Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Deuteronomy 24:17-22

Help for Foreigners & Widows

The Statue of Liberty stands in the New York harbor as a stark reminder of the fact that we are all immigrants in this country. Other than native Americans, none of us can trace our lineage in this country back more than 450 years or so. Most of us can trace our lineage in this country back more than 250 years or so. A large majority of Americans can only trace back 100 or so years. At some point, depending on when your ancestors came to this country, we have to return to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. We are all immigrants.

 

Why is it then that we all of a sudden have such a hard time with immigrants coming into our country here in the 21st century. Before you quit reading right here and get angry at me, I am not for free and unfettered immigration. I believe that all those who come to our country must be subjected to the same rigors of immigration as were our ancestors. We should have to go through a process to become American citizens and not just come into this country without some process of vetting in place. This is true because no longer does every immigrant want to come here to pursue opportunity. Some wish to enter the country to cause havoc and destruction. I am all for vetting those who come through our immigration points. Allowing unfettered immigration or allowing people into our country through illegal entry is an affront to those who come to our country through the proper channels. It takes usually around 7 years to become a full-fledged American citizen once you apply for citizenship. To allow unvetted entry or to allow illegal entry or to give amnesty to those who have entered illegally is a slap in the face of those who do it the right way.

 

Somehow though in the last few years, we have forgotten that we are all immigrants. None of us have natural claim or right to be in this country. We invaded it and we conquered it. We act as though we have some inalienable right to live here that has been granted us by our ancestors. To a certain extent that is true. We are citizens, most of us, by birth. However, our living in what we call the United States was accomplished by conquering a land that did not belong to us to begin with. Because of the arrogance of the supremacy of the white man, we invaded this country from day one and we progressively stole each inch of it from the native Americans of this land. We now accept this land as ours and with each successive generation it becomes more and more ours. However, our ownership of it is flawed by its very nature. It was theft. It was imposing our will on others we considered savages and beneath us. Therefore, our arrogance now over immigration is surprising in light of how we obtained our land that started our country. We must find a way to make workable solutions to immigration issues. We cannot ignore the call of those who pay taxes while immigrants pour into our country illegally. We can’t treat them like, wow, they did not know they coming into the country illegally. They’ve got to know there is a price to be paid for illegal entry. If America is worth what we project to the world, then, there is a right way to get in here. But let us not ever forget that (1) we obtained this land not by purchasing it from those whom it really belonged, and (2) we are all immigrants at some point in our family’s past. Maybe the remembrance of these two things will reduce some of the bravado of those who want to cut off all immigration on one side and those on the other that do not want to anger anyone but making it more difficult to come here illegally.

 

It was that repeated idea in this passage that struck me this morning. In Deuteronomy 24:17-22, the phrase, “always remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from your slavery” is repeated twice in five short verses. Under divine supervision of the Holy Spirit, Moses wrote this phrase twice. It must, then, be important to the point of the passage. Let’s read it together now:

 

17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

 

19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 22 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.

 

In this passage, we see the continuation of an Old Testament theme in which God tells His people to treat the poor with justice. The powerless and poverty-stricken are often looked upon by some as incompetent or lazy, when, in fact, those facing that situation may be the victims of oppression or circumstance. God says we must do all we can to help those who are needy. His justice does not permit the Israelites to insist on profits or quick payment from those who were less fortunate. Instead, his laws gave the poor every opportunity to better their situation, while providing humane options for those who could not. None of us is completely isolated from poverty. Many of us face needs at one time or another. God wants us to treat each other fairly and do our part to meet one another’s needs.

 

As well, in this passage, God’s people were instructed to leave some of their harvest behind in the fields so that travelers and the poor could gather it for food. This second gathering, called gleaning, was a way for them to provide food for themselves. Years later, you might remember, Ruth obtained food for herself and Naomi by gleaning behind the reapers in Boaz’s fields (Ruth 2:2). Because this law was still being obeyed years later after it was written, Ruth, a woman in the lineage of our Savior, Jesus Christ, was able to find food.

