Monday, May 25, 2009

Serving When Sick

I was sick this weekend. I hate being sick. Especially when I need to be working. Diane asked me on Thursday, "What are you going to do tomorrow?" I said, "I'm going to do what I must. People need to be fed."

I thought about cancelling the service Saturday, but a number of people walked or drove for miles just to come to the service. I was miserable, but I did it. People need to be fed.

Of course, we don't want all the street folks to get sick. So I washed my hands a lot.

After the service on Saturday, I tried to take a nap. I had just closed my eyes when a knock came at the door with a couple who wanted to talk. They had been driving from church to church, looking for a minister to pray with. The man, Fred, told me his story. He's suffered with mental illness for a number of months. He was telling me all of his accomplishments in life, and they were many. I told him, "God has put you in a place where you have to recognize your weaknesses and depend on Him. Cry out to Him, and He will strengthen you in as much as you need to depend on Him." We prayed together.

That was as much for me as for him. I hate being sick. But if being sick means that I cry out to God and let God show me that it is His ministry, not mine, then so be it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Created To Be Weak

Unlike the masses of animals, humanity has no clue as to why we exist. We have no skills to help us be who we are meant to be, ultimately, and all of our great plans have come to naught. We have tried to live our lives on our own terms, only to find ourselves impotent. We have tried to overcome our faults, only to find ourselves enslaved to them. We have gained the knowledge of success, of a good life, only to find that it was all a lie. We have loved, we have built, we have obtained wealth, we have planned, we have been empowered—only to have it all slip from our grasp. We are left with nothing. Our greatest achievements have ultimately been anthills—clumsy in design and as easy to topple. Our lives are but a leaf on a tree—quickly turned brown and withered and falling down, only to be crushed.

God is there, calling out to us, ready to meet our needs. Our relationship to God is not that to the harsh father, always wanting more from us than we can give. God knows our weaknesses, our helplessness. God made us helpless and hopeless on purpose. He created us weak so that we could recognize that we would never be complete without Him. So that, in the end, when we came to the end of ourselves, our plans, our hopes, our lives, we would turn to Him as the only fulfillment left.
But God also made us weak to prove something to all the universe. There are many powers in the universe, and God made them all. Some are less than humanity, and some are greater. But none are more helpless than the human infant. The human infant is more naked than any other creature, so helpless that he cannot even find his own food. The human infant’s only means of defense, expression and response is her cry. Almost any creature can destroy the human infant with a swipe or a bite. If an infant is left alone, it would die within hours.

Yet, amazingly, God pointed at that infant and said, “I choose YOU to rule the earth.” God’s most masterful creation, the ever-bubbling pot of life and creativity, and God put a helpless infant in charge of it.

How the great powers of heaven must have laughed! Had they the nerve to mock God, they surely would have. To place a baby in charge of the most complex system ever made is insanity, even stupidity. Yet this is what God did. God placed a small, helpless collection of gobs of cells to rule it all.

God did it, not to show humanity’s greatness. Their ability to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” (which, by the way, is a great way to fall on your ass). God chose humanity, with all its failings, with all its weaknesses, with all its helplessness, to show how great anyone can be when He is helping them.
The greatest power, God is teaching, is not power at all, but anti-power. The greatest strength is weakness.

But the other amazing characteristic of humanity is its blindness. Not only is humanity helpless, but it sees itself as strong. Humanity thinks that it can do anything. It thinks it can live on its own terms and succeed no matter what. What idiots we all are! So we continue to reject God, wanting to relate to God only on our own terms. Even the most saintly of us really only depend on God when we recognize that we absolutely can’t do it on our own. We don’t realize that we, no matter how old we become, are still that baby, that helpless infant unable to control our lives.

So God came to earth. He became that helpless infant Himself. And he did it to show us that the best life that any of us could live is a life of dependence. As Jesus was on earth, he had no food, but depended on the Father to provide. He had no power to help, so he depended on the Father to heal. He had no time to rest, so he depended on the Father to give energy. He had no place to sleep, so he depended on the Father to provide shelter.

And his is the best life ever. He is the only one to know—truly know!—why he was here on earth.

He was here to serve the Father. Not on his own terms, but the Father’s terms. He was here not to do his own will, but his Father’s.

To be an infant isn’t so bad. To be helpless is right where God wants us to be. Helpless and crying out to Him. Helpless and seeking His help. Helpless and not knowing where to go or what to do or how to do anything so we can just be leaning on Him.

The best we can be is dependent.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Living Cheaply

A couple weeks ago, I heard a podcast called, "How Much Does It Cost to Live?" Not only did they just give the governments level of income for poverty, but they also assumed that it was too low. From my persepective, this is crazy. Yes, we get a lot of donations as a ministry, but even before we received donations, we lived below the poverty line, paying for apartments, and we lived just fine.

The problem is, in the U.S., we get caught up in lifestyle. We don't think about what is really necessary and what is really inexpensive. We don't learn to pay attention to costs-- whether obvious or hidden. To live cheaply is to pay attention to the detail of cost and the bottom line. The bottom line is how much money you save, as much as spending as little as possible while still having a quality of life. Living cheaply isn't about living without pleasures. Rather, it is finding that one can live with pleasures on little or nothing.

Not everyone has to live cheaply. And there's nothing wrong with splurging. Some of us have to, because of low income. Others of us want to use our money for those who really need it to survive. Some of us have a low income in order to avoid paying taxes that go to war. Whatever the case, it IS possible to live under the poverty line. If we just learn how to do it.

1. Live Without What You Can
The main issue for living cheaply is doing without. Many things that were “necessary” growing up, or many habits we have simply are not necessary for our lives, if money becomes tight. Most of us in an urban area can live without a motorized vehicle. And given the amount of money necessary to purchase and maintain a vehicle, it makes good economic sense to do without one. Most of us have way more entertainment than is necessary, and whatever we lack we can usually obtain from the public library. We don’t need to go out to eat regularly. I could give you more, but it isn’t my place to tell you what you do or don’t need. Make your own list. And start cutting things out.

