Sunday, January 10, 2010

GOD HAS CHOSEN THE POOR

GOD HAS CHOSEN THE POOR
A. Brother
©2009 Narrowgate Publishing



          “Listen, my dear brothers:  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 to those who love Him?  But you have insulted the poor.”                         --James 2:5,6

          “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
                                                                                                         --Matt. 5:3

          “If I give all I possess to the poor…but have not love, I gain nothing.”
                                                                                                        --1 Cor. 13:3

          “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”                                                       --2 Cor. 8:2

          “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.  We work hard with our own hands…Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world…Therefore I urge you to imitate me…For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” 
                                                                                                        --1 Cor. 4:11-13,16,20

          “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”                                              --Isaiah 61:1

          “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.  Rather be open-handed and freely lend him whatever he needs…Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.  There will always be poor people in the land.  Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” 
                                                                                                       --Deut. 15:7,8,10,11

          “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of one of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’”                              --Matt. 25:40

          “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.”                                                                                      --James 1:9

            I say to you brothers:  According to the Word of God, being poor is not a terrible curse that signifies a person is being judged by God, and is out of the will of God, or is certainly sinful and needs God. 
            According to the churches today in our affluent societies, being poor is all of the above.  And I rebuke this attitude, as the prophets, and the Lord Jesus, and the apostles rebuked this attitude in their day.
            The poor are chosen by God.  The poor are blessed.  Jesus came to preach good news to the poor.  The poor have a high position in the Kingdom of God.  The poor will inherit the Kingdom.  Even the apostles were poor, as evidenced by Paul’s writing.  The poor often set the standard for giving in the Kingdom of God, because they give out of their poverty, not out of their excess.
            The poor among us are God’s way of testing our love and our generosity.  They are here among us for our good.  They give us reasons to give, and so are the means for us to receive blessing after blessing from God.  We are even told that we will always have the poor among us, and for these good reasons!

            How we treat those who are in need among the people of God is a barometer of our faith and love toward our own Father, and toward His Son, Jesus.
            In the Kingdom of God, how we take care of each other physically is just as important as how we take care of one another emotionally and spiritually. 
            To our great shame, the churches have taken on the world’s attitude toward poverty.  That the best way to fight the war on poverty is by pursuing my own wealth and security, and that writing a check to a charity out of my abundance once in a while will take care of any responsibility I have toward the needy. 
            We are taught to take no personal responsibility toward the needy brothers nearby; we don’t bind up their wounds, help them find work, share with them our bread and our homes, clothe them, or share our love and our lives with them. 
            We are taught by example they are somehow lesser people, and we shun them in our churches, because they cannot keep up with our busy, affluent, churchy lifestyles that demand we have money and cars and houses fitting with our status as God’s people. 
            We allow any poor who seep into our church groups to be ignored and left behind, accomplishing by our neglect what we want to accomplish.  That is: We get them to leave, and we don’t care where they go, because they make us uncomfortable.  Let them gather together with other poor people.  They would feel more at home with their own kind, anyway.
            We are fine with seeing videos of the little children who are starving in far-off lands.  Our emotions are stung, and we pull out the card to be swiped.  Besides, it’s deductible.  And it’s quick.  Takes no time at all on the internet to assuage our consciences for a bit longer.
            We have no problem with missionaries coming in and telling us about their poor congregations in distant countries who’ve become believers and need us to write a check that will help them build a new building or buy printed materials or a new scooter to reach the outlying villages with the gospel.  Once again, we give a little, it’s deductible, it’s quick, and it soothes our consciences until the next encounter.

            Brethren, how can we think like this?
            Don’t we know that God’s truth never changes? 
            Don’t we have any fear of the Lord?
            Was the Word of God invented by us? 
            Do we get to interpret it any way that makes us comfortable? 
            Or are we required to obey God’s Word?
            If it is the last of these, then we are in serious trouble in today’s affluent American churches.
            We don’t associate with the poor.  We don’t preach the gospel to the poor.  We don’t love the poor, and include them in the every day life of the Body of Christ.  We don’t reach out and give them what they need for their daily living, and make up for their lack.  We don’t share our possessions with love, and without compulsion.  We don’t give cheerfully to those around us in need—witness how easy it is for churches to raise large sums of money for building programs that benefit their memberships--in comparison to how difficult it is to raise even a small amount for the “benevolence fund” or the “steward’s budget”.
            And who invented these impersonal funds?  Certainly not anyone who reads Scripture and takes it seriously.  Not once are we commanded to start organizations or committees to dispense our giving.  We are commanded to do it personally, brother to brother, and to make love for that brother our compelling motive.  These awful, impersonal methods of giving we have invented come from the devil, who seeks to keep Christians apart.  Our enemy has triumphed over us in this area of church life, separating brother from brother, and keeping our hearts locked away from one another.
           