 

The instructions are clear that the Israelites were to help the poor and needy. But why did God cloak it all in the repeated phrase of having redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. This phrase is important because it would be easy for the Israelites in the Promised Land years later to develop an arrogance to the poor. They could easily develop the mindset that this is my property, my wealth, my crops and mistreat those that did not have property, wealth or crops. They could develop of mindset that this is mine and it is my inalienable right to do with what I please. They could easily develop and attitude that this is mine not yours. God repetition of this phrase twice in one passage is to remind the Israelites that they wealth that they might gain in the Promised Land was not some inalienable right. It would be a gift from God for it was not too long back in Israel’s history that everyone was poor and enslaved. They had no freedom to pursue their dreams. They had no freedom to use their talents to become wealthy. They had no land to toil to produce crops that they could sell for profit. They all had nothing but what the Egyptians allowed them to have. Therefore, with that collective national memory in mind, God wanted the Israelites to not be arrogant and care for the needy because God gifted them their nation. It was not some inalienable right they had to the land. It was under God’s divine providence that they gained the Promised Land. As a result, the Israelites were to be a thankful and generous people.

 

When you look at this passage from that perspective, it reminds us that we, now, are in a similar position. We should never be arrogant to think that others should not have the right to come to this country. We are all immigrants from foreign lands. We should never be arrogant to think that we are rightful owners of this land. We stole the land on which we live from native Americans. We may have paid France for a large portion of the United States but it was never their property to begin with. The English, the French and the Spaniards all simply claimed land but had to inalienable right from God to do so. It is from this theft that we inherited our country. Therefore, let us act with compromise over immigration issues. There must be middle ground. We cannot be arrogant enough to close our borders when we are all immigrants on stolen property to begin with.

 

This passage is also a reminder to us that it is only by grace that we have a right to claim heaven as our home. We do not have a right to heaven. We cannot earn it. We only have access to heaven because of Jesus Christ taking the punishment for our sins. We have no inalienable right to heaven even as long-time Christians. We have no merit on our own even as a mature Christian. We still sin and sin stains us. Sin prevents us from ever being in the presence of God on our own. We are destined for hell on our own merits. We must be perfectly sinless to have a right to go to heaven. Only one person ever did that, Jesus Christ. It is only through the grace of his imputed perfection that we gain access to the presence of God. It is only through Him that we can enter into the Promised Land that is heaven. We have no inalienable right on our own to heaven. We were given a gift through salvation that we do not deserve. As a result, we should be generous and thankful people. We should never be an arrogant people. We were once sinners condemned to hell ourselves. Now we are sinners wrapped in the grace of Jesus Christ. Let us as Christians never forget where we were before Jesus Christ and where we are after we accept Him as our Savior and Lord.

 

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 24:10-15

Treating the Poor & Needy with Dignity

How close are you to being on the street? Some are closer than others but we all could be there in short order. Some of us having savings that will last us a period of time. Some of us do not. All it takes is the loss of your job or an extended illness that consumes your money like it does your body.

 

According to research that was mentioned in an article that I read at the Huffington Post website, over ¾ of Americans have less than six month’s worth of savings (i.e., enough in savings to pay their bills for six months). About ¼ of Americans have no savings at all. The article also said that even though we are now about six years beyond the end of the deepest recession since the 1930’s and people began to see the necessity of savings, not much has changed in America’s savings habits since then. There has been little change in the level of savings by Americans. Look at your take home pay the next time you get paid. Say for example if you get paid twice a month like me, take that take-home pay amount and multiply it by 12 (the number of bi-monthly pay periods in 6 months). If you get paid monthly, that multiplier is 6, of course. If you get paid bi-weekly, that multiplier is 13. If you get paid weekly, that multiplier is 26. Family financial advisors recommend that you have six months worth of savings built up at all times so that you can survive a temporary job loss or survive a temporary medical condition that causes you to be unable to work. You know your bills. They keep coming relentlessly. It is almost a certainty that each one of us will suffer a job loss on at least one occasion during our working careers. The typical American worker will suffer at least two job losses during his working career. In a recent research study, the typical American worker when unemployed will be out of work for at least 10 weeks. Other research also shows that the typical American worker will most likely accept a job making less than they were making before their job loss. Think about that. It is a statistical certainty that we will lose our job at some point in our working years. On average, when we do lose our job, we will be out of work for 10 weeks in the best of economic times. In the most recent recession that average job loss period skyrocketed to 22 weeks. And, then, to top it all off, when you finally do find a job, it is also a high statistical probability that you will accept a job making less money that you were making before you became unemployed. Think about that. We can no longer be blind to the facts. Do you want that boat that you may use 20 times in a year, if that, or do you need to build up your savings. Our economy and our culture is built on credit and buying things rather than saving. But we must resist the culture here.

