Rich in Poverty

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. – Matthew 26:11

We all know who the poor are. It's obvious. We see them every day. Many of us actually fit the bill for being poor.

This passage from Matthew's Gospel is a troubling one. The context is the story of Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, breaking open an expensive bottle of perfume and anointing Jesus' feet. The disciples grumbled saying, "This was expensive perfume. Why wasn't it sold and the money given to the poor?"

Jesus, though, saw things a bit differently. Mary was in poverty. She probably spent all she had to purchase the perfume so she could anoint Jesus' feet with it. In the kingdom of God, there is nothing more precious, more valuable, than the full self giving of oneself, in love, to God. Remember the time Jesus and his disciples were in the temple observing people giving their tithes? They saw both rich and poor giving money, but it was of the poor woman who gave all she had that Jesus said, "This woman has given more than anyone else. They gave out of their wealth, but she has given out of her poverty." The same principle applies here with Mary. Not only would it have been cruel to take the heart offered gift from Mary and give it to someone else, but it would be an insult to her poverty and sincerity in her self giving.

Jesus did not take what she did lightly. He was not glorifying in himself. Rather, he showed the utmost humility in receiving from a woman in poverty. He was not above her. He did not set himself as superior to her and her gift. He graciously received it.

The "poor" in the original quote are not merely those of financial poverty, but anyone who is in great need. Whether it be ignorance, addiction, entitlement, or whatever, these are people who are in deep and desperate need. We often think of them as victims of their own foolishness. And perhaps they are, but that does not eliminate their present situation.

As Christians, we are to condemn NO ONE. We are to love all. We are to pray for our enemies (and not in the sense of asking God to 'get them' or 'make them like us'), bless those who curse us and give sustenance to any who are in need of it.

The world is full of poverty of all sorts. We have not been called to eradicate it, as it will never happen, but we are called to love, to feed, to give.

Trustworthy or Not?

Aside

There once was a man who spent his life in honesty. He was not an intelligent person and didn’t understand much science. He was rather superstitious in his views of the world, but he had personal integrity.

Now, some would argue, that because the man was ignorant and superstitious, he could not be trusted to tell the truth. They would turn his integrity upside down into a terrible vice of dishonesty. Nothing, they would argue, that he says is to be trusted. In fact, only a fool would give him the time of day.

So, let me ask you, the reader, is this fair to the man who lived his life honestly? Granted his errors, but do they trump his overall character of honesty? Is he therefore not a man of integrity?

Suppose your general character were to tell the truth and live according to what you believed. Then, suppose, one day, in weakness you told a lie. The lie was discovered. Does that therefore negate the rest of your life lived in honesty? Are you therefore now 100% dishonest and untrustworthy?

What do you think?

The Opposite of Fear is…

The opposite of fear is not bravery. Bravery is acting heroically in spite of ones fear. No, the opposite of fear is love.
We live in a society that talks a lot about love; it seems to be everywhere. But, in reality, there are few who love. Those few are brave souls who make the most of what they have and shout their good news from the mountain tops. The rest of us follow their rhetoric but seem to never get anything really accomplished. Why, when love is in the air, is our society teetering on the brink of self destruction?
It is because, with the exception of those few, we live in fear. Not just superficial fear, but deep, profound fear. Fear of one another, of the future, of ourselves. We have deep uncertainties because of intellectual commitments that no longer ring true for us but which we cannot rid ourselves of without risking our social status, often within our own families.
Jesus Christ taught us to love one another. Holy Scripture tells us that “where there is fear, love has not yet been made perfect, for perfect love casts out fear.”
In order to save our society, it will take more than a few voicing their love over the media. It will take listening and doing on our part. Self giving is the truest fruit of love and we can all make a difference by putting others first and giving of ourselves, our time, and our resources to those who are less fortunate than we are.
We can be brave and give place to our doubts. Listen to those who’s ideas provoke you to deeper thoughts. Doubt can never be gotten rid of by suppressing or denying it. It can only be gotten rid of by answering the question that has been put to us. Moreover, a pat answer will not suffice. We must examine the question thoroughly and answer just as thoroughly. We must be willing to accept rejection by those who disagree; those who are not willing to step out of fear into love.
Let me make one thing clear, love is not emotion. Love is more than mere commitment, too. Love is determined, resolute, steadfast self-sacrifice. Love never fails. The emotions and the commitment to another come with love, but they are not it in themselves.
Do not do anything out of fear. If you cannot do something in love, then feel no obligation to do it at all until you can do it in love. This is the gateway to personal freedom. It can liberate you from all that binds you. When we act in fear, we are in bondage, but when we can act in love we are truly free. Endeavor to do everything out of of love. Never in fear.
Are you afraid of God? Are you motivated to obey him because of fear of hell or punishment? God will not condemn you for this kind of obedience, but it is not what pleases him most. He wishes you to be free, not in bondage to fear. Serve him in Love and you will be free to experience all that he has prepared for you in this life.
Above all, love one another. For Love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He that loves not, does not know God, for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another.

