identifying with the poor

In my culture here in the United States, there seems to be a belief that has taken hold of many, that people are poor for a reason, meaning the poor are essentially at fault for being so. I’ve heard it put quite starkly that way, as if there are no outside factors which have contributed to their plight. Let’s face it, everyone makes less than best decisions at time, surely all of us have even done foolishly sometime when it comes to finances. But those who have a steady job and especially with a good income, have a nice margin of error, whereas the poor, who may not get much over minimum wage, do not. Yes, there’s all kinds of considerations to be added, like how some (some would say many) want to live off the government, while they smoke their cigarrettes and sit in front of the television. Yet there are others who have given up because they felt marginalized and simply didn’t have the qualifications needed to overcome.

Yes, there are poor people in the United States who barely have enough to eat, at times not enough. But most are helped in some way by the government or private agencies such as charities. The world’s poor in comparison suffer a much greater plight, since they often don’t have the resources that the poor here do. I think of places in Africa in which there is starvation even of children, often war ravaged areas in which governments can’t stop evil militia groups, oftentimes the governments themselves being corrupt.

People removed perhaps on the other side of the globe are sadly easy to dismiss or forget. But people suffering where we live is another matter. And yet we so easily live in bubbles among those of our economic, political, religious status, seldom breaking out of them enough to even begin to get to know the “others.”

To identify with the poor is essentially the way of Jesus, whose entire life, in fact coming was about identifying with the poverty of the human condition by becoming completely human except that he never sinned.

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.

2 Corinthians 8

So we must start with our Lord, and it’s good to see it in the context of the above passage just cited (the link goes to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church to give monetarily, an offering for their poor brothers and sisters in Jesus in Judea. Some in their poverty gave generously for the help of others in spite of their own lack.

In and through Jesus, our hearts are to go out to the poor, and we’re to help them in practical ways in the love of our Lord, those who do not know him, with the good news of the gospel, itself.

We also need to be careful that Money doesn’t replace God in our lives. This is a life changing series, entitled, “God and Money,” which while saying a good number of things we may already know, is revolutionary in challenging us to see all of our resources as not only gifts from God, but also belonging to God, we being stewards of such. That needs to get into our hearts and bones to change our lives.

May the Lord teach us more in this direction, as we endeavor to walk together with him, longing for others to know the true riches we have found in him.

offering ourselves and what little we have to the Lord

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

John 6:9

None of this should be about any of us. When I first began blogging on my first blog (on Blogger) around ten years ago, I never mentioned myself. But a writer friend encouraged me to begin writing about myself, sharing something of my own struggles and story. Since I respect her writing and wisdom, I began to do so. And scripture itself warrants this kind of thinking, since we see characters such as Paul sharing something of their own struggles and story over and over again. But strictly speaking, it’s most definitely not about us. We are not the center, but the Lord is the center. We are in and a part of the story, though.

It’s easy for me to think I’m receiving little or nothing from the Lord, and really have nothing to share that will be helpful to anyone. That is not the only reason I write a blog. I do so for my own sake, kind of a time to gather thoughts before the Lord, and perhaps sift them, and try to find something of the Lord’s own thoughts in all of that.

We first of all offer ourselves to the Lord, just as the little boy of old did through Jesus’ disciples. And then we offer whatever we have along with that. And then the Lord can transform the gift and make it a blessing to a multitude.

I am tempted sometimes to quit, and start something new, maybe just be quiet. But part of what I do, maybe a larger part than I might imagine, is to aspire to writing, and writers write. It is something they do whether they feel like it or not. And if I went on feelings, I would wander aimlessly off somewhere and sit down and do next to nothing except drink my coffee with an occasional beer. And read, yes, primarily my Bible. Or maybe let my mind wander off to oblivion. Ha.

We offer ourselves and all we have to the Lord. Somehow the Lord takes that, and we might say breaks it, and makes it a blessing to others. That is what I hope and pray will be true of my own life, first for my family, and then for those around me, and also for any reader of this blog. All to the praise and honor and glory of our Savior and Lord, from the Father by the Spirit.

sacrificial love

The point of living a sacrificial life is love. Loving God and loving others, in the way of Jesus, even our enemies. Martyrdom is when one pays the ultimate sacrifice by losing their lives for the name and honor of Christ. And with the hope that their persecutors will come to faith themselves.

But the love we’re called to in Jesus is mostly an everyday, down to earth, nuts and bolts love. In which the sacrifice we make involves mostly seemingly little things, which can end up making a world of difference. As well as doing what we can when the bigger things come along.

We do this out of love, but in and through Jesus and his sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God and then to others according to God’s will, finding that as we do so, we can better know just what that will is in which we’re to live:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

Love gives, the ultimate love seen in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. And we are partakers of that love both as recipients and as those who live out something of that love to others, to those closest to us, as well as to others. The love of God in Jesus. The heart of our existence.

the error of chasing or living according to the American dream (part one of two)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 6:19-24

When I look back on my life, one of the things I wish I could change is how I handled money. This post requires two parts, but in this part, I will focus on the love of money. Note that it’s not money itself, but the love of money that is called a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Handling money well as in not going into debt unncessarily and foolishly, and saving for retirement, as well as for helping children through college, this is all well and good, to be commended. Of course not everyone can afford much more than the basic necessities of life, which for most Americans includes things which seem marginally necessary like the Internet, and some things not necessary at all.

