A sermon and thoughts on Generosity

Two days after my sister sent me the Matthew 6 commentary on generosity and giving that I shared in my last post, I opened up my podcast library on my phone to listen to the latest Tim Keller Sermon and found that it is titled “Blessed Are the Poor.” It so closely relates to the Matthew 6 commentary that I am blown away. Clearly this is something the Lord wants me to meditate on and pray about more–and, of course, DO! Click on the link above to listen to this sermon via Podbay. Keller doesn’t pull any punches, but he ends by drawing our attention back to grace. He reminds us that “generosity” that is based on guilt is simply religion; it’s not founded in the Gospel.

One image from the Matthew 6 commentary that I keep thinking about is the “single eye.” Here’s a quote from that section: Jesus’ illustration about the “single” (NIV good) eye and the evil eye would immediately make sense to his hearers: a “good” eye was literally a healthy eye, but figuratively also an eye that looked on others generously (Sirach 32:8). In the Greek text of the Gospels, Jesus literally calls the eye a “single” eye, which is a wordplay: the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible also uses this word for “single” to translate the Hebrew term for “perfect”-thus “single-minded” devotion to God, with one’s heart set on God alone. An “evil eye,” conversely, was a stingy, jealous or greedy eye; yet it also signifies here a bad eye (Mt 6:23), one that cannot see properly. Jesus uses the “single” eye as a transition to his next point, for the “single” eye is literally undivided, having the whole picture: thus one is not divided between two masters, as the text goes on to explain (v. 24).

mads eye

I’ve posted this picture (shot by my older daughter [the subject is my younger daughter]) before, but I felt it was very appropriate for this post.

I want the generous, single eye Jesus speaks of. I want to see more and more clearly God’s great, incredible, beautiful love for me–until my eye is filled up with Love-Light so that my view of every other person is filtered with Love. This morning I was reminded that this not only applies to those in physical or social need when I realized I was viewing an interaction with a neighbor without a bit of Love in my gaze. There was no generosity in my view of her. I was thinking of her only in relation to myself, of how she had inconvenienced me. God had to remind me that the generosity He calls us to is a way of life that impacts how we see EVERYONE!

This prayer is adapted from the Message version of Matthew 6.

Lord, help us to open our eyes wide in wonder at your amazing love. Help us to believe and trust that you love us more than we can ever understand. Fill up our eyes with the light of your love so that we don’t squint our eyes in greed and distrust but look instead with generosity on others. May we deny and abandon the self-worship we are so drawn to and worship you alone. This single worship will fill our entire lives with Light!


Living Confessionally, Part 2: Expanding our view of sin

Not long ago I listened as a group of women talked about Bible studies they’d recently been involved in. One spoke of studying First John. “What surprised me most was the emphasis on confession,” she said. “We don’t do this in my church service, and I find I don’t do it very often personally either. I mean, I do when I see I’ve lied or been unkind, but most of the time I have a hard time recognizing my sin.”

It was an honest acknowledgement, and I understood her. We can easily fall into the trap of seeing sin as a list of things to avoid. The rich young ruler did this; he checked off the Ten Commandments as complete. And even though I understand this is impossible, I sometimes fool myself into thinking that if I attack the sins listed in the Scriptures, one by one, I can be free from them. This is not sanctification; this is self-improvement, the belief that I am really okay at the core, it’s just that I have these sins stuck to my surface.

The prayer of confession deepens my view of sin far, far beyond this.

“… we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart;

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

In this blog entry I want to look at the last two statements, for these define sin: not loving God with the whole heart; not loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

The “whole heart” includes all of our being: mind, soul, and strength (physical self), and the term “neighbor,” as explained by Christ in His parable of the Good Samaritan, does not exclude ANYONE, no matter how unlike me they happen to be.

So for me to NOT sin would mean I would need to wholly/completely love God AND every person I encounter each and every minute of my life

What would that be like?

I have no idea! I don’t even know what it would be like for a single moment because I can’t do it. I am unable to look completely away from myself, unable to focus upward and outward without one eye—at least—always gazing in. Even my “good” works are tainted with this “looking in.” I may do them with partially pure motives, but at some level I am hoping they will make me feel better about myself or exalt me in God’s or others’ sight.

I am incapable of pure love, even when the object is the pure and wonderful God, even when it is a newborn infant, as innocent and beautiful as a human can be.

The prayer of confessions helps me understand that I am not a sinner because I sin. No, I sin because I am broken at my very core.

The prayer of confession leads me to the huge depth of my need.

Note: As I was thinking about this, I listened to a Tim Keller podcast in which he said the phrase “homo curvatus in se,” and explained it was Martin Luther’s definition of sin. In researching this phrase, I discovered an article on theotherjournal.com by Matt Jenson (Associate Professor of Theology in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University) titled “The Shape of Our Sin.” Here’s a summary of part of his article, which is drawn from his book The Gravity of Sin: Augustine, Luther and Barth on ‘homo incurvatus in se’:

Augustine and Martin Luther wrote about sin as “humanity curved in on itself” (homo curvatus in se). Augustine said that because of this “curvatus,” we use everything, even God, for the enjoyment or comfort of ourselves, and Luther said this sin extends throughout our entire person—there is not a single part of us that is not centered on self. Karl Barth builds upon Augustine’s and Luther’s views and says that curvatus is also seen when we believe ourselves rather than God. We exalt our own statements as “truth” and reject God’s truths as lies. And he further makes the point that while we often see our “curvatus” as pride, the opposite is also true: when we debase ourselves and are constantly focused on our shortcomings, this is but another form of the curvatus. We are still focused on ourselves.

