Justice for the Poor

November 20, 2018

“Let the poor say, ‘I am rich because of what the Lord has done for us.’ ”

From Give Thanks by Henry Smith.

We sang that song last Sunday as part of a Thanksgiving service. (Thursday is the American Thanksgiving Day holiday.)

The social movement of 19th Century Europe (and later in America) was farm workers flocking to the cities to get jobs in the new industrial manufacturing plants. Only, they discovered very low wages and terribly unsafe working conditions.

And the owners of the factories? They lived like the kings and princes they had displaced in the social hierarchy.

The Christian church in Europe where most of this was going on responded by saying, “Let the poor rejoice in the kingdom to come.”

Reaction to this attitude was predictable. The workers rebelled when they could. Philosophers and political thinkers rejected the church. These “preacher’s kids” started writing atheist tracts about justice for the poor–now, not in some future when they are dead.

Residue from these attitudes on each side affect the Christian church in Europe, and to a degree in America, even to today.

Jesus and his followers talk often about justice, mercy, and giving to the poor. Think of the story of Ruth and Naomi and how they were destitute and shown mercy by a wealthy kinsman.

As we thank God for our blessings, let us show mercy and compassion as Jesus commanded and give to the poor for their blessing.

Praying And Doing

November 19, 2018

We pray for guidance. “God please lead us today into what is pleasing in your sight.”

Yet…

An opportunity to serve appears before us.

We ignore it.

We see someone who could use a helping hand.

We say we’re too busy to stop and pass by.

Someone needs an encouraging word.

We tell them to pray about it–and continue on our way.

Does it make sense to pray for guidance and then ignore opportunities God has placed before us?

The Bible and other Christian literature is filled with stories of people who did the first little act of service leading to a life in the spirit.

Showing Gratitude

November 16, 2018

Last week I wrote about AJ Jacobs who wrote a book about his experiences thanking everyone who had any part in bringing his morning coffee. He did it personally.

How do you go about it? Showing gratitude, that is?

I have an event in my productivity app that is set up to alert me weekly to make a gratitude list.

But, is that enough.

When you thank someone, do you just dash off a quick “thanks.”

When you order your coffee, do you look the barista in the eye and say “thank you”?

Eye contact with those serving you is crucial to the gratitude expression.

How about a hand written note? Remember those?

Right now, I’m grateful to the shuttle driver about to take me to the airport. I’ll thank him with a tip.

And the crew getting my plane ready this early in the morning.

And the pilots taking me home. And the flight attendants who will serve me (and thanks to the system that awarded me a first class upgrade!)

There’s more. Think on it.

First Figure Out What You Want

November 15, 2018

I’m finishing work on a talk I’m giving later today at a technology conference. Amidst the discussion of where technology has come from and where it’s going, I point out that first you need to understand where you are and where you want to go. Only then do the work.

“If I have an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend the first 55 minutes defining it and 5 minutes solving it,” Albert Einstein said.

Jesus wanted to bring people into a way of living with God, into the dominion of God, or usually translated the kingdom of God.

Who did he need to talk with to offer the invitation? Well, people who are not there, yet.

He talked about mercy before sacrifice (see Tuesday’s post) because religious leaders–people who thought they were already in the kingdom–criticized him for associating with unclean people–tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus knew what he wanted, studied what to do, then he did it.

Maybe you live in a village where everyone goes to the same church. But maybe you live in a world where many different kinds of people live. You want to introduce them to living under the dominion of God. Whom do you associate with?

Do you only associate with people like you and wish (pray) for others to join you? Or do you join those who need the help and do the work?

Offer Your Bodies As A Living Sacrifice

November 14, 2018

The Apostle Paul writing a letter to the Roman followers began his section on what to do after acknowledging Jesus’s resurrection and God’s grace began with “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”

The people would have had a little cognitive dissonance with that phrase. Sacrifice meant killing and burning something as a ritual acknowledging the power of God.

Yesterday I started with Jesus’s admonition quoting from Hosea, “I (God) desire mercy not sacrifices.”

Paul brings these together suggesting that the way we live points to our acknowledgement of the power of God.

Are we living only for ourselves? Or are we living as a blessing to others?

Would someone watching us discern that we are disciples of Jesus? Or would they think we are selfish, immoral, spiteful, angry people?

The best of the contemplatives were also great doers of the Word. It is wise to follow their example.

