The holidays are an exciting time of year - as long as you have a healthy credit limit. It’s a time for shiny new things for those who can afford them. On the other hand, for those who are stuck in poverty, Christmastime is a stark reminder of what they lack. Many people are left asking the question, “why does it seem like God has forgotten about me?"
We live in a culture that often connects financial health with God’s blessing and favor. On one hand, this makes sense. There are lots of places in the Bible where we see the Lord honoring those who work hard and trust Him. It’s totally appropriate to thank God for everything we have, including our material wealth. However, most of us don’t stop there. If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves believing that if someone isn’t financially well off, then they have not been blessed by God. This is a faulty belief that God addresses specifically throughout the Bible.
HOW DO YOU FEEL AROUND POOR PEOPLE?
This summer, we held 4 preview services for our new church plant in downtown Portland. This summer, we're beginning weekly services in the same place. Here is one thing we noticed - we had a really even mix of both the rich and the poor in our gatherings... and it worked. Here's why - Jesus doesn't just ask us to put up with poor people. He asks us to value them.
In James 2, a local church congregation was rebuked for giving special treatment to rich people. In verse 5, the author of this epistle makes a startling statement about those trapped in poverty: aren't they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom He promised to those who love him?"
What?? Is the bible actually saying that in the economy of God, those who are poor in this life might actually have the edge?
THE KINGDOM OF GOD CHANGES EVERYTHING
The first-century church shouldn't have been shocked by this idea. This message about the coming kingdom of God was a central point of Jesus's teaching throughout His ministry. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus actually said, "Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Later in his ministry, Jesus emphasized this idea by saying that, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).
These were revolutionary ideas in Jesus's time, and they certainly weren't popular. There were many people who wanted their Messiah to show them a way to make their nice lives a little bit nicer. Instead, Jesus pointed to the fact this world is terminally broken. God's plan to solve the problem is not to incrementally improve this world. God's plan is to establish a new kingdom, unbroken by sin's carnage, and to invite everyone to join Him. It's hard for rich people to accept this teaching, because they have too much to lose in this life.
IF GOD HAS A SPECIAL LOVE FOR THE POOR, SO SHOULD WE.
I've met a lot of friends who are homeless in my 13 months in Portland. I'm not sure if they've learned much from me. I know I've learned a lot from them. I hope this pattern will continue. Here are a few takeaways.
Seek to understand the value of every person in poverty.
Allow God to hold them accountable for their actions. We have the freedom to love with generosity, without asking too many questions.
Work to empathize (not just sympathize) with those who are poor. Empathy connects us to others while sympathy can actually push us away.
empathy = to understand and share the feelings of another
sympathy = feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune
Treasure every opportunity to get involved with people who are poor and stay connected throughout the year.
Seek to see God's kingdom established on Earth as it is in Heaven.
In the Kingdom of God, the sick are made well. The captives are set free. The hungry are fed. The naked are clothed. The lost are found. That sounds amazing. Let His kingdom come.