            It is time we acknowledge that poverty is no sin.  That in fact, those who live godly in Christ Jesus will often suffer poverty, because they will be willing to give up all their worldly ambitions of wealth for the Kingdom of God.
            Our Lord Jesus is our example in this, and so are the thousands of faithful who have given their lives for Him through the centuries.

            “They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  They were all commended for their faith…”                                                                                              --Heb. 11:37-39

         
          Our modern version of the faithful reads a little differently:

          “They went about in luxury vehicles and wore the latest in designer clothing-- affluent, influential, fully admired and respected, and treated like royalty by the world—because the world thought them worthy of honor due to their success.  They lived in large and spacious custom homes in the finest neighborhoods, or in nice tract homes in acceptable developments, wandering the best shopping venues, eating in the restaurants they liked, and attending church in their state-of-the-art entertainment complex complete with recreational facilities.  They were commended by one another for their Christian lifestyles, and for their faithful tithing that enabled the church to build more and better facilities for those who chose to worship there.  They especially commended each other because out of their excess and abundance they managed to give a small amount once each month toward missions and the poor, though it didn’t affect their hearts or their standard of living, and though they personally didn’t take any responsibility for the brethren around them in need. 
          They accepted the accolades of other men, because to them this meant that they were obeying God.  For in their minds obedience meant prosperity, though they would deny believing it.  To them, faith meant church attendance, and Bible study, and tithing.  To them faith meant they listened to Christian music instead of worldly music.  To them faith meant attending church, and playing church by the rules of men.  To them, being a Christian was a “belief-system” and a set of principles, and not a Narrow Gate, which few would find.   And most of all, to them faith meant a guarantee of Heaven after death, which was certainly worth all the trouble, tribulation and persecution they were experiencing as followers of Jesus in this life.”                    
                                                                                       --The Acts of the Apostate 1:1-5

          Brothers called by God, don’t think for a minute that this funny little look at how we often view things is funny to God.  He is serious about the Truth, and expects us to conform to His Word, and not to try and make His Word conform to what we will accept.
            The Word of God is the Rock upon which we must build.
           
            Jesus said:

            “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”                          --Matt. 7:24,25

          We must value the poor, and give to them, and help our brothers around us in need, not out of our excess, but sacrificially, and out of our best.  Like the poor Christians in Macedonia, let us give and give until it hurts, because we love Jesus, and we are so in love with our brethren, and hate to see them suffer.  We know our rewards will be in Heaven. 
            Today, “if anyone has material possessions” (1 John 3:17), then that person bears a great responsibility in the Kingdom.  God has entrusted us with riches.  We must “take pride in (our) low position, because (we) will pass away like a wild flower.”  --James 1:10.  We must be like Jesus, who gave away all He had to become what we needed Him to be. 
            So must each of us as brothers give all we have to one another.

            “My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends….I have called you friends…”
                                                                                                   --John 15:13-15

          Befriend those who love Jesus, our Great Friend, who gave to us without condition or reservation.  Give to those you see who are in need today, and share with them your very life, and your heart, and your material possessions as needed.  By doing this, we secure an everlasting treasure.

