blessed are you poor

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:20-26

Jesus’s words have to be understood in the context of their times, and the gospel accounts. Not a few times he got after religious leaders who loved money and even took advantage of poor widows. The calling to his disciples was to follow Jesus, which meant total trust in the Father for their provisions. But in terms of the world, relative poverty. Not that many in Jesus’s day didn’t struggle to make ends meet. Roman taxation imposed a heavy burden and most of the Jews were not considered wealthy.

A close reading of the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John along with the rest of the New Testament indicates that having wealth is not really the issue. It seems more like an issue of everything being at God’s disposal, and doing good with the wealth one has. And a big part of that is helping the poor, which when we turn the pages of all of Scripture, we’ll find again and again is one of God’s major concerns, and especially how the rich treat the poor, God often leveling judgment because of their mistreatment in being pillaged by the rich, or not helped.

It does seem to be a common theme that Jesus’s disciples are to live simply, not at all to accumulate material possessions, but in view of God’s coming kingdom in Jesus, and the true riches that are essentially spiritual. In terms of one’s relationship with God and others in the communion and community of Jesus. In following Jesus, people find that their true life is in God, and want to share that same life with others.

But that doesn’t mean material things don’t matter. Humans are not just spiritual, but physical beings as well. Food, clothing, and shelter are considered the basic essentials it seems, according to Jesus’s words. And yet Jesus had no home of his own. And Paul tells us that poverty can’t separate us from God’s love. It seems like this period of time in between Christ’s first and second coming is one that isn’t normal. God’s kingdom is present, but not fully in place, one might say. So that now, followers of Christ who are part of that kingdom live in a world that is at odds with it. Which is why we see Christians living in relative poverty in countries where they are more or less persecuted, and indeed marginalized.

Jesus’s woes are to those who fail to help the poor, who have not obeyed his call. It’s essentially a gospel, good news mission for all, particularly for those who see their needs ultimately fulfilled in and by God. Who are not sufficient in themselves, and see themselves as completely God’s both in terms of devotion and mission. Who can enjoy God’s provisions, but are generous in sharing that wealth with others, particularly those in need, and in so doing are rich toward God. In and through Jesus.

peace of mind to the lowly in heart

And it will be said:

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
I will not accuse them forever,
nor will I always be angry,
for then they would faint away because of me—
the very people I have created.
I was enraged by their sinful greed;
I punished them, and hid my face in anger,
yet they kept on in their willful ways.
I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners,
creating praise on their lips.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,”
says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”
But the wicked are like the tossing sea,
which cannot rest,
whose waves cast up mire and mud.
“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 57:14-21

The peace described here is a rest in faith in God, which comes from a repentant heart, as we acknowledge our sin and need for God. The wicked are on their own, living in such a way that there’s no peace, no rest in God. They are restless in themselves, ever wanting more, oftentimes more in the way of money and power, status.

The passage, well entitled in the NIV, “Comfort for the Contrite,” is an encouragement for us to remain contrite and lowly in spirit, readily confessing our sins, and not thinking of ourselves as better than others. In doing so, we find our rest in God, comfort and provision from him, even praise of him on our lips from our hearts, in place of mourning.

The place where I want to live. In and through Jesus.

finish the work

Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”

Colossians 4:17

We all have something to do. It may seem insignificant, maybe even disappointing if we compare it with what we had hoped for, or envisioned. But in Jesus we’re God’s masterpiece, created for good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). The word translated “ministry” could also be translated, “service,” and “can refer to helps and service of various kinds which can range in meaning from spiritual biblical teaching (Ac 6:4) to the practical giving of provisions, supplies, support, and finances to those in need (2 Co 9:12).” (Bill Mounce)

We may consider our task relatively insignificant, or it may seem nonproductive, but it has its place in God’s overall scheme. Our responsibility is to discover what it is, then seek to accomplish it. The church can help us discern through the Spirit just what our God-given gifts are, and how we can use them for the good of the church and others. Our task is to simply be faithful, not letting up on what we’ve been given to do, but continuing to do it. God’s gifts and call are never taken back, so we have to continue in this until our time in this life is over. In whatever form that work might take. In and through Jesus.

 

Mark 6:6b-13

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Mark 6b-13

prayer matters

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus’s words here in the Sermon on the Mount tell us that prayer matters. We’re encouraged to ask, seek, and knock, which implies a sense of urgency in the request.

And then Jesus points us to the goodness of the Father, that we pray to a Father who wants to give us good gifts if we just ask him.

In the end, if you can tie all of this together, as “so in everything” suggests, our prayers should be for the good of others. That we’re to do for others, what we would want them to do for us. The practice of love for our neighbor, as we love ourselves. Not excluding petitions for ourselves.

Prayer matters. It does make a difference. We need God’s blessing and gifts, ultimately to be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

accepting weakness

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

I keep coming back to this again and again. It’s probably because I haven’t sufficiently learned it for myself. It’s only when I simply accept whatever I’m experiencing, especially inwardly, but I suppose outwardly as well, that you might say, I find faith, and eventually God’s peace and rest.

And it’s important in this to accept the humility which comes with it. We are beset with weakness in whatever malady afflicts us, and in that we feel a dependency like never before. Maybe to some extent on others, but completely cast on the Lord.

This is where we’re to live from day to day. At times it’s especially acute, so that once again we have to accept it. It’s not wrong to ask God to remove it, but God may not. In Paul’s case, certainly unique in that he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and received astounding revelations (click link above to see that). But applicable to all of us who name the name of Christ. In and through Jesus.

when strength fails

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

Why do we sometimes lose what strength we have? A good question. Humans have been given great strength and resilience from God, but there’s a limit. We are, after all mortal creatures, and life doesn’t go on forever.