2. Always compare costs
The best way to live cheaply is to have a running cost comparison in your head for everything you buy on a regular basis. There is never one price for anything. There is a price that a store may have for a while, but that price will change and so the “cost” of anything must be constantly adjusted. For many items—like milk, cheese, ice cream, toilet paper, etc.—there is a range of prices that are pretty consistent. Those are good to begin a list in one’s head. So every time I look at a two block pound of cheese, for example, I might see a price that says six and a half dollars and I say to myself, “I can get that cheaper pretty much anywhere” and I won’t buy it. If I see a price about five dollars, I say, “Safeway has that for six and Winco has it for five, so I might as well buy it now.” And if the next week I see the same item for four and a half, I will snap up a few of those.

It is important to compare like to like. Don’t compare one package of cereal with another, even if they are the same type, because the sizes of the cereal might be different. Rather than comparing packages, one needs to compare weights of equal size. Usually grocery stores do this already. Comparing this way has no worth with toilet paper, however. You can compare prices of rolls in your head, but the rolls are different lengths in different brands. And a “double roll” may not actually be twice the size of a single roll. The only way to compare toilet paper is to bring a calculator and to compare the price per yard or foot. That sucks.

3. Check out different stores
If we are going to compare prices, the minimum one needs to do is to go to a few different stores to compare. Almost every store has items that are cheaper and items that are more expensive. You can’t look at one store and say “Everything is cheaper in this store.” For instance, Winco usually has the cheapest prices for food, overall. But their prices on medicines and hygiene items aren’t as cheap as other stores. A dollar store seems to be a good deal, but they have many items that actually cost less than a dollar in other stores. And they have many items whose quality is so poor that they would break if you looked at them funny.

4. Get Stuff For Free
There are many things you can get for free, if you would but look. In dumpsters, for example. People throw away perfectly good items for the shakiest of reasons. Some folks will get a new TV and rather than give away the old one to Goodwill, they will throw it away. Well, Goodwill’s loss can be our gain, if we are willing to look. Stores are not able to sell items past an expiration date, and they will throw the items away in the original packaging often neatly in a bag. So this means that we can pick up items on the expiration date that are still perfectly good for free.

Okay, not everyone is willing, like myself, to actually jump in a dumpster and see what fine items are available for no cost. But this shouldn’t stop one from looking at Craig’s List for free items or stopping at someone’s house who has stuff with a sign that says “free” on it. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Do a little work and save a bunch of money.

One thing that is a good caution, however, is don’t get carried away. Only pick up the free stuff you can actually use right then. It is best not to pick up stuff that you think you might be able to salvage if “I only did this.” Probably you will never fix it, and then you have just picked up someone else’s garbage to end up paying for you to throw it away yourself.

5. Live in community
It is just as cheap to have three people use a turned-on light bulb as one. And if you buy food in large quantities it is cheaper. It is cheaper to rent a house with others than it is to rent an apartment with a single family. Yes, living in community can be complicated. You have to figure out the agreed-upon rules of the house. You have to work out all the quirks of different styles of living. One’s privacy is more limited. But most of these issues can be worked out if you are willing. Just think of it as an extended family. We live with eleven people in our house right at the poverty line. We all eat and are happy. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s healthier for all of us, for we never isolate and we always have family.

6. Don’t get sucked into name brands
The name brands have a lot of ways to get you to buy their products even though they are more expensive. Some will offer coupons for forty cents off when the product is a dollar more. Some will pay to have their product placed in the store to make it look more attractive or to give it more attention. They can even use color and pictures to give their product more attention than others. Don’t be distracted. Focus on cost. If you just do the math, you can laugh at the name brands and how they thought they would trick you.

7. Cheaper isn’t always cheaper
Just because something is cheaper it doesn’t mean it will save you money. We have to remember, first of all, who we are buying for. I have a daughter who won’t eat meat except for hot dogs (don’t ask me why, I don’t know). But if I buy the cheapest, healthiest hot dogs (turkey franks) she won’t eat them. So, even if I save money on the hot dogs, I still have to buy more and that costs me money.
Also, some items are of such poor quality that you would have to replace it quickly. This is something to consider when buying items at a thrift store or a garage sale. If an item is going to break down within a week, it isn’t worth buying.

8. Some foods are more expensive than others
Every college student knows that Raman is the cheapest food out there. The noodles are filling and just ten to fifteen cents a meal. Most of us, however, are not content to eat salty noodles three times a day. But if we are concerned about cost, then we have to be careful what we choose to eat. Meat is typically expensive, but ground turkey is almost always cheap. Cereal is an expensive and relatively unhealthy meal because you are not only paying for the (overpriced) processed and sugared grains, but you are also paying for the milk you put on it. Hamburger Helper may be easy to use, but it’s cheaper to buy noodles and to get the recipe book out.

9. Watch out for poverty pimps
There are people who actually target the poor in order to obtain what little money they have. For instance, check cashing stores charge a huge amount of interest. If a person in a poor state need a loan on a check that is coming, they should look at the actual cost of getting that loan—a 250 dollar loan may, in the end, require a 50 dollar fee in interest, or more depending on how long one needs to pay it back. Banks also take advantage of the poor because their fees hit those who have little money in their account the hardest. “Free checking” is no such thing for a person who has a hard time keeping account of how much money is in their account. Just remember, if a business is trying to “save you money” they are doing no such thing. They are trying to make themselves money. We need to be aware of their tricks.

10. Buy in bulk and hide things
Buying in bulk is a great way to save money, for the most part. Check prices, and buy in large quantities. However, there are many items that I have found that if I buy large quantities and make them readily available, then they will disappear at twice the speed. Cheese and cream just aren’t worth the savings to buy in bulk because the more there is, the more it gets used. So what I do is keep a storage refrigerator where I can hide bulk items so they don’t get used so frequently. This is also good if I find a good price on meat, so I can freeze a lot of it for future use. If someone says, “We’re out of cheese,” I can reply, “No we’re not!” And like a magic trick I go to the basement and voila! More cheese!

