Friday, April 8, 2016

Be Happy = Be Poor

I met these kids in Haiti. Their abject poverty doesn't seem to
keep them from being happy. Is this what Jesus means?
Jesus had a favorite sermon (it's in Luke 6) that began like this:

20“Blessed (happy, content, joyful) are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Then he further clarified:

...24“But woe (miserable, pity) to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Did that get your attention? It should.

There’s no question that this was jarring for those who heard Jesus say it. Unlike Matthew's Sermon on Mount, there’s no qualifier (“Blessed are the poor in spirit) to soften it. Also there’s the contrast in v. 24, woe to you who are rich,” which further clarified that Jesus was not talking about a metaphor, but someone’s monetary worth

Some poor people in India. The poor are truly everywhere there.
Did you get that? He is NOT talking metaphorically. He IS talking about money. Does it make you uncomfortable? 

In Jesus’ day, the poles were even further apart between rich and poor, and the vast majority were the latter. Yes, some lived in relative comfort, but without a fair justice system and consistent laws protecting private property, and with the normal tyranny and corruption of government—especially in occupied nations under Rome—if you were wealthy, you were a target! 

The wealthy hearing Jesus must have been shocked! They had never heard, never conceived that they were to be pitied. They had enjoyed a life of privilege and pandering, quite aware that everyone wanted to be like them! The poor in attendance would have also been stunned! Perhaps they’d fantasized about being rich (a practical impossibility in that day), and had been taught that the rich were better, and were blessed by God. The rich certainly acted so. Judaism, in Jesus’ day, fed this idea and accommodated the rich. Some Proverbs seemed to support this attitude of wealth being a reward from God.

Proverbs 10:22 "The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it."
Proverbs 22:4 "The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life."

I spoke through an interpreter to this Haitian mom. She seemed
completely unaware of her poverty. 
But in my own study, I've found that there are about twice the number of verses in Proverbs that exalt the poor and warn the rich.

Proverbs 27:24 "for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?" 
Proverbs 28:6 "Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
Proverbs 28:20 "A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished."

The Proverbs tell of the real wealth in God’s wisdom (8:17-19), and urges us to practice moderation (30:7-9 and 23:4).

There is much more outside of Proverbs! For a proper perspective on wealth, read Psalms 49, 73, 112, and many others!

Here's one: Deuteronomy 8:17-19

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth… And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods…I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.

Jesus says the poor get the kingdom of God. Does that mean all poor go to heaven? Of course not! 

We came across this homeless man who'd passed out drunk in a
box on a sidewalk in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic.
But he IS saying those not entangled in riches are more likely to long for God, seek him, and surrender to him. The way is clearer for them. He says the rich are to be pitied because they have received [their] “consolation” (Greek: parakl─ôsis). We’ve seen this word before in Luke. Simeon was waiting for the Messiah, Israel’s consolation. This is also the same root word often used for the Holy Spirit, translated Comforter. Jesus is saying the rich have chosen their Messiah, their God—their earthly riches. Psalm 52:7 says it: “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!”

"So," Jesus says, "You wanna be blessed? (Happy, truly content)" Here's how.
• Know that wealth poses a very real danger to your soul. 

Luke 9:25 What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?  

Luke is loaded with Jesus' warnings about wealth. Chapter 8 speaks of those who hear the Word but are choked by the cares & riches and pleasures of life. Chapter 12 speaks of the rich fool who planned to build more barns to hold all his wealth and then take it easy, when God took him. In that same chapter Jesus urges us not to be anxious about food, clothing, etc., but to trust God to provide. In chapter 16 Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. And who can forget Luke 18 when Jesus met a rich young ruler who chose his wealth over following Jesus. After that man walked away sad, Jesus called out, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Thankfully, Jesus continued by saying, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” You can’t avoid it! Jesus clearly warns the wealthy that they are in danger.

Some of you are asking, “So are you saying we need to sell all our stuff and empty our bank accounts and give it all to the poor?” Probably not. Here’s what Jesus is saying:

A favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where we worked.
• Turn over ownership of everything you have to Christ. 

Luke 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. 

