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Giving Living

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By Linda Rex

It’s been an interesting journey as I have participated with Good News Fellowship in caring for the community in which we located here in Nashville. I’ve experienced a wide spectrum of responses to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed. Some were expected, while others were very unexpected.

As a Christian in today’s culture, I have found that people have unspoken expectations of me. Because I am a Christian, they seem to believe I will be, or should always be, nice, friendly, and well-behaved—and I inevitably disappoint them. Many people assume because I am a Christian that I am examining them and their lives in detail so I can have something to criticize or put down—and I’m not.

As a Christian, many people say, I must never make anyone feel bad or tell them that they are wrong and must change—after all, they are free to do whatever they want—it’s a free country, right? But sometimes the most loving thing I can do is to bring to their attention something hurtful or dangerous they are doing to harm themselves or others.

Some people seem to believe that since I am a Christian, I’m obligated to help anyone who comes to me and asks for help, no matter what the circumstance or situation. If someone is in need or struggling, it is my responsibility to help them and give them whatever it is they ask for, no matter the cost to myself or the inconvenience it may be for me to help them, or that it might not be in their best interests for me to help them in that way.

Yet God calls us to be, as followers of Christ, generous and giving. We are to share all the gifts God has given us with others. We are to be compassionate, understanding and loving. We should be positive examples of “giving living”—by nature being generous with all God has given us as our participation in Christ’s own generosity.

The fundamental thing is, we are not created as human beings to have a life centered around our own selves. Self-centered living destroys relationships. A self-centered person expects people to orbit around them as they slowly drain people’s energy and heart out like a black hole consumes the stars around it. When we center our lives and other people’s lives about our own needs, desires, and plans, we become more and more selfish, cold, and calculating.

Now, speaking for myself, I recognize there are times when I am self-centered and do not even realize this is what is going on. How disconcerting to walk away from a situation or conversation and realize I have made myself the center instead of keeping Christ and others at the center! These types of realizations keep each of us humble and dependent upon God’s grace and the patience of those near and dear to us.

If we want to be followers of Christ, though, we need to be attentive to these nudges of the Spirit and realign our center to where it should be—in Christ. It is important to be attentive to what the Spirit is saying in each moment and to follow Christ’s lead in our generosity because if we focus on ourselves, we will come up empty. God is the source of all things, including the capacity to be generous and giving, especially when we do not have the energy, resources, or heart to give.

A life centered in Christ is a life which draws its sustenance and well-being from the Source of all things, our Abba. When we are drawing our life from the Life-giver, we will find that our life and our being will be enriched and grow. If we are drawing our life from within ourselves or from the other people in our lives, we will eventually find ourselves frayed, worn-out, and exhausted, and our relationships in shambles.

This is also the case when it comes to our giving. Our generosity must have its roots in Jesus Christ himself. He is the one who came into our humanity, laid down his life, died our death, and rose again on our behalf and for our sake. He set aside the benefits and privileges of his divinity to live within our humanity, even though it cost him his human life. There is a fundamental generosity in the being of God which is rooted in God’s very nature as love.

First, and foremost, God in Christ is the center around which everything in this cosmos orbits and from which everything draws its life. Giving to others and being a giving person must begin with this center. Our center, the center of every part of our being and our life, is in Christ. It is not in ourselves or anyone else. What we do in our lives comes out of who we are, and who we are must be and is based in Christ as the perfect image-bearer of God himself, and the Source of all things.

So fundamentally at the core of our being, because we are made in our Generous and Giving God’s image to reflect his likeness, we are generous and giving people. Our lives, then, are centered around generosity because we are, in Christ by the Spirit, full of a heart of generosity. We recognize all we are and all we have has their source in God himself, and everything in this cosmos, including us and all we think we own, belongs to him.

This true humility with regards to our existence enables us to be open-handed and free with all we have been given since we realize it all came to us as a gift. Even if we worked hard to earn our resources, we recognize and admit that even the ability to earn a living came from the One who gave us the opportunity and capacity to do the work we are doing. There is no holding back what we have been given when we are in the position to help another who is in need or to further the work God is doing in this world to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

But this doesn’t automatically mean we give to every person in every situation without attention to the wisdom of doing so. Yes, we need to be putting our resources to work to further God’s agenda in the world and to spread his gospel. Yes, we should always be generous and giving to those in need. But sometimes the better gift is not to give at all, but to enable that person to trust God to meet their needs in another way.

