Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Great Sellaway

Can you talk about the verse that says its easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven? Why is it so hard to let go of "things" ? Mark and I have been discussing that lately as our circumstances change. We aren't snobs and know that people come first, so why is it hard to lose material things? They won't last. I always wondered that, and why when Jesus told the man to sell his things, he couldn't. When we KNOW these things are not lasting, why is it still difficult? Is it because we once had them and now won't? -Mark and Leeanne

Okay, this is going to take a minute.

In the passage Jesus is talking about "selling your possessions and giving to the poor." His is a subject he spoke pretty frequently about. He told it to the rich young ruler and to Zaccheus in Luke 19. He also talked about it to all of his disciples in Luke 12:33 and Luke 14:33. He referred to it in his parables of the pearl of great price and the parable of the treasure in the field. And he applied it in his story of the rich man and Lazarus as well as his teaching about wealth in Matthew 6 and Luke 12. So this is a big deal to Jesus.

And it's really hard for us Americans to do. Not just because we are attached to our possessions, but that we have so many of them and it's a constant process of getting rid of them, because we always get more. Not more money, mind you, just stuff. So it's a lot of hard work.

But what you are referring to is the emotional attachment we have to our stuff. Because we get stuff and it becomes a part of us, a part of our essence. As Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Or, wherever you store your stuff, your core is right in the midst of it.

So why get rid of our stuff? First off all, because those who are poor need it more than we do. John the Baptist got at the basics when he said, "If you have two coats and someone you know doesn't have any, give one to him." It's basic fair distribution. If our stuff is more needed by our brother, then we should pass it on.

Secondly, we get rid of our stuff because it causes us to be more attached to this world instead of God. The more stuff we have, the more effort and love we put into our stuff, and the less time and love we have for God or for the poor around us.

Third, we get rid of our stuff, because it builds up our stuff in heaven. Jesus says that whatever we give to the poor, God puts that stuff in our savings account in heaven, for our retirement. Thus, the more we give away to the needy, the greater the interest accumulates in our bank account in the Kingdom. Thus, we don't want to think of the poor as greedy-- rather, they are the bankers who keep our possessions (or the wealth from our possessions) secure for us for when we really need it-- after this life is over.

Finally, how do we give?
In scripture there are three ways to get rid of our possessions.

a. We sell our possessions and then take the proceeds to the poor. That could be to a charity or directly to the poor. It doesn't matter what they do with it, it is the act of giving out of love that gains our benefit.

b. We drop our possessions like a hot potato. The disciples, noting that they didn't give their possessions to the poor, wondered if just leaving their nets and boats on the shoreline was acceptable. Jesus told them it was fine as long as they were doing it for God's kingdom. Getting rid of everything to do kingdom work is just as much a benefit as giving to the poor. Thus, having a garage sale and the proceeds go to ministry or leaving everything on the side of the road so you could be a missionary is great in Jesus' eyes.

c. We are freely open to use our possessions with those who are in need. This is the Philemon principle. He was a friend of Paul's who used his house to have the church meet in it and whenever anyone came to town he opened up his house for them to stay with him, as long as they needed it. Even so, if we have a car, but use it to transport the poor, have a house but use it to house the needy or have music that we share (in a legal manner) with those who don't, then it is all good, all building up toward our heavenly account.

The hardest thing about that last kind of giving is that if we loan something out or allow people to have use of our possessions, they may not be as careful with our possessions as we are. Thus, we may get back something that is unusable. This is why this last kind of giving is just as much surrendering as the other kind of giving. Because when people use your stuff, pretty soon that stuff can't be used anymore.

So how can we make it easier to get rid of our stuff? Well, I don't know that we can. Giving away our stuff is a lot like going on a diet. We can recognize our fat, but it's hard to make the commitment. But after the fat is gone, we feel relieved. But there isn't much relief until it's gone. Until then, it's just hard work.

