Category Archives: Compassion

Generous Justice

A century ago the conservative “fundamental” believers in the church came to believe that social ministries were at best a distraction from the spiritual ministry of the church if not a sign that these more liberal believers in the church had traded the true Gospel for a watered-down social gospel. This divide continued well into the 1980’s and 90’s but has recently shown signs of reversal.  Through a variety voices a new commitment to “seek justice” is emerging in churches. Timothy Keller is one of those voices.

Keller’s Generous Justice is a brief volume (189 pages) that serves as a clarion call to followers of Jesus to extend grace and justice to those in our communities who are impoverished and oppressed. In this book Keller presents a thorough and balanced study of scripture to support that call. “Like Isaiah, Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart.” (p. 51).  In other words, if you don’t care about the poor your spiritual health is in serious trouble!

Especially helpful are two chapters (5 & 6) that provide a strong argument for why we should do justice (Chpt 5) and how we should do justice (Chpt 6). Ministry leaders will find these two chapters to be immensely helpful in shaping and clarifying their own journey of doing justice. Second chair leaders will be able to tap into a good resource to use when coaching and mentoring. There is also good material here for small groups to wrestle with.

I personally found the final chapter – Peace, Beauty, and Justice – to be the most helpful and motivating. As one who has used the simple word “Shalom” to sign off on most of my correspondence for the past 30 years, Keller’s description of four forms of shalom breathed new life into my use of the term. He identifies physical, emotional, social, and spiritual shalom. (p. 174).

Why should you read Generous Justice? Consider Keller’s final sentence: “A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true gospel faith.” (p 189). The rest of the book serves as his basis for making that claim. Read it to find out if you agree or disagree with his. conclusion.

For a more extensive review of Generous Justice be sure to check out joelws.com

Gospel in Life

In my search for a good small group study companion to a series on outreach, I stumbled upon Tim Keller’s ‘gospel in life’ dvd and study.  It is comprehensive and both searching and practical and the dvd production quality is first-class.

