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.

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ET and the Imago Dei

et8242One thing that science has taught us about ourselves is that we are, apparently, in the grand scheme of things, insignificant creatures, on a small planet, in a remote section, of an obscure galaxy. The incarnation notwithstanding, humanity is not the center of the cosmos and I do not see that being imago dei gives us any unique claim to being so.

Suppose there are other races. There certainly have been other human species on earth in the past. But suppose there are intelligent races “out there”, in the vast, unfathomable reaches of space. Science tells us the likely hood of there NOT being other intelligent races as being so remote that there almost certainly are. This doesn’t mean we will ever meet them. But, that fact should not dissuade us from acknowledging the probability of their existence.

If the Image of God is man as man, then we have a right to rule over all of creation, as the Bible says. But, if the image of God is something other, something built into the fabric of the universe toward which all things grow and are becoming, then man as man is not the center.

For me, I cannot fathom that this beastly tribe we find ourselves members of are the divine appointed representatives of God to the creation. Yes, certainly there have been some beautiful men and women. For sure, there are those who strive to live by high ideals and moral mastery. But as a race? I don’t think so.

Jesus is certainly the epitome of what man is becoming and should be. He came to deliver us from our destitute nature and draw us into communion with God. In other words, redemption is the full embodiment of the imago dei in humanity. Not only did Jesus come because man is important to God (we are!) but also because by coming, we are made significant in ways we could not have achieved on our own. We are not merely loved of God for our own sake but for Christ’s sake.

Until we get off of the pedestal we have built to the greatness of man, we will continue to fight religious wars, wage religious attacks against our own, and generally fail to be all that we could be.

Suppose in 10,000 years time, if we ever get that far, chimpanzees have evolved to the point of language and basic agrarian culture. Here we would have apes in the same position we were at 10’s of thousands of years ago. Will they be imago dei? To my mind, the answer is of course they will be. But to anyone who sees man as the pinnacle of creation, they will be creatures to be lorded over by man…just as they are now.

Kenosis

Jesus_washing_Peter's_feetKenosis. Self-emptying. That is what God did in Christ Jesus. He divested himself of divine right and became human; with all our human frailties and limitations.

Jesus, the man, the human being, gave up, according to the will of the Father, all rank and privilege of the godhead in order that he might be human.

This self-emptying of Jesus manifested itself in his life on earth through his self-giving. He did not live for himself, but gave his entire life for the life of all mankind. Not only in a cosmic way, redeeming the human race, but also in particular ways such as loving his friends, caring for the poor and destitute, feeding the hungry, calming the anxious, healing the sick.

We can talk about the “cosmic” redemption of Christ until we are blue in the face, but until we begin our own self-giving we know nothing of his Kenosis. Until we care for the poor, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, we don’t know anything about Jesus.

Science + Faith = Christianity

Tiffany_Education_(center)Contrary to the opinions of many, Christianity is an evidence based religion. The claims of Christianity are rooted in history. Let me be clear, Christianity per se, is not about theism. It is about the man Jesus who lived in Palestine about 2000 years ago. Christianity claims that Jesus was born, lived and died and subsequently raised from the dead. This is the core claim Christianity makes. Should the body of Jesus ever be found in the desert, the whole religion will have been revealed to be but a misguided ruse. The absence of such compelling evidence against Christianity, though, does not *prove* it’s truth.
We are far removed, historically speaking, from those who claimed to witness first hand the resurrected Jesus. Because of this, we cannot consider the claims of Christianity to be self-evident. It is a certain perspective with which we interpret documented events. We cannot therefore, condemn those who do not see things the way we do as Christians. Judgement is always best left to God.
Jesus remains, imo, the most unique character in history. Not because of who the Church says he is as God Incarnate, but because of what we believe happened, historically, 2000 years ago a short while after his death. He was a great moral teacher, a miracle worker, a prophet. The very early Church didn’t know what to make of him. All kinds of theories arose about him ranging from the now orthodox opinion that he was God incarnate, to the disavowed opinion that he was a phantasm.
The fact of his blatant humanity has always been scandalous; even to many Christians. He is GOD says the pious mind in a failed effort to “preserve” his deity. In so doing and making this emphasis, his humanity is lost and we no longer have a God incarnate.
Jesus is bound to history. Demonstrate that he did not exist or was not raised from the dead, and Christianity is dead. Period. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of history and verification of historical data to Christianity. As St Paul argued, “if Christ is not raised….then you are still dead in your sins.”
I see so many Christians dismiss or vehemently object to issues like evolution because they say it conflicts with the Bible. They then have to come up with cockamamy conspiracy theories about how science is out to destroy Christianity. In doing this they do not realize that they are removing Christianity from a firm historical basis and placing it into the realm of the mythical and legend. To deny science is to deny the Faith. As St Augustine stated, “All truth is God’s truth.” Therefore science must not only be embraced, it must be revered.
Faith is not ignorance. Faith is not opposed to science. In fact, faith cannot exist without science. Science tells us the facts. Faith tells us what those facts mean for us. Science cannot answer the question “Is it right to kill?” Only faith can address this issue. Science can tell us the results of killing, the pros, the cons, the long term effects…it can provide data. But it cannot speak on the morality of it. It takes something beyond science to do this. Call it faith, intuition or what have you, it is beyond the realm of science.
Science can be performed even by lower animals. We have all seen animals learn by repeating something, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. This is science at it’s most basic. But it is faith that is unique to humanity. At least so far as we know. Lower animals do not seem to have any moral concerns. Occasionally we see animals do things that appear to approach love or care, but we really, at this point, have no way of verifying that is what they are actually doing. Humans alone among the species have the ability and drive to make moral judgments. But without science, without data or facts, moral judgments are meaningless. Lions kill their prey, but it’s not murder. Lizards mate but it’s neither marriage nor rape.
The long and short of it is that without history (science) Christianity cannot exist. Likewise, without Faith, Christianity is an empty claim. It takes both together for Christianity to live.

