I am meeting with two couples currently as they prepare for their wedding day. It is always enjoyable to meet with couples as they prepare, but it is so difficult for them to sense the extent to which they will be effected by the decision to marry. It is truly a primary tool in God’s toolbox to change us.
I am reading Tim Keller’s book called The Meaning of Marriage. I wanted to remember this thought and so I share it with you as well, “The Christian principle that needs to be at work is Spirit-generated selflessness–not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself but thinking of yourself less. It means taking your mind off yourself and realizing that in Christ your needs are going to be met and are, in fact, being met so that you don’t look at your spouse as your savior. People with a deep grasp of the gospel can turn around and admit that their selfishness is the problem and that they’re going to work on it. And when they do that, they will often discover an immediate sense of liberation, of waking up from a troubling dream.”
Much wisdom here for all of us …no matter what season of life we are in!
Jonathan Edwards’ sermon of 1733 which addressed the issues of injustice in his community of Northhampton, Massachusetts takes on several objections his community had toward caring for their neighbors in need. Yesterday I cited the first objection. The second objection Edwards takes on is “I have nothing to spare and barely have enough for my own needs.” The point that Edwards highlights in an effort to contramand this thought comes out of Luke 10 as the Good Samaritan demonstrate love by taking on risk and sacrifice for the one in need. ” Edwards responds that when you say ‘I can’t help anyone,’ you usually mean, ‘I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.’ But that is what the Bible requires.” Edwards continues…
Jonathan Edwards 1730′s
We in many cases may, by the rule of the gospel, be obliged to give to others when we can’t without suffering ourselves…If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not like to be relieved, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves. Or else how is that rule fulfilled of bearing one another’s burdens? If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all?” (Keller. Generous Justice p. 70)
As I am reading today it is apparent that I need another challenge. You may remember that the book Generous Justice is on my desk and it is working on my heart, so let me share a thought today. In Luke 10 the teacher of the law asks the question, “Who is my neighbor?” This is basically an objection to the teaching of Jesus or at least a way to soften it’s requirement. Keller brings into the conversation the teaching of Jonathan Edwards. In a sermon he preached in 1733 he dealt with five objections to giving care to their neighbors. The first objection to caring for those in need was that “Though they be needy, yet they are not in extremity (i.e. destitute)”. In other words, if they are not starving then I don’t need to do anything,… besides they have a big TV. “Edwards says that the this hardheartedness is not in accord with the Biblical command to love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t wait until we are in “extremity” before doing something about our condition, so why should we wait until our neighbor is literally starving.” (p. 69) Ouch! Objection two next time!
Tim Keller has written a great book, a convicting book, called Generous Justice. As I read the first chapter I am hammered by all the scriptural references to God’s activity toward “the least of these”. We so need to be challenged by the thoughts that are here. It is not a comfortable book to read!
Keller writes, “Israel was charged to create a culture of social justice for the poor and vulnerable because it was the way the nation could reveal God’s glory and character to the world. Deuteronomy 4: 6-8 is a key text where Israel is told that they should keep God’s commands so that all the nations of the world will look at the justice and peace of their society, based on God’s laws, and be attracted to God’s wisdom and glory. This is why God can say that if we dishonor the poor we insult him, and when we are generous to the poor we honor him (Proverbs 14:31)” p. 9
When we were on Walnut street last week working on the Brailsford home there were all kinds of thoughts going through my head. “This is terrible. The house is almost not livable. How could anyone live here.” Then I thought, “why don’t they do something?” My heart is conflicted about how to respond to the poverty. But …what I am seeing here in Keller’s book is that I must respond so as to honor the Lord.
Bob and Scott Doing Justice on Walnut at the Brailsford Home
Dottie and I are reading a book called The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith. It is an excellent book that brings Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount alive. We are reading a chapter together on Judging called “Learning to live without judging.” The whole chapter is built around the passage in Matthew 7:1-5 which begins, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” A thought/quote from the book for today that is helpful comes from Philo of Alexandria…he said…”Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Smith continues by saying, “I believe this is true, and by remembering this i am less likely to judge and more likely to feel compassion.” (p. 190) I am certainly aware of this today and commend it to you. Every person I meet is in a great battle that is overwhelming their soul. Therefore treat them as those who need care rather than condemnation.