11. Keep an eye out for hidden costs
When making big decisions that involve money, try to keep in mind everything involved in the cost. We got chickens to get eggs. And although our initial costs were subsidized, the chicken feed is probably equivalent to eggs we could buy. Winco might be a cheaper store for food, but it doesn’t make sense to use it as one’s only store if the closest one is many miles away. Gas costs money too. If the cheapest items are a distance, try to buy items when you are already going for other reasons. Travel is an expense, and so reducing long travel is a way of cutting costs. Many people love Costco, and it can be a good way to save money on many items—including an individual meal! However, if you wouldn’t use it frequently, it doesn’t save you money because of the annual fee. You would have to go to Costco at least a few times a year, buying

12. Fast food isn’t always expensive
Most people consider fast food to be unhealthy and expensive, however it is often an inexpensive alternative. It is usually possible to buy a hamburger with all the trimmings (lettuce, pickles, tomato, cheese) for little more than a dollar. If one were to buy all the ingredients for that item at the store, it would cost the same, and you’d have to cook it yourself.

Then there is the issue with health. “What about veggies!” some decry. First of all, almost all fast food places offer really nice salads now—even McDonalds!—with a variety of veggies, including carrots, tomatoes and cucumber. These can easily be exchanged for fries in a meal, and iced tea instead of a soda. However, this isn’t always the cheapest option. What we sometimes do is I would go out and buy some hamburgers and my wife will cook up some frozen veggies like green beans. There we have a decent meal with little prep and it is still inexpensive.

13. Splurge every once in a while
Everyone splurges. It is a part of our human nature to want something “nice” every once in a while. What could happen if we refuse ourselves splurges, is that we will binge and spend money that we don’t have. If, however, we occasionally give ourselves a splurge, allow ourselves a financial cheat, it will be cheaper in the long run. Just be careful that the splurge remains a splurge and not a habit.

14. Make a list of cheap or free entertainments
Everyone has different things they like to do: be active, watch TV or movies, eat out, read, etc. Every one of these activities, in urban areas, have equivalents that are free or cheap. Libraries are one of the best resources for inexpensive entertainment. If you are reading this, you have some access to the internet, and so you can access the free movies and books and tv shows that the internet provides. Go to a park. Find the local free meals for the poor and find the ones that are really good. Try this for a date sometime: go to a neighborhood in your city neither of you know much about and just walk around, looking at the houses and shops. Or just walk around a mall with no money in your pocket. In my city, the local zoo has one day a month that it costs only two dollars for the whole day. There's a lot to do that costs nothing. All it requires is imagination and using the resources that are readily available.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Future generations always demonize the ethical blinds of the past. It is easy for us to demonize the choices of Columbus or Andrew Jackson, because their culture treated other races as less than human. I am not excusing them, for there were others of their culture who did not accept those cultural blinds, but were able to accept all people as equal. Perhaps Stowe or Wilberforce had their own limitations, and were not as enlightened as, say, Archbishop Tutu or MLK Jr., but without the message and sacrifices of these, the latter would never have had the opportunity to speak.

All I am trying to say is that every age has their own cultural blinders that limit them from, what looks to outsiders, obvious moral choices. The ethical choices are always there, always a possibility, but the zeitgeist of each era causes a fog to appear, and only those who choose to clear the fog from their own minds are able to see it.

It would be easy, and probably profitable, to look back on history to see the zeitgeists of eons past to see how these limitations limit people’s obvious moral choices. What is more difficult is to apply this principle to our own age, to our own lives. What are our own cultural blinders that limit us to obvious moral choices?

In the United States, and probably the West in general, one of the most significant ones is the destructive result of our lifestyles. Because of our lifestyles, millions are impoverished, the resources of the earth are being diminished, governments are being toppled, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are being killed.

The obvious moral choice is to change our lifestyle. To change the way we look at our material wealth. To live in a completely different way, different from those who live around us.

And yet this change is so difficult. Impossible.

I’ve been teaching in my Sunday services about how Jesus requires all of us to be “anawim” in order to obtain God’s utopia. The anawim are the lowly and outcast who are seeking God. Jesus says that in order to be the type of anawim He wants us to be, we need to sacrifice our family and wealth; we need to be ready to be persecuted; we need to practice hospitality to all in need. Jesus demands a lifestyle change if we are going to be His disciples.

Perhaps we can’t do all that is necessary right off the bat. Perhaps we just need to be more bold in order to save our own souls. Perhaps we just need to start somewhere and then start again and again until our lives are in conformity to Jesus’.

So, two questions for us to ponder—what lifestyle choices can we make so as to escape the zeitgeist of materialism and empire? And what other zeitgeists are there that future generations will shake their heads in shame about when they read about us in history books?

Monoculturalism Destroys the World

Everyone wants to battle prejudice. To label people by their group, to stereotype an individual by who they look like or false ideas about their group is a horrendous crime. However, sociology teaches us that this is not a crime that we can just point at and jeer, but rather it is a sin within our own hearts. There is not a single person who has ever lived who has not made a determination of another’s personality, goals or vices based solely on one’s looks, one’s accent, one’s clothes or the people one is friendly with. Labeling on insufficient evidence is hardwired within us, and we will all stumble because we assume that our current experience with a person is based on a previous experience or story of an experience with someone we put in their same category. To confront a bigot, all we have to do is talk to the mirror.

It is for this reason that many Western societies have targeted certain areas of prejudice. We have laws against some forms of racism and sexism. We decry homophobia and religious bigotry. And so we should. Because to limit one’s rights or ability to survive due to one’s beliefs, one’s sex, one’s race or one’s sexual orientation is wrong. Every adult, without exception, should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to meet their needs, as long as it does not harm another. If one person has the money for an apartment, then all who can afford it and not harm others should get the same apartment. If one person can sit in a bar to drink, then all should be allowed. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. died for.

There is far to go in these focuses. Yes, an African American has been elected president, but fifty percent of all abortions in the United States are on African American fetuses. Yes, women are now able to succeed in almost any occupation men used to hold a monopoly on, but the second most popular entertainment application on an iPhone is iGirl—where an endowed cyber-woman can be manipulated by her male “master”. Most people have the freedom to worship as they please, but any Muslim appointed to a high government position will soon have to resign because of false allegations that they have associated with terrorist groups. With prejudice, the work is never done.

