Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Pushed and the Grabbers

Jesus went to a lot of parties. Wherever he went there was a party, and all the best of the town were gathered to hear this famous bright star of Galilee. And Jesus gave these teachings at a party that he was invited to. In all probability, he insulted his hosts, as well as everyone who was invited. He saw people trying to get the best seats, and he unmasked their hidden agendas and told them that they were going about being the best in the room all the wrong way. Then he targeted his hosts and told them that they invited the wrong people. Yet, somehow, Jesus was still popular at these gatherings. You’d think that he would have preached in the wilderness more often.

What’s wrong with wanting to be noticed? 
Absolutely nothing. Jesus wanted to be noticed himself. He wasn’t saying that getting the best seats is a bad thing. He was saying that pushing to be noticed is the wrong way to go about it. If you want to get someone’s attention, Jesus says, just whisper. In other words, the way to be important is to put yourself in a ridiculously humiliating position. Most people go straight for the jugular and if they want to be noticed, they do something to get noticed. They hang out with the “right” people, they grease palms, they do favors for those who will do them back. These are the people who figure the way to get up the ladder of success, you need to do something significant so those above you would pull you up. Again, Jesus didn’t say that achieving success isn’t a good goal. But he is articulating his principle about how to achieve success— If you want to be successful, be a failure first. If you want to be famous, look to be anonymous. If you want to be wealthy, give away everything you have.

Is this some sort of mystic principle, or is it actually practical? Jesus actually understands everyone’s sense of justice. If someone is unjustly lowered by society, many within society wishes to bring them up to where they “should” be, or even higher to make up for the low position. But if someone strives for the heights, everyone says, “Who does this guy think he is?” and they push him down.  

Getting God’s attention 
And this isn’t just a human principle. It is the same with God. God has established a system of justice on the earth, and he wants everyone to get what they deserve. The hard working and righteous should get the best, while the immoral and cheaters should get the worst in life. But what happens when the innocent get the worst out of life? This happens all too often, of course. The best, the brightest of humanity are never heard from. The most talented and most self-sacrificial aren’t ever paid attention to because they didn’t do what the world says and “push themselves.” And many who are innocent and righteous receive the worst treatment from people. But God doesn’t accept this. In fact, He says that He pays more attention to those who don’t get what they deserve. The rest of the world settles itself, but God settles injustice (Exodus 22: 21-27; I Samuel 2: 8-10; Psalm 37). So what does God see as His most important work on earth? To pull up the deserving lowly, and to push down the undeserving significant. To welcome the righteous poor and to trip up the self-righteous rich. God doesn’t do miracles for those who don’t need it— he reserves them for people who are desperate and dependent on Him. God doesn’t judge the mediocre bad— he reserves judgment for those who claim to be His but destroy His lowly and His reputation.  

Raised, Humbled 
Jesus stated the basic principle like this: The lowly get raised and the raised gets lowered. The first shall be last and the last first. When he made these statements, he applied it in very many different contexts:

 •  The repentant receive God’s welcome, while the self-righteous receive God’s rejection. (Luke 18: 9-12)

•  The sinners get an opportunity for afresh start with God, while the already righteous don’t need Jesus. (Mark 2: 15-17)

•  The down and out get welcomed into the kingdom, while the invited are out in the cold. (Luke 14: 16-24)

•  Those who seem unrighteous now may get God’s reward (just under the wire) and get the same reward as those who have served God for a long time (Matthew 20: 1-16)

•  The one who surrenders all he has to the poor will get God’s kingdom, while God reserves the worst punishments for those who take away from the needy for their own gain. (Luke 12: 33; Luke 16: 19-26)

•  The one who wants political importance must suffer and possibly die at the hands of the powerful and God will replace the government with the ones who were oppressed (Mark 12: 1-11)  

 I’m on the Top— What do I do? 
Jesus gives three suggestions to those who are on the top of the heap, the head of the party, the famous, rich and healthy. He says, first of all, welcome the lowly to the club. Make sure that you have the needy people you know welcomed as people who are your equals— invite them to your parties, give them the best seats, let them be your friends. Secondly, Jesus says that those who have greater resources must give their resources to the needy. If you’ve got extra, don’t give it to people who can give you more now, but give it to people who can’t repay you— that way God will do the repayment. Thirdly, Jesus said that to receive God’s full blessing, you must be the lowly. You must accept persecution, suffering, and even poverty, crying out only to God for release. He may or may not release you immediately, but if you stick with God, he will give you the greater reward.  

