I have been reading Tim Keller's book, "Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road." It is a source of great information and challenge about the call to minister to the poor, and how to do it. As I was reading some of his comments about the Kingdom of God I began to reflect on the idea that living for the Kingdom costs us something.
We believe in grace, we preach grace, and hopefully we live in the power of grace. Our salvation is not earned by our efforts and certainly not deserved by any innate righteousness of our own. So, I wonder what it means when it seems as if Jesus makes things conditional. Jesus makes me uncomfortable, and since I know he loves me and I love him I am thankful that he does this to me. I seem to get the feeling that Jesus is saying the more we live for this life, and this world's stuff, the less we enjoy of the power of the Kingdom of God. It is almost as if discipleship would cost me something.
Yet, I also get the message from Jesus that if I give to the poor, if I am compassionate in the disbursement of my material wealth, he will take care of me and provide for me both in this life and the life to come. I wonder how much I have let my Reformed and Evangelical faith make me deaf to the call of Jesus? I would never surrender my confidence that we are saved by grace through faith. I am so glad for the rediscovery of the Gospel in the Protestant Reformation. I might be sad though in the loss of a radical repentance in the call to follow Jesus; especially when it comes to materialism in this modern day of a rejection of anything painful as if it were legalism.
The necessity of obedience is not legalism, for surely if we love him we will obey what he commands. Our confidence in being able to obey is our confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit as he gives us grace to live the Christian life. He commands love, but love is not an abandonment of doing something as if it were replaced by a feeling or a sentiment. Love is a sacrifice. The spiritual kingdom, it seems to me, in the teachings of Jesus are dependent on a forsaking of the kingdom of this world. It is precisely in the area of materialism that he strikes to our heart's idol. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34) NIV
We either have treasure here in this world and in this life, or we have treasure in heaven. Evidently we are not allowed to diversify our investments, we make deposits in one bank or the other.
Christmas gives me envy and coveting problems. I covet enough money to give presents to my loved ones. I envy what others have to give. Covered behind my wanting to give to others is the reality that it is still for my enjoyment, my pride and ego, a sense of power to be able to distribute to family and friends. The poor don't really come into my coveting, since they seem faceless and won't be able to give me much back.
Christmas is probably the most hedonistic, materialistic, envy and covetous holiday that we have. I absolutely love it, but my envy of sinners is real. (Proverbs 23:17) It is not necessarily personal. I am not jealous of any particular sinner. It is just my walk though a department store and breathing in what I might look like, how I might feel, and how others might see me that keeps screwing up my heart. The cashmere coat, the velvet blazer, the British tan slacks, the BMW to ride the clothes around in, the wide screen TV (wider, wider, more pixels, sound to surround the universe).
We leave here with closets so full we can hardly walk into them and souls so skinny Angels are hard pressed to notice. The call of Jesus is to make purses, women's or men's is not the issue, but whether they will wear our or not is the point. The only way to make a spiritual purse that lasts is to empty the physical one in our pockets. We must choose to do this, because we love Jesus, and we don't have to be afraid of losing anything. We must choose to be merciful, we must choose to give to the poor, and we need to be powerful, over the top, and determined in the doing of it. May God us grace to escape christmas, (with the small hearted "c" and find Christmas!