The eight sessions are:
City – The World That Is
Heart – Three Ways to Live
Idolatry – The Sin Beneath The Sin
Community – The Context For Change
Witness – An Alternate City
Work – Cultivating The Garden
Justice – A People For Others
Eternity – The World That Is To Come
The series is rooted in a deeply biblical foundation of what it means to be a Christian/the Church in our world and begins by focusing on our relationship to God through Christ and why it matters to the world. Keller stresses a spiritual response to God, rather than just a religious one.  So this is not a simple “Ten Ways to Do Outreach” series (although it does guide toward specific small group’s response to addressing needs in our community). Keller frequently speaks of the ‘city’ referring not just to urban centers but wherever there is ‘a place of density, diversity, and cultural energy’ – something that is true of most of our neighborhoods and communities.
Some quotes:
Session 1 – The City
“In the city you are going to find people that appear spiritually hopeless. You’re going to find people of no religion, people of other religions, and people with deeply non-Christian lifestyles, and you’re going to discover that many of them are kinder, deeper, and wiser than you. You will also find that many of the poor and the broken are much more open to the gospel of grace and more dedicated to its practical out-working that you are.” p. 10
Session 2 -The Heart
“Why do we lie, or fail to love, or break our promises, or live selfishly? Of course, the general answer is that we are weak and sinful, but the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ that we feel we must have to happy, something that is more important to our heart than God, something that is enslaving our heart through inordinate desires.” p. 40
Session 3 – Idolatry
…there are three ways to relate to God – irreligion, religion, and the gospel. The irreligious don’t repent at all. The religious only repent of sins. But Christians repent of both their sins and their righteousness.” p. 51
Session 4 – Community
We are not simply to study the Bible as individuals; we are to read and argue and study the Bible together to come to deeper unity of faith and to consensus about how to be the people of God in our particular time and place. We are to read the Bible together until it shapes us as a distinct community. p. 66
Session 5 – Witness
The new community required by the Bible cuts across all cultures and worldviews. Put another way: it doesn’t fit any worldview but challenges them all at some point. When the gospel “enters” a culture or worldview, it therefore both challenges and affirms; it both retains and rejects. When it enter any culture, it resolves and completes its partly-true story through the gospel. p. 96
Session 6 – Work
Thank God that”…there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!” Ask God to show you ways in which you don’t represent Christ as you should in your relationships, in your workplace, in your family life, in your habits and attitudes, and in your relationships within the church. Pray also that you would be able, again within community, to learn better now to “bring the gospel into your work.” p. 103
Session 7 – Justice
Session 7 looks at how we relate to our neighbors and our neighborhood. There are many ways to donate our time, money, energy, and effort to help our neighbors. For this Home Study you will want to arrange as a group to volunteer at some form of justice or mercy ministry. Your church leadership should be able to provide you with a list of volunteer opportunities or organizations they know or with which they are associated. Below are some additional volunteer ministry opportunities. p. 104.
A sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of mercy to the needy is the inevitable sign of a person who has grasped the doctrine of God’s grace. p. 108
Session 8 – Eternity
Five attitudes toward the unbelieving, dominate culture:
1. Assimilating the city
2. Reflecting the city
3. Despising the city
4. Ignoring the city
5. Loving the city – Christians engage with the dominant culture, but in ways that reveal the distinctiveness of the values of the kingdom of God. They are at their core very different in the way they understand money, relationships, human life, sex, and so on. Christians are truly residents of the city, yet not seeking power over or the approval of the dominant culture. Rather, they show the world an alternative way of living and of being a human community. For example, they are actively involved in serving those around them in deeds of mercy and justice. Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in chapter 29 is a good example of this. The final session also includes a comprehensive Gospel self-assessment that addresses areas of the heart, community, and the world.
Individual copies of the book with the study material for all group members are absolutely vital to gain the full experience and impact of this study. Watching the dvd and discussing the 10-minute  messages is not enough. Each session has a home study portion that should take no more than an hour to complete between group sessions. A comprehensive leaders guide is included in each book and makes up 1/3 of the book leaving the study guide to about 140 pages.
Today, the book is available on <a href=”Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything"" “>Amazon for $7 ea (normally $11 ea) The <a href=”Gospel in Life Discussion Guide with DVD: Grace Changes Everything"" “>dvd and book combo is $20. Order a single set and review it for yourself. I think you will agree that this will be one of the best small group studies that you’ve seen anywhere!

If you are a secondchair leader you simply must view this series for your own personal spiritual growth but by all means, find a way to use this for your staff, your small group, your ministry leaders, or any other ministry group you lead.

Disclosure notice: I purchased this book on Amazon.com and did not receive a complimentary copy to review from the publisher or the author.

Generous in Portland

I was in Portland last weekend to help my son-in-law do some tiling in a condo unit that he manages for his grandfather. On the way to the condo the truck sputtered – apparently running out of gas (the gas gauge doesn’t work).  We made it to the the light at the top of the ramp but getting through the intersection was looking unlikely! A guy on a bicycle stopped and helped us get the truck the 1/2 block to the next light and that was as far as it was going! Jordan dashed across the street to the gas station to get some gas. The first gallon didn’t help so Jordan went back for another. While I was waiting with the truck a car load of guys asked if we needed help. Another guy in a pickup offered to give us a push. And when Jordan and I decided we needed to stop blocking traffic and push the truck through the 2nd intersection three more guys walking by jumped in to help.

With the truck now parked next to an auto dealership we added a 3rd and a 4th gallon of gas but by that time the battery was dead! Jordan went into the Broadway Toyota showroom and came back with a portable battery jumper and a couple Toyota employees! That didn’t seem to help either, so we pushed the truck around the lot to the service entrance and parked the truck (a Chevy Silverado) in a corner of this huge immaculate service center. They hooked it up to a charger and we took a couple of seats in the large, roomy waiting area and watched some NCAA basketball.

After grabbing lunch at their cafe (a car dealership with a cafe?) we headed back to the service manager to check on the truck. Did I tell you that they never processed any paperwork on his truck? It was determined that the battery was faulty and they had no batteries there that would fit the truck but offered to let us use their shuttle service to go to an auto parts store to get one! Instead, Jordan called AAA. When the AAA truck (a Ford) arrived it pulled into the service center behind the disabled Chevy. Together we checked a few things, tried jumping the battery from his truck, and even added four more gallons of gas (included in the AAA service call).