Maybe we are hindering God’s work in their lives by just giving them cash when we need to be giving them our time and attention instead. Perhaps rather than just giving them our resources, we should be helping them learn what is needed so they can provide them for themselves. These are complicated issues which must be guided by the Word of God and the Spirit, and wisdom.

There is plenty in this world but too often we do not see our plenty as a resource to accomplish Jesus’ mission in this world or to provide for others so they might have what we have. Granted, we’re not all able to share—some of us are the needy as well. But even the needy have something to offer others. We all can share and give, when we draw upon the infinite resources of our generous and giving God, recognizing whatever we have has been given to us as a gift from him to share with others. This is the perichoretic life.

Dear Abba, thank you for being so generous with us, giving us all we need for life and godliness, and for giving us your very best in your Son and in your Spirit. Grant us the grace as you give us the resources to always be generous with others and share diligently in your ministry to this broken and hurting world. In your Name, amen.

“But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also…. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich…. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality;…” 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-14 NASB

Lost in the Shuffle

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by Linda Rex

Yesterday morning I had the privilege of shaking hands with and meeting several clergy from the Nashville area. We were gathered together to hear about NOAH’s (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope) efforts to bring change to the community. I did not know the history of this organization, and enjoyed hearing how spiritual leaders from this community saw several significant needs and joined together to create a group who could together begin to address these needs and bring them before the local government in such a way change could happen.

Over the past few years, this group has grown to include people from unions, churches, and other non-profit organizations. NOAH was significantly involved during the last mayoral election in challenging candidates to consider, specifically, three important issues: affordable housing and gentrification; criminal justice and mass incarceration; and economic equity and jobs. NOAH was able to mobilize a large amount of people to attend critical meetings where these candidates were asked the difficult questions and required to make commitments to the community about changing and improving conditions for local citizens.

Presently NOAH members have been working to remind the mayor and her staff to fulfill the promises made during her campaign. They provide the local government officials with a type of accountability to the people they serve. This can be a good thing, because once a person is in office, they can tend to forget the needs and wishes of the people who put them there.

I am grateful for the people God has connected me with here in Nashville who are actively involved in trying to bring about better living conditions for those who are marginalized or needy. It is sad that many of these topics even need to be discussed. But that is the reality of our broken humanity.

One of the speakers at this meeting told us we all have a call by God upon us to “do justly.” It seems we as spiritual leaders of many faiths are often focused on grace and love, and offering mercy to people. But I don’t believe we often apply that grace, love and mercy in terms of actively “doing justice” in our neighborhood, community and world.

Doing justice means dealing with uncomfortable issues head on instead of brushing them under the carpet or ignoring them. It means coming face to face with the need for change, and the need to deal with evil in its many forms. This takes courage, faith and the heart to deal with difficult situations and people. And this is not easy to do.

For some people, social justice is the most significant expression of their relationship with Jesus Christ. Personally, social justice is not for me the most meaningful experience of worship or expression of my spiritual relationship with Christ, but I do believe it still needs to be a part of how I express my faith in and love for Christ and others. As the apostle James said, how can I say I have faith and not be willing to offer physical help to the needy? (James 2:14-17)

It’s been instructive for me to go through the process of trying to find a home near the church in Nashville so I can minister not just to my church members, but also to our church community. I did not succeed in finding anything I could afford right in the church neighborhood, although I did find one nearby. The main reason I could not move next to where we meet as a congregation was because of the lack of affordable housing.

One of the ladies at the meeting this morning helped to explain some of the reasons for my not being able to find something affordable in the neighborhood. What is happening is people who are on the lower end of the income spectrum are being displaced, their homes replaced with more expensive dwellings, and then they are not being given any type of replacement home they can afford.

Some of those being lost in the shuffle are those with physical or mental disabilities. They are on a fixed income and often find themselves on the street because they lose their housing. What I heard this morning was that there are about 20,000 people, including families, who need housing immediately—these are people who earn between $0-15,000/year. Developers are happy to build affordable housing, but not for this group of people. They will build them for the workforce, who earn $15,000 and up. So these people remain homeless or without sufficient housing.

And it is also significant that the employment rate is high, and yet there are still large portions of the population who live below the poverty level. One of the reasons is that employers are learning it is cheaper to replace one full-time person with two part-time people who do not qualify for any kind of benefits. I have experienced this reality—living without benefits often becomes a necessity when one loses their full-time position with an organization—it just comes with the territory. But it also puts you at great risk.

It is also very difficult and expensive, not to mention exhausting, to try and maintain two or three jobs just so you can pay the rent and utilities and feed your family. But this is what people are having to do now—not just in the Nashville area, but all over. Whatever people may say, greed and expedience are very often the driving force in many businesses today—whether secular or Christian organizations—not care for our fellowman or woman.