I’m On the Bottom, and it Sucks! 
But the good thing about being the insignificant, the poor, the outcast, the persecuted is that you are already (at least) halfway to where God wants you to be! If now you can just dependably cry out to Him, seeking his help and never turning your back on Him— even if it means that you have to suffer more for sticking up for God— then God will give you more than you could ever ask for. He will give you a family to replace the one that rejected you. He will give you a home to replace the one you lost. He will give you an income that will replace your lost employment. He will give you peace where yours is all gone.  

Allow yourself to be humiliated and depend on God and God will give you more than you ever asked!

Kimes, Steven (2012-04-04). Long Live the Riff Raff: Jesus' Social Revolution (Kindle Locations 343-352).  . Kindle Edition. 

Jesus Goes to the Christian Conference

Jesus went to the Christian Conference, and he saw that many were trying to get the attention of their acquaintances on or behind the stage to let them in. Jesus turned to those with him and said, “When you go to an event, don’t try to get up on stage, or else a security person might come and throw you out because you are being disruptive. Instead, stand back, waiting, until your friend behind the stage sees you and says, ‘Hey, you want to come back here?’ and you will be escorted into the stage area. Even so, where God rules, everyone who grabs for what they want will be pushed back, and everyone who humiliates themselves will be welcomed up.”

 Then Jesus said to the one who invited him, “If you go to a concert or have a party, don’t invite your friends or relatives or coworkers, who can pay to go. Because they will just invite you to the next event, and so pay you back. Instead, invite the homeless and the handicapped, the impoverished, and people with social and mental disorders. Because they will never be able to pay you back and instead you will gain your repayment from God on the last day.”

(Paraphrase of Luke 14: 7-14)

Kimes, Steven (2012-04-04). Long Live the Riff Raff: Jesus' Social Revolution (Kindle Locations 287-296).  . Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Happy are the Miserable: Thoughts on the Beatitudes

What does “poor in spirit” really mean? Or the “pure in heart”? Frankly, what does “blessed” mean? Let’s examine the context and see if we can find it out.  

Lucky Bloke! 
First of all, the term “blessed.” In the Greek, it literally means “happy” and its root in Hebrew literally means “to walk straight”. However, in most contexts this phrase means, “You lucky dog!” It means that the person is fortunate, is lucky in some way. This doesn’t mean that they are blessed by “luck”. All of the promises Jesus offers are actually blessings that God would grant. So the object of Jesus acclaim is the lucky receiver of God’s grace, God’s blessing, the good fortune that comes directly from God.

What kind of rewards are these folks promised? The coming kingdom of God. Of having all of their needs met. Of being in a close relationship with God. Of being content with their lot. This is really good stuff, these promises. Especially if you don’t have your needs met— and who does?

But these folks aren’t just lucky because they are getting good stuff in the future. Also, they are essential to the present. Jesus says that these folks are essential for the world as it is. Without these folks, the world is lacking something necessary for survival. These people of God are like your daily nutrition intake— without them, the world would starve spiritually. The world would be empty, lifeless, hopeless, merciless.  

The Uncommon Christian 
So just who are these important folks? Essential for life today, and the recipients of tomorrow’s hope? Jesus describes them in detail. First, let’s find out what Jesus thinks are the basics of discipleship.

If we are going to follow Jesus, what should we look like?
 Pure in heart— We should be ready not just to look good on Sundays, to claim to believe the right things and to avoid the really bad sins that makes us bad people. Actually, Jesus wants us to be inwardly right with God— confessing our sin and devoted to God in all of our ways. Our prayer and religious deeds are just outward show, but we sincerely are seeking a relationship with God.  

Merciful— Jesus expects us to be compassionate as He was compassionate on earth. His disciples need to be loving to everyone, even those who bug us! He wants us ready to help anyone and everyone in need, even when inconvenient.  

Peacemakers— Jesus expects us to be active in reconciling people to God, to each other and to life. He expect us to be a part of creating a society that is just and right with God, even if that society has to be apart from the world.   We don’t see many Christians like this today. But the church keeps producing folks like this, and these are the heart of the church— heck, they are the heart of the entire world! And they will receive God’s promises for the future.  