We too often live by default. I wanted early on to live not caring about money at all. I did want to invest some for the future, but we didn’t have 401-K in those days or any plan as simple and straightforward, or as good as that (short of Social Security itself). I was in rebellion against the idol of money. Jesus’ words quoted above refers to money as a master, and church fathers personified it. Paul said that greed amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:5). And yet to some extent I’m afraid I succumbed to that idol by not thinking beyond the parameters set within the American system. This is tricky, because it’s not like we either can or should remove ourselves from the world. Some people of faith disagree with that and do at least largely live removed from the rest of society, such as the Amish. But the way of Jesus seems to be to live as a witness within society, certainly in a distinct and what will amount to a peculiar way in contrast to the world’s way around us.

And yet it’s easy to fall into the trap of living according to the world’s norms and therefore falling into the world’s trap, instead of really living by Jesus’ kingdom standard, catching that dream and by faith committing oneself and remaining true to that. Even if we do that, it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t seek to build up credit and do all the same basic things others would do. It does mean that we will think, pray and live according to Jesus’ teaching no less, which includes generous giving of our wealth, particularly to those in need, and a refusal to live well beyond what we really need, not to mention well beyond our means. According to the NIV footnotes from the above passage “healthy” in the passage implies generosity, while “unhealthy” implies stinginess, both referring to one’s handling of money.

What is needed is to catch the vision Jesus casts of God’s kingdom come in him, and what that means for us who live in it. Again, that doesn’t mean we don’t live in the world, but we certainly do so as those not of the world. Our faith and witness is unavoidably and inevitably linked to our use of money. What is of fundamental importance in this post is that money would not become our master, but only God. Jesus said there’s nothing in between, it’s either one or the other for us. Even though I saw God as my one and only Master, I’m afraid that in practical terms I failed to see and catch Jesus’s kingdom vision, as well as the teaching of scripture on this. I did not care at all about getting rich, or so I think anyhow, but I did live not entirely, but largely according to the standards and limitations within the American system. Which made it hard to do what we have done over the years in deference to God’s kingdom in Jesus. But more on that in the last post of this two part series.

 

God keeps on giving

God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score

James 1:5 (CEB)

Jesus tells us that if we’re to be children of the Father, then we will give even to those who would hurt us, since the Father gives sunshine and rain to everyone, to the evil and the good (Matthew 5:43-48). God is very much a giving God.

And so we consider a bit the words of James directed at the faithful, believing ones, to encourage us in our trials and weakness. God’s giving to us knows no end. The problem comes when we project something of our own limitations and even sin onto God. Or for whatever reason we fail to believe this. And of course, it’s not enough to believe something as in kind of an intelletual, even creedal belief, though that might be a good start. We need to live as if this is the case.

Which means that whatever we are facing, and for whatever reason, we can return to God again and again, asking God for wisdom to help us through the trial both for the good of others and our own good, as well as to his glory. God gives to help us carry on well in God’s will, in the way of the Lord. Blessing us to bless us, but also so that we might be a blessing to others. That is the very nature of God. The problem is us, that we don’t receive it for whatever reason. Even though at the same time, all humankind receives one blessing after another which ultimately can be traced back to the hand of God.

And so we in Jesus are to live in this confidence, knowing we have a most generous Father, whose generosity knows no bounds.

meditation on the Epiphany

The Epiphany  is about God’s promise to the world being fulfilled in the birth of King Jesus. Kings would come to his light, but in this case, Magi, who were not necessarily kings, but who studied the stars, and as such were astrologers of their time. God had revealed to them through their discipline that someone special would be born, indeed, the King of the Jews.

It was certainly a time that the Gentiles would come to the light of God made known through this king, who ultimately is to rule over all.

We see that they came with gifts for the Christ Child, which surely helped sustain the holy family for some time to come.

We do well to bow now before God’s Presence in the Child (probably close to two years old by that time) Jesus, indeed the King of kings, and Lord of lords. And to offer to him what gifts God has provided for us, first and foremost the gift of ourselves, of our lives. And to spread the word of God’s glory and the good news in him to others.

helping the poor

A huge staple in the Christian tradition grounded in scripture is helping the poor. Giving is a major component of that, and of course we would want to see the poor helped on their way toward a stable, self-sustained existence in which they in turn can help others.

Scripture emphasizes God’s concern and care for the poor. God holds others responsible to do so, especially his people, the family of belivers, or household of faith. We are to be known as advocates for helping the poor. Widows and orphans are singled out in scripture, since that was an especially major issue of that day.  Today we have the homeless along with those who do not have living wages. We need to thoughtfully address these problems and life situations or places people find themselves in. The church should be at the forefront of this. Society has its role as well.

Poverty is often a systemic problem. Caste systems in the world tend to promote this. People can overcome this with help. But it is something that has to be overcome. And there is the issue of personal responsibility. The book of Proverbs is a good book to read through with that in mind. One shouldn’t expect help when they are not willing to take their share of responsibility.

Theology or a faith which doesn’t make this an emphasis I think is defective. We as evangelicals sometimes don’t make enough of this. Within the Great Tradition there’s a much better thread which we do well to learn from.

Jesus called the poor blessed, while at the same time warning the rich. It is not at all wrong to possess material wealth. The question becomes just what we do with that wealth. And especially in terms of helping the poor and those in need.

In the end God will take care of the imbalances of justice. The poor will see the salvation of God and the rich who didn’t care will be judged. And we who are blessed in Jesus will seek to promote that which is beneficial for the poor, for those in need both in the short haul and in the long run. While always pointing others to the one who became poor so that others through him might receive the true riches in God, as well as have all of their needs met.