 

If we have another deep recession like the one from 2008-2011, you and I could easily be on the street in short order. Average unemployment duration during that recession was 22 weeks. Some people were out of work much longer than that during the Great Recession. During that time, I knew people who had been out of work for as much as a year. Can you and I survive that? Sadly, though, I pride myself for the place that I have gotten from a financial stability standpoint, I still have a ways to go when it comes to an emergency fund. Based on what I take home each pay period, I have built up savings for about 3 months worth of take home pay. Since Elena and I have purposely been on a mission for the last few years to reduce our expenses, when I look at it from an expense perspective (eliminating tithes, contributions, and other spending that would go away if unemployed), I think we could make it maybe 4.5 or 5 months without income. However, if a job loss lasted longer than that, we would be in trouble. How ‘bout you?

 

How close are you to being on the street? It is like the gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about. We all see the gorilla but if we ignore it maybe it will go away. Guess what? The gorilla never goes away. It’s there. It will always be there. What are you and your spouse, if married, doing to ensure that you can survive a loss of a job and reduced income after re-employment. How important is it to have that fancy vacation every year? How important is it to have that house is above the recommended percentage of your gross salary (investment counselors recommend no more than 25% of our gross income should go toward a house payment)? How important is it to have that big fine car with its big fine car payment? Savings is not sexy but essential. Savings can be sexy if you let it be. Setting savings goals and creating margin in our budgets to do so and achieving our goals for savings can be sexy! It will be very sexy to you when you lose your job. How close are you to being on the street?

 

When I read today’s passage about treatment of the poor and needy just impressed upon me how close each one of us is from being that guy on a street corner with the sign, “will work for food!” and how that compares to our view of the man that is already there. Let’s read Deuteronomy 24:10-15 together now:

 

10 When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into their house to get what is offered to you as a pledge. 11 Stay outside and let the neighbor to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. 12 If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession. 13 Return their cloak by sunset so that your neighbor may sleep in it. Then they will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the Lord your God.

 

14 Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. 15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

 

Certainly, the Bible teaches us to honor the pledges that we make and that if we are a lender we certainly have the right to enforce debt agreements. However, God calls for mercy when a person is in our debt. We should not treat those who owe us money poorly. We should not take advantage of the poor in our employment practices either. Just because a person is poor and will do anything for money, we are not to take advantage. We are give the poor and needy the dignity that they deserve as children made in the image of our Creator. If we are all made in the image of God, that means that we have the dignity of a child of a king. We should not treat the poor and needy as something less than us or less than human.

 

How many times do you and I avoid the uncomfort of homeless people? How many times do you think, “you worthless bum! Get a job!” How many times do we really treat a homeless person with dignity? How many times will we ignore them? How many times will we think poorly of them as we walk past them? How many times do you look the other way as we pass a homeless shelter? How many times do you and I drive past a food pantry and roll our eyes up in our head as we see the long line of people that look like they have been wearing the same clothes for three days?

 

This is where I get back to my opening observations. How close are you and I to being on the street? How close are you and I to being that person at the food pantry looking like we haven’t changed clothes in 3 days? How close are you and I to being the “will work for food” guy on the street corner? Every homeless person has a back story. Not all homeless people are drug addicts and dope heads. Some are people that have been out of work for a while. You try being homeless for a while. It may well drive you to drinking or drugs. Think about how close you and I are to homelessness. It’s just an extended period of unemployment away my friend. If we want to avoid living on the street. We must begin saving. We must begin living beneath our means. We need to learn to live on less so that (1) we can be generous and (2) save for a rainy day.

 

Given the fact that any of us could be on the street in short order, maybe we, too, should consider giving the poor and needy more dignity than we do. It could be us. We should have no pride. We should be willing to help the poor and needy. Jesus called us to help the poor and needy, not feel prideful and disdainful. Just think of it as it could easily be me on the side of the road. It is a very real possibility and no matter how hard you work or how much you don’t want to be on the street, it could happen to you! Would you not want to be treated with dignity. You would not have planned to be on the street?

