BLESSED ARE THE POOR????

There are parallel versions of the first Beatitude, words that Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples.  The first appears in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The second version is found in Luke 6:20. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (NIV)

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are synonymous. Scholars say that Matthew, as a good Jew, would not want to use the holy name “God”. So here we have blessings for the ‘poor in spirit’ and the ‘poor’. There is really nothing blessed in being poor and living in the consequences of that poverty. So there is something else going on here. ‘Poor in spirit’ means spiritual poverty. Both mean scarcity of that which makes life flourish. So let’s consider another way of looking at these.

Some people like to think that the Beatitudes are Jesus’ challenge for people to climb some kind of spiritual ladder towards maturity; get to a place of spiritual poverty they suggest, or be grateful you don’t have a lot of material things. A friend who accompanied me on a trip to Haiti told the people that they were truly blessed because they didn’t have the distractions of material things that Americans have. Those words did not play well to the Haitian audience.

Late author and teacher Dallas Willard suggested that Jesus was probably wandering through the crowds saying to this one and that one, “You are fortunate (blessed) because the kingdom has come for you just as much as anyone else. Blessed are you spiritual nobodies. Christ has come for you too.”  Jesus does away with any sense of hierarchy or reward or even law. He is simply saying that no matter who you are or what your circumstances are at this moment; rejoice because you are loved by God. His presence, his kingdom is here for you. There is no exclusion in the kingdom of God. Whether we are poor of goods or poor of spirit we belong to God. 

We may be sick or healthy, gay or straight, republican or democrat. None of that matters. The kingdom of God is for all to enter. We might be bad or good. The kingdom is here for us. Certainly Jesus will have challenges for his disciples but these are not them. The whole world is blessed. Thanks be to God because there are people who think their circumstances in life exclude them. And in Luke you will see some circumstances of the proud and rich and arrogant that may well keep them guessing as to their place. But in kingdom reality all are welcomed, all are in for what God’s kingdom offers. That is the unconditional love of God. Even while we were enemies of God Christ died for us. Who could possibly be left out?

THIS IS NOT THE KINGDOM

Let’s be very careful not to identify our identity in Christ with the government of this world. Recall Jesus’ words to Pilate:

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18)

Humans love power. That includes believers. The Bible calls it our flesh and says that the spirit and flesh are in a battle. To desire power is what we might call sin.

Adam and Eve wanted power, self-determination and then came Cain and Abel, one of which was willing to kill for power. And it continues.

Jesus invites us to give up our hunger for power. Read Matthew 5. He promises that there is something better in the Kingdom of God, which is always found where we place our trust in God and not in any human. Certainly I trust doctors and people close to me but not the powers of this world, not even when God’s name is invoked.

In the Old Testament we are told not to trust in chariots. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Psalm 20:7.

And recall that when Jesus was about to be arrested, his disciples wanted to fight for him.

52“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to Peter. “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Are you not aware that I can call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  (Matthew 26)

That’s 72,000 angels, certainly enough power to overcome the soldiers who were there to arrest Jesus.

The Kingdom of God is, as Dallas Willard wrote: A DIVINE CONSPIRACY, whispered from one person to another letting people in on the divine subversiveness against worldly powers and principalities. It comes through trust and love, not through the exercise of power. God desires a relationship of love among the people called by his name. And there are people in this world who don’t know his name but are living in his spirit of love, sometimes better than believers in God.

Wherever God’s love catches on we can know the Kingdom has found a foothold, a beachhead.  Politics won’t carry the day. Only love can do that. And God brought that love to us, not on a Jetliner or Army Tank or even a Police force. He came in a little out of the way place on the margins of society, and that’s where God is still found. We call his name JESUS.

CHRIST AND THE HERE AND NOW

The Kingdom of God is not about going up to heaven. It’s not about having a bar code stamped on us allowing us entrance into the pearly gates. The Kingdom of God is about life, all life. God is in this life and wants this life to be better for all people. Jesus came to be the way, certainly, but to also show us the WAY TO LIFE in our daily living, in personal and societal issues.

We are not about saving a soul without regard to how that soul lives right here and now. And when the fullness of the Kingdom comes it will come here to this earth and it is what we are to aspire to as we live from day to day.

