Where is this peace on earth I hear so much about?

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Yesterday we talked about the peace that Jesus makes available for all mankind. In our Softer Sunday service we sang this classic Christmas hymn. And as we were singing I was struck by the despair in the third verse.

This song was written during the American Civil War. A time when the nation was being torn apart by many factors. Perhaps the most widely known factor was the American South’s insistence on maintaining their right to own slaves. Black lives were seen as less than white people’s lives.

This song was written 150 years ago.

It breaks my heart that our country is still going through so much turmoil and pain around race relations. It is just sad.

And my white brothers and sisters. We don’t have to understand the pain the black community is feeling right now to still acknowledge that their pain is real. And their pain should be our pain.

I heard someone quote Martin Luther King Jr. And the quote has really struck me.

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”

The news tends to highlight the riots but the truth is people have been quietly and respectfully protesting the events in Ferguson and New York. When these respectful protests go unheard, this pain escalates.

Also frustrating, is that I feel like I can’t do anything to help.

But that’s not true. I can hear the cries of the hurting and broken around me and try to be a peacemaker. That’s what Jesus challenged his disciples to do in Matthew 5:9.

“Blessed are the peacemakers
For they will be called children of God.”

There is incredible pain all around us. My prayer is that the church will be their to mourn with those who mourn, pursue peace and reconciliation between people and God. And all the while keep praying and hoping for the day when Jesus will finally set all things right. When there will be true peace on earth.

Christmas is a time that reminds us that while we have not fully seen peace on earth. There is a day when we will truly see peace. And it’s only ultimately possible through the work of Jesus, as he makes peace between humanity and God available, and his followers get to share that peace with the world.

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Theology of Poverty

I fell into a Facebook debate the other day. I don’t know how it happened, it just did. Anyway, the debate revolved around poverty and being a Christian.

At one point someone said, “Poverty is a horrible testimony.” This statement floored me because it seems to mean that Jesus who didn’t seem to have a ton of cash on hand (Matt 17:24-27), or a house (Matt 8:20), or a family, and didn’t leave any kind of financial inheritance then would have a horrible testimony.

People in favor of “claiming” and “walking in” the blessing of Abraham are nice people. The problem I see however with this idea that Christians shouldn’t be poor is that it would put Jesus as well as most Christians in the developing world  in the camp of having a bad testimony.  It would put most of the early church in a the category of a horrible testimony, as they faced persecution, losing jobs and their lives, for their faith.

This idea that poverty is in some way evidence of not having a good testimony is troubling.  Also, as a side note, for Christians, our testimony is all tied to whether or not we said yes to the grace of Jesus which was extended to us.  Rich or poor that’s the greatest testimony you can have.  But back to the matter at hand.  Someone could follow Jesus with all their heart, lead many people to faith in Christ, and they may never have “finanicial victory.”  Would that person be a bad representation of Jesus to the world?  Of course not. Someone could lose everything through no fault of their own, but still be a committed follower of Jesus and, they may work dilligently to get their finances back on track but to no avail.  Does that person have a bad testimony?  No.

Jesus wants his disciples to be like him.  Which means we must live lives that honor God.  Rich or poor, every Christians should strive to be like Jesus.

So let’s actually look at what Jesus said about poverty and wealth.

What did Jesus say about the poor?

Matt 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

Luke 6:20

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.”

This Matthean passage compared to the Lukan parallel is particularly interesting.  In Luke Jesus gives no qualifier to the poverty.  “Blessed are you who are poor.”  Pretty obvious.  Matthew qualifies being poor with “in spirit.”  Which one does Jesus mean?  Both.  Keener in the IVP Bible Background Commentary says,

“Poverty and piety were often associated in Judaism; the term poor could encompass either physical poverty (Lk 6:20), or the faithful dependence on God that it often produced (“in spirit,” as here).”

The word for poor is the word used for utter destitution.  So in Luke Jesus is saying the very poor will be blessed.  In Matthew the very poor also recognize also their “utter spiritual destitution, the consciousness of which precedes the entrance into the kingdom of God, and which cannot be relieved by one’s own efforts, but only by the free mercy of God.” (Word Studies in the New Testament Logos Bible Software)  Physical poverty can lead people to recognize their physical and spiritual dependence on God the Father.  When we recognize our deep need for God, we can receive his promise, “the kingdom of God.”

This is another example of Jesus blessing the poor Luke 21:1-4:

“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

 This woman, who has no name in scripture trusted God, gave all she had.  Now, is this Jesus saying to everyone, “Give everything and be blessed?  Be poor!”  No, but he is also not saying, “This poor woman has a horrible testimony.”  He calls her blessed, because she didn’t just give what she could.  She was generous in her worship of God through giving.  The Bible doesn’t say then she went out and won the lottery.  But I bet the next week she had another pair of small copper coins.  She was poor, trusted God, and Jesus said she gave more than the rich.
Jesus had more of a concern that his followers would desire to be rich.

What did Jesus say about wealth?

Matthew 6:24

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is clearly telling his followers to focus their heart on God and not on money.  You can’t seek God and seek a so called “promise” that you will be rich.

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Jesus’ story here is about somebody who put his confidence in the riches he had produced through his fields. He then turned his focus on taking it easy, trusting in what he has earned, thinking that everything was set. But his wealth wouldn’t keep him alive forever.  He died rich and a fool.

Luke 18:18-30

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]”

21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Here is a rich man who couldn’t follow Jesus’s command to sell everything.  His hope and security was in his riches and his possessions.  His hope and confidence were not in God.  He wanted God’s blessing but didn’t want to actually trust God.  Jesus was calling him to a life of poverty and obedience.  But he couldn’t handle it.  Does Jesus call everyone to poverty?  No.  But he does call everyone to put their hope, trust and confidence in him.

