The way of the world is to build friendships with people who will up our careers and reputation. Scarcely will we go out of our way to befriend those who will not add anything to our image, but instead detract from it. But this is not the way of Jesus.
Jesus befriended unscrupulous characters such as Zaccheus, Mary Magdalene, Mary from whom he cast out seven demons...and he sincerely loved them. Seeking out and honoring their company with his presence rather than seeking out the company of the élite. This infuriated the élite no end, because if Jesus is who he claimed he was -the Son of God- and the great prophet they could all see he was, then the decent thing would be for him to honor the company of society's créme de la créme...
Friendship cannot exist in the midst of 'inequality.' This is why the Pharisees were scandalized by Jesus' association and bonding with society's outcasts.
So many factors create 'inequality' among us...differences in economics, academics, social status, etc., are wedges that introduce inequality between people and groups. So how do we fulfill the necessary conditions of equality for friendship to occur? By connecting at our lowest common denominator, which is our humanity, just like Jesus did. Jesus, God, met and befriended us - at our humanity.
At the level of our humanity, we are all equal and when we connect with people at the level of our humanity which we all share in common, rather than at elements which are unequally distributed among humans and nature, it becomes easy to love and befriend others like Christ loved and befriended us.
He affirmed our humanity with his friendship.
He gave us access to his privileges.
He exchanged his privilege for our disadvantage.
He clothe us with his glory.
When we connect at the level of our humanity, nothing, whether economics, academics, social, gender, etc., can stand in the way of love and friendship.
#ScandalousFriendship #JesusFriendship #ChristianFriendship #LoveLikeChrist #WhatIsLove
Prayer: Jesus, friend of sinners, help us to recognize we are the sinners whom you've befriended at great cost to your reputation. Help us, therefore, to go out and befriend other sinners like you befriended us. In your name, we pray.
It's easy to resent and despise those who have no money. After all they want what they can't afford, even if what they want is a necessity rather than luxury, most poor people can't afford them.
Incidentally, poverty does not occur only in one paradigm, i.e. material possessions, yet, that is how the 'world' tends to think of poverty - the lack of material possessions.
When Jesus spoke about poverty, he addressed poverty in two contexts: spiritual poverty and material poverty.
The first, he promises fulfillment for. The second he assures us will always be with us.
It is this second batch that will 'always be with us' that humans have tended to focus on, but not always in a positive way.
When addressed in a positive way, consideration is given to the needs and limitations of the poor and efforts are made to provide what they lack.
When addressed negatively, a perjorative distinction is made about the poor, creating a camp of 'us vs. them.' It is this negative distinction that robs the poor of their dignity and humanity, because whereas they lack materially, they do not necessarily lack spiritually.
For example, consider the famous Negro spirituals - they were birthed at a time of extreme lack in the history of African-Americans. So that although lacking material wealth, they were abundantly rich in spiritual blessings.
Jesus addresses this when he counsels us to pursue righteousness rather than material prosperity, and also when he teaches that oftentimes material prosperity and the pursuit of it, hinders spiritual prosperity.
Apostle Paul further emphasizes this when he speaks of Jesus and himself. He addresses the fact that our Savior became (materially) poor, so we could become rich (makes me imagine that if Jesus were among us today, he would not fall in the camp we so favor, i.e., the materially prosperous). He also mentions the fact that he, Paul, had let go of pursuit of material gain and profit in terms of salary, instead living poorly on the barest minimum so he could be more available to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If material prosperity does not equate spiritual prosperity why then do we not honor the materially poor in our midst, and instead subvert God's standards to value material prosperity above spiritual prosperity???
This practice robs us of getting to know and love our poor neighbors and causes us to despise them because we consider ourselves 'better off.'
This Lenten season, let's make a change and determine to draw near to our 'poor' neighbors that we might mutually benefit from one another.
Prayer: Father, please teach us this Lenten season to be aware of both our own prosperity and poverty and the prosperity and poverty of our neighbors, in such a way that we affirm and honor one another in the gifts you have blessed us with, in Jesus name!
Just Say "No!"
In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to ask that God not allow us be tempted...Tempted with and by what?
The Christian practice of Lent is borrowed from Jesus' 40 days of fasting after he was baptized. The Scriptures tell us that right after his baptism, the Holy Spirit led him into the desert, where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. After this fast, he was hungry and that's where the Tempter stepped in and began to tempt Jesus!
In Jesus' hour of weakness, vulnerability and human frailty, the Tempter sought to break Jesus' allegiance with God by asking Jesus to act in ways that were contrary to God's design and desire for humanity.
This was not the first time the Tempter had done this. It was the second time. The first time was with the first man and first woman in the Garden of Eden. The progenitors of humanity were put to the test and they fell.
Now, again, he came to the second man, who was woman and man personified. If he could cause this one to 'sway' from God's directives, all hope would be lost for humanity.
Thank God, he failed! But it wasn't easy.
The Bible described the Tempter as the 'most cunning of all of God's creatures' and his skill is deeply lodged in how he 'twists,' 'bends' and 'shades' God's word to suit his own purposes.
He even tried to twist the Word Incarnate himself!
Thankfully, the Word himself is Wisdom personified and thus has a correct understanding of God's Word, to counteract the false interpretation that was based upon the true word (Satan is sneaky! He knows that if he changes the word, he will be easily detected. So he doesn't change the word, he only misinterprets it and asks us to act based upon that misinterpretation!).
But the Tempter doesn't only tempt with God's Word.
In Jesus' betrayal, we saw that one of his closest disciples, the one who betrayed him, was motivated by greed - a desire that welled from deep inside of him. James 1:14 says,
"...each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed."
