Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Seven Most Important Decisions

What are the most important decisions of your life: Who do I marry? What lifestyle do I choose? How do I respond to crises in my life? Who is my core community?

But these decisions aren’t as important as the decisions you make before God. God has more power to change your life than a spouse or crises. These seven decisions will change your life for the better as nothing else will. If you make these decisions, it will help you make the other, less important decisions, and make living with them easier to bear.

1. Decide To be Devoted to God
“You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength.”

Not: to believe in God; to worship God on Sundays

But to: Honor God with your every breath, every movement and thought. Surrendering to God all that you are, and relying on Him to be your strength.

2. Decide To Commit Yourself to Jesus as Lord
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

Not: To believe in Jesus, to pray the “sinner’s prayer”

But to: Recognize Jesus as your king, even if no one else follows him; To obey his law, to submit to his commands, to be his servant.

3. Decide To Join a Group of Followers of Jesus
“Be devoted to encouraging one another to love and good deeds.”

Not: To be a member of a church; decide where I go on Sunday mornings

But to: Seek a group of people who love Jesus with their whole lives who you will share your life with and talk to each other about how you can all better love God and follow Jesus.

4. Decide To Live as Jesus Lived
“I have given you an example that you should do as I did.”

Not: To be nice; to see yourself as better than others

But to: Be Jesus’ representative in every situation; pray as He would pray; love as He would love; serve as He would serve.

5. Decide To Seek Out the Spirit’s Work Through You
“The Father will give the Holy Spirit to whoever keeps asking.”

Not: To get a positive spiritual experience; To receive a miracle

But to: Continually seek the Holy Spirit to do powerful works for the sake of others; Pray for the Spirit daily to work through you and strengthen you.

6. Decide To Love Those You Dislike
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”

Not: To be sickly sweet to those who irritate you; To forget the mistakes of others

But to: Forgive what you remember; help the needy who have harmed you; assist everyone who has need, without exception

7. Decide To Surrender Yourself for the Sake of Others
“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

Not: To complain about how much you have “sacrificed”; to get honor for the work you’ve done

But to: Set aside yourself—your family, your friends, your honor, your loves, your preferences, your irritations, your health, your desires, your hopes, even your very life—for the sake of Jesus and those who need you.

If you have already made all of these decisions, then the rest of your life is simply deepening your decisions, and applying these decisions to more and more of your life.

Don’t Give Yourself Just Part Of A Christian Life—Decide to Do It ALL

Peacemaking 101

Responding To Those Who Did Us Wrong

“I can’t believe he did that!” “What a jerk!” “They are morons!” We often feel like this when people have hurt us, whether on purpose or carelessly. When we are hurt, we act in different ways—perhaps we want to run away, perhaps we want to lash out, perhaps we want to pretend it never happened, perhaps we want to “talk it out.” Jesus and his followers say that the way to respond to those who hurt us is to attempt to make peace, instead of hostility. The way of peace is to listen, confront and to accept. How to do this is explained below:

Stop ourselves from being hostile. (Romans 12:17, 21)
When we have been wronged, we often want to respond in kind or to hurt the other person in some way. Sometimes we want to just separate ourselves from the one who hurt us and never come back. Sometimes we want to lash out at the person, verbally or even physically. The first thing we must do is to ask for God’s strength to be “slow to anger”, and to not respond with punishment.

Check our principles for judging (Matthew 7:1-2)
We have to decide if we have the right to judge the one who hurt us. Are we judging them by God’s standards of right and wrong, or our own? Are we assuming what their motivation was, or do we know? Do we have our facts straight? To help with this process, you might want to look at another tract, “Judging With a Right Judgement”.

Check our motivation for responding (I Corinthians 16:14)
In everything we do to another, if we do it according to the Lord, we do it for the benefit of the other person. Do we want to respond to the hurt in order to hurt in return? Do we want to just make ourselves feel better? Do we want the other person to admit they did wrong? Do we want to insist upon our “rights”? None of these motivations are according to the Lord. Instead, if we respond to someone who hurt us, we want to help them to grow in the Lord or to allow there to be reconciliation between us.

Ask the other person for their perspective and listen (James 1:19)
Rather than being hostile, which is an easy out, our first task is to listen to the other person’s perspective. Most of the time, we will find, that people either didn’t intend to hurt us at all, or they were responding to a misunderstanding of our words or actions which caused them to be hurt. If we can understand what they were really doing, then we can better evaluate how to prevent such a situation happening again.

Speak about how we were hurt (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3; Galatians 6:1)
We need to let the person who hurt us know how they hurt us and what they did. This step is essential, for the person might not know that they have done anything wrong, or not know that they have hurt anyone else. Even if it seems like it is obvious, we need to tell them. We should try not to say, “you did this wrong”, but talk about the actions that hurt us, and anything Jesus and the apostles say about that kind of action. When we speak about our hurt, we need to be brief and to be gentle, hoping for reconciliation.

Listen again. (Matthew 18:15-16)
We need to give the other person a chance to respond to our statement. Perhaps they will want to reconcile, perhaps they will want to say how we misunderstood what they intended. Of course, they may also want to excuse their behavior and claim that they were right to hurt. Whatever the response, we need to give them the opportunity to show how they really feel about their action.

Accept any attempt at repentance and reconciliation.(Luke 17:3-4)
If the person who did wrong makes some attempt at correcting their wrong, we should accept them. We must not look for a particular formula of apology or reconciliation. If the person, in some way, admits a wrong they have done, and is looking for the relationship to be restored, then we need to do our part and try to restore the relationship. This is the case, even if they have hurt us time and time again!

If they don’t want to reconcile, then get someone else involved. (Matthew 18:16)
If either party of a hurt doesn’t want to reconcile—either because one thinks they haven’t done anything wrong, or because one doesn’t want to forgive a repented wrong done—then someone who is of the peaceful Holy Spirit and is objective in the situation should come in to attempt to restore the relationship. That person should be able to listen to both sides fairly and to determine, according to Jesus, what could be done.

If trust isn’t possible, bear with each other (Galatians 6:2)
If the two of us were unable to completely resolve the conflict, then the teaching of Jesus is that we are still to love each other and care for each other. That doesn’t mean that we need to be “best friends”, but we need to be able to live together and at times serve together in the community. Perhaps, over time, the issues will be resolved.

Work something out to prevent the situation from happening again. (Matthew 18:15-17)
The ones involved in the hurt should make some kind of informal (or sometimes, formal) plan to prevent the hurt from happening again. This should almost always involve action on both sides, in order not to cause another to fall away from God or His ways (Mark 7:42-50). If one party refuses to reconcile, then a separation may be necessary until they are willing to.

If the way of Jesus’ peace sounds appealing, but too difficult, consult with your local pastor to gain spiritual strength and counsel, or call the number below.

In as much as we are able, let us be at peace with everyone.

True and False Teachers

If there is one thing that Christianity produces a lot of, it is teachings and teachers. In a way, this is as it should be—the Great Commission of Jesus to the church is to “teach”, “proclaim” and “evangelize.” However, everyone agrees that not all teaching is equal, and some teaching is acceptable, while others are not. But how are we to evaluate teaching? How can we determine what is “good Christian teaching” and what needs to be rejected as false?
The primary understanding we have of anything “Christian” is whether they follow the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles. This is not to say that there might not be many models of Christian education, but it is on the basis of Jesus’ principles that we can call something “Christian” or not. Here are some principles that Jesus taught was characteristic of teaching that represents Jesus:

1. Jesus’ teaching and life is the basis of the content of the teaching
Jesus alone is the one who explains the teaching of God and helps us know what we are to believe and how we are to live. Jesus alone is our teacher (Matthew 23:10), and whether a teaching’s content is true or false is based on whether it is in agreement with the teaching of Jesus or not (I Timothy 6; II John). The commands we are to teach are the commands of Jesus.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Is Jesus only one source of many equals that one gains knowledge from?
 Is Jesus’ teaching secondary to a theology, philosophy or practice?
 Is right or wrong determined by community standards, not the New Testament?

2. Only well-trained disciples should teach.
Jesus said that a fully trained teacher is one who acts like the Teacher, Jesus (Luke 6:40). The main characteristic of a teacher should be Christ-likeness. A teacher should not only teach well, but have a life to back it up.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Is the main requirement of a teacher their education?
 Is the main requirement of a teacher that they be popular?
 Is the main requirement of a teacher that they have a particular philosophy?

3. The teaching encourages disciples to enact righteousness
The content of Jesus’ teaching was to “repent” and the disciples taught that right belief was represented by right action. Even as teachers should provide an example of proper living, they should also teach this in line with Jesus’ teachings.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Do teachers encourage people to act in opposition to Jesus’ commands?
 Does the teaching never talk about correct action or righteousness?

4. Teachers have control over their speech at all times
A person’s action and speech reflects who they really are. A teacher of Jesus would take care over every word they speak, not just while they are teaching. Jesus taught that we would be judged for every “careless word” we speak (Matthew 12:33-37)—and this is especially true for those who claim to be speaking for God.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Does the teacher say foolish, hurtful or rude things on a regular basis?
 Does the teacher use humor as excuse to use evil speech?
 Does the teacher participate in gossip?