With as much work as must be done on the bigotry that has been targeted, there is a problem with speaking of racism, or sexism or whatever other focus one has. For every prejudice our society focuses on and tries to wipe out, a hundred are ignored and five more are created. Yes, our society has made great strides in sexism, but assumptions are publicly made daily about the poor who receive welfare—that they are lazy, are cheating the system, are taking advantage of the government. Racism has changed and in some ways gone underground, but social workers can manipulate and control the lives of the mentally ill because the mentally ill have been deemed unable to care for themselves, even when they are not under a court-ordered commitment. People are allowed to worship as they please, but people who have pot for their own use are thrown into prison, although they have harmed no one—not even themselves.

The list of prejudices go on and on—the homeless are treated like criminals for not having a place to sleep, an immigrant is treated like an idiot for having an accent, someone who criticizes democracy or capitalism is held at arm’s length, distrusted, a person over 80 is treated as unable to make their own life decisions. Why is this? Not because we haven’t been taught about tolerance. Simply because our teaching of tolerance has been limited to only a few categories. Thus, we who are white males feel guilty at just glancing at a young black man, but we can openly speak hatred against the same man if we find out he is homeless and speaks with an African accent.

The issue is not racism, or sexism or any other ism of limited scope. Our prejudice is against those who are unlike ourselves—of any other culture that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. When one person or a group of people make a values decision that is different than one we would make—whether or not it would hurt another—that person is wrong and potentially dangerous. The different are not allowed to rule the society, because they will not uphold the cultural standards, whatever they may be. No matter how we try to attack bigotry, as long as we limit it to just a few issues, we will always fall behind our own unknown prejudices. I believe that our problem is not racism or homophobia—rather it is monoculturalism. The limitation of the “acceptable life” to only a few choices.

Our problem is not simply a lack of education. Certainly Americans would be more tolerant if they learned more about cultures, religions, and a variety of cultural mores and habits. But knowledge is not the answer to a monocultural outlook. The prejudice against women persisted because there was a mutual agreement between the sexes to not interfere with each other’s way of life, mores and areas of influence. Only when they began to live as equals, interfering with each other’s lives was there the beginning of understanding and a breaking down of the wall of sexism. The prejudice against African Americans persisted (and will continue to persist) as long as there is separation in neighborhoods, schools and cultural blocks. Only when there is a free and equal mixing between races will understanding and true hope come about.

I believe that the answer to monoculturalism is living in other cultures, being humble in a situation apart from that which we grew up. When I visited India, after living my whole life in Southern California, I was confronted and ashamed by some of the things I did which was acceptable in my own society. I learned that not only were different races, religions and languages acceptable, but so were different ways of thought. When I began to live among the poor, I learned that there was much that I had an instant revulsion to—dumpster diving, for one—that was not only acceptable, but actually a moral benefit to society.

Only if we live humbly among different cultures will we learn to accept other cultures. Only if we are forced to confront our prejudices face to face with those who we appreciate but run in the face of our prejudices will we change.

Parable of the Household

The kingdom is like a household with many slaves and the owner placed one slave over the others as a steward. Most of the slaves rejoiced at the Lord’s choice and obeyed the steward joyfully. But others’ knowing him for a long time, said, “We have seen this man’s deeds from long ago. He is not worthy to be steward, so we will not obey him.” One of the slaves said, “If he is worthy to be steward, then I am, as well.” So he made himself steward and some of the slaves began to obey him rather than the chosen steward. Thus the household dissolved into chaos, dissension and fighting.

Hearing of this state in the household the Lord divided the household into two camps, saying, “I cannot have chaos in my household. Each of you slaves go to the steward you wish to obey. But I, myself, will only bless the camp of my chosen steward.”

Then the camp of the proud steward, jealous of the first camp’s blessing, arose and attacked the blessed camp, killing the chosen steward. For a long time, both camps were mixed and there was confusion as to who should be obeyed. Finally, the Lord said, “I have set cameras throughout my household. My guards will continue to examine each slave to see who is loyal to me and who is not. Those disloyal to me and my word will be cast out of the household.”

Even so, the untrustworthy will be made trustworthy only by trusting in the Lord. While he who trusts only in himself will be found disloyal.

Just Man

"Have you ever made a just man?"
"Oh, I have made three," answered God,
"But two of them are dead,
And the third --
Listen! Listen!
And you will hear the thud of his defeat."
-Stephen Crane

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Someone Stole My Jesus and Replaced Him With A Marxist!

Let’s look at the beatitudes again.

"Ahhh," everyone sighs. "The beatitudes. How lovely. How comforting."

How easy to ignore. How misunderstood.

We are all familiar with the words in Matthew. "Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the merciful." And on and on. And we love them because they seem so poetic and so loving and so helpful to us who live quiet lives of desperation in the pursuit of just living normal lives without poverty, without hunger, with some levels of justice and peace. We will buy plaques of the phrases and place them upon our walls to remind us of how loving and gentle Jesus’ teaching is.

But those weren’t the beatitudes I was talking about.

There’s another set, equally spoken by Jesus, found in Luke. They are certainly the same set of sayings, but they seem… different. They seem harsher, more difficult to accept, not the kind of Jesus who would comfort us.

How fortunate are you, the poor, for you possess God’s kingdom.

How fortunate are you, the hungry, for God will give you satisfaction.

How fortunate are you, the weeping, for you will be laugh.

How fortunate are you when people despise you, and ignore you, and insult you and slander you for the sake of Jesus—

Be glad when it happens to you, and give a praise offering, for this is how people treated the prophets of God.

How unfortunate are you, the rich, for you have received all the comfort you’re going to get.

How unfortunate are you, the well-fed, for you will hunger and not receive from God.

How unfortunate are you, the laughing, for God will make you mourn and weep aloud.

How unfortunate are you when everyone honors you and speaks well of you, for this is how people treated the prophets who weren’t speaking for God.

