God’s priority to the poor

Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 21:13

The Bible has plenty to say about God’s care and priority for the poor (see link above). God holds his people accountable for how they help the poor. And by poor, I mean those who are low on resources to the breaking point that their lives are at risk.

And this is not just a political, governmental issue. Regardless of what our position might be on that, God holds his people, and today that would be the church, as well as us individually who are a part of it, accountable. We need to be openhearted and open handed to those in need. There is no question that we will have plenty of opportunities to do so, just as scripture says.

I think my tradition, the evangelicals have done well at this in many places, but it hasn’t had the emphasis in our teaching, and probably therefore in our practice overall, as much as in other Christian traditions. There is no doubt that it was a major emphasis in Jesus’s teaching. Therefore if we’re to be Christian, we must follow suit.

We may not be overflowing with material wealth ourselves. But that doesn’t take us off the hook. 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is clear on that. A great example.

We need to first open our hearts to the Lord, and then to those in need. To be much in prayer over this. To help by doing what we can, and growing in the grace of giving so that we become more and more generous in doing so. Given the struggling, broken down health care in the United States, so that basics are not always affordable for all, we who live there will have plenty of opportunities. Any church which doesn’t make helping the poor a priority in their community, and throughout the world where they can, is missing something of the very heart of their mission. And really in any nation there’s opportunity to help those in need. Not to mention helping the poor in the rest of the world.

And not to be overlooked, already touched on, is that this is an important aspect of our growth in grace in and through Jesus. Of course we need to be wise in this. To help the poor on their feet, and toward the means they need so that they in turn can help others. Thankfully much of this is happening in the world today, so that global poverty is on the decline as infrastructures are set in place. Beginning with basic needs met, but also helping others to be able to support themselves and their families through the goods they can help bring to others. Of course sin gets in this because of greed in the world, but we have to keep working on what can be helpful and good toward a win win situation for all.

But back to our mission, the mission of the church. It’s in the gospel, in Christ. And part of that is to help people in whatever way we can. Giving them money where needed, and helping them find their way, so that they in turn can help others. In and through Jesus.

 

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faith and money

Looking at life and the Bible might make one wrinkle up their nose and shake their head. It seems like some things are irreconcilable, or don’t make sense. But then one needs to step back and look at the whole, and try to process it all as much as possible. And then simply trust God. I am thinking right now about faith and money.

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount about treasures in heaven and not worrying about one’s life (Matthew 6:19-34) are classic in trying to understand and sort through this. And then we have passages that encourage us to not get into debt and save, although in the Biblical world, when one could save, that is taken for granted that they should. But that they shouldn’t hoard, meaning store more than they needed, and that they should be generous to the poor and needy.

Jesus in the passage referred to above suggests that we can end up serving God or money, but not both. The idea is that money can become an idol, money itself not being an evil, but the love of money a root of all kinds of evil, as we read in 1 Timothy (6:10).

I have to wonder at the Christian leaders who actually are worth millions and millions of dollars. I don’t try to judge them for a second and I’m not critical, except when their life styles are exorbitant. Or when their teaching ties one’s material wealth to one’s spirituality. This has been a problem with the health and wealth preachers who seem to suggest that material wealth is indicative of the faith one has. They have great faith, therefore they have the material wealth. And people are to follow their example, especially, too often, by giving to their ministry. I take it for granted that we should give regularly to our church both for the continuation of the ministry in the gospel and in teaching, and in outreach for those who are in need.

Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay his head. And he taught us to pray that the Father would give us our daily bread. Translated for us today in America, that doesn’t mean we have to live from paycheck to paycheck. But that we should be devoted to God in how we handle money, and be generous in giving, and not trust in our material wealth. And a big trap for us here in the United States is debt, whether through student loans, or even through credit cards which we mean to pay off right away, but all too easily accumulate with interests which even if on the lower end then make them hard to pay off.

Faith looks to and depends on God, and what God gives us we are stewards of, in other words we’re responsible to handle that money in a way that honors God. Helping the poor and needy is central to honoring God (Proverbs 14:31). We want to do well with the money we have, but we don’t want to be devoted to money and making more of it, but only to God. All of this requires faith and wisdom, prayer and dependence on God.

Our Father is the one we count on to meet our needs, and that together, as we continue to grow and mature in and through Jesus.

identifying with the poor

In my culture here in the United States, there seems to be a belief that has taken hold of many, that people are poor for a reason, meaning the poor are essentially at fault for being so. I’ve heard it put quite starkly that way, as if there are no outside factors which have contributed to their plight. Let’s face it, everyone makes less than best decisions at time, surely all of us have even done foolishly sometime when it comes to finances. But those who have a steady job and especially with a good income, have a nice margin of error, whereas the poor, who may not get much over minimum wage, do not. Yes, there’s all kinds of considerations to be added, like how some (some would say many) want to live off the government, while they smoke their cigarrettes and sit in front of the television. Yet there are others who have given up because they felt marginalized and simply didn’t have the qualifications needed to overcome.