            “But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  --Matt. 6:20


             
           
           
             
         

HARD SERVICE

HARD SERVICE
A. Brother
©2010 Narrowgate Publishing


            “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for…”                                                                                           --Isaiah 40:1,2

          The hardest service of all is trying to pay for our own sins.
            Some men think nothing of sin.  They go through life with a light mind—not worrying about their actions—or about the consequences of their disobedience to God.  They take God as some take pills--a precaution against hell and damnation--an insurance policy in case it all turns out to be true, this thing about God and His Word.
            Other men think continually on their sin.  They are the mourners—heavy minds weighed down worrying that they’ve sinned so much God can’t forgive them.  Their sins are “ever before them” and they know that His judgments are just.  They can’t seem to forgive themselves, and hope against hope that their sins will be covered by the grace and mercy of God.
            If you are among the former, then you must repent and get a new heart of flesh from God, to replace the heart of stone you’ve got.
            If you are among the latter, you need the comfort of this good Word from the Lord.  Those of you who mourn today over your own sins need to know that your hard service is done, and you need to hear tender words of love from the heart of God.
            In Jesus, God’s compassion paid for your sins, no matter how grievous.
            No more sorrow and grief for the past.
            Only the Shepherd can comfort us.  Take comfort, God’s people who grieve over sin.  Yours have been paid for, and now Jesus will carry you.

            “He tends His flock like a shepherd.  He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.”  --Isa. 40:11

My Purpose

"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope...May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."  --Romans 15:4-6
 Life in this world is hard for followers of Jesus.  It is a narrow path, entered by the narrow gate, Jesus Himself.  And the path is alive with dangers, difficulty and joys in the middle of it all.  Those who really want to live for Christ must do it completely in His strength, and be willing to give up everything for His sake.

Today I call you to this life.  Are you willing to leave the cushioned, comfortable life of the wealthy churches and embark on the Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered life on the heights with our Lord?  Are you willing to try? Because God will enable you.  He will take your feeble knees and weak arms and make you into a mighty Lover and Warrior in His Kingdom.  He takes the weak and the insignificant, the poor and the foolish things of this world and shames the wise and powerful with His transformation of them.  He loves those who He calls, and He will give them the Kingdom of God, as He promised.

But we can't do this alone.  We who choose this Way must band together with brothers and sisters who also seek the Lord out of a pure heart.  Together we form Christ's ekklesia, His "called out to come together" people.  We are given many analogies in Scripture designed to help us understand who we are together in Christ.  We need each other, and not just "playing church" on Sunday mornings.

Are you tired of the games?  Then let's encourage and build up one another in our faith in Christ Jesus.  Participate with me in this adventure, this high calling, this narrow Way, as I follow Christ myself.  Far from perfect, with many flaws, nevertheless I have experienced a rebirth and renewal, and have given up everything in recent times to follow my friend Jesus (yes, He calls us His friends!--see John 15:12-15).  He calls us out of the life of compromise with the world which our well-marketed and slickly-designed churches have been living, wanting to give us New Wine in New Wineskins.  The old man-made forms and institutions are incapable of holding the rich life He commands in His Word.

I declare to you today that God is love, and His commands are that we love Him without limits, and love each other without limits.  We are called out from the world to lay down our lives as Christ did. (John 15:12)  We are to give up our own interests and take upon ourselves the interests of Christ Jesus.  (Phil. 2:1-4)  We are to forsake all other ambitions except our ambition to build the Kingdom of God.  (Luke 12:29-31)  When we come to Christ, if we are truly in Christ, these commands are obeyed in us.

We must examine ourselves today.  Are we truly in the faith?  Or are we just "churchians"?  Are we living letters of God to each other, or just shiny brochures for "the good life" of this world?  Are we willing to give up our lattes and cappucinos (and oh, how I love them!) for our brother down the street who needs his electric bill paid?  Are we 24/7 disciples or just disciples for 24 minutes of devotional time each day?  Or is that 7 minutes every 24 days??  Do we say we love Jesus, but won't spend our time and love on the least of His people?

If we must confess, as I had to confess, that most of my life has been spent on myself, and my own selfish ambitions for security, comfort and fun, then we are not in Christ.  Because He demands and expects a life of absolute love and obedience from His followers.  No matter what pedigree we have, or what wealth we've accumulated, or how good our life appears.  No matter even that we've attended church and tithed and faithfully gone to Bible studies and prayer meetings our entire lives.  If we are not living letters of God's love to the other people around us we are not in Christ. (Eph. 5:1;1John 3:16-20)

Enough for this first post.  But I want your feedback, and your conversation.  Because if you're like me, you need the constant love and encouragement of God's people to be able to follow Jesus like I should.  Help me, and help yourself and others.  Let's talk.

Other posts will soon follow.

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