Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beati Pauperes Spiritu or Beati Possidentes

In the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament text, Jesus himself says in Matthew 5:3, “beati pauperes spiritu” or “Blessed in spirit are the poor”. The modern church doesn’t typically reflect those sentiments, in effect, creating even more separation between Jesus and “His Bride”.

More often than not, the modern church has forgotten “beati pauperes spiritu” and in its place adopted, “beati possidentes”, or “blessed are those who possess”. The widow with a mite is no longer the standard of giving for the followers of Jesus. Read carefully the verses regarding the widow in Mark 12. This time, in what will probably be a new context for many of you:
38As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, 39and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
41Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t begin with a warning about demons or possessed people. However, Jesus does indeed issue a warning, “Watch out for the teachers of the law”. Jesus then describes what these dangerous teachers of law will do. According to the Messiah, the teachers will enjoy walking around as people of status, they will enjoy the popularity and honor others bestow on them, they will make their religion very “showy”-for the benefit of others seeing them and therefore propping up their status and credibility from a social perspective. But for our specific purpose today another description of the dangerous teachers of the law is “they devour widows’ houses”.

The idea of devouring a widow is not to literally consume them but rather to rob them, take all they have, strip them of what little remains in the midst of their loneliness. One Bible translation reads, “But they cheat widows out of their homes” (CEV). I think that is very accurate and even further sets up what is about to happen in this scene. Imagine this pompous man of religion that is wealthy, probably through less than ethical means, respected and morally bankrupt. Instead of “look(ing) after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27) and in so doing practice what the Bible labels “pure and undefiled religion” these men will look at women in need and use their vulnerability against them. Obviously, anyone that would take someone who is weak and exploit them is beyond immoral. As such, Mark 12 says these people will be sentenced to a very harsh punishment.
After describing what the dangerous teachers of the law would do, Jesus sits down and simply watches as people place their offerings in the treasury. It is as though mankind has become so predictably evil and parasitic, especially in religious circles, that Jesus turns around to those he was teaching and with a wink and a smile said, “watch this”. Not too long after explaining what happens in religious settings, particularly when it involves money, Jesus has the opportunity to elbow a disciple in the ribs as he smiles and says, “I told you”. What did he tell them and more importantly for us, what is he still saying to us?

“Many rich people threw in large amounts” is a statement that says a few things without actually saying them. For example, if people were giving in the fashion they should, no one would be able to say who gave more. The fact that the text quantifies the number of people and the amount they gave indicates that maybe there was a bit of the religious positioning going on. Maybe a relatively rich person makes sure others are aware that he put in a large sum and he feels good about it, until someone with more wealth trumps him with an even larger amount. This routine could go on for a while and many of the people involved in the financial wrangling in the house of God probably did notice the poor widow that made sure her gift went unnoticed. The last thing people want to do is draw attention to the issues in their life that are lacking or insignificant. The only person present that matter noticed the widow, and that is all that mattered.
Jesus had just spoken about dangerous teachers of the law robbing from widows and now both the religious status seekers and the widow have proven his point. While the religious are jockeying for position, the widow quietly “gives out of her poverty”. These men, thinking they have done something spectacular, have been upstaged in the eyes of God by a widow. The widows were usually just prey for these kinds of people, but not in this case, not in the eyes of God. This woman understood that the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with what one brings to the table, it has nothing to do with show and it has nothing to do with contributions. God doesn’t need money, after all, He owns the cattle on a thousand hilltops (Psalm 50). What God desires is exactly what this widow gives…everything. She obviously knew that she didn’t have enough to compete with the “religious”, but it wasn’t about competition, it was about complete surrender. The widow wasn’t able to fund a ministry, but it wasn’t about funding a ministry, it was about a sincere spirit. The widow couldn’t buy status or credibility with her offering, but it wasn’t about status or credibility, it was about obedience in the face of arrogance. In stark contrast to the religious, stands the righteous and Jesus reveals the heart of the Father by saying who gave more and who’s sacrifice was more pleasing to Him. It wasn’t about the amount, it was about the heart.

Unfortunately, this story and this lesson are largely forgotten in your average church today. Want proof? Show me a church with a finance committee, accounting committee or something similar and I will show you people that handle money well, enjoy an above average lifestyle, an above average income and are likely to be wealthy
relative to the other members of the church. I personally have never been to a church, nor has anyone I know, that had a bankrupt individual on the finances committee. Though exceptions always exist, you are not likely to see someone serve on a finance committee that also needs help from the benevolence fund from time to time.

The typical excuse given for why people are given charge of finances at any given church is because they have proven in life to be a “good steward”. While I have often heard that we are called to be “good stewards” in the midst of sermons and classes regarding finances, I can’t find the same amount of attention paid to financial stewardship in scripture. Make no mistake, we are call to be good stewards. Let’s look at the ways in which the Bible calls us to good stewardship:

I Peter 4: as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (Grace)
Titus 1: as the steward of God (Leadership)
I Corinthians 4: stewards of the mysteries of God. (Representing God)
Luke 12: Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household (Leadership)

The other Biblical references to being a steward or stewardship in general is simply as a title or an administrative role one may fulfill. While I think we can certainly say that financial responsibility is a good thing and even a God thing, I don’t think we can omit the poor widow that served as an example for Jesus to teach his followers some 2000 years ago. Maybe Jesus still wants to use her example to teach his followers today.