Because the only way we are going to be saved, is through faith in Jesus.

Should poverty be glorified by Christians?  No, that’s ridiculous.  But poverty should not be shunned.  Jesus’ words are pretty clear that focusing on money (rich or poor) instead of the things of God is a path to destruction.

God’s Currency

Has God’s face ever been on a coin? We are the coin that bears the living likeness of God. Giving if ourselves with whatever that may include, is the only legal currency of the kingdom of heaven.
– Gordon and Gladis DePree

Matthew 22
Paying the Imperial Tax to Caesar

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

—–
They say money makes the world go ’round. And it is true that our economies drive much of our culture and innovation. If there is money to be made then someone will find a way to make it happen. In doing so they move the world forward.

The economy if God’s kingdom does not require money. God doesn’t need our money he wants our hearts. And if we surrender our whole heart to God, to be used by him to move his kingdom forward then we truly are the currency of God. Just like a coin has an image (Caesar, Kings and Queens, presidents) we bear the image of God.

Who decides how to use your money? You do. If you are God’s money will submit to his plan?

What if we actually lived like we were the currency of God’s Kingdom?

FINISH LINES

Many of the projects that I have been working on over the last several months are coming up on their finish lines.  I’m excited to be able to put these things out into the world so people can use them.  Of course these finish lines are really just new starting lines.  But isn’t that the case for every finish line?

Think about the Olympic athlete.  They train with that finish line in mind for years.  But once the race is over they are going to have to start something new.  They can start to train for the next race.  They can start to think about life after the olympics.

Think about professional athletes who are facing retirement.  What’s next?  They’ve spent all this time in their sport.  When do they start thinking about life after football?

It would seem that the people who end up being truly successful are those who look at their finish lines and are able to think about what they are going to do after their cross the finish line.

Bonus:

I love this song by Steve Taylor – Finish Line

yeah maybe it’s a little cheesy but the 12 year old me totally dug this tune, and when I got Steve Taylors autograph I was pretty stoked!

Simple Solutions

This week I’ve been working on a project that is more complex than I wanted it to be. I tried to come up with all kinds of solutions that all ended up being more complex.

So what did I do?

I took out a pen and a small journal and wrote down all the next steps that I needed to do to make this huge complex project easier. This is an incredibly simple solution to complexity.

I learned through GTD that my brain is not a reliable place to keep important informant for projects. When I start to feel overwhelmed by the complexity in front of me I were down why I’m so overwhelmed. I wrote down next steps. In doing this it helps me to think of other areas where I’m feeling complexity start to overwhelm me.

It’s so simple but we tend to think that because we are “smart” we don’t need simple solutions. If you are truly smart you will look for the most simple solution possible.

Don’t be too clever for your own food. Seek simplicity.

Grace and Fairness

Read the story of Noah this morning. And in the story it says, “Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.”

In the middle of all kinds of human depravity and wickedness, Moses somehow found favor, grace, in God’s sight. When reading stories like Noah’s we tend to put in all the reasons that Noah found favor in God’s sight. Somehow he was offering the right sacrifices, he was praying the right way, he wasn’t killing people. These are all good reasons to find favor in the sight of the LORD.

But the Bible doesn’t give us any reasons for the grace that Noah received.

A few chapters before we can read the story of Cain and Abel. The text says that God had regard for Abel’s offerings from his flocks, but not for Cain’s, which were from grains and plants. The Bible doesn’t tell us why God had regard for Abel’s offering. We put in the story well because Abel was offering the right kind of offering, and his heart was better, and so on. The Bible doesn’t tell us that.

When we read stories like this we want to justify God’s grace, favor, or regard. We want to give God a reason for being gracious, because if God has a reason for those people then somehow I can find that reason. Then I can work my way towards justifying why I deserve grace too.

But grace isn’t fair. It’s God’s gift to give. And when we turn the the New Testament, we see that God chooses to give that gift through Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Now this seems entirely unfair.

We want to be able to build a case why we deserve grace for the things that we do. But we don’t deserve grace at all. That’s why it’s grace. It’s God’s gift to give. It doesn’t seem fair to us, but for God to give grace, forgiving our sins at all, that is an incredibly generous gift. It really isn’t fair to God that he should give us any grace.

Grace isn’t fair. If it was fair it wouldn’t be grace.

Why Are We So Afraid?

The other day I was thinking about the various things that the Church is crying out against in American society.  I talked with someone about a documentary he wanted me to watch about the rise of Islam, and he said, “it’s scary, scary stuff.”  That has just stuck with me.

Why are we so afraid?

It got me thinking about Jesus.  He struck fear in the heart of the religious leaders of his time and they influenced the political leaders to be afraid of him as well.  He was a threat to their power.  He was declaring a new kingdom and a new way of living with God the Father.  He was seen as a revolutionary and a threat.

Revolutionaries are always a threat to those in power.

Change is always a threat to those in power.

The Church is clearly seeing a diminishing of our “power” and influence in American society.  The responses that I am seeing more often than not boil down to fear.

Are we afraid of losing our “power.”

The really sad thing about all of this is that we blame society for our loss of influence in American society.  But the real reason that we have lost our influence is because we gave it away.  We stopped caring about being a force for good in society and instead huddled together in our little clubs.

Don’t blame the media, the president, muslims, or the Gays for our fear.  It’s our own fault.

How do we overcome our fears?

Engagement.  Engagement does not mean agreement.  Engagement does not mean debate.  Engagement starts with conversation.  Stop decrying the evils of american society to club members who already agree with you.  Get out and get to know a gay person.  Talk to a muslim.  Serve the poor.

Do something.  Don’t let fear paralyze you.

Jesus help me to not let fear paralyze me.