The Big Surprise 
But in the Beatitudes, we are still skipping one part— the most amazing, fantastic, mind-blowing concept of Jesus. He saved it for the very beginning of his teaching, to emphasize its importance. Nevertheless, it is something we have a hard time getting a grasp of. These lucky folks, these fortunate few, these salt-of-the-earth, these essential daily vitamins are also the rejects of society.  

Poor in spirit— These are the ones who are anguished due to their poverty, and suffer greatly because of their lack of normal life.  

Mourning— These are those who have suffered great loss and so mourn due to it.

Meek— These are the ones who have nothing in this life to depend on and don’t have a leg to stand on to get justice in their lives.  

Hungering and Thirsting for Justice— These are the ones who are desperately seeking justice because all they have received is injustice and rejection.  

Persecuted— These are the ones who have been rejected and hated and beaten and despised and treated as outcasts.  

Why are these great folks treated so poorly? Why do they suffer so? Some of them suffer because they just aren’t accepted. But most of them aren’t accepted because they stand with Jesus. Because they insist on being right with God in their heart more than their social standing. Because they insist on being merciful, even when it hurts themselves. Because to reconcile people when they want to continue in hatred is dangerous and a hated profession. Because the one who talks about Jesus is readily accepted— but the one who acts like Jesus is easily rejected.  

No Big Surprise 
Although we have great shock at first that the very folks God accepts are those the world rejects, we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, look at who God chooses:  

  • He chose Noah who was rejected by his neighbors because he did what God told him to.   
  • He chose Abraham, but only after Abraham set aside the inheritance of his father’s house.   
  • He chose Joseph, but the man had to suffer hatred, slavery, jail time and people forgetting him before he received God’s promise.
  • He chose the children of Israel, but they had to endure years of slavery and genocide and desert-wandering before they were ready for God’s promise.   
  • He chose David, but the future king had to be threatened and chased all over the wilderness before he received God’s promise.   
  • He chose Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but they had to be ignored and rejected their whole lives, only to not receive the promise.   
  • He chose Jesus, who had to be condemned, judged and crucified before he was vindicated.   

Honesty, if we look at the Bible as a whole, we can finally understand that God’s people always have to face the worst difficulties before receiving what God has in store for them. In Hebrew there is a special name for these folks— people who suffer rejection and poverty, but still expect God to deliver them— they are called Anawim.

God has always— without exception— given his promise of blessing to the Anawim. And it is the Anawim who are God’s chosen.  

Psalm 22: 24— God has not abhorred the oppression of the Anawim, nor has he hidden his face from them; But when they cried to Him for help, he listened to them.

 I Samuel 2: 8— He raises the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles.  

Psalm 37: 11— The Anawim will receive the land and live in abundant prosperity

God has always focused on the needy who live for him, and He always will.   So how should we treat God’s special chosen? How should we treat the homeless who are standing with God? How should we act toward the working poor, crying out to God for justice? We should treat them as God does— with honor, with respect, with assistance. We should listen not only to their needs, but their counsel. After all, how we treat these folks is how we will be treated on the final day!  

The lowly and poor are chosen by God to be His people.

This is a chapter of the book Long Live the Riff Raff! by Steven Kimes.  You can purchase it for the Amazon Kindle, on your PC or your Kindle.

The Fortunate Few

How fortunate are the anguished due to poverty because they will rule God’s kingdom!
How fortunate are the sorrowful, because God will cheer them up.
How fortunate are the lowly, because God will give them the earth.
How fortunate are those who desperately desire justice, because they will get just what they want.
How fortunate are those who act in compassion, for God will be compassionate to them.
How fortunate are those single-minded on God, for they will see Him.
How fortunate are the creators of peaceful communities, for God will make them rulers.
How fortunate are the sufferers for righteousness, because they will rule God’s kingdom!  

How fortunate you are when your enemies verbally abuse you and do and speak evil against you because you follow me. When that happens, you are like the prophets of the past who suffered for their message they received from God. Even as they are now rewarded by God, so will you be. So when you are persecuted for me, be happy about what you will receive— jump up and down in joy and praise God!  

You are essential for the world. But if you lose the basic qualities that make you important, you cannot regain them. You will be useless, cast out of God’s kingdom and trampled.   You are God’s glory and truth in the world. You are the kingdom of God to come, and you cannot be hidden. Nor should you be hidden— God’s glory should be displayed, not hidden. So display the true righteousness of God before everyone, so that people will see your acts of God and so glorify the Father.

(Paraphrase of Matthew 5: 3-16)