5. Teaching is offered to everyone, especially the lowly.
Jesus specifically sought out the outcast and needy to receive his message. Jesus said that God has chosen the poor and foolish to accomplish his purposes in the world. Disciples are specifically to be made up of the lowly, as well as others.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Does the ministry exclude some because of economic or social inabilities?
 Does the teaching specifically put down or exclude people based on economic or social lowliness?
 Does the ministry show favoritism for the wealthy or popular?

6. The teaching is in a context of mercy, not judgement
Jesus said that we would know true or false teachers by whether they were focusing on condemning others or if they are interested in showing mercy to all, offering God’s forgiveness and grace to everyone (Luke 6:36-42).
 Is the teacher only interested in condemning people?
 Does the teaching offer hope for everyone?
 Is the teaching prejudiced against some social groups?
 Does the teaching refuse forgiveness for some sins?

7. The teaching is given without cost.
Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Jesus gave his teaching without cost to all who wanted it, and insisted that his disciples do the same. Anyone who charges for their teaching up front is opposed to Jesus’ methods of teaching.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Is money required up front before you can receive the teaching?
 Does the teacher have an extravagant lifestyle?
 Does the ministry give to the needy of their excess or do they keep the money for its own benefit?

8. Teachers are supported by the people of God.
Jesus said in reference to his teachers, “the laborer deserves to be paid.” (Luke 10:7). A teacher gains his livelihood from the people of God in gratitude for the message he or she is giving. This is offered by donations.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Does the teacher receive a commission for sales of his teaching?
 Does the teacher require a salary, payment and/or benefits package?
 Is the teacher not allowed to receive gifts or donations from those who benefit from the teaching?

9. The goal of the teaching is to create disciples of Jesus
Jesus said that the purpose of the ministry of the disciples is to “make disciples of all nations”. (Matthew 28:18-20). This is the only work that builds the kingdom of God, and the work Jesus wants us to do.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Does the ministry have goals other than building a community of disciples?
 Is the heart of the ministry other than making disciples, such as a building program, a political agenda, etc.?
 Does the ministry do anything, which discourages believers from being disciples?

10. Teaching is to be done with authority.
Jesus’ teaching was accompanied by healings and exorcisms. He said that the teaching of the disciples would be accompanied by healings and greater works.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Does the ministry or teacher try to stop works of the Spirit?
 Is there opportunity given for prayer for the sick or exorcisms?
 Is there evidence of the power of the Spirit among those in the ministry?
 Does the teacher speak with authority, or on the basis of scholarship?

11. Teaching is to be done in humility
Jesus taught against the Pharisees who loved titles and wanted the best places at the banquets. The true teacher of Jesus is humble, not seeking praise of men, but looking for God’s approval and reward alone.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
 Does the teacher allow his titles to be emphasized?
 Is the teacher trying to be popular?
 Does the teacher try to give himself positions of power?

12. Teaching is done in the context of service
Jesus said that the leaders of His church are to be servants, not "lords". This means that all in leadership need to be focused on the needs of the people and all leaders-- including teachers-- need to be participating in the lowly service of ministry.
Signs that a teaching ministry is not Christian:
Does the teacher refuse to do service because it isn't his "job" or "gifting"?
Does the teacher hold the poor in disdain?
Does the ministry not offer any real help to the needy?

The Lucky Dogs

Ah, the poor—you lucky dogs! Because you are the owners of God’s kingdom.
How lucky are those who are presently hungry—because God will make sure you have your fill.
How lucky are those who weep in this life—because God will make you laugh.
How lucky are you, my disciples, when people hate you. You are fortunate when they won’t have anything to do with you, when they call you names and tear down your reputation. When that happens—have a party! Jump for joy! Because you are lined up with great things from God. Because, you see, this is the way their type have always treated God’s prophets.
But you well off—I’m so sorry. You are getting all the good life you will ever get.
It’s so sad about you who eat well now, because God will make sure you will be hungry.
It’s so sad about you who are well entertained now, because God will make sure that you weep and grieve.
And you who have excellent reputations with everyone? Grieve, for that is how their type treated the false prophets.

To Get Lucky Like A Dog…
When Jesus spoke these words in Luke 6, it says that he was speaking to his disciples. These are his students who memorized his sayings and spoke his message to the populace around. Some of these folks were sincere in following Jesus, while some were in the business for the prestige of being close to Jesus, of using his name to push their own agenda. Here, we see that Jesus fully recognizes that some of his disciples he fully approved of, while others he felt were compromisers. And the compromisers would receive none of the blessings.

…You’ve Got to Get Treated Like One
The true disciples, say Jesus, are the anawim—the poor, the humble, the humiliated, the outcast. They are the ones who, as a result of preaching the gospel that Jesus gave them, end up in poverty, in hunger, in sorrow and completely disregarded. These are the true followers of Jesus, the true recipients of the kingdom of God.

It’s just not fair!
But why? Why should the true followers of Jesus suffer in this way? Well, let’s face it, Jesus’ reputation is mixed. In his day he was known as a great healer and as a heretic teacher. Today he is connected to both mercy and fundamentalism. He is seen as both a wonderful teacher and a religious fanatic. In this way, a person can use the name of Jesus to get ahead, or they can be attached to Jesus and obtain infamy.

What Jesus is saying is to recognize that He is both loved and universally hated. Those who really know Jesus are, at the least, uncomfortable around Him. Some truly despise him—especially those who want to uphold the standards of this age, who see the world as fundmentally good, but needing a few minor changes. We must remember that Jesus is speaking about a complete overhaul of the world—the mechanical equivalent of replacing the engine. Jesus says, “It can’t be fixed! Just scrap the whole world system and start over!”

So those who truly are saying that which Jesus says will be hated as well. Jesus says, “If they hated me, they will hate you as well.” But not everyone who speaks Jesus’ name or words is hated. Why? Because they change Jesus’ fundamental message into a lighter, more palatable affair. Perhaps they do this because they want a hearing, or because they want to get ahead in the world as it exists. But Jesus states clearly that those who speak His gospel without compromise will be rejected.

Persecution promise
Jesus’ promise for his disciples is persecution. It isn’t a possibility, it isn’t a suggestion, it isn’t even a command. It is a promise. If we truly follow Jesus, live his life and speak his message, we will be persecuted. Now some say, “But I’ve followed Jesus in all the ways I can, but I’ve never been persecuted! Am I going to hell?” Okay, now slow down. Often we have a bigger idea of persecution than Jesus has in mind. We don’t need to be beaten or martyred to be persecuted, although that is a good indication of it.

Jesus has two parts to his concept of persecution. First of all, we need to be rejected in some way. We might be rejected by beatings, or we could be rejected by people refusing to talk to us. People could see us and walk the other way. People might scoff whenever our name is brought up. They might call us names behind our back. All of these actions are types of persecution, types of rejection, as well as being arrested, beaten and killed.

Jerks for Jesus
The second aspect of persecution, according to Jesus is that we must be persecuted for living out or talking about the gospel of Jesus. The true persecution is rejection we receive due directly to our commitment to Jesus.

A lot of people think that they are truly following Jesus because they have been persecuted for Him, when in reality they have been persecuted because they acted like an idiot in public. If you act hatefully, if you yell at people, if you are a stalker for Jesus, if you do other things for Jesus that makes you a jerk (that He didn’t specifically command), then you aren’t being persecuted for Jesus. You are being hated because you are acting inappropriately. Paul’s statement, “Speak the truth in love” is too often ignored by Christians seeking to please Jesus by being persecuted. We are to be rejected because of the message of Jesus, not because of how we deliver that message. If we speak the message of Jesus in a way that could be received, and then we are rejected, then we are being persecuted. But if we are a jerk for Jesus, then we are not receiving the persecution Jesus promised us.

Suffering for Fun and Profit
Another thing Jesus mentions in this passage about persecution is that it should be one of the best things that ever happen to us. Once we are rejected and openly hated for speaking Jesus’ word, we should be happy! We should celebrate and have a party—assuming that anyone shows up, of course. This seems like an odd reaction—and actually it is one of the more difficult commands of Jesus to follow. “Okay, I’ve just been rejected by my parents and my best friend… and so I’m supposed to call people up and say—‘oh, isn’t it cool?’”

It is difficult, but it has a logic to it. Persecution is like a baptism (in fact, the early Anabaptist reformers called it the “baptism of fire”)—it is an initiation rite. When we get persecuted for Jesus’ sake, it is an assurance of our salvation. Yes, Jesus recognizes that rejection isn’t fun, but we can truly rejoice if we know that this persecution is our guarantee of God’s approval! So there are three kinds of initiation that we should celebrate—our baptism, our first communion and our first persecution. Actually, we SHOULD have persecution parties!

Tom Hanks Need Not Apply
Finally, there are those who do not get persecuted. We need to remember that Jesus is speaking to those who were following Him. They have repented from their sins, some of them have sacrificed their possessions for Jesus. But Jesus is saying that sacrificing as a business investment just doesn’t work. We need to recognize that our lot in life in doing the ministry of Jesus isn’t a nice salary, a good car and a comfortable lifestyle. Rather, living for Jesus is a promise of poverty, hunger and rejection. Perhaps not everyone lives this way all the time, but some do and the other followers of Jesus recognize that this is the path that Jesus laid out for all of us. If we use Jesus as a means to become a “professional” or to live the “good life” or to obtain the American dream, then we are not following Jesus at all. We are being a hypocrite.

