God’s Answer to the Question: Who are you?

From Brazilian theologian Ruben Alves, in I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body, pg. 33. Quoted in Compassionate Ministry.

Sometimes we would like to know what God is made of. To know his sacred substance. And many pages of theological books and catechisms have been written to describe the marvelous properties of God’s flesh…

Waste of time. The Christians discovered that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is God’s answer to the question “Who are you?” And he answers us, not with a treatise on anatomy/physiology, but by telling us about his desires. God is love. And he tells us about his dream of love. He places it alive, among us. Jesus of Nazareth is God’s desire. He is his choice. A lovelier, more beautiful, more delightful thing there cannot be.

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Soon to be Fasting

Tomorrow I begin a five day fast which I will attempt to have go from dawn to dusk (fair warning for my writing this week). It’s something my Church is requesting but I had planned on doing (an admittedly shorter one) anyways; I’ve got some big things I think are happening in my life and fasting is a good way to get close to God and make sure I’m on the right path. Fasting has shown to be fruitful and it has biblical foundations. I put some verses below to turn to throughout the week and to help anyone else that might be fasting.

Psalm 69:10 “When I wept in my soul with fasting, It became my reproach.”

Joel 2:12-15 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of evil.

Nehemiah 1:4 “When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

Ezra 8:22-23 …”The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.” So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty.

Mark 9:29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”

PS Getting hangry at people when you aren’t dealing well with a fast is not acceptable to the Lord but can definitely be a challenge. (Isaiah 58:3-7) Keep an eye out for it, and when you’re hungry pray. If you make a mistake, humble yourself and apologize. We all make mistakes but we just want to make sure we keep honoring the Lord in the process.

Christians: Our Viewpoint Matters

We all know that where you stand matters in how you end up seeing things. If I’m taking a picture of a building, cropping and filtering that picture can make a big difference but it won’t change the perspective (from the ground, from above, from the front, from inside).  Perspective matters; that’s part of what Jesus was trying to teach us.

Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Unpacking this a little, we see these individuals called out: the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Why these people? Let us first come from a state of compassion and grace instead of judgment, as Jesus does for us.

Who keeps the people who are poor, poor? In a modern example, when there is enough food in the world to keep everyone fed, who let’s people starve? Who imprisons people? Again, we understand that laws may have been broken, etc. but we also know that we are no different than prisoners; there is not a single person that hasn’t broken God’s laws and yet He gives us salvation so He obviously has a heart for prisoners. Who oppresses people? An example of this might be consumers and companies who buy and sell products that have people around the world work at wages that do not support living in dignity or even working in dangerous environments. Many products are now an issue for this unless you buy fair trade and most people don’t know, don’t care or think they can’t do anything even though they are part of the machine. So who is blind? Jesus definitely healed physically blind people but being blind is not an “action taken” that can be easily blamed on the individual, as the other three so often are. Perhaps it is because the blind referred to are the rich, the oppressors and the accusers.

When we look at the response to people wanting a living wage in the US how do we think the heart of God would feel? Let’s address one argument I see, which is when people say a person working a 40 hour week doesn’t deserve a pay that keeps them living in dignity because they didn’t go to school and don’t have a college degree: “Why should someone make just as much as I  do with my degree?” That brings to mind this verse:

Matthew 20 1-16 “God’s kingdom is like a man who owned some land. One morning, the man went out very early to hire some people to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay the workers one silver coin for working that day. Then he sent them into the vineyard to work. About nine o’clock the man went to the marketplace… So he said to them, ‘If you go and work in my field, I will pay you what your work is worth.’ So they went to work in the vineyard. The man went out again about twelve o’clock and again at three o’clock. Both times he hired some others to work in his vineyard. About five o’clock the man went to the marketplace again. He saw some other people standing there. He asked them, ‘Why did you stand here all day doing nothing?’  “They said, ‘No one gave us a job.’ “The man said to them, ‘Then you can go and work in my vineyard.’ “At the end of the day, the owner of the field said to the boss of all the workers, ‘Call the workers and pay them all. Start by paying the last people I hired. Then pay all of them, ending with the ones I hired first.’ “The workers who were hired at five o’clock came to get their pay. Each worker got one silver coin. Then the workers who were hired first came to get their pay. They thought they would be paid more than the others. But each one of them also received one silver coin. When they got their silver coin, they complained to the man who owned the land. They said, ‘Those people were hired last and worked only one hour. But you paid them the same as us. And we worked hard all day in the hot sun.’ “But the man who owned the field said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am being fair with you. You agreed to work for one silver coin. Right? So take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same pay I gave you. I can do what I want with my own money. Why would you be jealous because I am generous?’ “So those who are last now will be first in the future. And those who are first now will be last in the future.”

So why are the people who got their degree wanting to withhold from others when they have what they wanted for themselves? Why would the men from the beginning of the day want the men at the end of the day to get less even though they got exactly what was agreed to? It is all about perspective and that perspective has a high cost.  They aren’t standing in solidarity with the poor; they are protecting their own self-interests. They are blind.

In The Liberation of Theology, Juan Luis Segundo says, “Indeed Jesus seems to go so far as to suggest that one cannot recognize Christ, and therefore come to know God, unless he or she is willing to start with a personal commitment to the oppressed.” (pg. 81) While I think you can know certain aspects of God’s character  (the Hebrews certainly did) Jesus came to fulfill the Law and make a new covenant and I think that it is accurate in saying you cannot fully understand the heart of Jesus without keeping his commandments. He trains us, grows us and enters into relationship with us through the interactions he calls us to.