I am grateful I was reminded again of the need for us as human beings to care for the marginalized and those in need and to take time away from our own personal concerns to care for those who have significantly less than we do. We need to consider those who are being taken advantage of, who are considered the lost and the least of these—for this is what Jesus did and what he calls us to do today. May we indeed, “do justly” more and more as time goes by.

Abba, I pray for those who are being lost in the shuffle, who are being ignored, stepped upon and mistreated. May we be more mindful of those without so that we can and will share with them all you have given us. Give us the heart of your Son for the lost and least, and his will to do justice in the midst of the greed and injustice of this broken culture. Through Jesus and by your Spirit we pray. Amen.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 NASB

The Relationship Factor

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by Linda Rex

If I were to summarize the programs currently available on my cable television, I would say that the majority have something to do with either crime and murder investigation, magic and the supernatural, or broken and confused relationships of some kind. If I work at it, I can occasionally find something uplifting and educational, but it seems that any more, movies rarely have community at their core.

Yesterday I was reading an article posted by a family member which showed that tests on mice indicate that the best antidote for drug addiction is healthy relationships with family and community, and meaningful things to do with one’s life. (See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html) This did not come as a surprise to me, since I’ve been told in the past as a parent that the best way to keep my kids off of drugs is to build a strong, loving relationship with them. There is something powerful and significant about relationships based on love and grace.

I believe that society’s current obsession with materialist consumerism, as James Torrance calls it, contributes to the prevalence of addictions in just about every form imaginable. We are preoccupied with taking care of our needs, wants and desires. If we are barely scraping by financially, we can begin to see the world through the lens of how we are going to take care of our needs—food on the table, gas for the car, paying our growing medical bills. Even if we are comfortable financially, we may often still struggle, because we see the world through the lens of desire, passion and loneliness.

In either situation, our focus is inward, toward ourselves. We are preoccupied with taking care of what we believe needs to be taken care of. Taking care of our needs is indeed an important thing to do, but the way we go about meeting those needs is significant. Too many people are trying to meet the needs of their body, soul and spirit on their own, without any faith, hope or love in their lives. So many of us are living as isolated human beings, without meaningful, loving relationships with others.

I saw this many times when I served doing intake at Greenhouse Ministries. When a person or family came in with catastrophic circumstances in their life, they were often at a place of dire need. Those who had some form of relational support, especially those who had a personal relationship with God and with a community of faith, would approach their circumstances with serious optimism and hope. They were just looking for a little help to get over the hump.

Others who had none of these things were often overcome by despair, desperation and could only think about getting their next meal or a place to stay. When asked about a relationship with God, they thought of it only in terms of making it to church, which for many of them would have been problematic, seeing that they probably would not have been warmly welcomed even if they had shown up at church on Sunday. It’s not hard to see how many medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol so that they don’t have to deal with the pain of loss, loneliness and despair.

I believe God is calling the church today to open up our hearts and doors to people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and cultures. He is calling us all back into loving, intimate relationships with him and with others—he’s calling us into Christian community. He never meant for any of us to go through the struggles of life alone.

When we seek first to build authentic, wholesome relationships with others that are centered around a common love and devotion to the God who made us and sent us his Son Jesus Christ and his Spirit of love, we will find that all the rest will fall into place in new ways.

The early church had many of the same struggles with poverty and need that we do today, and they met those needs through sharing and caring. It was that loving community which bore witness to the love and care of God for each and every one of us which he demonstrated in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. This is what is meant by the kingdom of God or universal church. It is a community of faith, hope and love centered in Jesus Christ.

We, as followers of Jesus Christ, have a lot of repenting to do, and a lot of growing as well. It is God’s love and grace given in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit which has been so transformational for us. We dare not try to keep it to ourselves, but rather must begin to open it wide to the world around us which is in such desperate longing for faith, hope and love expressed through relationships. To feed the hungry, visit the lonely and imprisoned—this is more than just meeting physical needs—it is meeting the deep hunger of the human heart for relationship with God and with others that we were created for. It is being truly human.

Thank you, Father, that you have given yourself to us in Jesus and through the Spirit, opening yourself up to us in a relationship of love and grace. Impart to us your heart of faith, hope and love, and pour out from us into others your Spirit so that they may join together with us in Christian community. Bind us together in love and grace. Through Jesus, our Lord and in your Spirit. Amen.

“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:31–33 NASB