To follow Jesus is to be rejected for Jesus.

The Second Chance

Jesus responded to this news by saying, “It is time. It is time for the Messiah to be honored. Listen carefully: A kernel of corn has to be torn from it’s life, thrown to the ground and allowed to die, or it will always be by itself. But if it dies, then it will be transformed into many more. Even so, whoever grasps onto his own life will lose it. But whoever hates his life in this age will find that it is preserved by God for the next age, which is eternal. The one who wants to be to be in my government, must follow me through death and beyond. Wherever I am my follower will be as well. The faithful servant will be honored by God. So now I am in anguish, because of the difficulty I must face. But should I ask God to save me from this fate? But because it is my fate, it is my purpose. Father, in my death, glorify Your name.” John 12:23-27

He sat them down and began to lecture them about the doctrinal necessity of the suffering of the Son of Man of Daniel. That the Son of Man would be declared guilty by the judges and bishops and the seminary professors and he would be sentenced to death, killed and after a three day appeal would be resurrected. He spoke to them without metaphor, but straightforwardly. After he was done, Peter gently took him aside and told him that such things could not happen to him, the Messiah. Jesus turned toward all his disciples and raised his voice for all to hear, “Get away from me! You are not Peter, but Satan! Stop tempting me to take the easy route! You are speaking of God’s plan, but of human achievement!”

Then Jesus called the crowd to gather around him, beside his disciples, then he addressed them all: “Do you think that I have the way to life, the way to enter into God’s kingdom? Then listen here: If you want to be a part of my school, you must give up on all the things that make up your life, accept that you will be killed as a revolutionary and go where I go. Since I am going to die, you must accept that for yourself as well. If you want to preserve your life, then you will lose it. If you lose your life for Me and my school, then you will retain your life. If you surrender your life, you will obtain resurrection. Sure, you could gain everything in the world you want—happiness, security, wealth, fame—but what good is any of that if you lose your life in the long run? Suppose someone had a gun to your head and wanted all you had for your life? Isn’t it better to give all of that up, so you could live and obtain your stuff and happiness another day? If anyone is fearful of speaking about Me before this sinning and faithless people, then the Messiah will dare not speak his name on the final day when he comes to rule the Father’s kingdom with all of God’s power behind him. Mark 8:31-38

Eternal Life
Jesus’ goal was not to die, although it may seem like it in the above passages. Rather, Jesus’ goal was what is called “eternal life”. This eternal life is not life in heaven, as spirits floating around singing. It is a second chance on life.

In our current life, we are compromised from doing all we could for God. We live in a corrupted world which strives to encourage us to do evil, to disobey God. We have corrupted bodies which have corrupted desires and illnesses and weaknesses that the body encourages us to sidestep by doing more evil. We live in a context of temptation and injustice and weakness.

God is offering resurrection. This means that we will come back after death into bodies that are uncorrupted and incorruptible. We will be living in a context without injustice, and temptation is kept to a minimum. We will be given an opportunity to live for God without weakness, in full strength and spiritual authority.

And some will be chosen to rule over this utopia. The Messiah will be chosen among people to rule over God’s kingdom and He will chose many to rule with Him. The ones whom He will chose will create justice for all, provide the context of life for everyone. This is the dream of the New Testament. It is the goal of Jesus.

God’s Justice
But God doesn’t give this kind of resurrection, this opportunity to everyone. Not everyone deserves to rule, not everyone can handle the power that will be given to people to rule. Not everyone is prepared to deal with people as they are. God is careful to choose the people who will create His utopia, and these will be given a second chance on life.

Who are these people that God chooses? God’s selection process begins first of all with those who didn’t really have a life to begin with. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a chance of a good life. Perhaps they surrendered the chance of a good life. But God is looking for those who suffered injustice in their lives. They did good for themselves, for their neighbors, for God’s kingdom, but they received shame and punishment for the good they did. God will not look for the rich and powerful, the famous and lauded. They have already had their life. God will be looking for those who gave up their life and give them another chance.

Jesus’ Example
Jesus is the one who surrendered his chance at life for others. He could have lived a quiet, but happy existence as a carpenter in Nazareth. But he chose to give up on the good life so that a better life could be granted to everyone. Jesus gave up on life, on happiness, on a good retirement, on hope of a peaceful death. Jesus surrendered all the great possibilities to live in shalom. He did this, not because he couldn’t have lived in peace, but because he saw so many who didn’t have the chance. So he gave up on life to give others a chance.

And this is exactly what Jesus is calling us to. If we want to have a better life, we have to give up on the one the world offers us. Yes, for some of us, perhaps we could have a solid job, a quiet existence, a good family, the American dream. But for many, this life is out of reach. Jesus is asking us to give up the good life, so we could give an opportunity for a better life for others.

• Just like Jesus, we are called to give up the pursuit of the “good life”, the American Dream.

• Just like Jesus, we are called to live in rebellion against the world political system which denies peace and justice for so many.

• Just like Jesus, we are to allow ourselves to be persecuted, to be punished for doing good.

• Just like Jesus, we are called to even die in our innocence, to die because of our life in God’s compassion.

These who give up their shots at the good life to live and die for others, they will be given the second chance. They will be God’s rulers in the coming revolution.

As It Was Prophecied
This is also nothing new. There are only a few places in the Old Testament that talks about the resurrection of God’s people, and every passage speaks of God giving a second chance to those who didn’t have a life to begin with:

o Psalm 22—The author of this Psalm is surrounded by enemies and killed, but he relies on God for deliverance. God then gives him a second chance at life, which is happy and good.

o Psalm 37—The people of God suffer under oppression because the wealthy wicked are causing them to live in poverty. The point of the psalm is that God will give the poor who wait for God a second chance at life without such oppression.

o Daniel 12—The people of God are under a terrible trial and oppression. They are surrounded and destroyed and killed by their enemies. God destroys their enemies and resurrects the killed, giving them a second chance to live under God’s rule.

Jesus sees the fulfillment of these prophecies, but he adds one more factor. There are some who will choose to suffer, who will chose to die for the sake of God’s kingdom and righteousness. These will also gain resurrection with those who had no choice to suffer. And some of them will rule in God’s kingdom.

Who get resurrected? The rejected by the world.

Down and Out Leadership

The disciples had an argument, there at the Last Supper. They were debating which of them would be the most important ruler beside Jesus when His kingdom comes. Jesus calmly said to them, “It is presidents and kings of the world that are concerned about authority and power. These wield great authority over all men and everyone must call them ‘gracious’, as in ‘gracious lord,’ or “Wow, you are the greatest thing since Oprah”. But if you want rule in my kingdom, you can’t act like that. The ones who will have the greatest authority in my kingdom must prepare themselves for it by acting like the least important. If you want to be important, then be like a waiter. In a restaurant, who is in charge, the waiter or the customer? Isn’t the customer who orders the waiter around, telling him what to get and how much and sending something back because it isn’t quite right? And doesn’t the waiter have to run around, doing the bidding of the customer? Now look at me—I am the waiter. I am here to serve others, not to tell others how to serve me.

“Look, guys, you are great already. You have stayed with me during my most difficult days, though all the struggles and trials. Because of this, you will rule with me because the Father has given me His kingdom to rule. So you will be feasting at my side—even as we are feasting here!—in my kingdom. And then I will give you authority to rule all of God’s people. Each of you will sit on a throne, and you will rule the twelve nations of Israel.

Everybody Wants To Rule The World…Sometimes
Well, this is kinda embarrassing. After all, Jesus is the one who is always talking about lowliness, about humility. Yet, here He is, encouraging arrogance. You see, even though he is correcting the disciples about some things, he is in agreement with them about the thing most of us are uncomfortable with: It is a good thing to want to be in charge of the world.

Most of us feel that this is inappropriate. After all, its just too lofty of a goal, and it is straight hubris—blatant pride to think that we should rule the world. That’s God’s job, isn’t it?

Well, in fact, its not. God gave the job over of ruling the world to human beings way back in Genesis 1. It is our job and we should want to do the job that God has given us. So when Jesus answers their question, He doesn’t deny that we should want to rule the world. Frankly, we should.

And even if ruling the world seems distasteful to you, we all have a hint of it in ourselves. We all want to be respected by the people who know us. And we all want a certain measure of control to make things “right” over our lives. And we get angry when we see that something isn’t right, either in our lives or in the lives of those around us. These are God-given characteristics to everyone in humanity so that we can do the job that God gave us, namely, to rule the world.

The Wile E. Principle of Leadership
The problem is that we take the characteristics that God has given us and go too far with it. Waaaaay too far. God gave us anger at injustice and we have turned it into anger against anyone who irritates us for any little reason, without regard to what is really right. God gave us the desire to make things right and we have turned this into control-freakishness or harshly punishing those who are different than us. God gave us the desire to be respected and we turn this into a hunger for fame or a fear of negative responses. This is not the kind of world-leadership Jesus is looking for.