I am currently reading a fantastic book called HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON about John Lewis, written by Jon Meacham. Run; don’t walk to get this book. Lewis knew and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and as he did so, there were many times Lewis, a pacifist, was beaten bloody and jailed for believing and living like Christ makes a difference in this world.

Let me share a quote from the book:

“In a passage inspired by Rauschenbusch, King was to write, “The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.””― from “His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope”

I am so inspired by this man’s life and how he trusted God, prayed and lived his life as a disciple of Jesus. In these times it does my heart good to see that people are wanting to make a difference that will last for all eternity and hopefully impact the lives of my children and grandchildren in the years ahead.

God rest the soul of John Lewis and let his witness for Christ live on.

We need that witness now more than ever.

CAN I GET A WITNESS? (AND A BOOK RECOMMENDATION)

By God’s grace in Christ I am a follower of Jesus. The Lord is central to my life here and for all eternity. And as weak a follower as I might be, I trust that I belong to my God.

I want to be a witness for Christ. I want my life to reflect the goodness of God to all God’s creation. The word ‘witness’ originally meant ‘martyr’ and though I have not given my life (literally,) I do want to shed my ego, my selfishness, pride and such to be a more loving example of what following Christ means.

The church as the body of Christ, made up of people wanting to be like Christ in loving and just ways, is a witness too. Like Jesus we want to be loving, compassionate, and just as we care deeply for all people especially the brokenhearted. We want to be fair. We’d like our next generations to grow up with a sense of goodness and love. And we want them to be provided for. I understand all of that.

But something has happened. We have lost our way. We want to be #1. We want our nation to be #1. We want to be strong and make America great. And in the process we have dealt unfairly with the poor, the people of color and the immigrants at our border. Oh, I understand we don’t want too many of ‘them’ coming to America but my own great grandparents came here for the same reasons as others have for coming.

And what grieves me deeply is that we are losing our witness for Christ. Riots in the streets. Lawlessness. Violence. And the example that we are following as Christians is a leader who is lacking in Christian virtue. He is speaking to the basest qualities of our natures. He is a man without a moral compass. His arsenal contains vitriol and incendiary language for those who oppose to him. He is selfish and causes many Christians to take up the sword against those opposed to him and against each other. This can’t be.

Our leader is pharisaical. He aligns himself with religious purposes but inside is full of selfishness. He claims to be pro life but only so he can win the evangelical vote. That is a tarnished witness on the part of evangelicals who side with him on that issue. I am pro life too but pro life for everyone affected by poverty and hunger, oppression and racism and I am pro life for people in other countries that our leader calls ‘shitholes’. That’s not right. It’s not what Christ would do or say.

Some call our leader a ‘Cyrus’ after a pagan that instituted policies on behalf of the Israelites. But as a Christian I cannot be racist, unjust, unloving, and claim that being pro life aligns me with God’s will.

In the world, in our neighborhoods and even inside ourselves our witness is being erased to the point that we even begin to think that what our leaders are doing is all good.  When Germany rose to power in the 30’s the churches for the most part sided with Hitler for strengthening the economy and making Germany a world power to the extreme of rationalizing a take over of the neighboring world at that time. We cannot go in that direction.

We are disciples of Jesus, not of any political leader. We take our cues from Jesus. We are not some kind of exclusive club that determines its membership by allegiance to the current leader. As Christians we don’t make policies. We live by what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments; loving God and loving our neighbor. We are not doing that. We are hating each other, mocking, marginalizing and making it very difficult for others to see Christ in who we are or what we do.

There are serious problems within our country. The prophets of the Old Testament were not afraid to point them out in Israel and ask for forgiveness from God. Jesus saw how law and order along with a lack of love had replaced God and he pointed it out and called for repentance and love. His first words were, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’

And no we don’t condone the violence we see in the streets but we don’t condone the injustice that leads to such violence and we don’t condone the language and actions that come from the leader of this country.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said that when Christ calls someone, he bids that person to come and die. Not make others suffer and die.

The greatest witness we have for Christ is to love one another, to love the least. Even within our churches today there is such a lack of love and respect as evidenced by churches splitting over politics. This can’t be. Let us speak our minds but let us speak the truth in love.