I would recommend that we all commit all of our stuff to the Lord. Not in the spiritual sense, "Oh, it's all yours, Lord" but in a real sense of, "Jesus, this stuff right here I'm getting rid of for you. Jesus, this stuff right here isn't mine, but I'm going to allow others to use it whenever they need to. Jesus, I'm making this available to You for it to benefit others." In this way, the Lord will help you in your commitment to Him. His Spirit will flow down upon you, and fill you with the love for Him and for others and the love of possessions will just fade away.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Parable of the Kingdom

Once there was a king who had three sons. He was determining who should rule after him, so he gave them each a portion of his vast kingdom, and told them to rule well. As good sons, they came to him and said, "Father, you are the great king, all wise and just. Please tell us how to rule as you have done."

The Emperor looked at each of them from his throne and said, "Write down what I say and you will know all that is necessary to rule: Sovereignty. Justice. Mercy. Sacrifice. Love. Peace. Understand these words and you will rule well." The three sons were a bit mystified, but all were confident that, given time, they would be able to understand the meaning of the Great King, and rule well.

After a year, the King called his sons back and asked them how they ruled.

The first son said this: "After some time of considering your words and spending time with your subjects, I realized that they were faithless and stupid. Then I understood your words. I am the sovereign and I must rule strongly. I must deliver justice to the people, punishing them for their sins. However, I must remind them that you, O King, are merciful and do not want them all to die. However, they must learn to sacrifice their wills to Yours, and thus learn to Love each other by loving the Law of the land. Only then there will be Peace."

The King replied, "And I understand that you punished all, for all were unworthy in your sight. This is not my rule of mercy. You are dismissed."

The second son said, "I, too, considered your words, my King, and applied them to my rule. I realized that I am not the sovereign, but You are, O King. I am only here to dispense your justice and mercy to the people. Thus, I sought to apply your law precisely, punishing the wicked and rewarding the obedient. I taught them to sacrifice their possessions to me, so that I might re-distribute them in love. And then we achieved the peace of having all needs met."

The King replied to the second son, "Because you took all land and all possessions from my people, you made them all poor, grudgingly giving back to them. This is not my rule of justice. You are dismissed."

Finally came the primary servant of the third son, and he said, "I regret to tell you, my Lord, that your son is dead. This is what occurred: He also, considered your words and he realized that he himself was given sovereignty over your people, which was a noble task, of which few are worthy. He saw the poor of your land being oppressed and the wealthy squandering their power on their own indulgence and distractions. But rather than punish them, your son remembered your word, "sacrifice" and realized that he must sacrifice himself for all the people. So he took all the power and wealth you gave him, traveled around the country and taught all the people how to share possessions, how to see with compassion and how to love each other with one's own heart. In this way, he created peace among all who listened to him.

"I wish that were the end of the story. His brother, the first son, came to his land and stirred up the wealthy, claiming that the third son was not obeying your will. They lied about him and persecuted him gladly, for he was telling them the only way to follow your will was to sacrifice their possessions and power. Because he threatened all power, the other king spurred the powerful to kill your third, innocent son."

The King bowed his head and tears came to his eyes. "Yes, I have heard all of these tidings. My son," and he turned to the first son, "You are cast from my presence. I never want to see you again. You were never interested in my will, only in punishment." Then the King turned to the servant, "Little one, because you have loved my son, my son who followed my heart of compassion, then I proclaim you to be King over all of my lands."

The servant declared, "But my Lord, I am not worthy!"

The King chuckled, "Of course you are not. But anyone who has my heart at least deserves the chance to become worthy. Worth isn't in correct interpretation, nor in delivering justice. Worth is found in seeing others' needs and doing all you can to meet them."

This parable is not about Christianity, per se. Nor is it about the atonement and how it works. Rather, it is about how one interprets the Bible. The Bible is confusing and difficult. There are a number of things that don't make sense. The one who understands the Bible correctly is the one who has the heart of the Father, following the example of His Son.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Are You An American?

With the homeland security rules, you have to have a lot of IDs to get your ID. You need a social security card, a birth certificate, a proof of citizenship (if necessary), a marriage certificate (if you changed your name). Oh, and don't bother bringing in your old ID because that doesn't count. Oh, and 40 dollars.

We know a lot of people who don't have any kind of ID because it got lost, burned, stolen, whatever. So the road to obtaining this ID is long and hard.