So when Jesus responded to his disciples, he didn’t correct their desire for world leadership. In fact, He affirmed it. He said that they would be world leaders in the kingdom. And desiring it is a good thing. What he needed to correct was their methods in achieving it.
Most of us think of obtaining leadership like Wile E. Coyote. Wile E. is on one cliff and he is running as fast as he can to the other side, but he doesn’t realize that there is a canyon between him and the other cliff-top. So he runs out.. and there he is, standing on thin air. And then he falls…. Bam!... at the bottom of the canyon and we next see him wrapped in hospital gauze.

Even so, we often think that leadership—as well as wealth and popularity— is a straight line. If we want it, we just go get it. And although we must work hard to achieve success, we will get it if we just take it by the throat. But what we don’t realize is that there is a huge canyon between us and our goal. And if we just try to achieve success in a straight line, then we will be the one in hospital gauze.

The Power Broker
Jesus helps us realize that the only one who can give us success, or power or popularity or wealth— in any positive, permanent way—is God. He is the one ultimately in charge of all things and He gives these things to whom He wills. And while the power-hungry may be in charge now, it will not be that way forever. God will come down to kick out the power hungry and instead welcome a different kind of person.

But to obtain that kind of position, we have to be that different kind of person. God is looking for the lowly, the Anawim, to be in charge of the world. God can’t have the control freaks, the judgmental, the quick to anger or the anxious be in charge of the world. So for world leadership, God is looking for a the lowly and righteous. For the Anawim. God is looking for the people who will act as Jesus said they should—People who are repentant of their sins; people who will sacrifice their life, family and possessions to love Jesus; people who will endure in Jesus through persecution. People who will set aside their comfort in order to serve others. God is looking for faithful disciples.

Jesus Leadership
But not just disciples. Different disciples will obtain different levels of leadership in the final kingdom. And those in charge won’t just be the good disciple—the whole world will be filled with those. But the world leaders will be those who have certain characteristics of leadership
To be an anawimic leader, we have to follow certain principles of leadership now:

Hang out with the down and out—To be a leader in Jesus’ methodology, we cannot be shy of having the outcast be our friends and companions.

Live like the down and out—To be in charge, we have to remain lowly, not seeking wealth or power, but constantly giving to those in need. A godly leader doesn’t think how he can benefit from a resource, but how the whole community can benefit from it.

Get used to taking orders—To be in charge, we have to listen to other’s needs and act on them, rather than our own ambitions. When we see someone’s need, we take that as an order from them to act. If we act in accordance with the other’s need, then we are living out Jesus’ leadership.

Lead by example—It isn’t enough to tell others to do good, to repent, to live purely—we have to do it ourselves. We must show the life of Jesus and not just teach it to others.

Encourage, don’t demand—To be Jesus leader is to be gentle and to recognize other’s freedom to do as they please. If we give others freedom and opportunity to live for God, then they can have a relationship with God. But if we end up controlling others, they have no relationship with God, only us, which defeats the purpose of trying to get people to live for Jesus.

So to be a leader in Christ is to be the Anawim. It is to live as a waiter, a servant of others, only living to act for others and not for our own ambition. If we attempt to get our own ambition, then we end up like Wile E.— Falling to our doom.

Paul and Economics

Paul the apostle, the ancient missionary and theologian, has appeared on a 21st century university campus! With his good friend, Don, a professor of ancient Hebrew literature, they speak the truth of the ancient Christians to students who ask Paul questions!

Adam: (A student of business) So, Paul, I was wondering what you do here in the 21st century.

Paul: What I “do”? I’m not sure what you mean.

Adam: I mean, are you hired by Professor Don, here? Or do you have some other job?

Paul: (A bit flustered) Well, I assist Don whenever he needs me to. I’m not sure what you’re hinting at.

Adam: Sorry, I’m not trying to hint. I just know that in your letters you were very serious about people having jobs.

Paul: Having jobs?

Adam: Professor Don, I’m sure you know the passages…

Don: (Smiling) Of course. First and Second Thessalonians. Second Thessalonians is most specific in the phrase “If you do not work, you do not eat.” And also in First Timothy, those receiving from the church must not be “busybodies” but actively working. However, I hardly think…

Adam: (Also smiling, interrupting Don.) Exactly. I am sure, Paul, that you do not want to take advantage of our good professor, here. You said that you did not do ministry unless you were working with your hands. Besides, you should be thinking about your future. Don’t you want your own place?

Paul: (Now also smiling as well.) Very interesting, son. So you see my arrangement with Professor Don as in opposition against my standard of work for God’s people. If I was living according to the standards of your society, I might say that I am in “retirement”. Would that be acceptable?

Adam: I suppose. But then you would be a draw on society, because you never put anything into it.

Paul: Providing a foundation to the Gentile church was not enough, eh? Were it not for me, you would have very little of what you “church” today.

Adam: Well, that is… true… I guess…

Paul: (Still smiling, enjoying Adam’s discomfort.) Look, son, I think I know your real point. As far as you can see, I am just a homeless man, perhaps insane, receiving free room and board from the beloved professor at no cost to myself, right?

Adam: I wouldn’t know if you were homeless….

Paul: Come, that must be your assumption, right? Otherwise why would I show up at a classroom door, looking for a handout?

Don: I want to clarify, however, that Paul is working for me. He assists me greatly in translating the Hebrew Bible and ancient Aramaic texts.

Adam: So why not just pay him, so he could have his own place and pay for his own food? Why have him be dependent on you? Why not just let him go?

Paul: I think I understand your questions, now. Let me try to answer them in order. First of all, about the passages I wrote. I was not writing that everyone must have a “job” with an employer, a salary and income tax. The Roman economy didn’t really work that way. If you had a “job” like one would have today, we would call that having a “patron” and you would work for him exclusively, doing as he commands, and he would provide your living for you. Or you might work day labor, in which you might work for a different person every day. In my previous life, I worked as a tent maker, which meant that I was an entrepreneur, or a self-employed businessman. Most people were self-employed in some way, since they worked their own family farms. This was less so in the larger cities, but there was really very little work that you would call “employment” in the ancient times.

Adam: All this to say….?

Paul: That my command to work had nothing to do with being independent, or “having a job.” A person could work in the fields, they could work in some way for the church, they could “volunteer” for twenty hours a week. But they had to work somewhere.

Adam: Or else they couldn’t eat? You would take away their food?

Paul: (Laughing) Oh, no. You see, in the first century, the only “welfare” system in the Roman cities was the Christian church. They would have mercy on anyone who was poor and assist especially those who were needy in the church. I was saying that the ones receiving regular assistance needed to be working to sustain themselves, if they can. If they can’t, then they needed to be working some other way. God made us to work, not to just think that because we have some special knowledge or authority that we can be provided for by others.

Adam: And by work, you mean….

Paul: Doing something productive, especially something that provides their own food and clothing.

Adam: So you had no one sponging off of anyone in the early church.

Paul: Well, I wouldn’t say that. After all, I wrote about this issue a number of times because there were many people who wanted to just live off of the church for no good reason. Part of this is because of the many apostles we had.

Adam: I thought there were only twelve?

Paul: Oh, no, many more than that. Timothy, Barnabas, Apollos, Junia, and many hundreds others were all apostles. And there was a command of our Lord that said that they were to be provided for by the church—“The worker is worthy of his hire,” he said.

Adam: So they were working?

Paul: Yes, they were teachers, educators. And for their knowledge of Jesus, the church would give them room and board. They wouldn’t usually stay very long in one place—perhaps a year or so. Then they would move on and teach about Jesus somewhere else. And the church would provide for them for their teaching.

Adam: But weren’t you an apostle like that?

Paul: Certainly. And I had every right to draw my room and board from the church for my teaching.

Adam: But you didn’t?

Paul: Barnabas and I felt from the beginning that the privilege that Jesus gave us was being abused by many people. So we refused to take advantage of it during the main part of my ministry. Later, when I was under house arrest, I was forced to accept the hospitality of the church.

Adam: You mean the hospitality of your jailors.

Paul: No. Do you think Roman jailors cooked and cleaned after their prisoners? No, it all had to be done by the friends and family of the accused. In my case, it was the church.

Adam: But the norm in the church was to have people work?

Paul: As it is appropriate to their skills. However, I want to challenge one assumption you made. You assumed that every person or family in the church should be economically independent?

Adam: That is what is appropriate, I would think.

Paul: But we were in no ways independent. Especially economically. It was so important that we all work because every member of the church depended economically on everyone else.

Adam: You mean like a commune?

Paul: No, not like that. Most of us had our own living places, but many wealthy people had a number of people working for them and living with them. In the ancient times, having people work and live with you is what is meant to be wealthy. But most people just live in their family units.

Adam: So how were they dependent on each other?

Paul: Economics were not as stable as you have in this country, in this time. Any little thing could destroy a family’s or a community’s ability to support themselves. Perhaps a family farm could be destroyed by insects. The provider of a family could have a dry spell of day labor. A city might be withered by a drought. Or war might ravage a community.

Adam: I thought the Romans mostly brought peace.

