THE POOR, POLITICS & “GOD’S BIG SIX”

There are countless texts in the Word of God (Bible) that reveal the heart of Jesus and His call for His people to care for the poor. Jesus indeed said “You shall have the poor with you always, and you can do good to them whenever you want to”. The sad fact is many of us do not want to or believe we lack any means to help. Crosses are never convenient.In that there are those poor who have made foolish choices and landed themselves in their needy state, many otherwise loving Christian people figure many if not most are largely “reaping what they’ve sown”. I won’t argue about the reality of this for in some cases it’s true. Yet it seems to me in terms of voting and laws either being enacted or decided upon that a great many Christians are less biblical than cultural, less gracious than Pharisee-like. Remember that “grace” means unmerited favor, of the sort Jesus gives us for our own sin and ultimate salvation. How is it we demand others EARN -our- grace?!Recently someone asked me about “the poor” and how I could take the political position I’ve taken in the past several years. What you are about to read is the foundation of my answer. It is the core decider for me, the “where”, “why” and “what” as I’ve considered a multiplicity of issues.Matthew 25 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ 46 And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”The following are notes from a sermon I have been preaching from time to time for a number of years. They include what I refer to as “God’s Big Six” and a simple breakdown of what the majority of us can and should be doing about practical, human need.In Matthew 25 Jesus calls us to serve: The HUNGRY- food The THIRSTY- drink (clean water?) The STRANGER- lodging (“strange” to you and I -foreigner?)… the homeless- housing The NAKED- clothing The SICK- healthcare/medicine/clinic (or hospital) The PRISONER- guilty or not, justice and visitation/compassionate careMany Christians focus almost solely on the issues of abortion and what they (I) believe the Bible says about wrong sexual practice- specifically homosexuality. May I inform or remind the reader I was right on the edge of a full-on bisexual lifestyle when I began to follow Jesus in my 18th year. I have had a number of gay or lesbian friends, still do, and have seen the love and power of Jesus bring real and lasting change in their lives, just as I have among heterosexual people with unbiblical habits. My wife and I fostered and adopted children. My adopted daughter would have been aborted had we not done so. I spent time in jail twice with Operation Rescue, blocking abortion clinics, praying and begging God for mercy for the mothers, children, staff, the church, my country and myself. I have been involved in a number of pro-life rallies and demonstrations.I am not holier-than-anyone!! Yet I beg the reader to consider what they have actually done beyond voting and talking about these issues.While most of the six issues Jesus raised may on various levels relate to the pre-born and to homosexual, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people ALL of them relate to the poor, to poverty and not only to those who have encountered injustice or misfortune but who are very possibly guilty of choices that put them in such a state where they are without adequate food, drink, friends/shelter, clothing, are physically ill and/or are in prison. This does not mean- nor is Jesus implying- tacit agreement with people who may have done or not done things to place themselves in a position of need. Neither Jesus nor God the Holy Spirit Who breathed this text, nor Matthew as he writes his gospel clarify HOW or WHY a person or group ended up in such a state.Here, Jesus simply calls all who follow Him to face the ultimate truth: you are treating ME (Jesus) exactly as you are treating “them”.I work and serve in a local congregation that daily reaches out to the poor. To say that I personally live out such relational love in each of these areas toward every one I meet on a daily basis would be untrue. To say that I take them very seriously, try to apply them and believe I should apply them daily is absolutely true. I cannot in good conscience be part of a local congregation who do not seek to have such heart and serve people in these ways.May God help us move deeper into a truly biblical Christian life where the love, grace and compassion of God motivates us more than does fear, self-protection and suspicion of those unlike us. So many are less fortunate than we are. To whom more is given, more shall be required. God has given us so much. Certainly He does so in part… that we might learn to share.I know many individual believers and entire local churches and congregations are doing a lot of good in these areas. Absolutely so! None the less- If the church (and by that I mean all congregations of true Christ-followers) shared as we should and could, there would be little if any poverty in our nation and a great deal less in the world.I understand those who work hard and are hit by economic hardship do not want any government taxing them more to help those who seem lazy and simply by choice, “living off the state”. I understand serious Christians disagreeing with politicians who take other than biblical stands on everything from what seem like “Christian freedoms” to abortion and sexuality. I fully realize the anger, frustration and shame experienced when a government spends my/our tax dollars on things we find fully ungodly and reprehensible. I get it and even agree with some of the feelings and certainly some of the conclusions.I further support (always have and continue to) friends and others in the military who are by the way, not deploying themselves… whether I agree with their deployment, the particular war or tactics or not- I pray for, directly thank and owe a debt to each of them. I get it. I get it more than many reading this will ever believe I get it! But I first and foremost “get” basic human need- and I cannot deny Jesus in what He says in the above text.For me, He and His words trump all personal pain, sacrifice and political position.Meanwhile we agree with or castigate political leaders for doing (or not) what the church ought to consistently do. When these practical needs are great and the bulk of the church does not sufficiently work to meet these six basic areas of need, I suggest a government (regardless of political party) has not only the right but responsibility to step up and help.Does any government do it sufficiently, or to all of our liking? Apparently not. When has any American citizen truly enjoyed (God loves a cheerful giver) paying taxes… even paying them for what we DO like and agree with often seems a pain to most of us!So I ask the reader what I ask myself: what are -you- doing about these six areas? Study His words, then your own heart and actions. Rhetoric never fed, gave drink, clothed, housed, healed or visited prisoners or anyone else with God’s love or justice.

