Sunday, November 24, 2013

For Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Poverty of Sprit 3)

Power of the world is self-sufficiency.  

At first, we must have our children depend on us,  for they cannot survive without us.  As time goes on, however, we rejoice in the independence of our children, we teach them to be strong in themselves.  The maturity of a child is never done until they are living in the world on their own power, standing tall in the midst of a difficult society.

Our whole society is built upon the self-sufficiency of the individual.  Each person makes their own decision, relies on their own wit and hard work to make of them who they are.   The core text is the legend of the individual who creates their lives by their own resources and abilities, despite obstacles, despite opponents. 

Self-sufficiency is so foundational to our society that if Society determines to punish someone, they take away a portion of their self-sufficiency.  A violator is fined of the funds they have earned; a criminal is taken away from the opportunity to live their own life, to make their own decisions, to earn their own way.
Yet this is not the path of the kingdom of God.  It might be debated whether complete independence is realistic in any world, but it is certainly not the truth of the kingdom.  The path of the kingdom is that of dependence.

Jesus says that if anyone must enter the kingdom of God, they must return and be like a child, learning humility, learning faith.  The way of the child is the way of dependence, the rejection of self-sufficiency.  To be born again is to become an infant again, taking up what the Mother in Heaven gives us, and relying on that alone.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!...Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith! And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”  (Luke 12:24-31)

The seeker of God’s kingdom does not fret about food, clothing or the basic needs of the world.  It is provided by the Father, giving freedom for the child to do the work of the kingdom, and that alone. 

Worrying about food, clothing and the items of survival are left to those of the world of self-sufficiency. 

The kingdom of God is the world of the child, the world of those who live by faith.  The realm of self-sufficiency mocks this way, calling it unrealistic and foolish.  Yes, it is unrealistic to the adult, but to the child it is simple truth.  The fearful call the way of dependence foolish and the path of destruction.  Surely, the self-sufficient who walk the way of dependence will fail and possibly harm themselves.  But it is the glory of a child to be vulnerable.

Some would say that once one has tasted self-sufficiency that it is not possible to become dependent.  Yet those who follow the way of Jesus recognize that the incarnation is this very path, the way we are to follow.  Jesus had all power within his hand and he surrendered it to become an infant.  He sucked only on the breast that was given him, he was cleaned at the whim of a human parent.

And do we not all, when we are aged and our flesh and mind become frail, rely completely at the hands of our children, whom we raised, whom we lifted in our arm, providing them strength only through our own strength?

The poverty the Lord asks of us is that of reliance, that of dependence.  In that way, we are strong only by the strength of God.  Is not that strength greater than our human poverty?  Yet were it not for our poverty, we might never obtain that strength.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pride and Humility (Poverty of Spirit 2)

A man's pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor. (Pro 29:23)

The opposite of lowliness is pride.  Pride, in the Bible, has little to do with hubris, the Greek definition of pride.  Hubris has to do with speaking oneself up, to puff up one’s accomplishments, abilities or who one naturally is.  Hubris is the evil of thinking one is more important or acting like one is more important than one really is.

“Pride” in the Bible, however is assuming or maneuvering oneself into a greater position than one ought.  It is the seeking of a higher station, the pushing aside of others in order to increase one’s position in society.  It is insisting upon oneself, in order to rule over others.  It is striving for a promotion, it is promoting oneself, it is seeking one’s increase over another.  This kind of pride is in direct opposition to poverty in spirit.

Some think that Jesus is saying that high social standing, or leadership in any way, is devoid of blessing.  It isn’t leadership itself that is the problem, but how one obtains it, and how one uses it that can be in opposition to God.

Jesus illustrates his different approach this way: "When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this man,' and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  (Luke 14:8-11)

The path of pride is to directly strive and claim a position which is not our own in the hopes that we obtain it.  “Society is a battle,” say the “proud”, “a competition and only the strongest and wiliest can get ahead.”   Jesus disagrees.  It is those who embrace their poverty and lowliness who have places of significance… not because of their strength or self-promotion, but due to the recognition of their worth.  Recognition of worth does not happen by taking the position we feel we deserve.  Rather, it is taking a lower station and others recognizing the place we deserve.

Of course, this happens rarely in the world.  It happens in the kingdom of God.

The activity of leadership also differs, according to Jesus.  He says, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  (Mark 10:42-45)

 The proud use their station of leadership and power to secure and increase their position.  They insist upon their position and use all the power they have to retain their power, they lay the groundwork for wealth and respect for the rest of their lives.  For Jesus, the path of true authority embraces poverty, the poor and helpless among them, using all their power to assist and support others.  It is not about maintaining power and respect for oneself, but for the neediest among them. 

Of course, this is not the way of the world, but of the kingdom of God. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

This is the first post of a series reflecting on Jesus' teachings and experience on poverty.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

In the Bible, there are many states that are ‘in spirit’.  The brokenhearted are “crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).  The forgiven has a renewed spirit (Psalm 51:10).  The righteous judge has a “spirit of judgment” (Isaiah 28:6).  To have something in spirit is deep in one’s soul, a part of one’s very inner being.