Are power structures in the typical church dictated by finances? I would argue that generally speaking, churches do exactly what Jesus says the dangerous teachers of the law did and exactly what we are warned not to do again in James 2 by showing favoritism.
James 2: “1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose someone comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the one wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the one who is poor, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? 8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”

Lest we forget brilliant and emancipating aspects of the Kingdom of God is that the last is first, the broken made whole, the lacking is made sufficient, the blind see and the lame walk (Luke 7). Sadly the Kingdom is often portrayed to the world by church attendees in the areas of finances and power as being no different than the world. All too often, the attractive, wealthy, talented and gifted fill the roles within the leadership hierarchy and the major decisions are made, directly or indirectly by those who wield the funds. Can it be that the Golden Rule of Jesus has been traded for the Golden Rule of the world…”those who have the gold make the rules”?

So what about wealth? Often the Bible is misquoted when people declare with the best intentions, “money is the root of all evil”. Actually it is the “love of money” which is that root. Many rationalize wealth by pointing out all the “blessings” Solomon had or all the possessions Abraham or David enjoyed. While certainly God bestowed some people in the Bible with abundance in those areas, this in no way negates the words of Jesus in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

What if Jesus is serious about that?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tribes, Politics and Liquid Feces

Today I am posting an email I sent out to my "church" in reply to one sweet female who said she is voting for Obama and then provided the link for an article that presents the Republican Party as mean, hateful, racist and though they have a monopoly on that. Maybe it will speak to some of you. Enjoy

I didn't gasp at the thought of you voting for Obama as you imagined some of us would...but I do think I squirted a little liquid feces into my boxer briefs. :)

I have heard others mention how tired they are of mean, cruel, racist, and whatever else political campaigns. I have also heard about the corruption run amuck in the republican run white house and congress. I hate...and I can't state it strongly enough....HATE the corruption in politics. I HATE the cruel, mean-spirited, selfish, racist aspects of life in general...politics notwithstanding.
I say all of that to bring up something I learned when I was living in Africa. The government in charge of Tanzania when I was there was corrupt...and I don't mean just a little bit. I asked some of the people why they didn't vote for a change and elect the competing tribe. Their answer was that they already did that. The two primary tribes involved in government in Tanzania had alternated control every few terms because the people had become tired of the BS...maybe this time it was that they had had enough of the Sukuma Tribe and the specific ways in which they were corrupt...though several years before they had been begging for reform and begging for the Sukuma Tribe to "Be the Change We Need". The truth was and is that the Tanzanian government was going to be corrupt regardless of who was in charge because both groups were wrong about so much. The tribes not in control were going to get the shaft repeatedly because their opponents were in charge.

I say all of that to draw the similarities between the Tanzanian system of government and our own. The Republican Tribe has been in control of the Executive Branch for 8 years...and SURPRISE SURPRISE, the people of that tribe have received special favors and have benefited. On the flip side of the past 8 years were 8 years of the Democratic Tribe being in power of the Executive Branch. Again, guess who got the favors, the benefits and even "special cigars"? Those within that tribe...well, Monica got the cigar but that's another story.
Of interest, the Democratic Tribe has been in charge of the Legislative Branch of Government for the past two years and guess what kind of laws they have passed or have attempted to pass...ones that benefit their tribe.

As I contemplate what will happen one week from today I am sure of several say that I will vote for one party because the other party uses fear to motivate is myopic at best. To say that I will vote for one tribe over another because one tribe is corrupt and one isn't would be less than accurate. To say that we should support one tribe over another because Jesus would support one platform over another is absurd. Jesus can't be bought with campaign money and repeatedly said that his Kingdom isn't of this effect, bypassing his chance to tattoo a donkey or elephant on his legacy. To say that I will vote for one tribe over another because one tribe will wage war is to be a poor historian. I personally packed my gear under Bill Clinton to wage war in countries that we had as much reason to be there as we do Iraq and Afghanistan...let's not forget Sudan's Aspirin Factories, The Chinese Embassy Bombing, the USS Cole, The first World Trade Center Attack, Bosnian Conflict, etc. Both Tribes wage war and both tribes manipulate wars for the good of their tribe...I have been there, done that and still have some of my "battle-rattle" to prove it. Just ask Jeff...I'm a nut job in a crowed bar to this day :)

So anyway, let's all go out and vote...or not. Vote for McCain or vote for Obama. Let's discuss in love whatever issues we want but I personally think each side should come down off our thrones long enough to objectively observe that each candidate will do the exact same thing if the agenda of their tribe while trying to limit or even destroy the agenda of the opposing tribe. You support in this election doesn't make you a christian, atheist or even makes you an official part of a particular tribe.