The Winning Obsession

So the reader may think “What, is Kaiser going to tell us the only way to win is to follow Jesus”? Or perhaps “Oh-oh… he’s gonna kick our chops about always thinking we have to win all the time. So are we to be thoroughly happy and satisfied with losing instead? Good grief, what’s he thinking?!”You’d be pretty well right twice, but the second question and somewhat, conclusion are the core and likely more disturbing points.See, I think that in the entire world, and more so among many western nations, specifically in the U.S. of A. we are literally hell-bent (no pun intended) on winning, and winning in many cases no matter the cost to our opponents. Further, I think we often do not consider the cost to ourselves, our children and grandchildren or the rest of society, be they Christ-followers or not. The same applies to many, many Christian people.I am indeed thinking about current political situations in the U.S. and beyond, but even closer to heart, in all forms (yes- ALL forms) of Christian gatherings, relationships, families, marriages and even our individual relationship with God in Christ. We must wrestle with God and lose, die to self, learn to be compassionate to others even and especially when it seems we don’t get our way- which of course is in our view, always the “right” way, God’s way.If you’re wondering about it, yes, I’m talking to myself as well as the reader! Losing gracefully is important.Are you or I ever wrong? Do we ever speak or act before patient consideration of the results? Facing the truth of this -is- God’s way throughout His Word. Often such considerations are not part of our reality, nor are the needed humility and caution. I would argue neither of these are automatic pillars in American culture.A culture of continual “win” will in the end, lose. It will lose in part, due to the corruptability and therefore corruption of the people who begin to claim their chosen (and in many cases, “taught” and/or “learned”) culture or subculture as if it were somehow equal to the very canon of Scripture.NO culture should be given that place in the life of a Christ-follower. “Win” often boils down to control.In sports, for example, to win is nearly always to control the pace, the rhythm, the flow of the game. In American football the team that controls the line of scrimmage nearly always wins. In world football (soccer) the team who controls the play and has the greatest skill in keeping possession of the ball largely wins in the end. It’s the same in most sports. The companies that rather monopolize a given market are the one’s who seemingly win.My chosen computer operating system is Linux, not Windows or Mac. This has been the case for many years. There are a load of reasons why, but let me get to the point:I listen most Wednesday nights to a several-hour long computer show which is about ninety-five-percent about the major operating system’s failures on most every pc and laptop you’d care to mention. Meanwhile, I deal with perhaps a one-percent failure rate- and that mostly due to personal mistakes, not operating system failure. In this scenario, who is really and truly winning, the mainstream or alternative people using an alternative approach? Of course there’s a learning curve and this is where many people just swallow “the norm” and dig in, regardless of the inherent pain and train-wrecks of (even) the computer culture.A biblical, Christian culture is just that – it’s not merely a “human” culture or subculture. Biblical discipleship includes a learning curve and a lot of us would rather not go there!There is not only a learning curve in spiritual but societal growth as well. Many choose to ignore or reject the personal assessment and work involved.One of the most needed fruits of the Holy Spirit in a Christian life is self-control. This is certainly the one I need most, I admit it! To win all too often means “to GET and maintain control”, not to share or lose it. At that very crossroads comes the collision- with the very nature of love God is working to help us grow and mature in as opposed to “my way”. His way always includes the cross.To confuse Christ and culture is to confuse culture with provision and ultimate salvation. Ain’t NO OTHER LORD and absolutely NO OTHER SAVIOR than Jesus Christ, period.When a good number (majority or minority) of Christians support a political candidate who then goes on to lose a national, state or city election, it’s as if the devil himself has control of the earth! Ain’t so. Never was and never will be.When a group within a denomination or local church lose a “political” or policy vote or decision