Paul: The Pax Romana was mostly for the advantage of the aristocratic Romans, not the common folk. They didn’t involve themselves in local skirmishes, unless it got in the way of Roman rule. But the point is this, in an insecure environment, with anyone being vulnerable to poverty or loss, the church community was always there to assist those in need, especially if they were of the church.

Adam: So if someone was in sincere need, you would help.

Paul: “Sincere” need? We usually knew enough about each other’s lives that we didn’t need to assume that the need wasn’t “sincere”. This was one of the main witnesses of the church—we would help people, not assuming that their misfortune was judgment from God or as a result of their sin, but we would assist out of charity. Everyone needs help sometimes, and it was the task of those who did not suffer misfortune to be there for others.

Adam: Well, I am glad that the church is a bit more economically savvy, now than it was in the ancient past.

Paul: Economically wise? In what way?

Adam: You were just saying that the church provides charity for anyone in need. This system creates laziness and dependence and an unstable economic system. And you were initiating the very system that the Reformation had to do away with—paying for a priestly class that provided nothing to the community.

Paul: Ah, like your pastors today, you mean?

Adam: A pastor today is paid by the excess of a particular community. If a community isn’t fiscally wealthy, they don’t get a pastor. And the pastor is paid because of his or her superior education. So they had to prove their place. Not just show up and say, “I’m an apostle” or a monk or whatever, and expected any stranger to provide for them.

Paul: And this is superior, why?

Adam: Because the church isn’t providing assistance to those who are just taking advantage of the system. This supports the economy of the country, it is not a drain from it.

Paul: So everyone only receives that which they deserve?

Adam: That is correct.

Paul: So no one lives off of charity?

Adam: There are some people who live off of the government. However, eventually, the government will stop giving to those who don’t deserve it.

Paul: I hope so.

Adam: You do? That’s good. I was afraid that you’d be some kind of socialist…

Paul: I hope the government steps out of welfare so the church could step in.

Adam: What?

Paul: It is the church’s witness to the world, to provide charity that no one else provides. It is the demonstration of God’s care to give food to those who are not able to provide for themselves. And that without a large administration, a book of policies or hired workers.

Adam: But you would create a class of unproductive people in society. It would destroy the economy!

Paul: Not at all. Rather, you would have a group who would provide work for people that would be in accord with their ability. Remember, we began this discussion talking about work. It is a principle of the church that everyone should work, should be productive, but that the church should provide charity to everyone in need.

Adam: And you will create a class of people who only do “god work” a spiritual glut.

Paul: You are so concerned about unproductive people. Yet the economic system you support seems to have many people whom I consider unproductive. Pencil pushers, over-qualified decision makers, people who never make food or assist another person, but they only make money or paperwork appear out of thin air. The church would create a class of people who would work to build God’s kingdom. Build a class of people who will be followers of Jesus and not just speakers of Jesus.

Adam: Just as I said, lazy people—unproductive.

Paul: Is it unproductive to know people well enough to be able to meet their needs? Is it unproductive to visit people in the hospital or in prison? Is it unproductive to be friends with the friendless, to provide hope for the depressed? Is it unproductive to create places where the sick can rest in peace instead of on the street? Is it unproductive to grow food and give it to the poor? Is it unproductive to help the “sinners” of society to repent and depend on God’s grace? Is it unproductive to pick up food from those who cannot use it and give it to the needy? Rather, it is a work of honor. And even if it does not pay in this world, those who do this work in Jesus’ name will be rewarded by Him on the final day.
Adam: But you don’t understand. Such a society would economically self-destruct! There is nothing there to provide economic security—just like you were saying about the ancient economy.

Paul: If we have a whole sub-structure of society that is based on work toward mutual need and charity, it would be supported by God’s grace and power. Such a society would never need to worry about their needs because God would provide for them daily and make sure that everyone would be provided for, as long as they share with whoever is in need.

Adam: This is magic, not sound economic principles.

Paul: It seems to me that your capitalism is based on magic. Your “invisible hand” directs economic prosperity, as long as everyone is promoting their own economic self-interest. That’s the theory. But the reality is that you have to have a sub-structure of people perpetually in poverty to support your economic system. You must have a two-tiered structure—the poor struggling for survival behind the scenes, all the while supporting the “middle class” of the West, who are really the ruling aristocrats of today. The immigrants in your country, those who can only afford to work “under the table”, those who work below a living wage in your fast food restaurants and bargain stores, as well as the millions around the world who work on farms and factories— they are all the backbone on which your economic prosperity is dependant on. If you paid them for their work, rather than for the education level of their work, then your whole economy would collapse. The structure is only beginning to creak now, but soon it will fall throughout the world.

Adam: So you are a socialist, as I thought.

Paul: No. A socialist believes that the government should provide for those in need. I don’t think that we need to make demands of the rich. Rather, the Lord makes a request of those who have more than they need, and they obey if they follow the Lord. I am a Christian. I trust in God to provide for me, and do as he commands. That is my real work, to obey the Father through Jesus. And I believe that every Christian should do the same.

Adam: That is just too simplistic to be a real economic system.

Paul: Whatever you want to think. But the reality of it is that God is in control of His people. He knows what work He wants them to do, and we do it, if we are listening to Him. And part of that work is to provide both sustenance and work for those who are in need. Everyone takes their turn. Everyone, at some point, has more than what they need, and so they provide. Everyone, at some point, is in need of assistance and so they receive help.

Adam: I will never need help from anyone.

Paul: Oh, yes you will. And when it happens you will wish that you were a part of a community that assists you instead of treating you like it was your own fault. And when that day happens, cry out to the Lord. Perhaps he will help you. Or perhaps he will respond to you as you do to the needy now.

How Our Needs Are Met

Many people ask, “How are your needs met in Anawim?” Our response is always, “God provides for us.” We are usually rebuffed at this point, as if we didn’t really answer their question. Yes, we receive donations from many people, both financially and stuff. But we do not often ask for donations, and when they come, we know that God must have told these people to give to us.

It is easy to develop a ministry based on donations. Building trust so that people would be comfortable to donate to your ministry takes time, but once some donations come in, then you can establish the ministry based on what you receive. If you receive food, you can have a food ministry. If you receive clothes, you can have a clothes ministry. But the way we always ran Anawim is not to have our ministry based on what we receive or on what people think we ought to do, but one what God’s will is. God called us to a certain ministry, to do specific tasks. We will do those tasks, even if we do not receive donations to do those tasks, even if we aren’t appreciated for what we do.

Ezekiel and Jeremiah were both called to similar tasks. They were told by God to speak his word to people who wouldn’t listen (Jeremiah 1:14-19; Ezekiel 2). This seems like a fruitless task. I can hear people today counseling these prophets on their call: “If no one listens to you, why do it? And besides, how are you going to make a living? If no one listens to you, how will you gain what you need to live? There’s not much money on laying on your side for a year, or for being thrown into a well.” However, the point of what we do is not how much money we receive. Nor is it how much approval we got. The only approval that matters is God’s, because he alone is the one who called us to the task.

God also is the one who provides for us. We are the workers of God, therefore God provides the salary. Yes, God provides through his people, and God provides through unexpected avenues. There was the time that a large package of meat fell off of a truck right in front of one of our homeless folks. He called us immediately and we had meat for months. There was the time that my family was fed because someone else had brought in some pizza that he had found in a dumpster (still in a package). There was the man, whom we had never met, who called us offering us food on a regular basis, which now provides quite a bit of the food for our three meals a week. God does tell his people to help us, as when we received our house this last year, which was given by a single donator. But we depend on God for what we need.

God is our boss, our employer. As our employer, he is the one responsible to provide us our wages. We work hard, so we deserve our wages. But if our wages are late, what human being can we call to tell them we need our money, please? No one. We can only call God and have him determine our wages. He does not provide them regularly, nor are they usually monetary. But he provides and our needs are met—whether we ask people or not. He is the strength, the one with the resources. We are here to do his work, dependent on his resources.

I pray that we might never do anything apart from the desire of glorifying God or that of helping the need of another. Every time that I attempt to meet my own needs my own way, seeking my desires or building myself up, it results in depression, self pity, and reduced energy. If I focus on my own needs, I find that I have no ability to meet anyone else's. If I center in on my desires or accomplishments, I find that I can no longer build God's kingdom, or have time to meet the real needs of others around me.

However, if we focus on God's kingdom and in doing his righteousness, then we find that our needs are miraculously met. We no longer need to scurry about, trying to make this happen or that happen. I no longer need to force others to do my will for my purposes in order to meet my needs. Rather, if we focus our attention on seeing God's will accomplished, our wills softly blends into his. And then our will is accomplished— not on our power, but on God's. If we focus our attention on building God's kingdom, instead of accomplishing our own purposes, then our goals become infused with the kingdom of God. Then the kingdom is built, not by our anxious drivenness, but by God's power. If we focus our attention on seeing God's name sanctified, instead of stressing that our needs must be met, then we find that our needs are met. Our daily bread is provided, by God's hand. Our daily warmth is provided, by God's hand. Our daily rest is provided, by God's hand. And if one day our resources are scarce, the next day I will find they are met. If one day we go hungry, the next God provides more than ample for what we need.

