JUST Giving at Christmas

Earlier this month, we hosted an event highlighting new Christmas traditions developed byLazarus at the Gatealumni. These traditions help reflect God’s vision for justice during a season often overwhelmed by materialism. Attendees gained practical ideas on how to spend less, spend justly and give creatively at Christmas.The centerpiece of the evening was brief devotional fromLazarus at the Gateco-author,Mako Nagasawa.For those of you who couldn’t make it to the event (or like me want to revisit these insights!) I thought I would post the text from his devotional. If you would like to read additional reflections from Mako and co-author Gary Vanderpol, please check out their blogSimple Living for Just Giving. Merry Christmas!

The Importance of Spiritual Formation.I’m really grateful to be here as you share about ways to celebrate Christmas that reflect Jesus’ invitation to simplicity, generosity, and community.The creative ways you’ve thought about gift-giving – using skills and talents and time – are really inspiring. And I especially enjoy the energy and life and joy it’s brought to you. That is part of the spiritual formation process Jesus works out in us. As we grow in our desire to share his love – in this case financially with the poor – he does something in us. He shapes our hearts. He shapes our human nature to be a little more like his.

Here’s another example of that. In November, 2010, I received an email from a couple who participated in a Lazarus at the Gate group in Access Evangelical Covenant Church in Houston, Texas. The twelve of them had wound up giving $51,000 to two organizations:Plant with Purpose, doing reforestation and development work in a village in Mexico; andLiving Water Internationaldrilling wells. The nice thing about this group of folks is that they posted a short video about their experience on youtube. What interested me was how they described their experience:

  • ‘I really learned how to change my lifestyle to live a more God-filled and God-led life, where I don’t treat material possessions as everything.’
  • ‘I’m definitely a more liberal spender than Nick and that’s resulted in plenty of marital conflict.
  • ‘We had a lot of arguments about this. You want to give how much?
  • ‘We’ve all learned to stretch our budgets and stretch our faith in God…being committed to something bigger than ourselves.’
  • ‘I learned that Jesus wants us to give who are not as blessed as us.’
  • ‘We spent a good two weeks researching groups…We are so excited to give this money to the two groups and hope to take a trip out to one of the wells that they’re going to build, or maybe one of the villages that we’re going to sponsor.’

A couple months ago, I received another email from this couple. They told me that their group will be writing checks toPlant with Purpose,Living Water International, andInternational Justice Missionthis year totaling $62,600. Wow!

When We Give: What is Happening in Us?Something has happened in each of us as we have allowed Jesus to be generous through us. Yes, there were challenges. It wasn’t all easy. But there was also something transformative. He shaped our hearts. He shaped our human nature.

For me, it was the sense of learning about what people, many those who love Jesus, are doing around the world. I tend to be a cynical person. I don’t admire people that quickly. But I had to swallow the emotion of admiration I felt for people doing great work in the field of reducing poverty. For me, it was also the sense of participating in work that I really came to value. There was a part of me that really wanted to be there, in the field, where the money was going. And now I want to give more. As I’ve led groups of students on campus through the curriculum, I see people’s eyes widen and their hearts grow just a bit bigger. What a wonderful thing. For you, what has it been?

Maybe you feel liberated by breaking the silence with others about your budget, a topic that seems taboo to talk about in many cultures. Maybe you feel like your eyes have been opened to the heart of Jesus in a fresh way. I’ve also met two couples who said that Lazarus gave them a setting to do phenomenal pre-marital counseling work on money matters. Their hearts were knit together in ways that strengthened their friendship and their partnership. Jesus has shaped your hearts.

This is important because we are not just cogs in Jesus’ machine. This is his way of caring about us, because he is drawing us deeper towards his heart, and making us more like him. He is helping us take joy in the things that he takes joy in.

This has always been his heart. And I think it’s appropriate since we are in the Christmas season to relate it to Jesus’ incarnation: His momentous decision to take human nature to himself, to heal it and transform it, and offer back to us the new humanity he has perfected in his own body.