on (for example) -how church is done-… whew, the fallout of anger, bitterness, backbiting and slander often surfaces. Local churches have split over the “new carpet” that is about to be installed… so when matters of even greater importance come up, look out!!Let me be clear, any ministry type, mission society, coffeehouse, emergent/emerging, house church, worship team, evangelistic band, family, marriage can be severely wrecked by the attitude and character issues in a person and especially group of persons who are fully focused on WINNING or nothing. Little or nothing of God comes about when we wholesale decide “either we win or we walk”. It’s how we lose that largely reveals our true nature, at least in that time and place.IS there a time, a season, an issue worth fighting and fighting hard for? Can it be that separation of one from another or this group from that group- even in the body of Christ- is a good and even Spirit-led event? I believe the Bible gives a number of clear supports to such… but very, very rarely.What I think we have a hard time facing up to (and repenting for lack of) is the humility, the extreme patience, the willingness to even hear “the other side’s” position and rationale for doing or not doing X, Y or Z. We just want our way, we want to WIN. From Cain and Abel it seems part of our dna, personally and in culture.While it seems to me there are culture-neutral issues and more clearly biblical Christian elements in American culture, there are plenty of ungodly, self-serving, mean-spirited and “blow these people away” elements in our culture as well. Our culture, though often laced with Christian (and sometimes even biblical) ideals is yet built on control and rebellion. I am not convinced a thorough read of U.S. (church and non-church) history reveals an American Revolution built on pristine, Christ-following ethics so much as “personal freedoms to live as WE (read that, “I”) choose, King George”!It’s clear to me that Britain had it’s own selfish interests at heart… but the idea that colonial Americans were all wonderful patriots and not rebels is simply nonsense from both a biblical as well as historical view if one is willing to face facts. But if you disagree, of course you’d have to admit and suffer loss… and that’s the point.I don’t want to lose either! I want to live freely, get my way, be in the majority (at least now and then!). I also want to serve and honor my Lord Jesus and build rather than trash the Church -at large as well as the local church/community where I serve.The Christ of Calvary doesn’t at all look like a winner, rather a full-on loser. Game over, the end, darkness beats out light, curse-God-and-die stuff.Not so. Good Friday only preceded Easter Sunday, it did not conquer it.Jesus said “In the world you shall have tribulation”. He went on to say, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”. But we don’t take that to heart. We want to win!The issues we care about range from stupid to sublime, tiny to massively important. They affect only ourselves as individuals or may affect millions. We listen, read, watch, talk, blog, take sides. But oh how we are bent on winning, and again, I say it’s hardwired into our culture to WIN or ELSE.The “or else” is where we rip, rend, crash, burn and out of emotion more than anything like faith, hope, love, or in the knowledge and wisdom of God which is first of all pure, peaceable, etc…. man I’m so convicted… just read James chapters three and four… I’m not kidding: read the entirety of those two chapters and you have in my view, exactly what every sort of local congregation in the U.S. needs to hear at this very moment in time, be they totally old-school traditional or super hip and fresh in their approach.Sometimes and in some areas the church climate may seem pretty bleak, but then the church is literally you, me and all who follow Jesus. The question is, are we following Jesus or simply determined to win at all costs?Those who follow Him in accord with the Word of God will at times suffer great loss. But consider this: in the end, nobody else wins.I don’t think winning is what life is about. Life is about receiving and sharing God’s love in Jesus Christ. At times it seems we Christians are better at body-slamming than loving. Then again, the Word (yes, New Testament, not only Old) and history records the very same truth.God help us to lose with grace and when we win, to walk in a deeper humility and grace. Either way we know You are Sovereign… not us!Somebody once wrote a song with this core lyric: “When you lose, you win, that’s the way it is. That’s when the love comes down.”