tablets of our hearts. We no longer have to follow a burdensome law in which everything is written out in maddening detail. Each person responding to the Biblical mandate to care for the poor will come up with a different answer as to how much sacrifice is needed. The Holy Spirit will take each person's heart to where God wants it to be.

Our role then, is to respond. If we have salvation, we will respond.

What are your thoughts?

The video link above is well worth your time! You can listen while you fold that mountain of laundry.....that's what I did. :)


Katherine said...

Great insights! I agree, following the leading of the Holy Spirit is key. I find it difficult to find balance in this area as well. Especially since its only been in recent years that I have truly given consideration to the needs of the poor.

My heart would be stirred when I would drive by that park in VV (you probably know which one I'm talking about) where there would be so many homeless people. I would get a twinge of conviction about how I might be involved in helping them and then quickly appease my guilt by reminding myself that I was doing my part to help the poor by supporting a compassion child. I think I knew deep down that God wanted more of me, but that is where I was for a long time and it was a beginning.

Deciding how much to go without and how simply to live is difficult. Its so subjective. I try to focus on what God has called our family to do and to not pass judgement on what in my opinion is excessive spending on the part of others. That can become a slippery slope like you mentioned. Where do we draw the line?

I think you're right, the most important thing is to start somewhere. For us it was supporting a compassion child right after we got married. We were barely making ends meet but we felt God would have us do this. He has always provided.

I also agree, spending money on hobbies, etc. I don't think is out of bounds. Hobbies help keep us in balance and allow us to be able to function in this culture that God has placed us. I've had some great conversations get started by asking some of the men in the park about fishing, which our family enjoys.

With anything, however, we shouldn't let hobbies master us/become our treasure -- either with our time or our money. If we claim that we don't have any money or time to spend on the poor, yet we have plenty of money/time to spend on our hobbies, that seems out of balance.

Christine said...

He stirred your heart long before mine, Katherine. When I drove by that park in VV, I always thought of the drug deals going down and I hoped none would go wrong while I drove by. Homelessness didn't cross my mind.

We had a World Vision child but when I began to work part-time, we dropped the sponsorship. When we think of that now, we burn with shame. God would have provided for us to continue. I also didn't write letters because I thought the single child sponsorship wasn't really true. I thought all the money was pooled together and they just gave you one child's name to make you want to give. This too, shames me so much. I felt bad about discontinuing the $23 (cheaper at that time), but I didn't think about an individual child being hurt from our decision.

I'm so ashamed that it took fourteen years of being a Christian before I really got it....why we were saved in the first place: to be the hands and feet of Jesus! I grieve so about this! How could I have missed this for so long? Goes to show that God meets you where you're at and brings you along, eradicating one sinful area at a time.

I love you, Lord! Thank you!