July 19, 2011

Poor In The Eyes of The World

Rarely do I post things that can be construed as political in nature but this one is unavoidable. I was reading the news today and nearly spit my coffee out laughing...in a bad way. The foolhardy stupidity of this data I am about to present is beyond the pale. I imagine this post will go over like a punch in the stomach for many and I will receive some pretty stiff criticism or flack from some quarters. So be it...I'm used to it. Keep in mind that I have been guilty of these things in the past or am still guilty of some of them now. These following reflections are observations about all of us in the States (myself included). Where I believe I am moving away from said situations, I will note it, but in most cases I struggle with some of this stuff also. God is clearly moving me away from a lot of these trappings though. If He wasn't I would not even be commenting on this.

What the US Government Census Bureau defines as poverty is not poverty. The data above and below is a romanticized and ridiculous. I needed to step back and really analyze this and have come to the conclusion that we have a extremely skewed view of what bad means. In the USA our view of bad is, well, really bad. Bad by US standards is actually really good in much of the rest of the world. I will no longer complain about my situation. I have no reason to. I am blessed even in my current trying circumstances. Some of us are having a rough go of it but to say we are being persecuted as Christians...NOT. People in Africa have it bad, people in Orissa (India) have it bad. We in the United States do not. Poverty is: No food on the table like the Great Depression, no electricity, dirt floors, disease, contaminated water. Persecution is being thrown into a fire alive for your belief , amputated forcefully or beaten for hours near death as your wife and children are brutally tortured, raped and then killed. Go read the stories on Voice of the Martyrs web site if you doubt me and see if you can still hold you cookies down.

Data from the US Department of Energy and other agencies show that the average "poor" family in the US, as defined by Census official documentation is...

Lives in a home that is in good repair, not crowded, and equipped with air conditioning, clothes washer and dryer, and cable or satellite TV service

Prepares meals in a kitchen with a refrigerator, coffee maker and microwave as well as oven and stove

Had two color TVs, a DVD player, VCR and — if children are there — an Xbox, PlayStation, or other video game system.

Had enough money in the past year to meet essential needs, including adequate food and medical care.

*((Ahem))* Two color TV's? Until I was 9 (which was 1978) we had (1) one, uno, black and white TV that actually sat on top of another black and white that was doubling as a TV stand and was the size of a refrigerator.

The Census Bureau’s annual misrepresentation of poverty has spanned decades. Sadly, many claims of poverty in the this privileged nation are a product of sensationalizing not actualizing. We feel we are entitled in this country whether we will admit to it or not. I have heard many claim that "I really don't think I have an entitlement mentality". In reality even those stating this would balk at the idea of living below a given standard like we see in the rest of the world. Everyone has their price and a minimum threshold and when the hammer drops there is a point when most will say "enough, I ain't doin' that, noooo way!" Truth is, that until many are put into the situation and need to "make do" or "scratch by" much of what we hear is arrogant pretense or braggadocio. Many will not "go without" unless forced to. Why? Because they feel they don't have to or because they're "Christian" or "American" or "union" or "talented" or because of an affiliation with a party and so on and so on...blah...blah...blah (thanks for the idea Phil). Sorry folks, it's called "entitlement" or at least an expectation for a minimal living standard.

We are entitled to nothing in this life. Look at the One who was entitled to everything because it was His, and look what they did to Him. As Christians the cost of discipleship is everything. Jesus told us: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Every day we are called to die to self. Every day. Buying 2 big screen TV's is not dying to self, having two DVD players is not dying to self, video games, Xbox, hmmm... nahhh ....unless you use the Census Bureau's standards.

I didn't have video games as a kid (parents told me it would irradiate my brain or some other nonsense), no DVD, no Cable TV, no VCR, no cellphone, no computer, no Mr. Coffee. We did have a dishwasher and dish dryer and its name was Andy Pierson. I also had a few fishing poles (some hand made), friends, a BB Gun (Why da ya want a BB Gun for Andy? You're gonna put your eye out!), a Bible, a Boy Scout manual, board games with the familiar refrains "You sank my battleship!" or "It was Mr Mustard in the Kitchen with a candlestick!", a bike and a brain (I think, depending on who you ask) and an imagination. These were enough to get me through from approximately 8-16 years old until I got my 67 Mustang which I had to work two summers to afford and wrecked within a two months on Markley Rd doing 60 in a rainy night.

Until lately, even I did not know what it was to be stripped down. I use to work for a 1st tier auto manufacturer and with bonuses and benefits I was in six figures. At maximum, I am 1/5 of that former total. The difference? I have no debt and live frugally as the Bible teaches. I also turn to God first for everything before I even take my next breath. Everything.