Did you catch that? In that verse, we see what Jesus means. We understand how we can be poor and be blessed. Read it again.

Acknowledge that everything you own is God’s and give it to him. Sign it over. Surrender! You then, in essence, bankrupt yourself. Become a [poor] manager rather than an owner. Now that you are poor, use his stuff like it is his.

Another favela in Rio. Our team and our church in Rio did some
great work here to show love to the people.
Think about this. That's not your car. That's not your house. That's not your bank account. When you turn it over to him, it's now God's. This changes everything! Now you buy stuff you think he wants you to have that brings glory to him. 

Now, you’re free! And now you can do the rest…

• Get your mind off of stuff and wealth for self. 

Walking through the favela and meeting people.
Live contentedly within your means. Debt is now no longer a temptation! Now you can simplify because you're not trying to show others how much stuff you have. Now you are simply a manager of God's stuff. Life is so much better! Have you ever been "poor" (I know, that's such a relative term, especially in America)? I've been through times in my life when I had very little (by American standards, anyway). It's not so bad. There are many blessings. You appreciate everything more. Are you poor now? Thank God! Look at what James wrote (1:9-11): “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

• Don’t envy those who have/pursue/worship wealth. Pray for them. A millionaire friend of mine once said to me sadly, “Wealth is such a burden.” I can tell you confidently that I would have never traded places with him. The wealthiest man in the world in his day was King Solomon of Israel. He wrote:

Duncan with some great kids from the favela.
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost…he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-17)

Some seemingly happy school kids from a poor
neighborhood in Nepal.
If you’re poor, know this: you’re free from many trials, pressures, and troubles. Your friends are true. You have more opportunities to truly, daily, place your faith in God. (I’ve not met many poor atheists, by the way). 

• If you have wealth, use it for God’s glory. 

It is his, after all! 

1Timothy 6:17-19 
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 

It was when I went to Kenya while in college that I learned
what poverty was like. This pastor killed his goat to serve me a
meal in his humble one-room home. I slept next to him on a
piece of cardboard on the dirt floor. That's not unusual for him. 
Some of you reading this blog post will be millionaires. And that’s ok if it’s for God’s glory! We are to do everything with all our might (Colossians 3:23, Eccelesiastes 10:9). Some of you may inherit wealth. Some may be placed in positions of wealth by God’s providence and not because you sought it. There is a reason God allows you to manage (not own) wealth! Here are seven biblical ways you can have wisdom with your wealth (I might have to do another post on this part later):
  1. Humble yourself—Don’t flaunt it! Proverbs 13:7 One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
  2. Fight to keep your family from feeling entitled or being enamored with stuff of earth. There's a reason why people make fun of "trust fund kids," and I've known some who totally live up to the pitiful stereotype. It's sad. 
  3. Give firstfruits to the storehouse. Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. Unfortunately, I have known several wealthy people who just couldn't bring themselves to tithe to their church. Some claimed that it would overwhelm the church. Please. I'd love to prove them wrong. I think the real issue is that they would lose control of their money if they gave it to God.
  4. Make it your ultimate objective to make disciples.
  5. Be generous in helpful ways. You can hurt by giving. This takes wisdom and thought.
  6. Don’t get in the way of God being praised. Anonymity and humility are virtues when you give. Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give...sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give...do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:1-4).
  7. Finish having given it all. Malcolm Forbes famously said, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Really? He who dies with the most toys...dies; and then faces God. He who dies with the most toys...wasted his life. He who dies after giving the most away so that others may know Christ wins...and then he goes to heaven. That's an accurate understanding of what Christ meant by "Blessed are you who are poor. 
So are you wealthy? You can be poor. And you too can have the Kingdom of God. 

And one more thing:

• As an American, see the role you play for international missions.

The “poor” in America are still in the wealthier half of the world’s population. God has given us so many resources. Let's utilize them for his glory.

If we all chose this kind of poverty, think of how happy we would be. And even more, think of how much different the world would be! The more I think about it, the more I pray that we will rid ourselves of listening to the world's siren song of materialism! We must stop drinking the Kool-Ade! God help us!

Let's be poor. Let's be blessed.

Hear this message as it was given here.

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