This is not just a matter of simplicity of lifestyle, but rather simplicity of focus. We no longer have a list of needs that we want God, the government, our family and our friends to meet. Rather, we have God. And in lifting before him our desire to see his will be done, all is accomplished and more. Our focus is single. We do not have two masters— God and our needs who wage endless war for our hearts. Rather, we give our needs up to God and God alone reigns. Thus, we need no longer fret; we need no longer clamor; we need no longer be weighed down by burdens that seems beyond our control. Rather, we are at peace.

This is our salvation. Our salvation is the peace in our hearts that all our needs we can hand off to God. Our salvation is that God will meet those needs. Our salvation is that God is beholden to us, even as we have covenanted ourselves to him. Our salvation is the wholeness we achieve when we stop listening to the ringing voices in our ears which say, "You need this! You should have that! You must do this!" and listen only to God who says, "All you need I will give you. All you must do is found in my righteousness. All else is wind and shadow. I am the reality. I am the true."

One might say, "That is just the path to poverty." I suppose so, if one looks only by the sight of the current age. But I am confident in this: The next age holds so much more, that we are willing to wait for riches until the next life. God has so much more in store for us than this life can offer. So we must make the choice—poverty in this age (by this world's reasoning) or poverty in the next.

Yet, if our focus is as simple as God and God alone, are we really on the path of poverty? I suppose it depends on whose definition of poverty one uses. If you mean poor in wealth, poor in the noisy, pointless entertainments of this world, poor in the pursuits and stresses of accumulation, poor in this world's power, poor in covetousness, poor in vanity, poor in pursuits that liquefy our minds, poor in the streams of never ending products and false consolations—then we accept that poverty readily. In order to gain that poverty, we also gain the Holy Spirit, we also gain the love of Christ for all men, we also gain peace in our hearts, we also gain a community of givers and lovers, we also gain God who is for us and within us.

Thank you, Father, for all your love for us. We are waiting on you, longing for your provision. Thank you, Lord, that you listen to us and will provide for us to do your work. Thank you for helping us live day to day.

The Divine IRA

A young man called out to Jesus from the crowd and said, “Teacher, command the trustee of my father’s will to give me my share of the inheritance!” Jesus replied, “I am not a lawyer or a judge—why should I get involved?” Then Jesus told everyone, “Guard yourself from every form of trying to get more in the world. When you finally get everything you want and more, then you finally realize too late that stuff is not what life is about.”

“There was an entrepreneur who ran his own business. One year, he did exceptionally well, and found that his business had outgrown his little store. So he was contemplating what he would do with his surplus profit, so, talking to himself, he said, ‘I know! I will rent a larger store, hire a couple of employees and the business will practically run itself! Then, over a few years I will have a tidy nest egg stored up and I’ll say to myself, “You have found the good life. Now it’s time to relax, and enjoy your retirement.”’ In that instant, however, God’s voice spoke to the man, ‘You are such an idiot. This very night your life is to be taken from you. So who will enjoy what you are planning?’ This is what happens to a person who works for himself and his family, but who never gives to God by giving to the poor.”…

“Don’t be afraid to surrender your possessions, my dear students. You Father has happily determined that you are to have the whole kingdom of God—what do you need of useless trinkets? Go ahead and sell your stuff and give freely to those in need. Then you will have a savings that you can never use up, and is much safer than a bank, a mattress or your penny-pinching aunt. God will preserve it for you. But take this proposal seriously, and don’t blow it off—because what you use your money on is what you are devoting yourself to.

“There was a rich man who dressed in bright colors and fine cotton, living with his excellent entertainments daily. There was also a disabled poor man named Lazarus who begged outside his property daily, who was obviously sick. Lazarus dreamed about lying under the wealthy man’s table just to eat what fell on the floor, but all he got were kids coming by, yelling at him and throwing things at him. The poor man finally died, and angels carried him to Abraham in heaven. And the wealthy man also died and was given a proper burial, but ended up in hell where he was in agony. The wealthy man looked up and saw Abraham and Lazarus in heaven from a long distance off and he called out, “Father Abraham! Father Abraham! I am a religious man, so please do me a favor and ask Lazarus to come over to give me just the smallest amount of pain reliever because I am in terrible agony.” Abraham replied, “My son, do you remember in the time of your life? You had all the good, and Lazarus had all the evil in the world. Now in this life there is finally justice so Lazarus is comforted and you are in agony. Besides, the distance between us is so great that no one can go from one side to the other.” The rich man yelled out again, “Then could you please send Lazarus to my family? I have five brothers and I don’t want them to suffer here with me.” Abraham replied curtly, “Let them listen to the Bible.” The man said, “But they don’t, Father Abraham! But if someone comes to them from the dead to sternly warn them about giving to the poor, they will listen.” Abraham replied, “If those Scrooges won’t listen to the Scriptures, then they won’t listen to a ghost.”

The Homeboys
It is said that God doesn’t play favorites. And that’s kind of true—God gives everyone the same opportunity for His salvation through Jesus. But in a sense God does play favorites. You see God is the judge of the universe, and He is the one responsible to make sure justice is done throughout the world. And so God pays attention to those who can’t receive justice—more attention to them than to the ones who can get justice in the courthouse or through their money. So God pays attention to the poor and needy—they are His favorites. They get God’s ear. (Exodus 22:22-23; Psalm 37)

The Poor Don’t Have to Be With Us
Some say that Jesus said that we don’t always need to help the poor because they are always going to be with us. (Matthew 26:11) But that’s not exactly what Jesus was saying. Jesus was quoting a passage in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 15:1-8), which was talking about how poverty can be eliminated among God’s people. This is through giving to those brothers and sisters who are in need. If, the law proclaims, the needy are provided for, there doesn’t ever have to be poor. But, continues Moses, the poor WILL constantly be there, so there will always be people to give to. This last bit is what Jesus quoted. But this seems to be a contradiction—how can there be an idealistic society without poverty and yet poverty will always be with us?

Greed Kills
Simple. For poverty to be eliminated, we must first eliminate greed. Greed is not just wanting what someone else has, although that is included. Nor is it wanting more for yourself than you need. Rather greed is refusing to help another person in need when you have the means to do so (I John 3:17-18). This greed is not just selfishness, it is hatred of others who have need. Jesus warns us with very strong language to avoid greed at all cost, because greed kills. Greed kills the poor, because those in need don’t get what the justly deserve. And greed kills the greedy because God will track down the greedy and destroy them. For this reason, Paul says to the Christian community, “Do let greed even be mentioned about you.” (Ephesians 5:3).

Community of Privilege
Many of us are like the wealthy men in Jesus’ parables. We think to ourselves, “I earned the money or received it justly, so I should be able to do with it whatever I want.” This kind of thinking has created a culture of privilege, which assumes that we deserve a higher standard of living than others. Certainly some people in some of God’s work need to have greater resources than others. But no one “deserves” a higher lifestyle at the cost of other’s needs. God will punish anyone who sees the needs of others, has the means, but refuses to give because they need to maintain a “lifestyle”. In America, our lifestyle is killing us, impoverishing us because of our understanding that the “good life” is the life surrounded by stuff and entertainments. The “good life” is the life in God, which is a life focused on the Spirit, not on stuff.

Community of inclusion
Instead of a community of greed and stinginess, we are to have a community of inclusion, in which we treat the poor with as much generosity as we do our employees or our friends. Often the poor are excluded because they have different values than our culture or they dress or smell differently. We can’t trust them, so we don’t give to them, at least not like our friends, whom we understand and appreciate and give generously to. Jesus’ community, however, has always been a community of inclusion, and the poor are treated at least as well as people on any other socio-economic status. Perhaps the poor can budget or be “responsible” with money, but they are still treated fairly. In the early church, this community of inclusion and economic sharing is so thorough that the wealthy freely give of their most prized possessions, and there are no poor among them. No poor at all. Everyone has their needs met, in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 15.

Big House
The main question everyone asks when we speak about sacrificing is, “But how will I get this need met if I give everything away? How can I provide for myself and those with me?” Jesus answers that directly. He says that God will provide everything (Luke 12). If we prove faithful to God, then we can trust in God to provide. We need not fear or be anxious. God will grant us food, clothing, and healing from sickness and protection from our enemies (Psalm 42:1-5). Not only will God provide us with everything we need in this life, but He is overjoyed then to provide for us the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God was really made for those who sacrifice all they have for God’s work and for the poor. These are the ones that God wants in charge of His people, for all eternity. God grant us what we need now, and He also provides us a home, a utopia for us to live in for all eternity.

Go Bust or Bust
So what about those who don’t sacrifice for the poor? What about all the millions of believing Christians that don’t trust the poor enough to give, but just provide for themselves and their families?

Well, let’s just look at the words of Jesus to his disciples who don’t give: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” “It is very difficult for those with many possessions to enter into God’s kingdom. It is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into God’s kingdom.”

Or the words of John to greedy believers: “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer and no murderer has eternal life.”

Or James: “For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!”

These are all written about Christians, not unbelievers. So we need to take our possessions seriously. These hard words are not given to the wealthy who are generous. Because generosity is the salvation of those with a lot of stuff.

Our salvation is found in our sacrifice.