Strength is grounded to purpose, it’s not an end in itself. We often lose strength, because we lose heart. It seems like there’s little to no use, because what we’re involved in has failed.

God in addressing Israel is seeking to revive and reestablish a fallen, broken people, his covenant people. To understand the setting, it’s important to read the entire chapter. But the end of it quoted above is sufficient for a summary.

God’s limitless understanding and strength are appealed to. As Christians we believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. But that’s not sufficient in itself. What that mean for us personally and corporately is the question.

We’re to accept the revelation of God and God’s will given to us in Scripture. And we determine that by God’s promise in Jesus, we live and carry on, and by nothing else. That revelation certainly includes the whole of human life, every part.

We’re called to “hope” in God, which carries the meaning of waiting in expectation and anticipation. And then God’s promise: our strength will be renewed. So that whatever we have to do, we can fully accomplish. And with the sense of having more than enough.

This involves receiving a sense of vision from God, along with the strength to accomplish what is set out before us, just what part we play in God’s story. In and through Jesus.

watch your mouth

Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

James 3:2b

Although outright murder is worse, there’s nothing more destructive, other than that, than the tongue, what people say, the harm we inflict on others. Many a child grew up with the voice ringing in their ears, or the wound remaining in their hearts over what they were told as a child, more often than not, time and time again.

Knowing this, it seems some people employ their tongue as nothing less than a weapon to destroy others. One might think they’re attempting to destroy evil, but on closer examination, it’s really more like what the text in James says, it’s really to put down someone else, yes, to destroy them. Or so it seems to me.

It is better to be silent, or if one has to speak, to choose one’s words carefully. And with the goal of listening well along with the realization that in the end God and God’s will prevails, regardless of what humans do.

But to do that, one has to be careful not to be caught up in the evil that the tongue ignites.

The tongue…is a fire, a world of evil…

James 3:6a

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

 

self-control, or self in control

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

It’s important to consider context. What precedes has some significance to this passage, but what follows seems to have more bearing: warnings from Israel’s past in failing: testing God, idolatry, and sexual immorality. We downplay the importance of all of Scripture to our own hurt. Paul certainly makes that clear here, as well as in other places.

Part of being faithful in following Christ is to exert self-discipline even in a ruthless, non-compromising way. Sometimes people who emphasize God’s grace, as all of us Christians should, make much out of how we’re not to do anything, but just rest. Yes, we’re to learn to rest in faith for sure, but grace does not at all exclude effort on our part. We’re even told in Hebrews to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. Paul is certainly talking about effort here.

Sometimes it seems for one reason or another, maybe for many reasons there’s not a thing we can do, that we’re past the end of our rope, and there’s no use even trying. We’re in danger then of crashing, or more likely, gradually drifting before the crash comes. Those are the times when we especially need to take heed and discipline ourselves in the way of the Lord, and to fulfill God’s calling for our life. Our goal must be to make this self-discipline a part of who we are. With the goal in the end of somehow by God’s grace hearing Christ’s affirmation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But what if we’ve already failed? Of course it all depends on the specifics and to what degree. But take the worse case scenario. Of course consequences will follow. Certainly people have to wrestle through what they otherwise would have avoided. Confession of sin, repentance, where need be- restitution, change of life over a period of time, and reconciliation as much as possible. And all of this within the fellowship and oversight of the church, led by wise leadership.

Unfortunately that seems an exception to the rule. People ordinarily end up on their own, the church doing little or nothing to help them. Surely if such happens after people are ordained into ministry, it’s different, but too often there doesn’t seem to be sufficient means in place for restoration. So people are on their own. This is another subject, and a good reminder of part of why it’s vitally important to avoid all of this in the first place.

At any rate, regardless, this should be our goal: to follow Christ faithfully to the end, a part of that self-control over our bodily passions, so that we might avoid great transgression (Psalm 51), and fulfill the calling God gives us, to be faithful witnesses in word, deed, and especially life of God’s good news in Jesus.

 

the underrated virtue of gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is…gentleness…

Galatians 5

In these rough and tumble days, to be a man, to be strong, seems to more and more mean being crass and downright nasty. But nothing could be farther from the truth. True strength is able to absorb pain, and rather than inflicting it back, seek to help the one who is troubled.

There is nothing more important for Christians than to be gentle. The fruit of the Spirit as quoted above begins with “love” which might be the fountain of all the virtues listed with it, of course the love of the Spirit of God. And to love means among everything else listed (“love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”), to be gentle. This is a character trait which defines our Lord:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

The Greek New Testament scholar Bill Mounce on πραΰς, translated “gentle”:

Gloss:
gentle, meek, the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration
Definition:
also spelled πρᾶος, meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, Mt. 5:5; mild, benevolent, humane, Mt. 11:29; 21:5; 1 Pet. 3:4
πραΰτης in the Galatians 5 passage, seems to mean basically the same thing.
When it comes right down to it, God himself is gentle with people. God lets people have their own way with consequences following, and God will step in at a certain time to level judgment on evildoers. But God is normally what one could well describe as gentle toward all.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3

…do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Romans 2

Reflecting God as we become more and more like Christ by the Spirit, means to be more and more gentle. That can mean firm, and not letting people walk over us. But in everything, gentle just the same.

A part of God’s good work to be completed in us (Philippians 1:6) in and through Jesus.