We've decided to make it easier on everyone. Look, homeland security is doing their best, we know, but they just want to prove that if a person was born in America, then they are a citizen. We think they just need to show a little more imagination.

So we created this simple test to prove if one is a real American or not. If you answer the questions right, then we give you your ID.

1. Can you speak English?
Correct answer: No. Americans don't speak English. They speak American.

2. Are all foreigners idiots?
Correct answer: Yes. Anyone who does not live in the United States lives in an idiotic way. Therefore, they are idiots.

3. Would you feel comfortable living in Canada?
Correct answer: Of course not. Canada is foreign. Therefore they are idiots. Also, they have socialized medicine.

4. Do you know where Belize is?
Correct answer: What is a Belize? No one knows where Belize is. Even those who live there probably wouldn't be able to point it out on the map.

5. Are you fluent in any language apart from English?
Correct answer: Of course not. We've already established that Americans can't even speak English.

6. Do you feel cheated if your meal doesn't fill the plate?
Correct answer: There are meals without a super size option?

7. Do you have a car?
Correct answer: How can anyone live without a car?

8. What is your favorite childhood memory?
Correct answer: I remember when gas was less than two dollars a gallon...

9. What is your opinion about France?
Correct answer: (unmentionable)

Final: Please fill in this map (correct answers provided)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'd Like To See A Picture of This...

From Crosswalk Daily News Summary-

Egypt's Military Begins Rebuilding Burned Church

Egypt's government acknowledged the complaints of Coptic Christians last week as the military began reconstruction of a burned church south of Cairo. Hundreds of Christians protested the torching, leading to clashes between Muslims and Copts that killed 13 Christians. "The engineering department of the Egyptian Armed Forces has started to rebuild the church in Atfeeh today at the same exact location," Army spokesman Maj. Mohamed Askar said, according to CNN. "The Armed Forces will bear all expenses."

Friday, March 04, 2011

Culture of Murder

A report from Consistent Life:

An Unusual Connection between Abortion and the Death Penalty

The case of the 70-year-old abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell (covered last week) has a new twist: prosecutors are consideringthe death penalty because charges involve multiple murders – and because seven of the eight murders are for children under age 12 (that is, he induced birth first and killed the born baby). Concerning the two decades when repeated reports of shocking clinic conditions went ignored, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said, "This doesn't even rise to the level of government run amok. It was government not running at all.” The death penalty is a very poor substitute for government having done its job, even what was allowed after Roe v. Wade, by intervening much earlier. Many women could have been spared an excruciating fate. Gosnell himself may have avoided the spiral down that violence normally entails, had there not been social approval and apathy.

[Thanks to Edward Chow and Rob Arner for sending in information on this case.]

So we give someone permission to murder, find out he was doing it wrong, and to punish him, we answer it with murder? Is there something wrong with this?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

In Reflection on the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes

"Daily bread"

Jesus spoke to simple people.

Jesus understood the theological niceties and the tendency of spiritualization of the educated. Perhaps that's why he didn't speak to the educated, except in debate. If we like a word, or like a teacher, we try to fit what was said into a context we can accept, an idea we can receive.

People with refrigerators and cupboards full of food want to try to apply "Give us this day our daily bread." Frankly, we don't need daily bread. We've already got bread for today, tomorrow and the next. And we aren't satisfied with bread. So we have cheese and milk and beef and turkey and donuts and hot dogs and Slim Fast bars and Nutella. So when we read about daily bread, we think it means the Word of God, or Jesus who is the Word of God, or some other kind of symbolic, spiritual bread that we actually need because 'daily bread' is an unnecessary prayer for us.

But the people Jesus spoke to-- and the majority of the world today-- would understand that when Jesus spoke of bread, he meant... well, bread. Or maybe rice. Perhaps corn. But certainly not Peanut M&Ms. Certainly not a refrigerator full of food. Certainly not Jesus. And not the word of God, either. Because the majority of the people (who ever lived) don't know if they will have enough basic food to eat that day. Some dig through trash, some rely on farms, but most go hungry. So when Jesus spoke to simple people, he spoke about bread because that's something they understood. They asked, "Heaven is great, but what will I give my children to eat today?" And Jesus answered, "Ask and you will receive. Ask your Father for what is good and He will not give you a stone."