Who is this guy? This isn’t my usual preacher! No… preachers nowadays don’t talk like this. They use words like "beseech" and "Almighty" and when they say "comfort" it sounds like they really mean it. This guy, though, he sounds tough, almost mean. I mean, who would go to a church that sounded like this? People who were desperate might—or people that had issues with wealth—but not people who could afford to build a nice church building and give a guy a good salary and a parsonage. No wonder Jesus had no place to lay his head! Who would listen to this drivel more than once? The adage makes sense—A prophet is someone who isn’t invited to dinner twice.

While we can critique the style or question Jesus’ propriety, we do need to remember the positive points. First of all, it is direct. And simple—no one can misunderstand it. And if it is true, then the message is significant. Oh, and one other point—Jesus is our Lord. And these are the words of Jesus.

These words aren’t just there as a jumping point for our understanding of spiritual matters. They aren’t supposed to be a cover page for our traditional values—whether conservative ("Life is tough and you’ve got to be tough back") or liberal ("We should really be nicer to the poor"). They aren’t there to be politely ignored in preference to other passages that we prefer. Nor does it help for us to retranslate them into something more palatable ("Maybe it could say, ‘Gosh, what a difficult position you rich people are in.’ ").

How significantly we treat these words is how significantly we treat Jesus. This teaching is at the core of what Jesus had to say, and all that he said and did flows from this core. If we are to accept Jesus, we need to accept this basic creed.
What is Jesus speaking of? What really is the point? If there is a creed, what would it look like, were it based on this text? Let’s break it down into pieces:
"We believe in an Almighty God who will judge everyone on the earth"

Judgment isn’t really popular to talk about. To speak of hell or eternal dishonor or lake of fire isn’t really a popular topic, so many Christians just avoid it. Honestly, many people have abused hellfire for their own agenda. So speaking about God’s judgement is kind of like an uncle who was convicted of child molestation, and though he hasn’t done anything like it since, no one talks about him and at Christmas he just finds a corner to sit in and watches the proceedings from a distance.

But Jesus firmly believed in a judgment of God that would paste "good" and "bad" on every single person on earth. Well, let me rephrase that a bit. The problem with saying "good" or it’s antonym is that we have such distinct notions in our head about what constitutes this "not-evil." The early twentieth century bases of judgment seem so trite now: no smoking, no drinking, no dancing, no playing cards, no skirts above the lower calf, no fraternizing with actors. It seems trite because the values have changed so much.

When Jesus speaks of "good", he really means "honorable." At the onset, it seems so subjective. To have honor among Nazis is to be dissed by the masses. But Jesus gives this qualifier—the only person who counts, in giving honor, is God. I mean, if Simon Cowell determines that you suck, who really cares? But if God makes the determination that you are cool, or that you just don’t make the cut, then it is a more serious judgment.

Thus, judgment is boiled down to this: God saying to one group, "You’re my kind of people" and saying to another group, "You don’t really make the cut for me." The first group, after the determination of the Judge, gains possession of a new nation, which is ruled directly by God, and becomes the central nation over it’s empire of the earth. The second group, certainly the larger, is exiled from that nation and they make up the outer fringes. Considering that almost all of the merciful are within the bounds of the Nation of God, the outer fringes just don’t sound like fun.
This kind of judgment isn’t comfortable to a group of Christians who believe that the term "mercy" and "judgement" cannot even date, let alone be married together. They claim that Jesus hung out with lowlifes (true) and so he, as God’s representative, refuse to judge them (almost true), and so Jesus’ mercy has nothing to do with judging people (wow, you need to read Matthew 23 again). The fact is that every sub group of Judaism of the first century (and after) determined that there must be a line drawn separating those on the "in" with God and those on the "outs". Jesus was no different. (See "Jesus’ view on judging") What made Jesus so radical is not that he erased the line, but where he placed the line. Which is the rest of our creed.

"We believe that the disciples of Jesus who are poor and persecuted will, at God’s judgement, obtain the greatest blessings of God.

This is the central point of both sets of beatitudes—in Matthew and Luke. This is not to deny that those who act in a "pure and righteous" manner will not gain God’s blessings. This is indicated in Matthew’s list, by giving a special line to the "pure in heart". But for Matthew—as well as for Luke in the broader context—it isn’t enough to be "pure". Sure, keeping your legs closed until God approves and not bowing down before a moldy statue is good and all, but it doesn’t equate the life that God is looking for.

God is actually looking for the folks who are so pure, so loving, so bold about Jesus, that they get in trouble for it. This "trouble" looks differently in different cases. Perhaps the trouble is rejection by people—Jesus certainly said that his community should expect that. (see Jesus’ words on persecution). But other kinds of trouble also pop up. There will be weeping in the Christian camp, and poverty. Some of this may be as a result of persecution, some of this will be due to the system set up to exclude Jesus people from the blessings of this world. The fact that Jesus’ people don’t collect possessions, but give them to the needy; that they aren’t cut-throat, but humble in their leadership; that they depend on God for their needs, even if those needs are just barely met; that they do good to those who hurt them, which may give their enemies cause to think that they can get away with anything—that might have something to do with it. Let’s face it, Jesus’ way isn’t easy, and he doesn’t put up well with compromise. God might as well put up a sign, "Kingdom of God: Fanatics need only apply."

3. "We believe that the anawim should be envied, and that if we are persecuted or obtain poverty for God’s sake, we should celebrate and feel honored."

Saints are cool—from a distance. Some of the stories are great. Sebastian who was pierced by a hundred arrows for speaking about Jesus. Michael Sattler who was tortured, had his tongue cut out and then was drowned for teaching the Bible. Peter and John who were brought to court and beaten for healing a man in Jesus’ name. Anthony who lived in graveyards and the desert to live a life of purity. The stories are inspiring, but, ultimately, not for us.

We are the people who pray, "Lord, teach us patience, but not if it hurts too much." We are the ones who want to live for God, as long as it fits into our overall plan of achieving the American Dream. We are the ones who cry out "All for Jesus I surrender", but in practice, we limit our surrender to that which accomidates our society’s limits and morality.