And finally I need to point out a remedy I see for people on the conservative side. Listen, the Democrats are not going to destroy America in four years. So I say, with a degree of seriousness, get rid of the current leader and then in four years choose someone who reflects the goodness of this land, who represents the best of who we are and not the worst. I know that these words won’t please my democrat friends but it’s my practical solution. And then in 2024 let there be a good contest for the soul of this nation.  

BOOK RECOMMENDATION

And finally, the content of this blog in no way reflects the opinion of the leadership of Eagle Bend Community Church in Colorado.


A LETTER ABOUT LOVE AND RECONCILIATION

Some churches I know are deeply divided over the issue of gay people of faith being included in the life of the church and particularly with regard to gay marriage.

I want to suggest a way to some peaceful, loving reconciliation in this matter. Church folks need to learn how to listen with love to the stories of people on both sides of this topic. Some of my straight friends get defensive for the same reason they don’t like Jehovah Witness folks coming to their door. The former are afraid they won’t be able to answer and will be pushed into a corner or made to look ignorant of their own faith. That’s why all this works better in small group gatherings.

This topic needs a voice.

I propose a Reconciliation Team within the churches that can bring different sides together. This team needs to be diverse to allow for diverse opinions. We need never to be afraid to hear brothers and sisters who differ from us on Scripture, Theology, or Life Choices.

It’s like the Jerusalem Council that met regarding the Gentiles. (See Acts 15) The earliest Christians differed on Bible matters, commandments, and loving flexibility as regards the Gentiles who wanted to become Christians. The Council compromised and decided that new converts did not need to keep the Mosaic Law of Circumcision. And this was a significant decision because it was the stipulation for the Covenant people with their God. (See Genesis 17) And many people did not believe that law could be nullified. But it was. See, changes do come.

Christian Ethicist David Gushee has written a book called, CHANGING OUR MINDS in which he suggests several ideas for churches confronted by this matter of gay inclusion and marriage.

One of his suggestions is that we STOP JUDGING PEOPLE. (See Romans 14 and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) Judgment does not come from love. It comes from not seeing the log in one’s own eye. It’s looking down on another. It would be like telling people in the northeast they are sinning because they eat Lobster and Pork. Oh, no. Let’s not go down that road.

The other suggestion he makes is for a church to go through a deliberate time of dialogue and discernment where we have the conversation about homosexuality and the will of God. Such conversation will impact many areas of faithful life.

Paul writes to the Ephesians that we should speak the truth in love. Speaking and listening to what we understand as God’s truth and doing so in ‘regard for the other’ is what that means.

Some churches have made conscientious decisions about homosexuality according to their best prayerful understanding of God’s will. Whichever conclusion they come to is not without consequences. And the leadership of the church needs to reach out to people who by their own conscience have a different belief. But I sincerely believe that no decision by any leadership can be made without lots of input and conversation. And resources are readily available.

Right now Christ’s body is torn asunder and needs a loving spirit and intention to bring healing. The church is for everyone. Maybe I should say the Kingdom of God has come for everyone. No one is disposable.

BREATH

My mom died in 2014. She could not get a good breath of air. She had COPD. But for the skill and kindness of Hospice she would have agonizingly suffocated. People who have suffered from the effects of COVID 19 on their lungs know all too well the gift of breath.

Breath was give to Adam and Eve. Breath came to the dry bones in the valley and they came alive (Ezekiel 37). Breath is a gift from God (Isaiah 42). Breath is sacred. And in the case of George Floyd, that gift was taken away by an act of evil.

I consider how many times the breath of black people has been taken away throughout our nation’s history. Time and time again their lives have been cut short by drowning, lynching, and a myriad of other ways. Their freedom to breathe has been extinguished by white people.

African Americans and other people of color want to breathe again. They want the same access to life that the rest of us have.

The riots in our streets are the choking cries of people who can’t breathe, people who have been suffocating under the giant knee of racism for so many years. Some people might say, ‘But look at the progress made by and for the African Americans over the years.’ Malcolm X once responded that if you plunge a knife nine inches into someone’s back and pull it out six inches you couldn’t call that progress.

We are all longing for a fresh breath of God given air. That’s what God wants for us. Let us hope and pray that in some better way we can all surface after this deluge of racism, murder, and street violence to once again breathe. Together.