Yes, there are poor people in the United States who barely have enough to eat, at times not enough. But most are helped in some way by the government or private agencies such as charities. The world’s poor in comparison suffer a much greater plight, since they often don’t have the resources that the poor here do. I think of places in Africa in which there is starvation even of children, often war ravaged areas in which governments can’t stop evil militia groups, oftentimes the governments themselves being corrupt.

People removed perhaps on the other side of the globe are sadly easy to dismiss or forget. But people suffering where we live is another matter. And yet we so easily live in bubbles among those of our economic, political, religious status, seldom breaking out of them enough to even begin to get to know the “others.”

To identify with the poor is essentially the way of Jesus, whose entire life, in fact coming was about identifying with the poverty of the human condition by becoming completely human except that he never sinned.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8

So we must start with our Lord, and it’s good to see it in the context of the above passage just cited (the link goes to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church to give monetarily, an offering for their poor brothers and sisters in Jesus in Judea. Some in their poverty gave generously for the help of others in spite of their own lack.

In and through Jesus, our hearts are to go out to the poor, and we’re to help them in practical ways in the love of our Lord, those who do not know him, with the good news of the gospel, itself.

We also need to be careful that Money doesn’t replace God in our lives. This is a life changing series, entitled, “God and Money,” which while saying a good number of things we may already know, is revolutionary in challenging us to see all of our resources as not only gifts from God, but also belonging to God, we being stewards of such. That needs to get into our hearts and bones to change our lives.

May the Lord teach us more in this direction, as we endeavor to walk together with him, longing for others to know the true riches we have found in him.

Lent and helping the poor

Along with the temptation of our Lord narrative, which in our tradition is the gospel reading climaxing the other readings, Father Michael highlighted the reading least likely to be talked much about, the Deuteronomy passage about the firstfruits and tithes Israel was to give to God, once they entered into the land promised to them (the readings: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Romans 10:8b-13;Luke 4:1-13; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16).

In the Deuteronomy passage, the people of Israel are to give their tithe to the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. They too were foreigners in the land of Egypt, taken care of by God through the Egyptians at that time, and they are to do the same with the foreigners residing among them. Of course the command to help the fatherless and the widow is echoed elsewhere in the Pentateuch and throughout scripture, a call to God’s people. Part of the tradition of Lent is not only to fast, but to give to the poor, a call to God’s people in Jesus, a call to the church. Father Michael suggested such a priority can inform our politics, as we look for candidates who advocate helping the poor. I agree. Just how government is to play a role in that is not an easy question. But addressing systemic injustice is one good place to start. The goal should be to help the poor to live in a self-sustainable way. Handouts will be needed here and there. The politics of how to do this differ, of course.

But the one thing we’re to major on is our own role in helping the poor. We are interested not just in helping them to come to King Jesus to be saved from their sins and be secured a place in Heaven, but the salvation in place for this life is a salvation which is concerned about the whole person, and not just individuals, but communities. It’s a tall order indeed, but one that King Jesus takes on, part of the salvation of the good news of God’s grace and kingdom in him which begins now, to be seen and witnessed to in the church in anticipation of the Day when complete justice is set in place for all the world in and through King Jesus.

When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wanderingAramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer,subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and sawour misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lordyour God has given to you and your household.

When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. Then say to the Lord your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the Lord my God; I have done everything you commanded me. Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Deuteronomy 26:1-15

 

helping the poor

A huge staple in the Christian tradition grounded in scripture is helping the poor. Giving is a major component of that, and of course we would want to see the poor helped on their way toward a stable, self-sustained existence in which they in turn can help others.

Scripture emphasizes God’s concern and care for the poor. God holds others responsible to do so, especially his people, the family of belivers, or household of faith. We are to be known as advocates for helping the poor. Widows and orphans are singled out in scripture, since that was an especially major issue of that day.  Today we have the homeless along with those who do not have living wages. We need to thoughtfully address these problems and life situations or places people find themselves in. The church should be at the forefront of this. Society has its role as well.

Poverty is often a systemic problem. Caste systems in the world tend to promote this. People can overcome this with help. But it is something that has to be overcome. And there is the issue of personal responsibility. The book of Proverbs is a good book to read through with that in mind. One shouldn’t expect help when they are not willing to take their share of responsibility.

Theology or a faith which doesn’t make this an emphasis I think is defective. We as evangelicals sometimes don’t make enough of this. Within the Great Tradition there’s a much better thread which we do well to learn from.

Jesus called the poor blessed, while at the same time warning the rich. It is not at all wrong to possess material wealth. The question becomes just what we do with that wealth. And especially in terms of helping the poor and those in need.

In the end God will take care of the imbalances of justice. The poor will see the salvation of God and the rich who didn’t care will be judged. And we who are blessed in Jesus will seek to promote that which is beneficial for the poor, for those in need both in the short haul and in the long run. While always pointing others to the one who became poor so that others through him might receive the true riches in God, as well as have all of their needs met.