At one point a Toyota mechanic who used to work for GM came over to check a few items – like the relay and the fuel line pressure. Bingo! No pressure in the fuel line meant the fuel pump was not pumping! It was not the battery or the fuel supply after all. So after a tow from another AAA guy we ended up back at home. And one more thing – the tow truck driver asked Jordan if he was aware of the $3.75/mile charge for towing outside of a 3-mile radius. But when we pulled into the driveway the driver said that since we were in the city limits there was no charge! I believe he was being generous to Jordan.

In a matter of a few hours Jordan and I were the benefactors of nearly 15 different people! Here were numerous people who offered help and assistance without us asking for it and with no expectation of payment or return favor! I was stunned at the kindness so many offered to strangers. No one honked at us or gestured our way. Even though we never got to the condo it was a good day!

Would you have been as generous in offering your help to strangers? Would I?

Does Anybody Miss Peanut Butter Bill?

At the church where I work we get a fair number of people off the street who call or come by asking for some level of financial support. For some it is a request for gas so that they can stay warm overnight in their car. For others it is a request for a bag of groceries. Still others are looking for a stay in a local motel or help with their rent or utilities.  We do what we can to respond to such requests with both compassion and generosity. But it’s never enough to fix their need.

One of the first people I met upon arriving at Our Savior’s was a homeless man named Bill. He knows where the various services were in our community – which churches he can go to once a week to get a hot meal, which restaurants will give him a free cup of coffee, etc. Bill fell into a routine of asking us just for a jar of peanut butter and maybe some crackers once a week. After a while we started to refer to him as “Peanut Butter Bill.” You will see him throughout the area almost always walking. He was not the type to stand still very long and almost never does any panhandling. He attended a couple of our services – even came to a pot-luck once.

Peanut Butter Bill has multiple issues. Besides being homeless he appears to suffer with some sort of mental illness. It’s difficult to carry on a conversation with him. He can answer a few basic questions before he gets confused and just repeats his answers.

Peanut Butter Bill hasn’t been around in a while. We haven’t seen walking around. No one seems to know where he is or if he is okay. My prayer is that he found a more forgiving climate to hang out in or that he got into a program that allows him to stay off the streets. My concern is that he is not okay and that something has happened to Bill. From the little I know him there would be no one to report him missing. No where to go looking for him.

And so I can’t help but wonder if we were ‘entertaining angels?’ Did I do enough to minister to Peanut Butter Bill? Will I ever see him again? Does anybody miss Peanut Butter Bill?

Transformational Experiences – Yours, Mine, or Ours?

I first noticed it several years ago. I brought my high school youth group to a weekend conference. One of the musicians from the band talked about his spiritual journey and how at age 30 he had come to realize some things about his relationship with Jesus that weren’t right. Later the speaker talked about that moment in his life where he realized he was pursing things – other than Jesus – that nearly cost him his marriage and his ministry.

It dawned on me that the leaders of this event were telling 15, 16, & 17 year olds that need to have the same spiritual experience that they had. But these leaders were considerably older than our kids. They didn’t have these transformational experiences as teenagers but as full-on adults. I wondered if it was reasonable for us to expect kids to have the same experience or at least the same depth of experience. I began to wonder what a transformational encounter with Jesus would look like for the kids in my youth group and how it might differ from the experiences that these adults had.

Over the years I have noticed it again and again. People expect others to have the same spiritual experience that they had. Not only that, if your experience is not the same as theirs, then your experience is not legitimate! It shows up when people think you have to use the same translation of the Bible that they use, or sing the same songs that they sing, or even use the same verbiage to describe your spiritual journey.

It is spiritual arrogance.

