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.

a monk at heart

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

Philippians 4

I am not sure to what extent I’m an ascetic, although what that precisely means in practice varies in monastic orders, but in some ways I see myself as a monk at heart. All in Jesus are called to be separate from the world system, since in Jesus we’re not of the world anymore than he is (John 17). How Christians live that out can vary as well. It is not a sin to happen to make a lot of money, and have worldly wealth, and surely a kind of built in monkish, or monastic discipline ought to accompany that.

Unfortunately in too many of our Christian traditions, to live simply on purpose for Christ and the gospel is not a focus, and not taught in our churches, I’m afraid. We don’t necessarily buy into the vision of the American dream, in fact, in many ways we may repudiate it. But we all too often live in the default of what we know, not realizing there may be other options, or ways to live, which may avoid much of the unnecessary overhead imposed on our society. Of course the American economic system is built on people buying more and more things they don’t need.

Paul was a model to the people of his day of one who followed Christ, and we should learn what we can from his example found in scripture to do the same. And a big part of that was contentedness, no matter what his lot. I’m sure when the extra money came in, while he may have not been averse to living it up a little, or enjoying this or that which otherwise he couldn’t have, by and large he used what extra he had to meet needs of others, to help the poor, a big priority for Christianity, prominent in the New Testament (and throughout the Bible, for that matter).

I don’t see my life as a good model for all of this, however I have awakened in later years to understand what it takes to live out what I actually originally set out to do. Yet failed to some extent, due to the influence of the world. Now, while it’s too late to change water that’s gone under the bridge, I can say that I’m more content than ever with simplicity, and the routine the Lord has given me with my wife and family, and with the job I have. As long as I can have a scripture in hand with a cup of coffee, and hopefully do good works and pray, and have my nose in a good book along the way, I’m happy. The extra frills, like a glass of wine, or a nice vacation trip are certainly good as well. We in Jesus learn to receive all of life as a gift from God, including the more difficult times. It is something we are to continue to work at and grow in, and as Paul indicates, true of his own experience, it’s an acquired discipline, one might even say an acquired taste. So that more and more this is the rhythm and pattern in how we live with others in the way of Jesus.

the true riches

Money is called Mammon, an idol representing wealth, and indeed has a pull and attraction that according to scripture and verified in life easily becomes idolatrous. Some people give everything in the pursuit of wealth with what in the end? (See Ecclesiastes). Others live with an uneasy devotion to it, hoping to get enough so that they can finally devote themselves in service to God. The only problem with that is that Money is a hard taskmaster. They don’t get free of its service so easily as they might imagine, just because they become “financially independent.”

Materialism is the culprit, not the material world, or matter. That is when we live for things, whatever they may be. The dream house, luxurious cars, extravagant vacations, toys and more toys to fill the empty void of our lives. Not that it’s wrong to enjoy something which might incur some significant expense at the time. Not that money itself is evil. It is simply when we live from day to day intent on living it up and have a devoted love to money that we become people who more and more might be characterized by greed which scripture calls idolatry.

It is not that the wealthy can’t be good and do good. One does not necessarily have to get rid of their excessive wealth to be faithful to God. There are some who are gifted when it comes to accruing wealth, and this is a gift that can be well used for good. They are managers and stewards of riches. Such a place requires grace, but ideally they should live as humbly as possible, needs met, but giving as much as they can to God’s work, especially for the service of the gospel.

Those struggling with poverty are likewise prone to temptation along these lines. Their minds can be occupied with the desire for wealth and they need grace to accept their situation while seeking to do well with what gifts God gives them, be it in terms of a job, an education or whatever. Oftentimes their lot in life, perhaps especially so in the beginning is challenging. There tends to be an upward mobility for those who come to faith in Christ, but some for this or that reason may experience dire poverty much of their lives. Jesus did say that it is hard and impossible in human terms for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. He did not say the same for the poor, in fact the poor seem to have more of a readiness for faith since there condition is inherently dependent. With that come unique temptations, one of them often called entitlement. The world is an unequal place, no friend of the poor quite in contrast to scripture where God’s priority for the poor rings out again and again.

In the end Jesus calls his followers to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness with the promise that all of their material needs, the need for food, clothing and shelter will be met. We are called not to store up wealth for ourselves, but to be rich toward God. That may mean for some that they handle large amounts of wealth. All relative, since most of us Americans do so compared to the rest of the world, and indeed it is expensive to live in any established normal way in America. But those wealthy by first world standards can still be rich toward God, not imagining that the money is their own.

The rest of us want to do well with the material wealth we have, avoid excessive debt and get out of debt. Give regularly as an act of devotion and faith to God’s work. And live as those whose lives are caught up in “the true riches” in and through Christ.

more than enough

In the kingdom of God in Jesus there is always more than enough. That more than enough is with reference to God’s will in Jesus, to the good works God has prepared in advance, that we in Jesus should do them.

Too often we’ve operated on some sort of worldly system which depends on ourselves, or the world’s system. Too often we don’t really depend on God in terms of God’s will and calling along with the gifting that comes from that. Or maybe we do just in spots, here or there, and not in life as a whole.

The “more than enough” God provides is never with reference to some kind of worldly goal we have in terms of something like “the American dream.” Rather, it is always in terms of God’s good will in Jesus, not just for us, but through us to the world.