When Jesus said, "Blessed are you who are poor," he didn't mean the people who were humble. That doesn't mean Jesus downplayed humility-- oh, no, that is essential. But Jesus also glorified the poor. Not poverty. Poverty is horrible. But the poor can be glorious and faithful and just desperate enough to seek God for what no one else would grant them. So "the poor" are... poor people.

Yes, in Matthew it says, "the poor in spirit." And it is associated with "the meek", "the mourning", those desperate for justice and those who are persecuted. These are people who, whether lacking in funds or not, are oppressed and suffering at the hands of those more powerful than they. The poor. Not those who humble themselves, but are humiliated at the hands of another.

The simple person learns that the Bible is more complicated than what the simple words seem to say, and so theologians and preachers and the educated and the wise unlearn what seems so simple to understand. So straightforward.

And so we lose the point because we are too educated, to sophisticated to understand it. Are eyes are so wide open that we see nothing. And we lose the truth that is staring us right in the face.

Every Christian Healed?

Josh posted this on Alethia. Read more here.

Isaiah 53:5

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

I have encountered those who believe, on the basis of this verse and some others, that "physical healing was provided for in the atonement" and therefore it is now never God's will that any of his children be sick.


My response:

If we are to use that passage as some use it-- as a promise that we would never be sick, or if sick immediately healed-- then we could also claim "peace" that way, as it is the parallel to the "healing" line. Thus, we should claim "shalom"-- justice and inner peace and all needs met and release from prison for all who are under Jesus' blood.

Can you see people using the verse for shalom as some use it for healing?

"It only looks like you are in prison, but the fact is, you are free! Act on that freedom, there are no guards, no walls, if you would only have faith!"

"It may seem that you are hungry and homeless, but in reality, by faith, you live in a mansion and have a feast in front of you, whatever food you want! Just claim it by faith and eat it!"

The fact is, Jesus died for our sins so that we could ask God for healing and justice and all of our needs met. But we still live in a world filled with sickness and disease and disaster and hunger and pain. We still live through sickness and suffering, without fear, knowing that Jesus is changing the world, person by person until He is ready to return and meet all of our needs.

In the meantime, He chooses to heal some of us, and feed some of us miraculously, and to house some of us and to provide inner peace to some of us. And some of us have to struggle, so that His character might show through our suffering.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

There Are No Atheists in Pity Parties

From Crosswalk Religion News of the Day:

Anger at God Common, Even among Atheists

New research shows that self-described atheists and agnostics are more likely to be angry at God - or the hypothetical deity they reject - than believers. CNN reports that new studies from Julie Exline, Case Western Reserve University psychologist, and her colleagues. Religious people are also more likely to see a plan or good intentions behind unfortunate events, rather than a mean-spirited attack. "When people trust that God cares about them and has positive intentions toward them, even if they can't understand what those intentions or meanings are, it tends to help to resolve anger," she said. Exline and her colleagues hope to further study people's reactions to God, suffering and anger.

Mark Twain denied the existence of God, due to the death of his beloved daughter. Then he penned scathing words against God. Not against the church, mind you-- he'd been writing against the hypocrisy of the church for decades before. But against God.

Much of the anger against God is simply the opposite of the attitude of gratefulness that other people have. It is human nature to either blame or thank someone above us for circumstances that are beyond our control. But what do we do if we think there is no one actually determining these actions? Because we have to do something with our feelings, we blame or thank God, whether we intellectually believe in Him or not.

For most people, a belief in God is emotional, even if one is an atheist.

This is not a proof for God, but it is interesting to speculate. It is also interesting because thanking God for some good circumstances is right because He established the earth to be good and because He continues to allow growth and goodness to spread. However, since God established humanity to rule the world, some good (such as the harnessing of electricity) can be given to humanity, but almost all of the evil can be put at humanity's doorstep. Either humanity causes evil or humanity allows for evil to continue to exist when they could do something about it. Most of the time, humanity is apathetic toward evil, when they have been given rule by God to accomplish justice, mercy and goodness.

So if you really want to blame someone for the evil, look in the mirror.