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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Minding the Poor: Part I

There was an interesting post by a guest on Ed Stetzer’s blog, Linda Bergquist, about poverty moving into the suburbs; you can read that here.

Here is a small excerpt:

In the face of radical change, it would be humanly understandable for suburban Christians to assume a defensive posture. However, for such a time as this, the church is being called to a proactively biblical, missional and ethical response. To begin with, most Christians are aware of God's commands to care for the poor (e.g. Proverbs 17:5, 21:13, 28: 27; Ezekiel 16:49; Mt 19:21, 25: 31ff), but in the suburbs poverty is less dense and therefore less visible. God not only demands giving to hoards of visible poor, but to any one with need "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...therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land (Deuteronomy 15:7, 11)."

I have begun musing about our modern preoccupation as the 21st century church with the poor (especially the urban poor and impoverished individuals oversees) and I have come to a startling, but not surprising conclusion:

We love the poor…when they are over there. As long as we can have our “I helped a poor person” thrill every year, month, or even every week, over there (in the city or in another country), then we feel like we are following the commands of Jesus to take care of the poor.

After my experience in New Orleans, I have to strongly disagree with this. In fact, I get tired of Christians talking about doing something for the poor; I am tired of Christians treating the poor like they are trash bins that they can dump their scraps off in and leave. I have seen churches do many charitable things for poor people and that is awesome, to an extent.

But Jesus does not command us to do good things for the poor; he commands us to be his incarnational witness to the poor.

There is a fundamental difference between me feeding a homeless guy and me sitting down to learn “that-homeless-guy’s” name and to hear his story. There is a world of difference between me giving a “drive-by-gospel” presentation and me being willing to get to know a guy like John, though it may mean me trusting a little more in the sovereignty of God and his timing on bringing up John’s spiritual condition.

John is a real person just like you and I, the only difference is that, until recently, he was homeless. John had spent time in the Coast Guard and had graduated from NYU. Some of my friends were willing to get to know John and to treat him like any other person and as a result we not only got John back on his feet, but we also managed to talk to him about God on many occasions. And guess what?

He was willing to hear what we had to say, because we were willing to treat him like a person. What a poor person wants more than anything else is for someone to love them, believe in them, and treat them like people…not problems.

Too many churches treat the poor and the homeless like problems.

To Be Continued



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