You can live this way if you walk in faith. Of late my church has begun to read David Platt's book Radical. A book written by a mega church pastor. Perhaps I am more jaded and caustic than I would like to admit but I often wonder if he [Platt] practices what he writes about which is "downsizing" one's life in terms of finances. I wonder how much of an effect this will have on my home congregation? Is it just wishful thinking? Would people (are people going to) willingly give up the financial security, nea, give up just a little of their current life to walk more in sync with the Bible and less with the American culture? I am not even saying give up so much that it made them uncomfortable. I'm just saying an inconsequential piece that will not be noticed when parted with. Please understand I am not hammering my church, just questioning how many will actually be convicted enough to part with some toys. This is a challenge not criticism. I want these people to allow the Spirit free reign in their hearts and minds. If the Spirit of God is not free to move in these people's lives...I have my reservations about successful and consistant results.

My wife and I have parted from it all and have allowed Jesus to rebuild us from the ground up. Its not like we had much choice. This is now our lot in life. I guess we should've been more specific when we prayed that all we wanted to do was His will without asking what was actually entailed first. We forgot that sometimes doing God's will sent people to countries infested with cannibals and Malaria...and many died from dysentery and...eh...nevermind.

For anyone that hasn't gone through this "dismantling" and "reassembly"...its painful and revelatory (no Prosperity or Health and Wealth Gospel going on here, more like the Unhealthy and Destitute Gospel). What you thought you needed you don't and you find out quickly what truly matters(ed). You find out quickly that not only was the Bible right. It was incredibly accurate. Not just about things that happened in the past but things that will happen in your future if you do not obey and adhere to its statutes. You find out why God's Word tells you to store up treasures in Heaven. You find out why the Word tells you to live frugally and without debt. You find out a lot of things that you would've otherwise never known. The perspective from the servant's eyes is a unique angle. It is humbling, self sacrificing and life changing. I know now more than ever that I do indeed need to be like Christ. I know now more than ever that I need Christ. No substitute will do.

For my wife and I it hasn't been a matter of chiseling way the stone to reveal the new Christian, it has been about forming us new out of the dust we were ground down into. We are now totally dependant on His next move...and I know this is where he wants us. Dependant. According to the Census data, we are living below poverty for a two adult, two child home. I find this funny...as in har-har giggle-giggle funny. So be it...been here before. Did it before and I can do it again.

I have never been and never will be this blessed again until I am dead and face-to-face with Christ. Another truth is that I cannot really consider myself poor. The government might, and the culture might, you might, but I do not see it. What I see as being poor is those that are burdened with debt they can barely pay off. Those that never find happiness but are convinced it is at the bottom of a bottle, bottom of an empty wallet or the end of a broken marriage/destroyed family. In these situations people suffer an enormous toll spiritually as do many around them. You cannot serve (2) two masters. If you are a slave to debt or things of the world you are waging a war against something spiritual that is bigger than yourself. I pray that it does not overtake those that cling precariously to the faith. These situations are often just enough to sink people. They walk away from the church, they divorce, etc.

So here's to being real and realistic. Here's to being what we are called to be.

Servants to our fellow man and slaves to Christ. Amen. Thank you Lord for opening my eyes and making me a slave to you.

Luke 1:52-53 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”

Luke 6:20-21 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”

James 2:5 “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”

**chuckle chuckle*** I'm poor....lol

So I guess the real question is: "Who is really poor?"

What are God's commands concerning the poor? Please note I said commands not hopes.

Deuteronomy 15:7 “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.”

Proverbs 31:8 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

Isaiah 1:16-17 “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

Jeremiah 22:3 “This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”

Jeremiah 22:13-17 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD. But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."

Luke 3:11 “John answered, ‘the man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.’"

Luke 12:33 "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys."

2 Corinthians 9:6-9 “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’

Blessings for Generosity and Helping the Poor

Psalm 41:1 “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble."

Proverbs 19:17 “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.”

Proverbs 22:9 “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”

Matthew 19:20 “‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’"

Do Not Neglect the Poor

Proverbs 14:31 “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Ezekiel 16:49 "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

Amos 5:12 “For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.”

Luke 6:24 " But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort."

1 John 3:17 “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

If none of these things stirred you from Scripture you may be absent a pulse or brainwaves. Here are a few more to remind you that God identifies with the poor and downtrodden just in case you're missing the mark.

Proverbs 14:31 “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Proverbs 19:17 “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.”

2 Corinthians 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

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