If someone falls into poverty or persecution because of their stand for Jesus, how do we respond? Most people in the church would recommend a compromise, a standing down. "You don’t have to suffer like that—God doesn’t want that for you." The church’s positions is: Stand for Jesus, but sit down if your feet get sore. Or, if there seems to be true injustice, there are the Jay Seculas and Ruthaford Institutes who will take the persecutors to court and make them feel economic pain for the injustice of persecuting others.

Of course, Jesus’ command is a little different. How do we respond to persecution and pain and anguish for the sake of our religion? Have a party. Crank up the dancing music. Set out the little food that you need little forks to eat it with. Jesus’ bumper sticker is: Celebrate Poverty.

To be obedient to Jesus, it isn’t enough to just grit our teeth in difficulties, we need to rejoice, be happy, throw a party, invite our friends over to get ecstatic with us, watch the Wizard of Oz with the dip in bowls the shape of ruby slippers. "It’s the happy day!" Jesus says. "The day you get beat up and killed for God, that’s the day we’ve all been waiting for. The day you get sick and die because you were handing out tracts in a blizzard—that’s the party day! The day your airplane crashes because you were going to share the gospel with people in the jungle—that’s the dancing day! The day you get kicked out of your apartment because you’ve been inviting the mentally ill to worship God with you there—Live it up! Get some horn blowers and fireworks and make it seem like New Year’s day, because it’s better than that! It’s the day you’re assured of being right before God!"
4. "We believe that the disciples of Jesus who are conspicuously wealthy and honored will, at God’s judgment, obtain sorrow and rejection."

The real question is not, however, what happens to those who suffer for God. That’s a no-brainer. We’re all pretty sure of that, God will take care of them. They’ve got a place with God. Okay, that’s fine. But what about all those who hang with God and do all the religious things, but they don’t suffer. Perhaps they are doing the… um… opposite of suffering. There are people in God who are doing really well.

And, let’s face it, these non-suffering folks, the ones who have an excellent bank account (for many years, frankly, and the accumulated interest is really very healthy and can’t be given away willy-nilly), and a really nice home (meant really for family and friends, it just wouldn’t be comfortable to have strangers stay there), and a car that almost never breaks down (but I couldn’t pick up hitchhikers, because, well, who knows what they would do) and a line of credit that doesn’t end (and we have to take care as to what we invest in, because otherwise we couldn’t be trusted financially)—these non-suffering folk are really the ones who pays the bills in the church. They do their part, right? They show up on Sunday, sing as loud as anyone else, head committees, pay for the new building, makes sure the pastor has a decent salary. So, God has his place for them, right?

Absolutely. God has a place for them. It’s called "the outer darkness."

Paul and Barnabas at one point set out to do some revival meetings. The churches they had planted were struggling spiritually, so the apostles had a powerful message to give to them. The summary we have received is one sentence, "We shall only enter God’s kingdom through much tribulation." In other words, the ONLY door to God’s ultimate blessing is difficulty, sacrifice, persecution and hardship. There isn’t any other way.

This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t bless people on earth. Oh, my, I have seen many people blessed. Many rich people today are blessed in their lifetimes beyond the dreams of those who had lived on earth for more than ten thousand years of history. I mean, indoor plumbing, a health care system that can actually cure more illness than it causes, the ability to fill rooms with such variety of entertainment as has never been seen, never without food, never thirsty, never homeless. Such a plenty has never been seen in the history of the world for so many people. This is God’s blessing. And for those who are content to accept this blessing, that is all they will get.

For those who have all their needs met, and never meet hunger—God has for them a place of hunger.

For those who surround themselves with pleasantries and joy—God has for them a place of tragedy.

For those who reward themselves for the simple act of living—God will strip away all trophies.

For those who secure themselves by assuring their own wealth and separation from the poor—God will make them poor and expose them to eternal insecurity.

No, this isn’t funny. This isn’t entertaining. It’s scary. This is worse than Alien, worse than the Exorcist. This is real life. And for those who have all the world has to give—they should be grabbing someone’s arm, because the music is getting ominous.
5. "We believe that Jesus’ disciples who are honored and wealthy should set these benefits aside for the sake of our needy counterparts, so they can receive true honor and wealth."
But Jesus’ beatitudes aren’t one of those horror movies that finishes with "The End?" They are more like an epic move—Laurence of Arabia, Gone With The Wind, Top Gun—the center of which you find yourself almost weeping and breathing hard in your empathy with the hero(ine). But in the end, through some terrible tragedies and sacrifices, the hero(ine) survives and achieves glorious honor. This is the story Jesus is telling as well.

And the story is the same for the poor and the wealthy: the way to God’s honor and blessing and kingdom is through becoming the anawim. That route is simpler for the poor and persecuted—they get handed their tribulation on a silver platter. They don’t have to exercise their will to suffer or sacrifice. For the rich, the famous, the good-looking, those who are granted all the best of the world, the route to God’s blessing is difficult—they have to give up all the blessing they have been granted.

Have you ever worked for the needy? Those who are really needy, those whom our society calls "the bottom of the barrel", for whom no real help exists? To be friends with the friendless, to offer yourself to the needy, it is a daily sacrifice. You constantly struggle with how much to give, are you being taken advantage of, what is the real need, who of all the worthies should you give to with the limited resources you have? Inevitably, you give more than you realistically can, and personal and social conflicts arise. Your health fails. Your family and friends whom you trusted no longer find you to be trustworthy. You become an alien to all those whom you have loved. You become the avoided, the dispossessed. The one who surrenders themselves to the needy becomes one with the needy. The one who sacrifices for the anawim becomes the anawim themselves.

This is the challenge to the wealthy, the well-loved, the sheltered. Expose yourself to those whom you most fear—those whose needs far outweigh your ability to help them. Perhaps you will gain great satisfaction doing the work. Perhaps you will obtain prizes and be Time’s Man of the Year.

