Sunday, April 5, 2009

What does "Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit" Mean?

Did you ever notice how we can put a positive spin on anything? We really have to work at at it with poverty. Sometimes we romanticize poverty. Rich kids want to give up living well to spend some time with those in poverty, which confuses Erwin McManus (, because these poor people would much rather someone use their wealth to help them out of poverty than to join them. It's only romantic when we can dabble there. Erwin has never known the intense poverty that his wife, Kim, had growing up as an orphan. The poverty She experienced was not knowing what she was going to wear because she always received worn out hand me downs. Often, she wasn't sure what she was going to eat. She felt instability on many fronts. Erwin recalls his mother going through rough times, in that she would let her two sons eat and then wait to see what was left over.

Never having known intense poverty, Erwin has definitely experienced times of without. Probably as a result of those times, Erwin has collected shampoos and conditioners from the hotels where he has stayed. Erwin would travel a lot years ago when he and Kim first married. He would stay in, not Hotel 6's, but "Hotel 3's or 4's". He noticed during his stays that the housekeepers would throw away the shampoos and conditioners after one use, so he got in the habit of saving them. "We paid for these 1,000 times over." But he began to realize that he and Kim wouldn't use the soap and shampoo! So they have hundreds of these little bottles.

The experience of poverty or poverty from the past causes us to be scavengers and hoarders. It can cause us to try and take as much control as possible to protect ourselves from ever experiencing this again. "If I were Jesus' campaign manager, I would tell him to leave out "Blessed are the poor". It doesn't matter what comes after this statement. We run from poverty. But this was the time where Jesus came and had just been baptized by John the Baptist. He seemed to come out of nowhere, performed a miracle and then told these men to just follow him and they did!! He must have had this unexplainable magnetism. What an experience it must have been to be with Jesus when he went to Syria and really turned it on! One week they were fisherman and the next week they were watching amazing miracles and hearing truth from the Creator of the earth.

After these men saw the promis of a great leader and the Messiah of the ages, can you imagine what they must have thought when he sat them down to talk about the Beattitudes? The people listening really thought that this Jesus, this Messiah, would come to free them from the rule and oppression of Rome. When He spoke of a "Kingdom", they thought He meant a new country for Israel. Yet, instead of being a commanding leader, Jesus opens with "Blessed are the poor in spirit". Most people today who read this think that He was talking about a Kingdom after we die. But what Erwin believes is that Jesus was talking about a Kingdom that we can access now in the same space and moment of history where we currently are. Was Jesus really saying that the portal to Heaven was through our finding poverty?

Jesus guided us by telling us how to pray and basically says that we are to ask God for "His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven". If eternity is the perfect expression of the heart, mind, presence and will of God, then the Kingdom of heaven on earth is when God's will is lived out by each of us in an unbelievable way where love and hope prevail. It is where forgiveness, compassion and other areas where the heart of God prevails. It's a place where faith overcomes doubt and compassion overcomes indifference. The Kingdom is everywhere where God's heart is a priority.

So, if that's available only to those who are poor in spirit, maybe we need to look further into this. We know what poverty is in the tangible way, but what does it mean to be poor in spirit? It would probably serve better to understand what poor in spirit is not. "I fly a ton...I fly United...I usually get all these upgrades." But lately, Erwin has been flying Southwest which, to him, is like watching "human cattle". During this period time of flying Southwest, a man walked right up to Erwin and Kim and stepped right in front of them at the conveyor belt with his luggage. His wife was appalled and started to say something, but refrained. Erwin, though, realized that he has seen people like this before, a group that acts like they deserve to be first or have a right to be prioritized. Another experience Erwin has had was he was first in line to board and had been there for several minutes when this guy walked right up and stood in front of him without saying a word. Fascinated by people in general, Erwin became intrigued by what is it that makes someone act this way. "Is this what we are evolving from or what we are evolving to?" How can these people so blatantly think so highly of themselves?

Erwin had yet another opportunity to learn out this breed of person a few days later. He was in line again and a woman behind him asked, "What number are you?" Violating his personal space, she asked again, "What number do you have?" The evil side of Erwin came out and said, "I'm in the right section", so the woman became firm and asked again what his number was. Erwin then told her that it didn't work that way, to which she responded, "Do you wanna bet?" She rudely stepped past Erwin, who conceded, but not without saying, "It's silly". Offended by his candor, she turned to say, "It's silly....?" "Well, it's a really big plane". It was only the two of them and yet she was making an issue out of this!

"That," says Erwin, "is not poor in spirit....but I did not want to be second to this woman...I was angry." Erwin implies that neither of them, in this case, was poor in spirit. Pride was first in line. None of us like to humble ourselves, but this is where Jesus points us. It can be so hard to bend when we want so much to stick our chests out and be first. This was exactly what the Saduccees and Pharisees of Jesus' time did. They qualified who would and would not get into heaven. But the beautiful thing about what Jesus said was he said there will be no one left out of the Kingdom because they are too broken.

In Galations 2:20, Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Paul is basically saying he'd come to the "end of me". He had died to himself and was now fully alive in Christ. Coming in his poverty of spirit, he had told God he had nothing to offer. Yet God saw it fit to give much to him and to use him. Called "the Great Exchange", this is the where we seek to lose ourselves in order to gain Jesus. "If we keep trying to earn God's love and compassion, we willl miss the beauty of what He has to offer." This is everything the cross was about. Christ came sinless, but took on sin for us. We can't tell God He needs us. We need to know that we need Him.

Years ago, in the middle of financial struggles as a young couple, Erwin and Kim lived in the inner city in a rental when Erwin started a company called "Global Impact". "Global Impact?" asked Kim, keenly aware of their situation. "Well, it sounds better than 'Local Influence'", responded Erwin. His company invited a couple of 100 leaders together to share a vision of inspiring (leading and developing) leadership across the globe. One of the leaders stood in the meeting and asked Erwin how much money he had. Erwin answered, "I have no money, so I have an unlimited budget." Sometimes poverty limits our thinking but sometimes it frees it. "The greatest creativity often comes in poverty." If you have $1000, you might have $1000 of courage or $10,000 of vision. The moment we limit our vision to the money or people, we limit the vision of God.

God wants to give us unlimited access to the things that are of eternal value; love without limit, hope without limit and faith without limit. When we are part of the kingdom of heaven we have access to unlimited forgiveness, unlimited love and unlimited mercy. These are the resources that come from God and with them we can live free from the bondages of our own pride. Jesus is looking to create a beautiful life so that each one of us will come, poor in spirit, to experience it.

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