I’ve seen it all too often where preferences and style become deeply imbedded in one’s definition of the essence of Christianity. You’ve seen it, too, when tradition trumps everything so that a not-so-subtle expectation is placed on others in terms of how they dress, what music they worship to, which instruments are used (or not used), or which foods and/or beverages they consume! At it’s core it is legalism to suggest that my tradition is better than yours because I’ve been practicing my tradition longer (or shorter) than you have. You see, it does go both ways. It is just as arrogant for me to say that my experience (or translation, or musical preference) is better than yours because mine is newer!

One of the things that is true about Christianity is that the way each of us live in relationship with Jesus is different. No two of us follow Jesus in exactly the same way. We are all on a journey. And while our journey travels down the same path there are times when we are walking, running, crawling, or even skipping! Some of us cover a lot of ground rather quickly. Others take frequent rest breaks.

This is particularly true when it comes to corporate worship. For me to insist that the worship services at my church are designed to my liking seems a bit arrogant, too. When we approach worship shouldn’t it be more about yielding my likes, preferences, and traditions so that others may worship fully? I am reminded of Emerson Eggerich’s answer in Love & Respect to the question of who should go first – the husband or the wife – in being more loving (husband) or more respectful (wife)? His answer is, “Whoever is more mature should go first!”  Could that be our practice in worship, too? That those who are more mature in their faith would surrender their wills before Jesus so that those who are ‘less mature’ may be able to worship unhindered? What would it look like if we really lived out  Philippians 2.3-4  , “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

Solitary Existence

It was a great Christmas weekend. Our daughter and son-in-law came up form Portland on Thursday with their cute little15 month old daughter in tow. We enjoyed several meals around the dining room table,  attended Christmas Eve services at our church, opened gifts, watched the  ‘Despicable Me’ dvd, and walked through an amazing light show at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens. It was great for my wife and I to spend these days with “our kids” and grand daughter. It was hard to say good-bye.

And then I drove my wife to the airport where she left to spend a few days with her siblings and parents in Minnesota.

So I find myself all alone on the day after Christmas. Eating the leftovers, getting the laundry washed and folded, and staring at a lit Christmas tree with now unwrapped gifts underneath. I watched some TV and did a lot of reading. And I wondered if this is it what it’s like for the numerous people in our neighborhoods and who live alone. Perhaps some have always been single while others were once married but through either death or divorce find themselves living a solitary existence. It’s not much fun to walk through a house that was filled with laughter and activity just a few hours ago. I imagine that the silence gets pretty overwhelming when those hours stretch into months.

I’ll go to work Monday and have three pretty busy days before my wife returns. I have plenty to read (working my way through the 1,000 page Truman biography), I have a sermon to write for Sunday, and there are always NCIS reruns on somewhere! But if you have a friend or a relative who spends every day alone, let me encourage you to take some time out of your busy schedule to give them a call or drop by for a few minutes – particularly after a significant holiday like Christmas.

Living Water

Pretty compelling photos, aren’t they? We introduced the Advent Conspiracy to our church two years ago. This will be the third Christmas Eve we have taken an Advent Conspiracy offering to benefit the amazing work that Living Water, Int’l is doing to address the lack of clean drinking water around the world.

Look to these amazing (and troubling) facts from LWI:

  • Unlike war and terrorism, the global water crisis does not make media headlines, despite the fact that it claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. Unlike natural disasters, it does not rally concerted international action, despite the fact that more people die each year from drinking dirty water than from the world’s hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes combined.
  • Nearly 90 percent of all diseases in the world are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene. Every year, there are 4 billion cases of diarrhea as a direct result of drinking contaminated water; this results in more than 2.2 million deaths each year—the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.
  • The weakest members of communities are the most vulnerable; every day water-related diseases claim the lives of 5000 children under the age of five. That’s roughly one every 15 seconds.
  • It is typically women who collect water, often waiting for long periods, and having to get up very early or go out late at night to get their water; they carry heavy water containers for long distances over uneven terrain. It is women who have to buy, scrounge, or beg for water, particularly when their usual sources run dry. The tragedy is that the water they work so hard to collect is often dirty, polluted, and unsafe to drink.

These are among the reasons why my family and my church support the work of Living Water through the Advent Conspiracy. Won’t you join us?