Practice Mercy Not Sacrifices

November 13, 2018

Humans love their rituals. Maybe it’s just a morning cup of coffee. Or the certain gestures and prayers we practice at church.

In the ancient world, ritual included animal sacrifice. Abraham ritually killed lambs as an acknowledgement of his worship of God. Some 2,000 years later the Jewish people had evolved Temple worship and sacrifice into a finely honed commercial enterprise.

And we thought we were original with our commercial celebration of Christmas!

Religious leaders evolved into an attitude that the manner and practice of ritual mattered more than the status of their hearts.

Jesus kept doing things that were ritually unclean. He never seemed to care about his own “ritual cleanliness.”

One time he was dining with well known “tax collectors and sinners”. Formal dinners were public affairs where other people could come and walk around and listen to the conversation or see who was invited and who was not most likely as fuel for gossip.

The religious leaders were shocked. How could he do that?

Jesus quoted God the Father, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” He followed up by saying he was more concerned with people who were spiritually ailing, not those who were already perfect. (Of course, that was a backhanded slam at people who think they are perfect, but…)

Even today, are we more concerned about gathering with people who are like us and participating in comforting ritual than we are about going out among the poor and sinners and showing mercy?

We cannot buy off God with a couple of prayers and ritual gestures. God loves a merciful heart.

We Are More Alike Than We Realize

November 12, 2018

I recently read Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey. This book sets the story of Jesus in the local context to help explain some of the cultural story behind the story.

It didn’t take me long to realize that almost half of his descriptions are not limited to Middle Eastern life. He describes life in a rural village. I grew up in a rural village. He could have been describing all the rural villages in the area where I grew up. By extension, that must describe village life.

We all knew who the “sinners” were. We knew the “rich” people. We knew the most athletic, the most scholarly, the ones always in trouble.

In my life I’ve traveled through a great part of the US and chunks of the world. I’ve met a diversity of people.

We are more alike than we realize.

Maybe different geographies. Or languages. Or religions. Or sexual orientations. Or genders.

As we develop personal attitudes and political attitudes, we forget this at our risk.

We are also at risk as much as we forget that every human being is created in the likeness of God. We need to be praying for each other instead of killing each other.

It is ancient wisdom still true today. And will be true tomorrow. Love the Lord with all your heart, and all your strength, and all your soul, and all your mind. And, love your neighbor.

Making Yourself Disagreeable

November 9, 2018

There are people who seem to delight in making themselves disagreeable.

Sometimes these are leaders. “I want to be feared and disliked, because I’m focused on getting things done and that is how you do it.”

Sometimes these are evangelical Christians. They think it is a badge of honor to be disliked.

Jesus said they’d be disliked and mocked and beaten. Didn’t he.

However, the greatest growth of the Christian movement (aside from point of spear or political decree) was when its followers were the most winning. “I want what she’s having.”

They established hospitals. They established education. They served. They led by example.

Making yourself disagreeable just makes you, well, disagreeable. And you just huddle with other disagreeable people.

Better is the way of invitation and service and joy.

Navigating The Shoals of Extremes

November 8, 2018

“We have not understood the need to chart a middle course through the shoals of extremes. Rather, we delight in subjecting ourselves to such extremes. This is not the path of (discernment).”

That quote is from a discussion of the Desert Fathers St. Anthony and John Cassian. Reading the quote took me into a deep dive both of Latin and spiritual seeking to understand. Cassian talked about discernment (the power of choosing our way with discretion-Latin discretio).

The writer of the discussion continues, “We have become saturated in ineffectual decorative feelings and activities without aim.”

I am not sure why my eyes were brought to this passage. Was it the extreme of emotions of the recently completed (thank God) political campaign season? Was it because I need a message to remind me of the need to discern the way? To remember to navigate through the shoals with a strong inner spiritual life? Not blown into the rocks of extreme emotions or aimless activities?

Reading ancient spiritual leaders reminds me always to ground myself in the spirit of God.

You Are An Action Verb

November 7, 2018

You say you are a Christian. You say you “believe it in your heart”.

As we watch you interact with other people and watch what you do in life, what does that say?

Children learn more from you by watching what you do than from listening to what you say.

People around you also learn more about you by watching than by listening.

Faith is not passive. Faith is an action verb.

Love is not a burning emotion that flames up then cools. Love is an action verb.

Your character builds upon a foundation of consistent actions.