Love Believes All Things

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus’ death on the cross demonstrated to us the incomprehensible love of God. It is often said that God “loved us so much he sent Jesus to die for our sins.” Yet this adage is said in a context neither amenable or conducive to grasping exactly what happened on Calvary. It is generally conceived as a fact that Jesus’ death carried some kind of weight with God so that a transaction was made in and by which sins could be forgiven.

Jesus’ death, it is said, paid the penalty due to our sins and satisfied God’s justice so that we might be able to come to God. God’s love in this is in his willingness to send Jesus to suffer and die on our behalf.

The problem I see with this notion is that God is made to have no other option. Jesus was sent as an expediency, a means to a desired end. That is to say, if God wanted to save us, this is how he had to do it.

But God is not bound by anything. He has no obligation, neither does he have any need to follow a particular method to accomplish his ends. He is totally and utterly free to accomplish anything in any way and by any means. He does not use expediencies.

It seems to me that in order for God to have freely sent Jesus, there had to be no compelling reason or requirement that he do so. Jesus came freely to live among us, to suffer as a man and to die at the hands of his fellow men.

God did this for love. Pure, unadulterated, spotless, clean, ineffable love.

Love.

But what is love?

Love is unlike anything else we might envision or consider. Unlike other things, love has no boundaries. It has no requirements. It has no beginning or end. It is free and limitless. Love is not based on what one is or what one does but rather on the bare fact that one *is*.

Suppose I say I love you. Suppose we share a life together as friends or as marriage partners. If my love for you is based on something about you, what if that something changes or even disappears or becomes something else? Can my love withstand that? No. It can’t. My love for you will fail as soon as you change. But God does not change, “I am the same yesterday today and forever.” He then cannot love us like this. His love is unchanging. Not that it is static and cold, but it is perfectly true, faithful and loyal.

Love believes all things; it ultimately does not care what we are or what we have done. Love is steadfast in it’s movement toward us. It is perpetual. If I change, God’s love for me never falters. If I fail him, he loves me still.

Love seeks primarily the happiness, the well being, the “Shalom” of the other, the beloved. It does not pass judgment based on differing attitudes of right and wrong. For instance, God does not say, “I love you, but…” He will never say this. He cannot. There are no “buts” with love. Love is free and unconditional.

Love which attempts to manipulate the other to a certain set of beliefs or behaviors, is not divine love. So called “tough” love is not love unless it is an attempt to rescue us from self-destruction. Suppose I become addicted to some destructive behavior, like illicit drug use. Love does not merrily go on it’s way and ignore my abuse. It seeks to redeem me from that self abuse, yet it does not withhold itself in any measure. Love seeks the happiness of the beloved. It does this by giving oneself to the beloved. If I am a drug addict, and you tell me “don’t do that” but do not give the means to accomplish what you are asking of me, then you are not loving me. You are attempting to manipulate me and love is not manipulative.

Jesus is the epitome of love. He freely came to human kind. He became a man. He gave himself, in his humanity, to us out of his love. We chided, abused, mocked, scorned and murdered him. Yet his love remained intact to the very end. Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing. Not only did he not judge those who killed him, but he overlooked their malice as only love can do. To death he treated humanity as his best friend, his beloved.

Jesus said that no greater love can someone have than to lay down his own life for his friend. Yet while we were enemies of God, Christ died for us. Even while we were nailing him to the cross he considered us more than acquaintances, more than a mere friend. He considered us his beloved. His bride. He abandoned all his “rights” as God in order to show us his love.

