july 11

Spiritually Middle-Class


In chapter five of Generous Justice, Keller writes:

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), and most scholars over the centuries have understood that God’s blessing and salvation come to those who “acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy”…. What if, however, you aren’t poor in spirit? That would mean you don’t believe you are so sinful, morally bankrupt, and lost that only free grace can possibly save you. You may find the classic Christian doctrines about humanity’s deep sin and lostness to be too harsh…. My experience as a pastor has been that those who are middle-class in spirit tend to be indifferent to the poor, but people who come to grasp the gospel of grace and become spiritually poor find their hearts gravitating toward the materially poor. To the degree that the gospel shapes your self-image, you will identify with those in need.

Well, as I already admitted in my post on July 2, that’s pretty much me. I teeter between being spiritually middle-class and finding my way toward being poor in spirit.

When I was a teenager, I used to break out in a cold sweat when my youth group would turn to Revelation 3:15-17. Here it is:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

I believed that I had to drum up more on-fire feelings for Christ so that I wouldn’t be lukewarm. And since my sense of fire ebbs and flows with my hormones and caffeine intake, I could never shake the feeling that I was about to get spit out of God’s mouth.

Now I feel a little more hopeful. This lukewarm (aka “spiritually middle-class”) label is not about feelings, but about our deeds and our thoughts. I can choose to act on behalf of the vulnerable—to do love to my neighbor—no matter how I feel. I can take every thought captive and meditate on the truth that I am wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. It is our daily decisions that make us hot, cold or lukewarm.

I still fail constantly. Yet, although I am unfaithful, my Savior is unwaveringly faithful.

There are days when, in spite of this unfathomable grace, I don’t feel grateful, worshipful or loving. Days when I don’t lift a finger for the vulnerable.

And there are days like today.

As you may recall, I have three tiny tots. Today, getting them to Grandma’s house so that I can write blogs for you, dear reader, entailed the following:

  • Wrestle down two-year-old and put clothes on him while he twists, kicks and chants, “Be nakie, be nakie!”
  • Say, “Let’s brush teeth” 14+ times.
  • Scour house for blankets, stuffed animals and sippy cups that will be needed for naps later.
  • Pack up lunches, attempting clairvoyance to determine what children will eat and what they will throw against the wall today.
  • Pack up diapers, changes of clothes, snacks, wipes and water cups.
  • Send six-year-old on a quest to find my Kindle containing Generous Justice. She comes downstairs three times with a candle instead. Because she’s hilarious. I fail to laugh.
  • Head to the car only to realize that three-year-old doesn’t have shoes on. Regroup.
  • While holding sweaty two-year-old, laptop, purse, diaper bag, three sippy cups and lunch cooler, realize that I forgot to pack cold water bottles for the vulnerable.

(Caveat: It is 108 degrees Fahrenheit in Phoenix today. In order to keep water cold for more than seven seconds, I will need to wrap it in ice packs, then seal it in an airtight thermal bag. It’s a process. And, of course, we’re running late. So Jesus would totally forgive me for not dropping everything to do this, right? Yes. He would.)

Fifteen minutes later, I am boisterously entertaining the tots with a show-stopping rendition of, “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.” We stop at a red light, and my three-year-old points out the man I’ve been looking for all week, trudging down the side of the road. He is scrawny, sweaty, shaggy, half-naked. I give him a bottle of cold water.

And I start crying.

“Why are you crying,” three little voices call in unison from the backseat.

I’m crying because I just gave water to Jesus.

I’m crying because that man has so many needs that I can’t meet right now, and I’m sorry.

Because all my attempts at righteousness are the spiritual equivalent of that man’s filthy rags.

Because I’m in an air-conditioned car and he’s on baking black top, and the world is not a just place.

I’m crying because I was one harried, split-second decision away from missing this opportunity. I was so loaded down with my own massive baggage that I almost decided not to take three minutes to bring the water.

I’m crying because I’m having a poor-in-spirit kind of day.

 Image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan / Flickr.com

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