Depending on Jesus – Addressing Poverty Properly (3 of 8)

We are broken, sharing the Story of God with broken friends.
God has had a plan all along.  Our actions have never surprised him.  His answer to our sin, from the time of the fall of man, was that he would send Jesus to deliver us (Genesis 3:15).   God sending Jesus was not plan B.  There was no plan B.  He was and is the plan from the beginning of time.   We are shaped to know this, to need this.  That is why we love epic stories of good vs. evil.  It is why we love superheroes. They rescue people and the good guys win in the end.  Jesus came to earth, established his Kingdom, died and rose again.  It is the story of God and man.  He is still actively working through the Holy Spirit and invites us, his church, to participate until he comes again and finishes his work of restoring all things back to God.  There is no other plan for us other than Jesus.  He wins in the end and invites us to be on his side.  The question is, "Will we surrender all of our other attempts in our brokenness and acknowledge him in this way?  Do we know him as our deliverer? How do we respond?"

In my previous post,  I worked on a broader definition of poverty.  What about our response? What does this mean for us, the church?  While on this side of heaven we will never be able to fully define poverty, we must remain committed to asking the right questions, questioning our methods, and holding ourselves (each congregant) accountable to the process of loving our neighbor.  Only then will we begin to prayerfully live by the Spirit and follow God’s heart.  Jesus is the only person who ever helped the poor perfectly.  In every situation he knew exactly how to respond, what to say, what to do.  Through discipleship, we must continue to ask, “How are we going to help people become actors in their own [hi]story?”  -  This question applies to both the materially poor and non-poor.

As the church, we must understand that poverty is not just a lack of funds or resources.  We want to address poverty issues holistically: financial, emotional, social, relational and fundamentally spiritual poverty.  All of these issues can be addressed through discipleship relationships and a local church.

Man’s relationship with God is his highest form of wealth.
When we leave out the spiritual poverty and the discipleship dynamic, we are not representing or offering anything different than any other NGO and relief agency out there[1].  In fact, we misrepresent Christ.  To the common person, we become just another one of the thousands of inadequate programs that increasingly are diverging from plans that have their best interest in mind.  

There is no real explanation for why social systems exclude the poor and become self-serving.  A spiritual dimension is needed to account for the fact that social institutions frequently frustrate even the best and most noble intentions of the people who inhabit and lead them. Furthermore, there is no means to account for the destructive behaviors and poor choices of both the poor and the non-poor, nor for the fact that the poor often exploit each other. [3]   Pride, greed and corruption flow throughout all socio-economic levels, not just top-down vertically but horizontally as well.  In countries such as Kenya there is a mentality that thinks, “as long as I am ahead of you, I am ok.”  It motivates someone to get ahead, exploit others and stay there at all costs.  Even in the west we continuously rate our status competing with our neighbors in bigger cars, better grass and the best toys.  This goes on to impact and potentially damage all relationships including neighbors, the church and family.
Daniel Hays gives us a piece of the biblical perspective and how we all need to consider how we treat our neighbor.  Let us not forget that it is our sinful behavior that hurts others and separates us from God.  While in his analysis Hays uses the sin of racism to reach his point, the context of racism can be interchanged by our other sins against people such as: tribalism, pride, greed, selfishness, lust, corruption, entitlement and impunity.
 Hays tells us:

[2] Both the dignity and the equality of human beings are traced in Scripture to our creation.  Racism or the superiority of one’s own race is a denial that all people have been created in the image of God. This is at the heart of the definition on racism. ‘In short, racism from the Christian standpoint is a response that violates the equalitarian principle implied in the biblical doctrine of the imago Dei [the image of God].   Proverbs 14:31 and 17:5 likewise connect the implications of God’s creation of people with one’s ethical behavior towards other people.  Proverbs 14:31 ‘He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker.’ Proverbs 17:5 ‘He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their maker.’   The superior attitude taken by one in a socio-economic setting toward another in a poor setting is an affront to the God who created them both.  All people created by God deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Development work is hard.  We make mistakes, there is a lot of discouragement but it forces us to constantly depend on Jesus.  Discipleship and accountability through the church and the work of the Holy Spirit can guide people into proper relationships with others.  Let us remember that we define transformation as a changed people and changed relationships.

The photo above is of two women at our community center, one that we have been walking with closely.  They are both very broken; abused, alcoholic, prostitutes.  What is beautiful about this picture is that it is a glimpse of the transformation in their own lives.  In the picture, one of the women is retelling our Story of God lessons to her friend.  In the midst of her own brokenness, she knows her need for Jesus enough to share her hope with her friend.  She is currently undergoing rehab.

What I have come to discover is that while I address poverty issues and walk with others towards transformation, Jesus still desires to work in me and my own issues, my own poverty.  Our work, living with the marginalized poor, often accentuates my own poverty and brokenness.  What we have to offer others is merely a testimony of our own brokenness but also one that is surrounded with hope in Jesus, our deliverer.  Jesus enables us to love our neighbors despite our own failures.  He is still at work, reconciling all things back to God.

[1] Good statistics are nearly impossible but some say that in the area of Kibera alone, there is around 1 NGO represented for every 10 people. (Nairobi, Kenya)
[2] “From Every People and Nation”  - J. Daniel Hays (p. 50)
[3] “Walking With the Poor” Myers (118)

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