But Jesus also taught us that the Devil asks permission of God to tempt us!
This is clearly demonstrated in the case of Job, where the LORD permits Satan to tempt Job!
We also see that temptation takes many different forms and approaches to include:
Only God can give us a hope beyond the damage to our earthly comforts and securities that the enemy threatens, jeopardizes and attacks.
Only God can bring healing where the Evil One has damaged or compromised our spiritual, physical, financial, mental and emotional health.
Hence, Jesus taught us to pray and deliberately ask God not to give the Tempter permission to tempt us.
Jesus even went further to show us that he, God, prays for us so that we do not succumb when tempted.
But the most beautiful part of God's is that He actually also presents a way out of every temptation for us, so that our only option isn't to do as we are tempted to do.
In this Lenten period,
Prayer: LORD, we thank you that no temptation has ever befallen man that You do not have a way out for. Help us to always remember that You are the God Who loved us enough to die for us, and that nothing could ever separate us from Your love. Give us a good understanding of Your Word and a steadfast trust in You, that plays out in a devotion and love for You and our neighbors. We pray these things, in Jesus name!
Not All That Glitters Is Gold!
Jesus often declined supposedly 'good things' and 'good offers' because they would distract and detract from his calling and purpose. This is what happened after the people tried to make Jesus their king after he fed miraculously fed five thousand of them.
Oftentimes, in appreciation of our skills and talents, people size us up and think they know and understand what we need - an offer that to all intents and opinions, would raise us a notch higher.
While there's nothing wrong with this, Jesus' life teaches that not all promotions are worth it. We can only properly determine the worthiness of the offer by considering it alongside of our known call and initial responsibility...
For example, a lesser paying job might make a parent more available to raise their children, but not enough to consider their family well off. On the other hand, a higher paying job might raise your status and purchasing power, but reduce one's ability and availability for one's family.
At such points, we have to consider "What is my call at this point in time?" What has God given to you as your personal assignment and of which He will require an account? In the overall scheme of things, what will be the 'cost' of accepting that promotion...?
Jesus knew that while he could easily fill the position of earthly 'king,' it would prevent him from dying for the people, which was his call. And so he turned down those very good offers to stick to being a commoner, a friend of sinners, so that people could be brought closer to God.
As he is, so we are in this world. We will continue to be offered many seemingly good things. But just as not all that glitters is gold, so not every good offer is 'good.'
We will only find the strength to rightly choose when our hearts are properly tuned to God's Kingdom priorities. Then, like Jesus, we will find the power to resist pursuing wealth at the cost of our God-ordained assignments and responsibilities.
Prayer: In this Lenten season and beyond, LORD, please teach us to discern and pursue the true riches of your grace at every moment in time, in Jesus name!
Jesus' parable about the lost coin, lost sheep and 'lost son,' relate to us the joy the owner and shepherd experienced at 'finding' their lost coin and sheep.
"Amazing Grace" is one of the favorite hymns of every Christian, particularly the verse "I was once lost, but now I'm found."
So obviously, there's something joyous and beautiful about 'finding' and being 'found.'
To explain, here's an illustration: when my indoor cats sneak outside, they become disoriented and can't find their way back in - not even if they're just on the porch!
Their frequent, high-pitched meows tell me they are panicked and this in turn sets off a panic in me...Instantly, I become nervous that they might be hurt or act crazy and hurt themselves because they're disoriented. I kick into frantic, action mode to try to bring them back in and have no peace in my heart until they are safely back indoors.
It would appear they equally have no peace until they are back indoors, for as soon as they are put back into the house, they stop meowing and slink off to some favorite spot in the house.
I breathe a sigh of relief and get back to my business.
Jesus tells us that the angels in heaven rejoice over one single lost soul that is found. I get it because I get the anxiety and the distress that accompanies losing or knowing one of your loved ones is lost.
I get it because I get the sense of peace that accompanies finding and restoring the lost one home. It is this last portion that I believe Jesus wants us to get. The sense of 'coming home' that a lost one and their relatives have at the return of the lost one.
It is a sense of belonging that brings a deep peace to our being - all our fears are allayed and we know we rest in company of loved ones and that all that we hold dear are safe.
This Lenten season, I'd like to invite you to look into your life and around your world and relationships...are there ways in which you are lost or have lost others and or things? The absence of peace in those areas of our lives key us to our loss.
Having identified your area of loss, I'd like to invite you to 'listen' for the Master's voice calling you home, and walk towards that voice, not away from it.
One peculiar aspect of my displaced, disoriented cats was that they were always scared, even of me, whenever they strayed outside. For some strange reason, they could not recognize my voice to walk towards me. I would always have to pick them up in my arms and assure them it was me, by gently soothing their fur and speaking softly to them.
In the same way, humans have tended to 'run away from' our Creator, and Savior of our souls when He comes calling, to rescue us. We have no rest while we're away from Him, yet on our own, we cannot come to Him when He calls. This is why it is God's love and grace that draws us to Him and why it is important not to resist that grace, when we feel it enclosing us, but rather, surrender and let ourselves be 'found' by our Master.
And the immediate accompanied peace within the walls of your heart and existence, in areas where you once felt panic and anxiety, give you the firm and joyful assurance that you are home!
The next step of the journey is to help others find their way home!
Prayer: Lord, when we are in the panicked mode of 'lost,' please help us remember You always seek us, and help us allow ourselves be picked up, held, and led back home by You through whatever means You choose. Lord, also help us to seek those who are lost. In Jesus name, we pray.
Rev. Tega Swann is the pastor of Refreshing Springs Ministry, of the Beaver-Butler Presbytery of the PCUSA.