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December Message from Ruth Johnson
It could come as no surprise that we’ve been thinking about giving. We’re in the middle of the season of giving and we’ve just been thanking God for many blessings. The push of our culture in this last part of the year is to sweep us up in a frenzy of giving, to our families, to friends, and to charitable causes (many of them worthy of our support).
What I’ve been thinking, though, is that giving probably shouldn’t be seasonal. I’ve been thinking of the grace God has shown us, grace demonstrated by the gift of Jesus. That gift, that grace, is decidedly NOT seasonal.
Grace is unmerited favor. God loves us because he has chosen to love us, not because of anything we have done to deserve his love. We can’t earn it. We can’t say to God, “Well, I’ve done this and this and this for you, so you owe me something.” (Think of the book of Job.) We can only receive it and, in gratitude, share it with the world, as he has told us to do.
What does God’s grace look like? Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “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 by his poverty might become rich.”
Think of this: The God who created the universe (“In the beginning was the Word”) gave up unimaginable power and glory and chose to become a single cell, growing into a baby, needing to breathe and cry and receive love from a mother, learning to walk and talk and reason, experiencing hunger and thirst and tiredness, being pressured by circumstances and busyness and the needs of others. Knowing the physical agony and humiliation that was before him (anticipating that final moment when God would turn away from him as the he paid the price of sin that it would kill us to pay for ourselves, and fervently wishing that it could be done some other way), Jesus chose to follow through with the plan and die for our sins. It was the only way sinful people can come near and be in fellowship with the holy and mighty God. We are folded up inside the grace of the willing sacrifice of Jesus and are made compatible with the unimaginable purity of God by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is a gift beyond any we can give.
God’s gift can be accepted or rejected. He has made it possible for us to be in close and loving fellowship with him, to be his children. And for those who accept this wondrous gift, what he wants from his children is for us to love him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We know from the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 that our neighbors are not just those who look like us, behave like us or think like us. No, our neighbors include the hungry, the poor, the persecuted, those who are in prison and their families, and all who suffer close to home and far away.
Those needs know no season. I realize that nothing in the list above specifically says that we are to give our money, but, over and over, Jesus stresses that our things are not to own us. God’s priorities are supposed to be our priorities. God has given us a clear directive: we are to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). Timothy Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, says that, as a guide, we are to give sacrificially, to give until it makes a difference in our standard of living. That might mean going without something we want in order to give money to a need God shows us. It might mean re-arranging our time to work on something for someone. It might mean committing some regular time to an ongoing ministry or project.
And the grace in giving part? That means that we are to give because God has tugged on our heart and brought a need to our attention, a need that seems worthy of our time and money, or even a need that might seem to us undeserving. I know I don’t always measure up to this standard. But I am working on it, and I know God loves me, regardless. Thanks be to God for his indescribable love!
In Christ, Ruth Johnson