Imagine if everything you did every day, every month and every year pleased God. Sounds awesome, but impossible doesn’t it? Amazingly, Jesus tells us directly and exactly how to achieve just that very thing.
So the Lord said to him: You Pharisees clean the outside of cups and dishes, but on the inside you are greedy and evil. You fools! Didn’t God make both the outside and the inside? If you would only give what you have to the poor, everything you do would please God. Luke 11:39-41 (CEV)
Wait a second…what? How and why is that the remedy? Let’s dig deeper.
Like the Pharisees, we all mask our sin to some extent and make excuses for ourselves, rationalizing our sins as “not that bad.” When I look at many of my past and present actions, I can definitely see what a fool I have been, and how un-Christlike I have been. In my mind I tend to minimize those behaviors in light of my lofty spiritual enlightenment. So did the Pharisees. They studied and memorized scripture, yet didn’t learn to live it, missing the point entirely.
Ever notice that we don’t naturally ever think of ourselves as greedy? I think that Jesus’ challenge to give what we have to the poor immediately starts to expose the greed we didn’t even know we had. Jesus spares no verbal strength when he lets loose some words on the corrupt religious leaders of his day. Yet even as he hammers them with the reality of their sin, he provides a clear path to freedom: “GIVE!”
He says, “…everything you do will please God.” Everything? Is Jesus exaggerating? Is that even possible? What does it mean for everything we do to please God? The NIV translates that same verse this way,” Everything will be clean for you.” The only way I know that everything can be clean for us is through grace. Evidently, stepping into a lifestyle of generosity is also stepping deeper into grace.
Grace sets us free from the insidious thoughts, feelings and habits that keep dragging us down and getting us in trouble. It doesn’t mean those thoughts or temptations go away and it doesn’t mean we quit sinning. It means that we can face our flawed and fractured lives without shame and guilt crushing us. From that position of freedom and intimacy with Christ, then He can do the transformational work in us that we long for. We get our lives focused on what matters and we get healthier. So how do we get to this deeper place of grace? Learn from the Z-man.
In Luke 19:8, the evil tax-collector Zacchaeus didn’t respond to an altar call to affirm his faith. He declared that he was going to turn from his ways to follow God in this way, “I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have ever cheated.” Unlike the Pharisees who were self-righteous and self-justified, Zacchaeus acknowledged he was a sinner and surrendered his old life completely, trading it in for a new identity where justice and generosity reigned. His story is included in scripture as a model of true life-transformation that we can follow. It is the diametric opposite of the encounter that Jesus had with the rich young ruler.
Maybe you don’t naturally feel a lot of compassion and don’t consider yourself to be much of a “bleeding heart”. I can relate. On the other hand, if we aren’t strategic about helping those around us, it just won’t happen. I am finding more and more people coming out to serve the poor and homeless on The Relief Bus (www.reliefbus.org) as a family because they want to live out the values they hold. They want their children to get a taste of what a key aspect of living for Jesus looks like- helping the helpless. They are strategically pressing deeper into their faith, into grace and into the heart of God. As they give grace to “the least of these”, they also experience more of it for themselves.
Jesus knows that a life focused on loving others is a life freed from the tyranny of self. Feeling this love in our hearts isn’t nearly as important as acting on this love for others. Many of us are waiting for an emotional feeling or spiritual epiphany to kick in that will inspire us to act. My experience is that emotional feeling or spiritual epiphany usually kicks in after I have already acted. It is then that I feel God’s change happening inside of me.
I resisted going on mission trips throughout my teenage life, because I didn’t want to miss out on all the goofing off, movies, water parks, etc. that I could enjoy every summer. At the age of 22, as a youth pastor, I nervously went on my first mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico. It changed my life forever. I had such an intoxicating encounter with the Holy Spirit that I went on to go on another 8 mission trips over the years to England, Ireland, Wales, Ethiopia, Uganda, Colombia and Finland. Each one was different and impacting in it’s own way.
Little did I know that one day I would become a full-time urban missionary to the poor and homeless in New York City and New Jersey. Last year, The Relief Bus facilitated over 5,000 volunteers to go serve the broken on the streets. I heard many of these volunteers’ stories of life transformation AFTER they had served on the streets. During these stories, you could feel God’s presence in the room as they detailed who they met and what happened during those conversations. You could look into the person’s eyes and see change happening as they told of these encounters where they gave hope to the hopeless. Life was pouring into both of these individuals as they experienced God’s grace together. This is what Jesus wants for us! To experience true life and freedom together with the poor and brokenhearted!
A step towards helping the poor is a step towards freedom for ourselves. It’s a sign of our spiritual maturity. Nurturing a heart of generosity is nurturing the heart of God in us. Think about how to be generous with your time, your talent and your treasure and plug it into your calendar.
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