There are some great words from a group called All Sons and Daughters. Let them be our anthem just for today.

Great Are You Lord

All Sons & Daughters

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only

You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord

 

 

 

A LAMENT FOR GOD’S CHILDREN

This weekend has been declared a time of national mourning culminating in a day of mourning on June 1st. In three months over 100,000 people have died of COVID-19 in our nation alone.

People of all faiths are encouraged to join in this time of national mourning as in prayer we seek consolation and healing from our God. Every one of these lives lost matters to God as do the lives of public and private heroes. As well we grieve for the millions out of work and those devastated by the economic consequences of this pandemic.

And so we mourn together.

Below I have included a prayer from the National African American Clergy Network

God of our weary years and silent tears, we lift up our hearts in praise to you. You alone are able to receive the hailstorm of our tears and the torrential rain of our grief over the sudden death of nearly 100,000 of your precious children of all ages, backgrounds and social strata, from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Whether or not we have directly experienced the pain of loss, an indescribable spirit of lamentation and sorrow has fallen upon our collective American family. The sheer thought of 100,000 humans, made in your divine image, enough to fill any city, suddenly gone, numbs our minds and overwhelms our hearts.

O God in heaven, hear our hearts cry out for the loss of those who will never be mere numbers to us. They are our beloved mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, children, and extended family. They are beloved fellow Americans, suddenly wiped out by an Invisible enemy mightier than all the world’s armies. Merciful Lord, we ask you to bless all those now shouldering heavy financial burdens from so great a loss.

All this has happened, Lord God, but we have not forgotten your promise to be with us in trouble and deliver us. Forgive the sin of our nation for the disproportionate number of people of color among the fallen, victimized by health care inequities and the unbearable burden of systemic racial injustice.

In the days ahead, we ask you Lord, to wrap loving arms around those left only with fleeting memories of warm smiles, joy-filled laughter, spirit-lifting hugs, the matchless pleasure of special days celebrated, and contributions to a better world now ended. You, alone, O God, can turn our mourning into dancing and our grief into joy over the sweet remembrance of our beloved. May you now rest their souls. In your blessed name, Lord God, we pray. Amen.

(Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner is president of the Skinner Leadership Institute and co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network)

 

THE KILLING OF GEORGE FLOYD

As a follower of Christ I must say there is no place in the Kingdom of God life for the unjust killing of George Floyd by the police. And I for one think that Christians must raise their voices as one against such brutal violence on the part of law enforcement. We know all too well that too many black people have suffered violence and death at the hands of those who think they are carrying out justice.

There have always been rationales for the brutality most of us saw on T.V. But as Christians we know better, or should know better.

When the Bible speaks about justice it does so in the context of how the marginalized people were being treated by the authorities of the day. In this instance justice must be brought to bear for those in charge of such brutality against George Floyd. And this is not just on behalf of African Americans. This must be done on behalf of all people. When one someone suffers like this, God suffers and we all suffer.

Christians can’t just read the NEWS. We are part of this NEWS and we may no more turn a blind eye and deaf ear to such horrendous murder than Christians could during the brutality of the Nazi regime.

It’s time again, as it was during the civil rights struggles, to raise one voice, no matter our race, against such violence that surely is contrary to the will of God.

It is up to the followers of Jesus to discern and determine what goes against God’s will and fight against such demonic actions with all the weapons we have at our disposal. (I refer to Ephesians 6) May God help us so to do.

And may God have mercy on the Floyd family and grant peace to Mr. Floyd in God’s eternal peace.

Pastor George Gaffga

 

MOSQUITOS AND TICKS. WHAT’S GOD GOT TO DO WITH ALL OF THIS?

I can hear Job complaining to God right now; asking why coronavirus or any virus has to exist and destroy so much that is good in life. God’s response to Job might be that even viruses have good purpose. Ask a virologist. And as organisms, living things, they have a freedom to move hindered only by the ability of free human beings to destroy them. Having been the recipient of malaria through the bite of a mosquito, I understand this. It would appear that the human reach has not extended to the parts of the world where over 400,000 people die of malaria each year. I am somewhat certain that mosquitos have some beneficial purpose, food for bats for one thing. And if I were Job I certainly would ask God what the big plan for ticks was?