The Loves of God

Most of us love a whole bunch of people. It’s how we’re built—we are built to love others and to have others love us. Sometimes we have a hard time knowing how to love others, but that’s what we’re meant to do. But for all those we love, we don’t love everyone the same. The love we give to our spouse isn’t the same love we give to our children, or to our parents or to our country or to our friends or our neighbor or the good-looking stranger we meet on the street. We may care for them all and have their benefit in mind when we do something for them, but the actual actions and love we have for each of them is different.

In the same way, God loves people differently. He has different kinds of loves for the different relationships he has with different people. We can look at different people and each of them has a different relationship with God.

Who Does God Care For?
God cares for everyone, all humanity. God doesn’t love just some people—he loves everyone. God displays his care on most of creation, but humanity is his crowning achievement, his greatest creation on work, and God loves every single one of us. He sees us for what we are—all of our weaknesses and our disgusting habits—and he loves us. He wants us just like we are.
From the time that humanity was created, God loves all people. He desires their well being, and wants the best for all of humanity. God provides food for all of his creation, especially human beings. God has given every human being authority over the other creatures of the earth, and so indicated that every human is significant. God also speaks to every person about their sin, in order to give everyone the opportunity to repent of their sin.

No person can say that there is no one to care for them— for God cares for them.

No one can say that there is no one to take care of them—God takes care of them.

No one can say that they are unimportant—God has given them importance from the beginning of creation.

No one can say that God rejects them— God will do everything he can to help every person achieve his blessing and a relationship with Him.

No one can say that God hasn’t spoken to them— God at the very least convicts each person of sin.

This means that whoever you see that you hate— God loves them and cares for them. The people who you think deserve nothing less than torture and punishment—God wants to bless them. God is not scared of unholiness or filthiness. He is not disgusted by the things we are disgusted by. It is a part of God’s holiness that he can overlook unholiness and it is a part of God’s purity that he can embrace impurity. And so nothing is separated from God’s love—no matter how many people may think that someone does not deserve love.

What is humanity that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet. Psalm 8:5-7

Who Does God Especially Assist?
Although God cares for everyone, he does not assist everyone. After all, not everyone needs his help. Some people do fine on their own, and so they never need him and never really ask for his help. Perhaps those who don’t need God will do what they can to be on God’s good side—go to church everyone once in a while or they may be somewhat religious. But they don’t really need God.

The ones whom God looks to help are the needy, especially the poor. Those who have no other resources to help themselves, those who have no human means of gaining help—those are the ones God especially looks out for. And no wonder, those are the ones who cry out to God for help time and time again. They see their need and they know that there is no one else to turn to except God, and so they seek him out.

This is why God will especially heal and protect the poor above all others. When an injustice is done against the poor, God is there to correct the injustice. And especially, God will punish every person who oppresses those who have no where else to turn. God’s wrath is especially on those who harm those who can do no harm.

The LORD executes justice for the oppressed; The LORD gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous; The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked. Psalm 146:7-9

Who does God choose?
However, not every person will receive God’s blessings. And not everyone is chosen by God to have the opportunity for God’s blessings. What are the blessings of God? Being forgiven of our sins, having a close relationship with Him, living with him forever, and having all of our needs provided for by God forever—that’s what God promises for us. And God chooses particular people to receive of this, while the others he does not.

The strange fact is that God has already chosen these people. All of them. He has made the decision not to choose everyone, but just one nation—a single country. They are the only ones who will be offered this blessing of God. It may seem like favoritism on God’s part, but it is his choice to give gifts as he chooses. And he made this choice from the beginning of the world.

Who did God choose? Originally, he chose Israel. And then, within Israel, he chose Jesus’ people. The nation that God chose is the nation of Jesus. The wonder of Jesus’ people, is that he is open to people of every race, every background, every language, no matter what one has done or even how evil they have been. Jesus is accepting of them all, and is ready to accept them into his people. All who are called are welcome into Jesus’ nation.

But to gain this love from God, we have to choose Jesus. That’s right. In order to be chosen by God, we have to choose Jesus. If we chose Jesus, then we are a part of the people who are chosen by God.

Everyone chosen by God receives his Spirit. Everyone chosen by God is adopted as a child of God, ready to receive of his blessings. And the chosen by God can know the true righteousness of God—what is really good and how to live it out. And they have their past—no matter how evil—wiped away and a new future to look forward to.
In love God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will. Ephesians 1:5

Who does God bless?

The strange thing, though, is, not everyone who chooses Jesus receives God’s final blessing. Everyone who chooses Jesus has all the grace of God in order to be able to live in Jesus. They have Jesus’ teaching—the true righteousness of God. And they have the Holy Spirit—the power of God to do good. However, unless the believer in Jesus actually does good, they will not enter into God’s kingdom and receive his blessings. They may have all the blessings of God on earth, but in the end, they can lose it all.

Those who do not remain with Jesus can lose it all—Jesus said that his true people would abide in him. Those who act hypocritically can lose it all—Jesus said that those who obey him are his true people. Those who deny Jesus before men can lost it all—Jesus said that those who confess will gain reward. Those who oppress the poor can lose it all—for Jesus told his people to assist the poor. Those who carelessly continue in their sin can lose it all—Jesus offers reward to the repentant.

In the end, those who receive the kingdom of God are those who endure. Not just those who make a commitment to Jesus, but those who stick with it and grow in Jesus and continually become more righteous before him. On the final day of judgement, those who will be loved for all eternity are those who do what is righteous by Jesus’ standard, no matter what obstacles get put in the way. God loves all people, but only those who abide in Jesus to the end of their days will gain the kingdom of God and all of the blessings of it.
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Matthew 7:21

Preparing to Experience The Spirit

Listening to God is hard work, and requires preparation. Most of us aren’t ready to run a full mile right now. Perhaps we should be, but we aren’t. But given a little bit of time and preparation, we can do it. It is the same with experiencing the Spirit. If we aren’t used to doing it, we may need to prepare ourselves for it. Below are some suggestions, especially if you are finding it difficult to begin:

Be repentant
The way to be ready to listen to the Spirit is by listening to the Spirit. If the Lord has already spoken something to us and we have not followed through on the Spirit’s suggestion, then the Spirit may not have anything to say to us. If we are involved in a sin, and we know we need to repent, the Spirit will not speak to us until we do. If the Spirit gave us specific instructions and we have not made the first step to follow Him, then he may not speak to us. We are given wisdom and grace by God in order for us to respond appropriately to it—not in order to gain spiritual honors. We need to make sure that we have taken care of our sins and instructions as much as we were able.

Focus on God for who he is
There are many spirits out there whom we could listen to. We need to clarify who we are intending to worship and serve and listen to. When we speak to God, we cannot do so abstractly—we must speak to the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Father through the Spirit of Holiness. We do not have to use these terms, but we must be clear in some way who we are speaking to. The more vague we are, the more opportunity there is for other spirits to speak to us.

Worship and Praise
As we are focused on the Father, we should worship him and offer him praise. This allows us to speak our faith, and causes us to enter into God’s presence. There are many ways to do this—we might read a psalm of praise or a prayer in Isaiah. We might sing to the Lord (or hum if we can’t sing). We could focus on the attributes of God, or recount his great works of the past—in our lives, or in the Bible. I would often speak or sing a prayer I have prayed in the past.

Re-focus on what is important to God, not you
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus instructs us not to begin speaking to God our own requests. Rather he shows us that we should begin focusing on what God desires for himself. Show God that you are just as concerned about his reputation, his glory, his kingdom and his will as you are about your own needs. As you praise God, try to allow your concerns and needs and desires to fade away. Let dwindle in the overwhelming presence of God and of His desires, his needs. When we are in the presence of God, our needs seem small and petty in the light of his enormous glory and sacrifice for us. And in the midst of this, God will bring back to mind our needs, when the time is right.

Ask for the Spirit
Jesus told us that we would not gain anything from God unless we ask. This includes the Spirit. The Spirit is the greatest, most desirable gift God wishes to grant you. The Spirit is the very presence of God, at work in your life right now, right here. Even so, he will only give this gift to those who desire it. To show our desire, let’s ask for him. As we face God in his presence, we should make a request of God for the Spirit. And Jesus says, if God’s children ask, then we will receive. (Luke 11)

Re-focus the world around you on the Lord
This is a very important point that most people miss. In experiencing the Spirit, with only a few exceptions, we will not block out the world around us. And this is not a problem, for the Spirit is in all places, and no context is hidden from his presence. The Spirit can be experienced wherever we can do it. In order to meet the Spirit, we do not need to seek out the Spirit’s presence—he is there. Rather, we need to make ourselves ready to meet the Spirit.

Don’t ask, “Where can the Spirit meet me?”—for the Spirit can meet us anywhere—rather ask, “In what context am I able to meet the Spirit?” The Spirit can meet someone in a bar, if they are ready to meet the Spirit there. But if someone is only focused on alcohol, they cannot be focused on the Spirit. Even so, if I go to a library, I cannot clearly discern the Spirit there, for I am focused on the books. It is not a bad thing to be focused on books in a library, but it is not the place for me to meet the Spirit. But if I am walking a busy street in downtown Portland filled with strangers, I can meet the Spirit there. Others cannot, but it is possible for me.