But let me be brutally honest. Of the few of you who make the choice to sacrifice all you have for the needy, to obtain God’s glory instead of security and inner peace—you will be put under the bulldozer. You will go to doctors and they won’t be able to tell you what’s wrong. You will be disinherited by proper society. You will have friends who tell you "you’ve just got to stop, for your own sake" but God won’t let you. You will wonder why you are exhausted all the time. You will go to bed each night as if you had been beaten. You will walk the streets and cry out to God, "Just give me rest!" but the rest never seems to come. The needy themselves will blame you for not giving enough. You will rack your brain to find ways to really help them, to really meet their true needs, and find no solution. You will cry and weep and mourn and wonder why God put you in this place. To do this work. To have what seems to be a pointless life.

Now I’ll tell you a secret. If you sacrifice yourself and feel all this—you’ve made it. You’re in. It’s time to celebrate. It’s time to party. Yeah, it seems pointless. To Jeremiah speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem seems pointless because no one he could see would listen. To David it all seemed pointless because his theocratic monarchy came crashing around his ears. To the disciples of Jesus it all seemed pointless because their Lord, their Savior was dying on a cross. Yeah, it all seems worthless—without resurrection. Without God.

"Vanity, vanity, all it vanity—everything done under the sun is vanity." That’s Scripture. That’s God’s word. But, you see, if we embrace the vanity of God, the foolishness of God, the sacrifice of ourselves for the poor and needy, the life of the anawim—then we get all that exists above the sun. Under the sun? Screw under the sun. I’m looking for the best retirement plan that exists. Sure, the salary’s lousy. But the benefits—nothing can compare to them. And the only way to obtain them is to sacrifice one’s wealth and to stand with the anawim.

Poverty Pimps

The toughest thing about conquering injustice is seeing it. Once it is seen, we may have to sacrifice much—even our own lives—to be rid of that injustice. However, the sacrifices pale in comparison with understanding that the system we live with daily, that we take advantage of, that we have learned to succeed in, that we even love and support is fundamentally warped. If we can accomplish this paradigm shift in our minds, then injustice won’t have a chance. Of course, there is getting to that place, achieving that paradigm shift.

In our society today there are many who are poor, as we well know. Children are hungry, families are homeless, men are unemployed, women work in a low-paying service industry. Poverty is there, but it is something we have grown used to. After all, Jesus said, the poor would always be among us, and that which we see daily, we learn to live with the existence of, no matter how wrong it is.

But there are some who not only see poverty, but they also see how that poverty can turn to their profit. There are some that feed off of other people’s need. They are vampires that not only suck out the poor’s life stream, but the very energy of the people who most desperately need assistance. These are what I call poverty pimps.
A poverty pimp is one who gains benefit from perpetuating other’s poverty. Listed below are some who keep the poor in poverty, while making a profit off of it. These listed are not necessarily those who cause poverty—the causes of poverty are complex and difficult to ascertain at times. But they take advantage of the poor, seducing them and then raping them economically, forcing them to remain in the shame and rejection of being economically needy.

Small loan companies
For those on social security or who survive on low wages, if any emergency happens between checks, then there is no economic assistance for them. Should such an emergency happen, they can go to a local loan company, that will give them a hundred dollars or so to help them make it to their next check. While this sounds like a reasonable service to those in economic need, in reality, these loan companies charge from 100 to 200% interest on every loan. In doing this, they perpetuate the economic emergency to last not weeks but months. Those in need then find that they are dependant on the loans, some taking out loans in order to pay off others. While this sounds somewhat similar to credit card companies, these small loan businesses particularly targets the poor. This is now a billion dollar industry, built on the backs of the poor.

Large businesses that pay low wages
There are many employers that treat their employees well. They pay them a livable wage, if not always high, and they do what they can to assist them if they are in need. However, with so many large corporations focusing on profit, they often give their employees the short end of the stick. Many businesses have made it an art to avoid giving their employees benefits such as health care or even paying workman’s comp. Many businesses force their employees to work until exhausted, and then they don’t provide them a wage to care for themselves or their families. Other businesses hire large numbers of employees for part of the year, and then lay them off for months out of the year. Other businesses pay low wages and then constantly change their employees hours, from one shift to another, guaranteeing that they would never have the energy to get a better job, better education or to give their children a better life. Other businesses hire many employees, but only part time, so to have a full wage they have to work more than one job. Other businesses hire employees and then fire them before they need to pay any benefits. Of course, some small businesses must do some of this, if only to survive from year to year. But the large million- or billion-dollar corporations that pay low wages in order to maintain their status as a huge profit-making corporation are making that profit due to their employee’s poverty.

Government lotteries
Gambling has become a national phenomenon, when it used to be illegal except for small pockets of "sin dens". This is due to the need of government to look like they are providing "tax cuts", while still increasing their budgets. One of the many solutions governments are looking to is state lotteries or games which offer money if you are the "lucky winner." Although some states have placed warnings on their ads, "This is for entertainment only, not for investment purposes," the warnings are as effective as cigarette carton labels. The reason is that the ones being taxed are those who have a genetic weakness toward gambling and get rich quick schemes. It has been proven that some have a genetic weakness toward addiction and gambling is one of these weaknesses. And the governments are taxing these individuals who, for the most part, are already struggling with poverty and addiction. The ads stir up their weakness and the fact that the machines are in every store and mall encourages their use. And more machines are being created that make them attractive to addicts—poker machines and some that look like slots. Yes, the governmentally-approved gambling is successful, as governments have more money to spend. But it has economically destroyed addicts and their families.

