April 19, 2011

The Same Grace We Were Given

I've been gone for a long time.  Over a month, I see...  

Don't know what kept me away, except the realization that I didn't have to do this.  I didn't have to have a steady flow of blog posts to have friends who think I'm pretty fun.  I didn't have to write cleverly or poetically or even thoughtfully about trivial or important things in order to be understood and loved.  I just needed to step away for a while to see that.  Now that I'm back, I find I'm the recipient of a bloggerrific honor (Much to my surprise! Thanks, Jenna!), and that -- while I may not have a storehouse of interesting things to converse about with my world wide websters -- I do have a few things stored up in my heart that are longing for an out.  And I do have friends out there who might be interested to hear about them.  And as long as I don't base my self esteem on the inflow of positive comments, I can actually enjoy this outlet.

And so I return, fresh blog post in hand and my heart not quite so on my sleeve, but certainly available to those who ask for it kindly.  Or those who rip it from my chest.  Well, I'm getting ahead of myself...


One thing I've been thinking a lot about in the last several days is urban poverty and homelessness.  Last week Hope For Chicago (who's Executive Director I work for) and Holy Trinity Church (our home away from home), along with several other gospel-centered social justice groups, sponsored/attended a one-day conference (directly following the three-day Gospel Coalition Conference) entitled Christ+City, which was headlined by Manhattan church-planter Tim Keller (who has a most excellent theology of the gospel lived out as both justification by faith and social justice in our communities... but that's a parenthetical statement for another day!).  I can't believe I just sputtered that out all in one sentence, but there you have it.

Between that conference and BSF's recent study of Isaiah 58, I've been done in with thoughts and prayers for the urban poor.  Especially on days like today -- cold, windy, rainy, pretty much the epitome of miserable days -- I am quick to think of my own misfortunes (Sheesh!  I can't take a leisurely walk to my favorite new coffee bar and drink in Spring's glory!) and not the misfortunes of others, which may very likely exclude the cozy chair and warm cup of one's own home-brewed coffee with a roof over one's head and dry clothes on one's back.  

It's taken a long, long time to see poverty through the eyes of Jesus.  I was raised in a culture that said, "God helps those who help themselves" and "You reap what you sow" and "I'll help you if you prove to me you're worth it."  Nowhere in any of those statements is the gospel present.  The gospel is about God helping people who cannot help themselves, and reaping something that someone else sowed, and understanding that we're all unworthy of help and that's why it's so awesome that God's love and care is not based on worth!  The gospel is God helping the poor, namely me and you.  And those who've heard and understood and accepted this gospel are called to be extenders of the same grace we were given.  

That means helping people who can't -- maybe even won't -- help themselves.  

That means giving people things that they didn't work for.  

That means extending care and grace and provision to people whether we deem them "worthy" or not.  Because neither are we.  Yet, God lavished all of his fullness on us anyway.

The gospel -- justification by grace alone -- demands that we extend it in just the same way we received it.  It demands that we care more about the person on the corner with the cardboard sign than we care about what that dollar or two that we painstakingly give him might be spent on.  (Really?  You care more about a practically worthless piece of paper than a human soul?)  Please forgive me if this sounds like a frustrated rant.  I promise you it's as much -- and even more -- directed to my own heart than it is to anyone else's.  I suppose part most of my frustration comes from the realization that I've been walking with the Lord, meditating on his word, sitting under the teaching of good theology for years, and am only just now starting to have these sore, oozing eyes parted, slowly and painfully and resistantly opened to the reality of my place among the poor and my calling to their welfare.  Consider these words, spoken from God's lips to our hearts:

  Is this not the fast which I choose,
         To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
         To undo the bands of the yoke,
         And to let the oppressed go free
         And break every yoke?
   Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
         And bring the homeless poor into the house;
         When you see the naked, to cover him;
         And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

That is our calling, my friend.  That is our fast, our prayer, our demonstration of our faith to our God and our fellow earth-dwellers.  To bring freedom through the gospel to people.  Freedom not only for the poor, enslaved to their poverty, but freedom also for the rich, enslaved to their wealth; freedom that breaks every yoke.  And freedom involves sacrifice.  For Jesus that involved death.  Can I, then, not spare some food, money, shelter, clothing, etc., for the freedom of others?  For me, that's what it will sometimes involve.  It most definitely always involves giving respect: Is the fast which I choose not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  To me that says, don't turn away.  Don't look in the other direction when you see someone in need.  Don't ignore them.  Respect their personhood by looking them in the eyes.  Respect them by not only acknowledging them but speaking to them, and not with pity but with compassion.  Showing pity is not the same thing as showing compassion.  Pity says, "I'm sorry," and then may spare some loose change for the alleviation of one's own guilt over being richer than someone else.  Compassion builds a relationship with someone, and then says, "What do you need?  How can I help?"

I've shared a song, "Winter's Ashes" on here before.  Eric and I recently worked on a video/montage for it (for the above conference), so I hope you won't mind me sharing it again.  Look and listen and pray let the spirit stir in your heart and mine a grace for others more like God's... more like the grace we were given...


  1. What a beautiful post! Thank you for the reminder. I need it...over and over again. I'm glad to hear from you again. :)

  2. I loved reading your reflection--as you know, I've been realizing myself how much I've had the heart-philosophy of 'I'll help you if you show me you're worth it' which is TOTALLY not the gospel. I'm grateful for having grown up with a Midwestern work ethic, but it's a double edged sword, because when I see someone who won't help themself, I feel . . . contempt. =( I hate that about my own heart--but thankfully God changes the heart and has promised to do so. So I can give myself to him and let him do his work!

  3. Amen and amen, Carrie! Our family has been in need. It took people who had some kind of relationship with us to start the process to help bring us out of our situation. G-d worked through His people.

    I remember reading that passage on fasting a few years ago. It was an eye-opener...as were the passages on the Shabbat that I believe I was looking for at the time.

    Working with people who have less than us can be a very uncomfortable proposition...definitely not in our comfort zones...but we MUST! We are CALLED to it...not just the few, but ALL of us. I, too, am challenged to open my eyes and my heart. I so hear you, sister!

    Beautiful song!