The Truest Hope for Mankind

nativity-sceneThose who know me, know I take my faith very seriously.
Those who know me, know I try not to take life too seriously.
Those who know me, know I have a warped sense of humor.
Those who know me, know i am no prude or puritan.

On this Christmas night, 2015, what that means is I am again in wonder and awe that the Almighty God became human. I am not so confident in myself that I claim to comprehend what it means. My best guess is that the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, revealed himself as human being, born in the most humble way possible, to demonstrate to us what “impresses” God. In a world full of “christians” who believe that there are a few lucky souls who will make it to heaven, with the hellish destination being the primary one for most of humanity, I find myself thinking they must be joking. God, who knows nothing but absolute bliss, perfect happiness and everlasting joy, all in Himself, with no need for anything or anyone else, THIS God, became a creature who poops, pees, eats, sleeps and does everything a creature does. He humbled himself in order to send a few us to heaven? LOL! If God is going to do a work, he does it to its fullest. He doesn’t cut corners. He never fails. He didn’t come to save a few, he came to save us all! He defeated hell and death! He holds the keys to them both! Keys are for opening locks. He opens the gates of hell and of the grave so that those who are in them can be freed.

Are you in hell? Are you dying? He holds your keys. Someday, in this life or the next, you will be freed. Freed to be all you ever dreamed and hoped for and so much more that you cannot begin to imagine it.

Jesus shows us the way. Follow him. There is no hell he cannot rescue you from. No death so thorough, you cannot be raised. Follow him. Imitate him. Do what he did. Live as he lived. Trust him.

Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word and Logos of God, the truest Hope for mankind.

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.

Why I Pray

old-woman-praying1

My biggest obstacle to staying Christian is prayer. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and compassionate, then why does he not answer the prayers of those who pray for others?

I have a long list of people I pray for on a daily basis. I don’t pray because I “have to” but because I love to help others and (seemingly) there is no better One to ask than God to give assistance with that. I will not paint the picture more bleak than it is. Sometimes things happen that could be an answer to prayer. But how do I know it is that and not just coincidence? Other times, when needs are desperate, there is nothing. No wind, no light, no movement. Just darkness and static existence. Silence from heaven.

On the other hand, I have explored my own questions so I don’t just ask them and then abandon all hope. If there is a God and if He is GOOD, then he MUST answer prayer. He cannot ignore the pleas of one who cries out to Him for help, and remain Good.

Something I have learned (it was a VERY hard thing to learn) is that God is so much bigger than we are, so glorious, so vital, so immense, that we cannot (literally) begin to comprehend his majesty. We are but dust and He is the Lord of the Universe. I visualize an image of Betelgeuse with a comparative image of our Sun and another image of our Earth. Then I consider myself in regards to them all and I am nothing. Yet this illustration is but a grain of sand compared to God. In one sense we cannot know God. How can we? He is wholly other and is ineffable…beyond possibility of comprehension. Yet, as a Christian, I believe that he is in the smallest things too and is personally present with me and makes himself known to me. How this is so is a mystery. I have no idea.

Another thing I have learned is that prayer is not exactly what we think it is. While it can be asking God for things (indeed, to ask is the meaning of the word, pray), what it really is, is communion, fellowship, union. Though no request is too small for God if asked from a sincere heart, who do we think we are to demand that God cater to our wants and desires? God works all things together for the good of those who love him, who are the called according to his purpose. If this is true, then oftentimes the difficulty of our prayer lives reveal more about ourselves than about God. We have wants. We have desires. We have needs. But do those wants, desires, and needs correspond to what God knows is best for us? Do they correspond to what He knows will work all things together for good?

And lastly, I am persuaded that God is never absent. Never. The reason we often feel alone and abandoned by God is very simply that we fail to realize that we have *never experienced the true absence of God*. He has always been there. Those times we feel alone? They are the result of our nature and our tendency to turn from God, even when we don’t want to, or realize that we are doing so.

God is so present with us that he is the very life source of our full existence and being. Think about that. Why then are we not more aware? The answer, I think, is much simpler than we might expect…and it has nothing to do with our “sinfulness”. Rather, it is because God is the foundation of our being, that he does his work at levels of depth in our person that do not often rise to consciousness. As Christians, we have a 2000 year history of saints and preachers, apostles and others who have told us of the glories of knowing God and how he can change one’s life. We all want that. The mistake comes when we expect God’s work to be done on a conscious level. God is working to change us from the inside out. He does this in the profound depths of our being, transforming us inside first. Of course, the ultimate goal of sanctification (theosis) is the full conscious communion with God. Face to Face as it were. But that is for the future for the most part. After all, *something* must be different after the resurrection! We do NOT have it all now. There must be something to hope for in the future.

So, though I sometimes doubt, even God’s existence, I remember that I am dust and that God is in me working in ways I cannot comprehend and I am comforted. I also remember that God is working in those for whom I pray as well. I rarely pray for anyone anymore for a short time. I pray for them for years. Some of them I will pray for until I or they die. I believe God is working. I believe not one word uttered in sincere prayer ever goes awry. I may never realize or see how it is answered, but that doesn’t matter. I trust the One who always answers and is always faithful to complete the work in us that he has begun in Jesus.