It is almost impossible to cash a paycheck or a government check without a bank account. And many banks offer accounts that are "free" or with a minimal monthly charge that are attractive to the poor with the idea in mind that they can cash their checks with no fee. However, for the poor, the ad of "free checking" is a seductive misnomer. Most of the poor have difficulty keeping track of money and numbers. How much one spends is difficult to gauge, and no matter how careful one is, eventually a slip will be made and one’s account will go into negative numbers. This is especially easy, as banks are making withdrawals easier to do with multiple ways of doing it—through checks, tellers and debit cards. Thus, one can overspend and not know it easily. And then the account-holder discovers that the account is far from free. Going into a negative balance will have a twenty to forty dollar fee. Any outstanding checks that attempt to be cashed against the account will be another twenty to forty dollar fee. And many banks have a policy of charging five dollars every day the account is overdrawn. Thus, before one even knows that the account is overdrawn, it is easy to owe the bank a hundred to a hundred fifty dollars. On top of this, the poor person will usually have to wait a week or two before their next check, by which the fees will have raised to two hundred or more dollars. Some would say, "Then they just need to take better care of their balance." However, most of the poor are not accountants, and, of course, we are all human and make mistakes sometimes. The banks, however, depend on these mistakes and take ultimate advantage of these mistakes as they are able.

Our society depends on grocery stores and supermarkets. This is where we buy our staples and necessities. And, much to their credit, they often give fair prices to the staples we most need—flour, milk, cheese, chicken and more. But these staples is never what the stores emphasize. They have had studies done which tell them where to place the non-essentials, and how to lower the prices to make them look attractive so that more people would buy them. The poor walk into these stores with enough money to buy the essentials and little else. But when they see the prices of Little Debbie pastries—placed at the end of the aisles where no one can miss them—they decide to take some of their minimal cash and spend it on them. They seem so cheap, they are very tasty and they fill children’s stomachs and keep them from complaining about their hunger. Others will see the prices of ice cream, the sales on sugar cereals or other non-essentials. The grocery stores provide food that is healthy, at very high prices, and they provide the staples—but they push the items that destroy families’ health and increase health care for everyone.

Prosperity churches/ministries
Most churches try to do what is right for the poor, in as much as they know how. This makes sense, since their God tells them in many times and ways that they are to assist the poor. Some churches and ministries have the philosophy that poverty is a spirit that must be defeated, and, they say, it can be. They take passages out of context, and assume that if one wants to obtain money and wealth, that they need to give money to the church. In fact, they claim, that whatever money the poor gives to the church, they will gain ten times as much. What church should they give to? Of course, the church that is making the statement. Thus, the church claims, if you give to us ten dollars, God will give you a hundred. If you give us a hundred, you will get a thousand from God. And so on. Since they claim that they have a route out of poverty, many poor people clamor to the churches. The principle is easy to understand, and simple to implement. However, such a spiritual pyramid scheme is not found in the Bible, nor taught by any theologian of any denomination. Again, it is a simple way for certain churches and ministries to amass their own fortunes by taking advantage of the poor. Does this mean that God does not bless one who tithes? No, but God provides for everyone who surrenders all to Him. And the giving? Again, the giving is not to churches who take from the poor. Rather, according to Jesus, the giving is TO the poor. Such ministries will be judged by God.

Local governments
Governments usually do what people expect them to do—protect, license, legalize—and not much more than that. Of course, to do all of this, it requires money to pay for the workers and to pay for the bureaucracy. The minimum of what most governments do is require those who request a license to pay for it. However, when society requires a sixty plus dollar fee for a license to do what is considered minimal in our society—obtain a license for marriage or for driving a car, for example—it is difficult if not impossible for the poorest in our society to pay for such minimal requirements. If someone was going to try to better their life economically by selling something on the street, they must have a business license, which, if they could afford one they might take a different avenue of commerce. Even having an identification—which is required by law, required to have a job or to do almost anything in our society and which is becoming more and more difficult for the poorest of the poor to obtain—requires more than twenty dollars. But worse than all of that, often certain governments charge people to be helplessly in need. If a person is exhausted because they were unable to sleep the night before, they might be charged with sleeping on a bench waiting for a bus. If a person is unable to pay extra to clean debris from his yard, he is fined. If someone is camping—due to the fact that they have no place to live— out of sight of anyone, if found they are charged with camping illegally and in some places given a large fine. Since the poor and homeless do not have the energy or opportunity to participate in government, they end up being charged to live in the best way they can.

Justice System
Many people who are poor have had to deal with the law. Let’s say for instance that a homeless person was charged with trespassing because he did not know where he was in the dark. If he was close to a person’s house, he would be arrested and jailed until the court was able to make their case—perhaps two weeks. Of course, he would be declared guilty, because it would be his word against the middle class plaintiffs, and even if one of his buddies was with him, a court-appointed defense lawyer wouldn’t have the money to find him, nor would he be listened to by the court. At this point, the judge might want to show "leniency" on the defendant, so he would fine him, say, two hundred dollars, and require him to contact a probation officer once a week. This sentence, however, is no justice at all, for the guilty party would not be able to pay the fine, nor does he have access to a phone to call his p.o. After a few weeks of not hearing from him, the officer sets out a warrant for his arrest. It may take months, but eventually the homeless man will be requested by a police officer to show his identification. At this point, he is arrested again, taken to jail again, brought before the judge who gives him the same sentence as before. This cycle can go on for many years. Those who have places to live might be able to contact their p.o., but unable to pay their fines. These fines can accumulate until they are in the thousands, and as soon as that person gets a job that pays him above the table, the court then takes out more than half of his meager paycheck. So many who are in this situation just never plan on having a job unless they can be paid under the table. This system is even worse among those whom the government has taken away their children. Although they may have done nothing to their children—especially as some victims of child protection agencies have their children taken from them at birth—they still have a running tally of a government bill that they must pay. For most of the poor, they would rather spend a few months—or even years—in jail, rather than having this impossible economic requirement placed on them. And many of them are of the opinion that the jails and prisons purpose to keep them as long as possible in order to gain more money for their services.

This is injustice. It is in the very heart of our system. It is at the heart of our government, our corporations, our churches. Why do we put up with it? The toughest part of conquering injustice is knowing it is there—the second toughest is deciding that we ourselves are going to do something about it. "If you weaken in the day of injustice, you have no real strength. Rescue those who are seduced by the embrace of death—Grab back those who walk blindly into slaughter. If you say, "How were we to know?"—your Judge knows your motives, your every thought. He sees your mind, and He will give to everyone according to what they have done." Proverbs 24:10-12 (paraphrased by Steve Kimes). It is time to us to act upon what we know.