We are collectively about to get exactly what we ask for...I seriously question if any of us will like what we get? It reminds me of when the people of God demanded a king. God gave them the desires of their hearts...and allowed them to soak in the pool of liquid feces they squirted in their Hebrew boxer briefs...and with that, it appears that I have come full circle so I must say, "Amen"

Monday, October 27, 2008

Who Farts During a Prayer?

I love football...I love Alabama football and I love taking road trips for Alabama football. This past weekend my buddy Jeff and I traveled to Knoxville for the UT-Bama game. I could probably write for a few weeks on my observations and experiences there but today I have to write about what happened just prior to kickoff.

UT still has a prayer before their games...which I think is really cool. The prayer was only a few seconds old and was going strong when a smell began to drift through the crowd. It was obvious that the hot dogs, beer and whiskey shots during pregame parties just weren't agreeing with someone. The gentleman (and I use that label with gracious abundance and liberal doses of social blindness) sitting in front of us took particular offense to the smell and to the thought that someone would drop trowel at such a special moment. His frustration bubbled over and while the prayer continued he comments loudly "WHO F'ING FARTS DURING THE PRAYER?!?!"

I couldn't help laughing at the whole situation...and in fact, I will almost wet my pants just thinking about it right now. Why in the world was it and is it so funny? I really don't know but I think it has something to do with standards, expectations and reactions.

To the guy sitting in front of us it seemed much less appropriate for someone to fart during a prayer than to drop the "F" Bomb. Others may suggest that cursing during a prayer is worse than farting and still others may suggest that both are in poor form.

The guy in front of me never asked my opinion so I didn't offer it. Since he was looking around for the perpetrator I did have proclaim my innocence by acting equally disgusted by the scent. The person who farted didn't ask my opinion either so I didn't say anything to them...which I couldn't anyway since I don't know who it was.

But I have some opinions...want to hear them? Good...
My opinion is that the person who farted probably feels OK about what they did. The guy who cursed the foul odor and the one who did it probably also feels justified. They simply have different expectations and different standards. As funny as the whole situation is, I simply think it is interesting and it makes me wonder what areas exist in my world that I consider completely normal and other may take great exception with? Are there areas in your world that cause some to cringe but don't bother you at all? I'm sure so.

Maybe part of Paul's encouragement to us in Philippians 2 has to do with considering it their farts or their language. And in case Jeff is wondering...I swear it wasn't me.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm Officially One of the Smartest Humans Alive

OK...sometimes moving up in life has more to do with others falling behind than with someone doing well. Such is the case in this situation. After listening to a recent Howard Stern segment (warning: some potentially offensive language) I have concluded that I am one of the smartest humans still living on this planet today. I also understand more than ever how someone like Obama can win a presidential election. God save us from the morons! Shouldn't stupidity be painful or something?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Why Must The Past Come Up Again

Arriving at my house after work is usually the highlight of my day...but not yesterday. As I was walking up our steps yesterday Elijah, my 6 year old happen to find a rusty roofing nail...with the heel of his foot. The nail stuck in so far that I had to pull pretty hard to remove it. The nail was no doubt leftover from earlier in the year when we had our roof replaced. The entire ordeal of bleeding, hold pressure and soaking in betadine was no doubt leftover from years earlier.

In an attempt to provide some source of comfort and maybe help Elijah understand that I identified with him, I shared my story about doing the same thing. It actually seemed to help him a bit. Then Brook, my wife, shared her story about doing the same thing. How weird is it that we all have to face certain pains in life and that we all have to move on past them?

As I was talking to Elijah and holding pressure on his foot I told him something that is very true..."Buddy, if I could take the pain for you so you didn't have to hurt I would do it in the blink of an eye"...and I would have. I had not yet completed the thought, much less the sentence, when I saw the beautiful irony and reminder. It seems that someone else once had a nail driven into their foot...and their hands. It was as though I could hear Jesus whispering through the ages straight into my ear..."that's what I thought too and I did take the pain".

What a great reminder...unfortunate circumstances, but great reminder of how the Creator of heaven and earth cares enough about us all to pick us up, remove our nails and help us heal? And how amazing is it that the whole time he is loving on us we can know that He is willing to take it away and carry the load himself? God continues to be more than I can ever ask or imagine.

The Heaviest Element Known to Science?

The Heaviest Element Known to Science
Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science. The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.
Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years to complete. Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.
In fact, Governmentium's mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of morons promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass. When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Our Tax System Explained in Beer

Our Tax System Explained in Beer!

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay $1.
The sixth would pay $3.
The seventh would pay $7.
The eighth would pay $12.
The ninth would pay $18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do. The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. 'Since you are all such good customers,' he said, 'I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20. 'Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men – the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?' They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everyones share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).
The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).
The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 ( 22% savings).
The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. 'I only got a dollar out of the $20,' declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man,' but he got $10! ''Yeah, that's right,' exclaimed the fifth man. 'I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!! ''That's true!!' shouted the seventh man. 'Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks! 'Wait a minute,' yelled the first four men in unison. 'We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!!! 'The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!!!!!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.