Matthew 25:37-45  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Bryan P. Stone says in Compassion Ministry that, “…the placement of ourselves alongside the poor and the suffering is not simply for their benefit or for their liberation. On the contrary, the context of human poverty, suffering, and oppression provides an indispensable position for sensing the heartbeat of God and for discovering the decisive significance and relevance of Jesus Christ for all of us… the view from below is an essential starting point that opens up who God is for the world and sets the agenda for the structure and mission of the church in the world as a liberation community.” It is standing beside those who Jesus stood beside.

Ministry: Imagination and Spirituality

Bryan Stone says in Compassionate Ministry that imagination is “seeing without our eyes.” (Stone, pg. 2) Spirituality isn’t as easily defined, however. It isn’t the duality of this world and the spiritual, as we often hear it characterized, but rather the way we wrestle with who God is. It is “…the ongoing journey of integrating the entire texture of our everyday and ordinary living to what we take to be the whole in which we find ourselves.” (Stone, pg. 7) I feel like in my personal relationship with God these two things are very true for me but if I were really honest I would say that I am sometimes fearful when I think of my response to another person. I feel inadequate, ill-equipped; I pray often for God to echo His feelings through the chambers of my heart and pass His words through my lips. Then I act on what I feel and hope everything turns out alright.

Is that imagination? I believe that imagination is a gift from God that we can use for His work.

Romans 11:29 “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

God’s gifts exist in us and I think that this may apply to our imagination. This is, from what I see in the Bible, one of the marked characteristics of God and it appears he generously and uniquely gifted it to each of us. Nobody is uncreative; humanity is astounding driven to create, much like our Creator. I have seen those poor in wealth use great creativity in procuring food, building shelter out of found materials, creating jobs to earn pocket change, figuring out how to improve something to sell “trash” at a profit. I’ve only met a few uncreative people in my life and my guess is it was my lack of searching to know them that kept me from seeing it.

For me, imagination in faith was inviting people at all places in their journey to do GISHWHES this year (an international “activities” scavenger hunt of doing kindness, silliness and fun https://www.gishwhes.com). As people get to know you, they want to know your story and for me, my story is God’s story. I feel like that turned out pretty well for the most part. I also have a tattoo on my arm that is an artistic representation of both being loved at our darkest and the time when Peter stepped onto the water with Jesus because Jesus called to him; it has allowed me to share both the Gospel and my vulnerability with people so that they, in turn, could be vulnerable with me. It’s been pretty amazing.

God Asks for Obedience

1 John 2:3 “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”

God expects obedience in His followers. In fact we see in the Bible that to show our love to God is to obey Him and keep His commandments. This is not how we “earn” our way to heaven. We cannot do that because we all fall short and any sin is too much sin in the presence of a perfect God. The sin of gossip is just as heavy as cheating or any other biblical sin; we in America like to try to rate sin and say these are okay and these aren’t. The truth is we are all guilty and they are all bad and cause us all to fall short. Jesus and repentance closed that gap for us.

Mark 1:15  “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

We repent, believe, obey, and continue in this cycle to try to keep his commandments because it is our way of showing God we love Him and want to abide in Him. It is showing we acknowledge His place and ours.

Romans 6:4 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Baptism is the action being born again (which I’ll write about at some other point but John 3 is a great resource); of dying to ourselves. We commit ourselves to our belief, receive the Spirit and begin to be transformed. The more we “die” to ourselves and dedicate ourselves to God, the more joy and freedom we discover.

Proverbs 3:6 “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

My path has been clearer, my heart lighter, my life more joyful and my struggle less the more I submit to God. Is it easy? NO. I feel constantly challenged but I also have a faith that provides this indescribable buoyancy in moments that would have once sunk me. Times like friends being diagnosed with serious diseases, deaths in the family, my imminent job loss in the next couple years when I realized God didn’t want me to move for money, or even ending an almost eight year relationship knowing I’d never get to see his kids again. My heart broke and I pray often for him and his children. But we all had to make hard choices.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

No, of course it isn’t easy. But this journey was definitely worth it. I lost some close relationships in the beginning (drinking buddies, anti-Christians, etc.) because I stopped doing what made me “feel good” in the moment and started trying to act in obedience to God and the Scripture while continuing to try to be authentic about who I was and what I was struggling with at the time. Later I realized that as a Christian I needed to spread what I was so grateful to have received, the Gospel, to others with grace and love to my community through compassionate ministry. I’ve downsized, I’ve pursued educational opportunities not just in books but in service (words and action).

I fail over and over again every day but I am not disheartened or ashamed or saddened.  I know where I come from and I know in what ways I have been and continue to be restored. I see where my growth in obedience is and I know that this, along with my prayers, is how I let God know I am moving towards Him.

Speak Blessings instead of Curses

God created with words and He created us in His image so it should come as no surprise that our words are powerful.

Proverbs 18:21 “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

When we speak, we are saying and creating “truths” not just about others but about ourselves. When I am upset with someone and I talk to somebody else about it, I’m not just telling people about them, I’m telling them about me. I’m growing that negative part of myself and spreading negative things about another person instead of facing that issue with the person I’m having the problem with; but how do I do that?

Ephesians 4:29 “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”

Speak truth in a way that is encouraging when I’m upset? That sometimes seems like a challenge. I have learned it is best only to speak when calm (I wait until my heart rate is normal). I also know that I am at times guilty of the foul or abusive language. What do I do then? When the damage is done?

Luke 17:3-4 ““If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive. Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”

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