It is easy to understand a phrase like “crushed in spirit”, but more difficult to understand poverty in spirit, for we are so opposed to poverty in all its physical forms.  It is interesting that the only other place in the Bible which connects poverty and the spirit, apart from the beatitudes, is in the book of Proverbs: “It is better to be lowly in spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:19)

Although the verse is short and devoid of a clear context, it is clear that poverty of spirit is connected with association with the physically poor.   The term “lowly” is qal, often associated with poverty and a low social station.  The term “poor” is anawim, which can also be translated as “outcast” or “insignificant.”  Poverty in spirit, then, is keeping company with the rejected, retaining a social station that is considered to be inadequate by “normal” society. 

This goes with the other beatitudes.  The blessed are those who are mourning because of the difficulties of their lives.  They are meek, thus vulnerable.  They are merciful, and so associated with those who have need.  They are persecuted, rejected by society at large. To be poor in spirit is to associate with the outcast.  It is to be hated by association. 

It is also hatred because of inadequacy. It is to be remembered that “poverty in spirit” isn’t just a spiritual state, but a physical state.  When Luke translates the same phrase, he interprets it as, “Blessed are you who are poor.”  (Luke 6:20).  Blessed are you who have less than you ought to live. 

Poverty is a human state, one which we all experience.  We all, at times in our lives, experience suffering we cannot push aside.  We all experience a sickness that doctors cannot easily solve.  Most of us experience economic loss to such a degree that we cannot live on our own. 

This poverty is the enemy of our lives. The majority of humanity rejects poverty and names it the enemy.  They declare wars on poverty, to destroy it. This is a fine occupation for a government and a community.  Poverty is to be seen as the true enemy of the state.  But it is also a part of the human experience and by the individual should be accepted as such.

In his exalted state, Jesus experienced only exaltation, only greatness and respect.  In his human state, he had to experience suffering, pain, disrespect and hatred, hunger and sickness.  Instead of seeing this universal human experience as being evil, he saw it as an opportunity.  Poverty and pain isn’t our enemy, but it is what drives us to dependence.  And dependence is the doorway to blessing.  If we did not have dependence, we would never receive anything.  Never could we have the riches of God unless we had the opportunity to be poor, to be rejected, to be sick.

Poverty is the doorway to grace, thus it is a state of blessing.

Poverty is seen as our enemy because in this world it is exposure to shame. For an adult to be poor is to be a failure, to fail at one’s responsibilities, to be an inadequate husband, an inadequate mother.  Poverty means that all one’s efforts to be self-sufficient have failed.  And in the world, to be self-sufficient is what is means to be an adult.

To be poor is to be forced to be dependent.  For this reason, poverty is blessed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


“Silent sea, tell this to me: Where are the children that we used to be?”
“At picture shows where nobody goes and only the heart can see.”
-Dan Fogelburg

I have to admit that I’m still childish. 

I work hard, I’m married and have kids and somehow I’m raising these kids.  Maybe my wife is really raising them behind my back, because I don’t know that I’m ready to be a grown up yet.

It’s not that I’m impolite or careless.  But I choose to live my life in a way that is full of childish assumptions.

I believe that being nice to people is the way to go.  I think that compassion and kindness, especially to those in need, is the best thing for everyone.  For me and for the people I’m being kind to.  I think that being kind is better protection than carrying a gun.

I think that if we work hard, we can do whatever we want.  I don’t think we can all be NBA stars, but I think we could all play basketball well, even if we’re in a wheelchair.  I believe that if we want to be a writer, an artist, a politician, a professor, a video game programmer… whatever… we can do it.  Especially if we aren’t looking to be paid for our work.

I believe that studying and reading will still get me ahead in life.  Although I’m 48, if I read a book  on the bus, people ask me if I’m a student, because only a student must read the tomes I do.  No, I read these tomes because I think that I can help myself, my family and others whom I know if I read them. 

I think that people can still marry for life and love for life.  My wife and I are still novices at it, only being married 24 years, but we think we can go the distance.  And I think we can all do it, if we really put our minds to it, really listen and really care.

I believe that my Daddy will take care of me.  My human dad is great, but I’ve found that my heavenly Daddy is better at taking care of me when I’m in trouble.  Because of that, I can step out and take some chances that other people wouldn’t, knowing that my Daddy’s got my back.  Like giving everything I have to the poor and having homeless folks stay in my house with my family and I.

There are many childish beliefs I have done away with:

I don’t believe that we can always see the good in doing good.  But I believe that if I obey the good I will be rewarded.

I don’t believe that there are good guys and bad guys.  But I believe that people who act bad can become good.

I don't believe that we can live without mistakes, but I believe we can live without compromise to hate or greed.

I don’t believe that the police are here to protect me.  But I believe that I am protected.

I don’t think that me being nice means that others will be nice to me.  But I think that being nice is good in and of itself.

I don’t  believe that reasoning by itself convinces anyone of anything.  But I believe that following my convictions is essential, no matter what anyone else says.

I don’t believe that I’m right all the time.  But I do believe that love is always right.

I don’t hope in my government, in getting a job, in other people, in my family, in my political ideals, or in anything on earth.  But I do believe that there is reason to hope, despite how pointless it all seems.

Some think I’m cynical.  
Rather, I have given up on being grown up.  
I’ll stick with being childish.  It seems to work for me.