Let me give you an analogy. In January of 2007, I donated one of my kidneys to my wife’s brother. Paul, my brother-in-law, was at a crossroads. Healthy kidneys normally filter out toxins from your bloodstream. Those toxins make your urine yellow. They need to leave your body. But Paul’s kidneys weren’t filtering those toxins out. So his skin had an unhealthy yellow tinge to it. The lactic acid that your muscles give off when you’re sore after a workout was not leaving his body, so he felt tired and sore. Potassium, which we need in small quantities, was building up in his bloodstream. Unfortunately potassium is what is injected into death sentence prisoners in large quantities to send their hearts into cardiac arrest. These poisons were circulating in Paul’s body and he was in danger of heart failure. Although dialysis was an option, it wasn’t a good one in his case. His dad wasn’t eligible because he had had heart surgery before. My wife Ming was an option but she had already delivered each of our two children by C-section, and I felt like that was enough for her. I was the best option. I was 34, so relatively young. And male kidneys are bigger and could filter more blood. So we went to the hospital. I had never had surgery before, so I was nervous. The surgeon had told me what would happen. I would become unconscious. They would turn me on my side at a 45 degree angle. He would make an incision right above my belly button, through my abdominal muscles, or what little I have left after my swimming days. They would put two tubes into my side which had small scissors at the ends. When the surgeon put his hand into my gut, the catheters would snip my left kidney loose, and it would roll right into the surgeon’s hand! Then they would stitch me up and put the kidney in Paul’s right side, under his own kidney. They did not have to cut through any muscle for him. They would just hook it up under his existing kidney. They would put that in like a new oil filter for your car. So, the next morning, they wheeled me into the operating room. It was cold! And there were very young people there; I thought, ‘Is this med school training?’ As they sedated me, I wondered, ‘Am I going to die?!?’ So I prayed, ‘Oh Lord, help…’ and then passed out. Meanwhile they did all that. As soon as the surgeon put the kidney into Paul, it began to filter out the poisons. He peed yellow, as he should. Within 48 hours, his creatinine levels dropped from 13 to 2, and 1.0 to 1.5 is about normal. So when I got up and saw Paul, he looked great. His skin color was already looking normal. They didn’t cut through much muscle for him, so there wasn’t that much incisional pain. He was feeling better than he had felt in many months. But I felt awful. Until they switched me from morphine to vicodin, I was in pain. But what happened in him was amazing.

I think that’s a good parallel because Jesus is our organ donor. All of us have a poison in our bodies, a disease called evil or self-centeredness. We need healing from it. The reason why God became a human being – why the Word became flesh – was toacquire our disease. That is the entire punishment Jesus took on. He acquired the disease that coursed in his veins, and fought it at every moment. He did took to himself a human body todevelop the antidoteto the disease in himself. In the physical body of Jesus, God resisted every shred of self-centeredness living in that body, pushing it all the way to its death. Hecleansed that humanityand killed the flesh, the corruption in our human nature, the thing that should never have been there before. It was like when Harry Potter died to kill that piece of Voldemort’s soul that was in him, the thing that should have never been there. And when Jesus rose from the dead, he rose in a fresh, new, God-soaked, God-drenched humanity perfectly fused with the divine, with the love of the Father. Jesus is our organ donor spiritually. When we entrust our lives to him, he joins himself to us by his Spirit. He places in us a cleansed spirit, a new spiritual heart, the beginning of a fresh new humanity that is just like Jesus because it comes from him. And he begins to filter out the toxins.

So the change we experience as Jesus shapes our hearts and shapes our human nature is the change he wants to work in everyone, every single person. He is healing us and transforming us, from being self-centered, to sharing in the love that he has for the Father by the Spirit and for each and every person. That is why we celebrate the creative ways we’ve found to celebrate Christmas with simplicity and generosity in a holiday season that has become, ironically, quite selfish. This is part of the gift Jesus offers us: his new humanity, by his Spirit in us.

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