That should make us think twice before we go about claiming our rights of one another.

Self giving coupled with the desire to achieve and attain the shalom of another at any cost, that is love.

I could go on about the various kinds of love we humans have and what they mean, but none of them hold a candle to the love that Jesus Christ showed us when he opened the Father’s heart to us and loved us to the death on the cross. This is the love that all other loves are to imitate. This is the love that saves the world.

What Use is the Bible?

Christendom has come to see and use the Bible primarily and almost exclusively as a manual of morality. Exegesis nearly always has “practical” Christianity as it’s incipient goal. Homiletics too.

While i will not deny that scripture contains things that can help us live better, more holy lives, i believe treating it as a manual of morality is radically missing the point.

We are sinners. We know this deep in our bones. It doesn’t take scripture to make us aware of it. If we know we are sinners, then we are also aware of right and wrong. We know the difference and can tell the difference. We very simply do not need the Bible to tell us…we already know.

This ‘bent’ in Christian thought has a long pedigree beginning with Augustine. It goes something like “God broke into history to tell us we were lost sinners. He told gave us the law so we could see how we had fallen short. He then provided a way out in Jesus.” Seems to me, it is clear from the Genesis story that “Adam” and “Eve” knew immediately upon their “sin” that they were in trouble. It did not take Special Revelation to make this known to them. Rather, such knowledge is innate to human beings as sharing in the imago dei. In fact, one could say that this knowledge is one of the very particulars that causes us to be/share in the imago dei.

What then is the purpose of Scripture if not to tell us how to live? Scriptures primary purpose, far above all other uses it may have, is to demonstrate and show forth the love of God as the meta-narrative of salvation. It is a story from beginning to end of God’s gracious condescension to the dregs of man and of His provision for a world corrupted by sin and death. In a single word, the purpose of Scripture is HOPE. It is the story of Life from Death, Joy from Sadness, Hope from Despair, and so forth. As Jesus said of himself in John 3, “God did not send his Son into the world to Condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” The Bible is neither the source of our condemnation, our knowledge of sin, our fear or anything else of the sort. It is simply God’s plan for salvation. That’s it. When we make scripture more than this we’re playing games that can’t be won.

Authority, Freedom, and the Bible

I think it is the enduring and very human quest for certainty in a world that does not readily produce certainty that leads men to subject themselves and others to that which they believe to be of divine origin. Authority is the name of the game, and the West is infatuated with it. The most obvious symptoms are bondage to certain ways of thinking about the Bible, the Church, and God. It seems to me that such bondage rarely if ever produces joy and peace and happiness. Jesus, on the other hand tells us that we ‘shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free.” And elsewhere in scripture is the verse, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

I have to ask, where is this liberty and freedom which bring peace and joy among those who claim to have an absolute earthly authority? Is it not obvious that that which characterizes them are rules, regulations and a certain kill-joy attitude? A straw man? Perhaps, but often all too true. Freedom is seen as freedom to be bound by the rules and live by them; to be static; to move through life as a train moves along a track, bound to it and guided by it.

Ones view of authority is, in my opinion, born out of a basic fear of abandonment by God. Either one succumbs to that fear and finds ‘divine’ guidance in concrete forms which are then elevated to infallible status, to be transgressed at ones own peril, or one overcomes that fear, throws away the fig leaves and says, Here I am in all my sinful brokenness, deal with me, God as you will, and I will trust you. One looks to an authority outside of God that supposedly has God’s divine stamp of approval, the other looks to God himself and rests in Him.

I do not think there is any absolute authority in this world and to assert that there is is to snuff out the liberty that belongs to the children of God and ensnare them to bondage. God has written His law on our hearts. We have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and we know right from wrong. It’s part of being human to know these things.

While I love the Bible and believe it is the meta-narrative of Salvation I no longer believe it to be a book intended to tell us right from wrong as if we didn’t already know. It is the story of how God has provided for us in Christ through sinful people who, knowing right and wrong, did both anyway. It is the story of how God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. It is a story designed to provoke faith, not guilt. It is a call to trust, not a judgment against us. It is a story of Resurrection and the restoration of all things, not of how bad things really are.