Yes, God does this in community, but also in us individually. God gives each of us what we need to make our unique, God-given contribution to the whole. Often we ourselves will be weak, bereft of resources in and of ourselves. Of course we are nothing on our own apart from God, apart from Jesus. Such times of felt and actual weakness and need seem especially to be the times when God wants to move the most.

We need to have faith as a mustard seed, and we need to follow through in that faith. And if need be, stand alone. We are in this faith together for the world, but there may be times when for whatever reason, we basically seem to be left to ourselves, perhaps a one person band. God will stand with us in order that his calling to us can be fulfilled. With the more than abundant, overflowing life and power of the Spirit. Out of which we live and help others into this new life in Jesus. Together with others in Jesus in this for the world.

abundance

Abundance is a big subject. It starts in God himself, in his person as three persons, Father, Son and Spirit. There is a richness in abundance in God that is boundless. From that abundance, we see God’s creativity of life on earth (probably elsewhere in some forms or whatever, but certainly true and abundant here).

Abundance is found on earth, but like all else in the old creation, has its limits. Which figures into human stewardship of the earth. Sadly we see some natural resources being threatened or pushed to the brink of extinction, upending or changing the balance of nature due to human greed and over consumption. While at the same time too many on earth face a day to day ordeal to survive, to get enough just to live. As the globe shrinks in size due to human ability to travel and communicate, we are all the more accountable for this problem. Though there are indeed a complexity of issues in the mix. But sometimes we make it all too complicated. We’re committed to a course in which there can be little or no turning back, or only with much difficulty. A course which does not have loving one’s neighbor as one’s self as the goal, but self-interest. At best a self-interest that preserves one’s own ability to do good.

Jesus said our lives do not consist in an abundance of possessions. But we want more and more. Not really believing the wisdom that says enough is never enough, that all is indeed vanity and meaningless in itself, apart from the Creator of all good things. While it is not wrong to be rich in this world, it is wrong to set our heart on riches. With what abundance we have, we’re called to be generous and willing to share, thus laying up treasure for the life that is truly life. We are not to hoard up wealth for ourselves, but we’re to learn how to be rich toward God, in other words good stewards of the abundance we have.

Scripture again and again speaks of God’s abundance to us, not only in material ways, but much more so in the spiritual sphere. By the Spirit from God through Christ we’re richly blessed with every spiritual, or Spirit-bestowed blessing in the heavenly realms. Yes, here and now. And we’re to come to know by God’s power just how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, to actually know this love which has no bounds, that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

I look at my own life all too often, and see nothing but deficit. I am empty, and just struggling at times to carry on. Where is this abundance scripture speaks about, over and over again? This reminds me of what someone said to me years and years ago in a kind of departing word, and it seemed to me with some emotion: “May the Lord deepen you, Ted.” Yes, I need the Lord’s deepening work in my life. A work that opens me up to his abundance to and through me to others, in and through Christ.

Abundance. May the Lord open us up to that life to the full, overflowing in and through Jesus, that we might be the blessing to the world we are meant to be in the heartbeat of God.

good and bad materialism

Like so many things in life, it is often not a case of either/or, but and/both. Yes, there are certain things that are wrong always, no matter what. We in Jesus can’t hold to some kind of situational ethic. At the same time there is a richness in life, as well as a complexity in the issues at hand, that we do well to stop and think, and seek to listen well to others.

I was reminded by a brother this morning that there is truly a good materialism. That matter does matter. We are not just spirits, we are material, and we live in a material world that will ever be so, being I take it spiritual material (or vice-versa) continuing on in the new creation when God in Jesus makes all things new in the new heaven and earth.

Therefore while we don’t want to exploit God’s good creation just for our own end, for example to live out some worldly ideal often not only for the benefit, but at the expense of others, at the same time we are indeed to use creation, and specifically the earth as God’s provision of care for us. God put humanity in the garden to tend it and eat of its fruit, as well as enjoy it. And there doesn’t seem to be a thing wrong with humans building cities, as we see from God’s setting apart of Jerusalem, and how the Story ends not only in a renewed paradise, but in a city, the new Jerusalem.

The problem comes in Jesus’ words, when we are given over to the worship of Mammon. This is the idol of money for consumption so that we can fulfill our appetites, all that we want beyond our needs, often wanting more and more. We can easily see the world as simply something to be exploited to our own advantage. Or as beside the point as we pursue our own agenda and ends. In doing so we can come under the sentence God gives in Revelation:

The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.

In that sense materialism is indeed bad. It is a materialism bereft of God’s purpose and end of the Story. It is not incarnational in the Jesus sense, but diabolical in the sense which the devil exclaimed in his temptation of offering up the world so to speak into Jesus’ hands if only he would worship him. That materialism is a part of the idolatry Jesus refers to when he tells his disciples and us that we cannot serve both God and Mammon, again amounting to the idol which money easily becomes.

God’s creation is given to the end of his kingdom which is a flourishing in shalom, meaning a wholeness in realizing the fullness of what it means to live in his Story in Jesus, beginning in this world. We are to live out that beginning, but as those taking up our cross and following Jesus. Knowing that only in God can we begin to live out this shalom from the salvation in Jesus for the world.