There is freedom in this creation. That’s what God intended. And this freedom is only bounded by God at work WITH his creation. God’s work involves a humanity first created to commune and work with God to care for all of creation. Think about Moses for a moment. He is said to have parted the sea but he was the human agent involved with God and with the natural element of wind. Moses was God’s partner. When we read the Bible we always read about humanity and God together: from Adam and Eve to Abraham to Jesus, humanity is freely working with God towards good, for the most part.

In these past painful weeks, with more to come throughout the world, we have witnessed the human community come together to fight; to limit a common enemy.

People on this earth are pursuing a good by all means possible, even at the risk of their own lives. Religious and non-religious folks have become a community to work out God’s good purposes. God doesn’t want this virus any more than you or I do. God is not punishing anyone or wanting anyone to suffer. Just consider what Jesus did to heal. It’s not as if God gave people demons and afflictions only to have his son work to get rid of them. Recall Jesus’ healing of the blind man. When Jesus was asked about who was to blame for the man’s blindness, Jesus responded that it was the fault of no one in particular but rather it was the will of God to get this man well and know that wellness was the will of the Father in heaven. What hurts and destroys is not God’s intention.

In Haiti there is a saying, ‘Bon Dye Pa Di Sa’ (God didn’t say that), in reference to why there is disease, earthquakes and such. No, God is at work to influence, to draw people together to fight, heal, and comfort. And yes, at certain levels people resist that influence because of their own egos. That is the risk of free will. God’s grace is making a difference as it has throughout history. The miracles of God will be found in the thousands of stories that will come out of this ‘evil’ experience.

Please realize that what I am writing is from a worldview that sees Christ as the best revelation of God’s will for his creation – that one day it will be brand new. For those who have died it IS a reality, even though it brings ache and agony to friends and family.

Right now through the medicine, intellect, faith, prayer, love, sacrifice and grief of millions of people on this planet, a difference is being made. There WILL be healing and good through God’s love and the efforts of humanity. That which intends evil can be changed into good by the grace and will of God working through his creation, particularly human agency.

May God grant special, willing and wise hearts of the government leaders and people of medicine to assist all humanity in the days ahead.

 

 

 

WE NEED A PHYSICIAN

The coronavirus has changed the way most of us think. Some didn’t pay attention when it was first announced. But most of us have now heeded the warnings and cautions and we have adjusted life accordingly. People seem to be more caring for one another. They are finding ways of making connections. Many are sacrificing their own safety to serve others.

So I got to thinking – when Jesus came into the world his message was ‘change your way of thinking because God has come into your midst to create new hope-filled life instead of the fear and enslavement you’ve been used to’. Jesus came to say that he was providing a way to God’s life. You might remember the exact wording: “Repent for the kingdom of God is here.”

Now we’ve got scientists and health providers, ‘messiahs’ if you will, telling us how to get better, stay well and enjoy life. I’m sure they soon will let us know they have figured out the way to the ‘kingdom’ of healing and wholeness. And most of us believe what they are saying is true and we are willing to follow.

As in the days of Jesus, some of our leaders turn a blind eye to these ‘messiahs’ and insist their way is best. This got me to thinking that when Jesus says he is the only way to God’s life, he wasn’t being exclusionary. He was stating a fact – that his life, death and resurrection were providing for the whole world a way of healing, hope and eternal life. He provided this for everyone.

I personally think everyone will receive, by God’s grace, the antidote to hopelessness. But a lot of folks just won’t appreciate or trust the giver of the gift and thus they will miss the very conscious new life that is being made available to them.

So when Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom is here”, he is telling us to change the way we think about love, hope, justice, forgiveness and even death. For God is healing this creation by his personal involvement. He’s changing hearts and minds. He’s on a rescue mission to show that there is a better way to live – with him.

The Sermon on the Mount is our health guide. There is a reason we call Jesus the Great Physician. He came to begin the process of healing, of reconciliation of heart and mind with God. And around the world there are emergency clinics – churches, synagogues, temples – where ‘paramedics’ are trained to care for the least.

Two-thousand years after Jesus we are still in need of the Great Physician. Maybe that’s why Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane to ‘keep an eye out and pray so that you are not distracted from the One who is able to do for you more than you can even imagine’.