God’s plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than anything else, because men are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men. He does not come on machines but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men. It is not great talents nor great learning that God needs, but men great in holiness, great in faith, great in love, great in fidelity, great for God. Those men can mold a generation for God.
We (the community of Florence) rose up last week and enjoyed a moment of service where every one got to take part in helping those in need. Five hundred volunteers from all over Florence came together and packed 101,088 meals that will be shipped to Love a Child ministries in Haiti. This will feed 276 children for one full year one meal a day. I am so thankful to all who took part. First Presbyterian went out on a limb early on and made the commitment that it would raise $22,000 dollars to sponsor the event. The church gave $5000 to get us started then the money began to roll in. A group of men gave $5000. A Sunday school class gave $1000. Then Feed My Starving Children gave us a $5000 gift to make sure we made it to the goal if we needed it. As Central United Methodist came along side with their volunteer help they also got excited with First Presbyterian by contributing financially ($3000.00). As did John Calvin Presbyterian with a $400 gift! And to date…We are just about at that amount now.
Then volunteer interest in the event was overwhelming. As soon as we went live with our online registration the volunteer slots disappeared. Erik Marechal got his whole staff at Nationwide McLean and Marechal to take part in the event. Then those churches that were participating in the children’s mission camp filled a whole shift with volunteers (children and adults from Central, Highland Park Methodist, St. Luke Lutheran and First Pres). Another large group of adults and children volunteered from Southside Baptist. Also members of Savannah Grove Baptist, Cornerstone Baptist, John Calvin Presbyterian, The Florence Baptist Temple, King of Kings Church of God, and many other churches volunteered. People from all kinds of organizations around town volunteered: The YMCA under Brian New’s leadership sent 15 volunteers, the Florence Parks and Beautification department under the leadership of David Caldwell sent 20 volunteers; the city of Florence with the help of Donna Winchester sent 30 spirited volunteers; the Boys and Girls Club of Timmonsville and Florence under the leadership of Chris Hobson sent 20 volunteers.
All in all it was a wonderful 24 hours. With this kind of interest and involvement I am encouraged that we will do this again in the future. And in so doing be the Church “helping the least of these”
Today I have the privilege of doing a children’s message for the young people participating in the Mission Camp of four churches in our community that have come together to send their children into the city to do special acts of service.
This morning we are going to look at Mark 10:44-45: “If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be everyone’s slave. The Son of Man didn’t come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people.” I am going to dress up like a king today and be waited upon until i hear the cry of the cold and hungry woman (Emily). At that point I will move over to her and take my kingly robe off and place it on her. I think if it goes well, when I ask the question, “which character was Jesus?” They will say the king. Then when I ask, “Who were youin the skit?” I hope I will get the answer “Emily”. That is where the power of the gospel begins to make a difference. When we realize that Jesus, the king, redefines who is great by becoming “our” slave our hearts are overcome with his love in such a way that we want to serve others!
During this summer season in Flo town it is HOT! 100 degree days seem to come our way regularly! But this season is not just marked by the heat it is also marked by SERVICE. We are moving into a season of service at First Presbyterian that we call CITY PROJECT. (Instead of a “mission project” which is out of country)
This year 100′s of individuals from our church and outside our church are coming together to serve in many different ways to demonstrate the love and provision of our Lord. We will grill out a meal for our city police force.
We will refurbish three homes. We will prepare and serve a breakfast at the Parking Lot Mission.
We will spruce up the grounds at the Presbyterian Agency for the Developmentally Disabled.
We will receive donations for Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore!
We will do a blood drive for the American Red Cross. And we will pack 100,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children with others from around our community.
I have been preparing for this season by rereading a book by Tim Keller called Generous Justice. I leave you with a quote from this book as food for thought as we move together into this season. “When a city perceives a church as existing strictly and only for itself and its own members, the preaching of that church will not resonate with outsiders. But if neighbors see church members loving their city through astonishing, sacrificial deeds of compassion, they will be much more open to the church’s message. Deeds of mercy andjustice should be done out of love, not simply as a means to the end of evangelism. And yet there is no better way for Christians to lay a foundation for evangelism than by doing justice. (p. 142)