We need to determine what context we are able to meet the Spirit in—and the secret of it is to find a context in which you can see the Lord around you. I have a friend of mine who experiences God in crowds, because he sees God in other people. There are many who can best experience God in the midst of nature—forests or gardens. Others best experience God in the midst of a loud worship service, while still others need complete silence.

The place I experienced God the most was a garden with a chapel attached to it that was devoted to prayer. The garden had three sculptures of Christ—one at his birth, one at his crucifixion and one at his resurrection, and the chapel was a quiet place with padded chairs and a view overlooking Northeast Portland. I would walk and sit and pray and God would speak to me, or I would be silent before Him. That place is significant for me, but I have a friend of mine who would have a hard time experiencing God there—he really needs a loud Pentecostal service to experience God in, while I would have a hard time experiencing God there. The Spirit is strong in both places, we just need to be able to focus on where the Lord is in that place.

We can take almost any place and turn it into a spiritual retreat. We just need to find what will make it a retreat for us. Perhaps a Bible reading will help us, or worship music or seeing the needy people all around us or seeing God’s creation in our midst. To focus on God in our world is to be prepared for the Spirit. And he is there, we just need to adjust our vision to see him.

Speak to the Lord
As we are now seeing God in our midst, and knowing that we are in his presence through worship, we are ready to speak to the Lord. Perhaps we have something we need to share with him. Perhaps we need wisdom. Perhaps we need healing. Perhaps we are seeking him in our lives. Perhaps we just need to talk to someone. He is there. He is listening. Sometimes I have just said, “Lord, I am here and I am listening.” Then I would wait. But even with that short sentence, the Lord listened and he responded.

We speak to God not because God so longs to hear our voices, or is so concerned about our desires. We speak to God because we have to—we have something we need to say. It is a part of our preparation. Whatever we have that is causing us anxiety or distress—we need to give that up to the Lord. Whatever we feel the Lord needs to hear from us, we should get it off of our chest. Whatever the Lord expects us to say, let us say it without hesitation. Only when we have said our peace, then we are ready to listen.

Quiet our minds to Experience God
At this time, we are prepared. We are ready to hear the Spirit, in as much as we can be. There is nothing else to do but listen to God for a response from him. We are now completely dependent on him. We are the clay, he is the potter. We are the kite, he is the wind. We are the marionette, he is the hand. It is time for us to rest, to be in silence.

It is best not to expect anything. Listening to the Spirit isn’t going through the right motions with the right attitude and—bam!—instant Spirit. Rather, you are seeking a personal response from the Creator of the Universe. God isn’t a machine—he won’t answer just because you ask. If he speaks to you, be honored. There are times when he will not answer because it is better for him not to. Sometimes we cannot hear him because he seems so quiet as opposed to the loud noises going on in our heads. Perhaps he is answering us, but in a different way than we expect—perhaps through a Scripture, or through someone “interrupting” us. We never know.
In the past God has called me to be silent before Him, and he has said nothing—I was frustrated that he was wasting my time. But he just wanted me to learn to rest in Him. There was a time where God called me to sleep in his presence (just once). There was a time I had a vision of going to God’s court. There was another time when God told me to hand out tracts at his direction. At other times God has called me to sing before him, or to write a song. We cannot determine what we will do or see or experience. But unless we are ready, we will never gain any experience.

Relating to God the Spirit

The Trinity As A Story
Many people focus on the Trinity as a theological doctrine, full of the nature of God and the relationship of the three persons within a unity. The problem with this is that though the NT speaks of God as one and names Him as three, the relationship between them is not clearly marked. All too often, theologians, pastors and lay leaders have focused on what the Bible does NOT say about the Trinity, rather than what it does. The Trinity is not a theology of nature, but a story of love.

God the Father desires intimacy with people. He always has, from the very beginning, but the very ones He created, chose and sought relationship with have rejected Him. So He sent His Son, Jesus, to live out God’s love and deliverance. Jesus was God in human flesh, beginning a nation where people are both chosen to come in and choose themselves to participate. These learn about what God desires from God who was also human and they choose to live their lives as a divine path, as Jesus himself.

Jesus said that it was better for us that He leaves us. This seemed so wrong to his disciples at the time, but Jesus further explained that the Spirit could only come upon us if He leaves—we must have an absence before the Father fills us.

Although Jesus does not live among us anymore, He leaves His Spirit to all those who choose to be in Jesus. The Spirit then is God inside us, God with us, God continually dwelling. The Spirit is the promised blessing of God (Ezekiel 36; Jeremiah 31; Joel 2), who creates a people that is listening to God and is faithful to God. The Spirit is the final link for the chosen to be those who are intimate with God.

If the Spirit is the means of God’s ultimate blessing—intimacy with Him—then how do we achieve it? How do we live out this intimacy?

1. Listen to the Spirit
Jesus’ words are the foundation of what we know about God and how we live in God’s presence. But they are still only words from a distance. When we have a drunk come to our house in the middle of the night, how do we live out “do unto others as you would have them do to you”? Should we invite them in? Should we give them food and send them on their way? Should we decide that we need to protect our family? When someone steals from us, how do we practically live out “love your enemies”? Should we call the police? Should we give them more? Should we give them the gospel and let them go on their way? Jesus’ words don’t always give us the practical counsel we need in order to fully and precisely live out the way of God.

This is where the Spirit comes in. The Spirit gives us the wisdom we need when we need it. The Spirit talks to us and gives us the truth and the practical application to live the life of Jesus in the particular circumstances we are in. The Spirit is Jesus walking beside us, living with us, giving us continual counsel and direction to live in God’s ways.
Most importantly about listening to the Spirit is that in order to obtain a word from the Spirit we must ask. If we do not ask, then we will receive nothing. Even so, if we want the Spirit or any wisdom, we must ask God for that wisdom. This means that while God initiates the conversation with Him by offering the Spirit, we must ask for the Spirit in order to receive it. Then, once the Lord has given us the Spirit, we must ask for the wisdom we desire and God will answer us. Thus is the conversation with God continuous. (I Corinthians 2:11; Romans 8:5; John 14:26; Colossians 1:9; Luke 11:11-13; James 1:5-8; James 4:2-3; Acts 16:9-10; Acts 4:29-32)

2. Pray in the Spirit
One of the most common commands about the Spirit in the Scriptures is to pray in the Spirit. Many people directly relate this to speaking in tongues. But speaking in tongues is only one form of praying in the Spirit. Prophecy is also praying in the Spirit, as is listening in the Spirit, as is praying the Lord’s prayer.

When we pray in the Spirit, first of all, we are recognizing that we are not praying in the place where we seem to be, but we are in reality praying before God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16). When the prophets were “in the spirit” they were in the spiritual realm, in the presence of God, being led by the spirits directed by God. Even so, when we pray “in the spirit” we are not reciting dead words, nor are we praying by rote. Rather, we are before God himself, in intimate conversation with Him, and our prayers have power, not just hope.

To pray in the Spirit is to pray in God’s presence. We can say “papa” to God, because He is before us and asks us to call him by that intimate name. In the Spirit, we know our prayers and heard and God can answer us immediately. In the Spirit, we go before God with a situation that we don’t know how to pray for and the Spirit will lead us to pray rightly before the Father. In the Spirit, we can cry out to God to change His mind. In the Spirit, prayer is not just an activity, it is a conversation with the King of the Universe. (John 4:23; Jude 1:20; Ephesians 6:18; Romans 8:17, 26).

3. Rely on the Spirit
Our final intimacy with God is reliance. The Scripture has many different ways of saying this, “walk in the Spirit”, “live in the Spirit” “be raised in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25; Romans 8:4, 11). God tells us what to do through the Spirit, and we seek God’s power in the Spirit through prayer. God delivers the power to do His work through the Spirit and so we are able to do as He pleases.

Without the Spirit, we are weak, for we are only human. But in the Spirit, we are strong, able to do all the things that God asks us to do, without hesitation, because it is He who empowers us, He who strengthens us.

But this empowerment is not the end of the process. When God gives us the power to live for Him, we then need to live, relying on that power.

There are two ways we could fail in this. First of all, we could decide that we don’t really have the power of God, and so refuse to do as He asks. We can say “it’s too hard” or, “no one can do that”—and we would be right, except that God already gave us the ability to do it. If we deny God’s power to do His will, then we will think that we are unable to do His will, and so refuse to do it. But this is our stubborn rebelliousness getting in the way. God HAS given us the power, if we ask for it, and all we need to do is to rely on it and so do God’s will.

The other thing we often do is to ask for God’s will and then do it on our own power, which is inadequate. We think that since God told us to love our enemies, to be gentle, to heal the sick and to raise the dead and to resist the devil that we can do all of this according to the strength of our will. But we can’t. We are as weak and helpless in the spirit world as a baby. We can’t obey God, nor do miracles. We have to rely on the Spirit. This means we need to ask for the Spirit and rely on God for that Spirit, rather than relying on ourselves. We are merely human, and to be human is to be weak. But if we pray, we can have the Spirit, and He is all-powerful and ready to help us in our times of weakness.

To live in the Spirit is to affirm our own weakness, because all good things happen through the Spirit. And it gives glory to God because His strength is revealed through our weakness. (I Corinthians 2:4-5; II Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 14:38)