Discontent disguised as “spiritual” longing

A few weeks ago “Do not grow weary in well doing” literally jumped into my mind. It was unexpected, both out of place and time. I was NOT engaged in what I thought of as “well doing” at that moment. Nor was I in a particularly “spiritual” frame of mind. In fact, after the verse jumped in—surprising me—I retorted back at, I assumed, the Holy Spirit. “What if I’m just simply ‘weary’ without there being any ‘well doing’ going on at all? That’s rather depressing, don’t you think? It means I am weary simply spinning my wheels, simply being ‘busy’ with suburban mom ‘stuff.’”
I waited for a moment, wondering if another verse would “pop up.” Nothing came, but I was left with a slightly unsettled feeling, as if the conversation were not yet finished.
A week later it continued, this time a bit more forcefully. I was driving (no surprise there–a literal spinning of the wheels), vaguely longing for “otherness”—a more focused ministry that involved our entire family (or at least my husband and I together), a centralized location that would involve much less “in the car” time for me…
This time it wasn’t a verse, just three words, but they cut across my mind, stark, black on a white background.
“You are discontent.”
What? Discontent? That didn’t describe me! I was simply longing for something “better,” right? A more spiritual life, one that stood out as “different.” One that could serve as a good example for others…
Ooh—pride as well as discontent.
Really, Lord? I asked. This—what I so often see as a “small” life—is what You want for me? This here? This now?
It was confirmed by a conversation with my mother-in-law. “Let me tell you what I’ve been praying for you lately,” she said. (What a blessing to have not one but two sets of parents who pray for me!) “I’m praying that you will see the goodness and purpose in all the running around, the cooking, the organizing of schedules, the ‘mothering stage’ you are now in, with kids who need you in very different ways than they did when they were younger. I’m praying that you will understand that all this, though it seems small, is BIG. In all this, you are loving your children. This is your good work.”
Good work. Well doing.
Oh, Lord, I prayed, help me to see this—to keep on seeing this.
And help me not to grow weary.
*Here’s a link to a Tim Keller sermon titled “Everyone with a Gift” in which he talks about this very kind of discontent. I’ve listened to it twice now–and I probably need to listen to it again.

Not so “ordinary”

There is no such thing as ordinary.
The daily grind, whatever it is for each of us, becomes “ordinary,” but it is anything but. In reality, what we consider “ordinary” is supernatural, filled with the common grace of God.
I remember an idea from a Tim Keller sermon (he’s been a favorite of late): Does someone in your life love you? Is there someone to hold your hand? Does someone ask you how your day is going and sometimes even listen when it’s not going so well?
Grace—it’s all grace. You didn’t do anything to deserve any of that, and without Grace, you wouldn’t experience any of it.
I remember a comment I heard a family counselor make on a radio show. “We humans are not hard-wired for real relationship. Deep down, if we are truthful, we have a “what’s in it for me?” expectation about every single relationship we are in—even the parent-to-child relationship. The only reason I can see for any human relationship retaining even a trace of goodness is completely the grace of God.”
Thinking of these two comments, I try to imagine “ordinary” with all common grace removed. The first images that pop up are from Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic book The Road, in which lawlessness prevails; the strong prey upon any weaker than they, with no pity; and no “human decency” remains. The one relationship readers would call “normal”—that of a father and son who care for each other—is in stark contrast to everyone else. For the sake of food and shelter, people will do anything, even kill and eat their own children.
For those who have not read The Road, just imagine “ordinary” without common grace as the worst moments of the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide, as the inside of a brothel; as the continual torture inflicted upon prisoners of war.
In this kind of “ordinary,” there is no such thing as a mother’s and father’s natural love for children, no sense of morality or “right,” no conscience at all. There is no such thing as respect and concern for one’s fellow man.
This is hard to fathom in my “ordinary” world. Common grace is so, well, common. But if God withdrew His active goodness–which is present in this world without us giving Him a single reason to give it—the result would be hellish, brutal.
This should transform my idea of “ordinary”—which I far too often think of as a burden. It should enable me to see my ordinary—with its daily grind and up-and-down relationships and disappointments and boredom and longing for “something more”—as truly a miracle.
When I think of my family and friends as miraculous gifts, then all the daily grind related to relationship with them can be transformed as well: meal prep, grocery shopping, carpooling, laundry, maybe even cleaning (though I’m not sure if that one fits in my “ordinary” category—extraordinary perhaps?).
We humans often want a change IN our ordinary. We often covet the “ordinary” of other people. “If only…” we think. But, in truth, a change in mindset, not a change in circumstances, is what transforms our ordinary.
And that, God reminds us, is a job the He is eager to do for and with us.
Verses for study:
Romans 12:2– The Amplified has so much richness, but the New Living lays it out plain and clear. The link above takes you to a page with both translations side by side.
Romans 8:6– This link, too, takes you to both the Amp and the NLT side by side.

sermon suggestion

I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Keller’s sermons lately. He’s senior pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC. I wanted to share this one: The Basis of Prayer: “Our Father.” 

It’s a reminder of the heart of the Gospel, but it also goes deep, so as I listened to it, I was drawn back to my own helplessness and God’s provision for it but was also wowed with some new insights into this great mystery.

Keller says that the words “Our Father” remind us that God does not want His children coming to Him in pride (“You owe me, God, because of all I’ve done”) OR in shame (“I don’t measure up. I keep trying, but I just can’t.”) Both attitudes come from thinking of our relationship with God as a “business relationship,”  one in which both parties must perform. The only basis on which followers of Christ can approach God is in a child-to-parent relationship. Keller expounds on this with some wonderful insights and gives descriptors of ways we may have slipped into thinking of our relationship with God as business rather than family.

I especially recommend this sermon (35 minutes in length) if you are struggling or have struggled with feeling you must “measure up” for God.