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Deuteronomy 23:24-25

Alleviating Hunger

 

There was a song, released in 1970, by a group called the Five Man Electrical Band entitled “Signs” where part of the lyrics said this:

 

And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight

So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house

“Hey! What gives you the right?”

“To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in”

“If God was here he’d tell you to your face, man, you’re some kinda sinner”

 

It was definitely a protest song against the status quo of the establishment culture. All of us are about protecting our property nowadays and preventing others from stealing it or enjoying it without our permission. Written by Five Man Electrical Band lead singer Les Emmerson, this song is a prescient look at class divisions and property rights. Emmerson wrote the song after taking a road trip on Route 66 in California, where he noticed a plethora of billboards that obscured the beautiful scenery. This posed a question: Who is allowed to put up signs that interfere with nature? This led to another query: Who gets to make the rules that appear on so many signs? The song gave voice to those without power or property rights, which in many cases, were the young and the poor. Our society has become less about caring for one another and more about amassing property and protecting it.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a Republican and I believe in hard work and I do not believe in creating classes of people who lose the value of hard work through governmental support programs. There should be, in my mind, no permanent government help programs. All of them should be designed in such a way to push people back toward independence. There should be no government programs that perpetuate dependence on the programs themselves. There should be no government programs that create a class of people who have no desire or incentive to go back to work. There should be no government programs that are so attractive in the benefits that they provide that it is a penalty for a person to get a real job making real wages and paying real taxes. Except for a couple of very short periods of unemployment, I have worked continually since I was age 14. I have always wanted to work and worked hard at whatever I have had as a job. Therefore, having sympathy for those who seem unwilling or desirous of working for a wage, whatever that may be, just blows my mind. I realized at my first job, at the Furman University Dining Hall, cleaning up after snotty nosed rich kids that I did not want this to be my life. It began a journey of working hard to continually better my skills, education, and experience. I realized then that the minimum wage is just a starting place and that if I wanted more I needed get more experience, education and skills to move beyond where I started from. I never saw the Furman Dining Hall as a career destination.

 

Having said all that, we do now live in a society of government programs for this and government programs for that. Our federal and state governments are behemoths now compared to what they were just say 75 years ago. We now look for the government to take care of the gaps in the social fabric. It did not used to be that way. There was a day when we churches and families took care of their own and took care of people in the community. We complain about the size of government and how some government programs perpetuate dependence on the government.

 

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to share our wealth with one another. We became a nation of fenced in subdivisions. Enclosed communities with fences and signs everywhere. We have become a nation of alarm systems to protect all the toys that we have amassed. We have become a nation where we are protecting our stuff rather than sharing what we have. We have become a nation that on average gives 2% of our income to our churches even though we have been commanded to give much more. No wonder the churches can no longer serve the poor. We have become a nation where charity has to have spotlights shined upon us as we give. We no longer are a nation of Christian charity.

 

That song by The Five Man Electrical Band was what popped into my head when I read this passage for today, Deuteronomy 23:24-25:

 

24 If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.

 

In this passage, this remarkable law indicates that ultimately the Lord owns Israel’s land. Thus, providing for the poor from our land is recognition that we are simply stewards of the bounty that the Lord provides us. It is also a warning to those who benefit from our charitable giving from our bounty not to abuse the privilege. When hungry, we may rely on the farmer to provide for our needs but we should get only what we need to alleviate our immediate hunger and should not steal the entire harvest of the farmer. We may get what we need for the moment but we are not to set ourselves up for the winter. We did not work for the grain that the farmer produced so we have no right to take more than only what is necessary to get us by – alleviating our immediate hunger.

 

Therefore, this passage is both charitable and responsible at the same time. We are commanded to be generous with the bounty that we have been given. God expects us to use our bounty, our wealth, to solve problems of hunger and poverty. We are called to share our wealth rather than hoard it. We are called to give succor to the poor and the widows and the downtrodden rather than hoard our wealth behind fences and alarms. We are called to live simply and be generous. We are called to take care of the hungry in our midst. We are called to do more than buy big screen TVs, buy Alexas so that we don’t have to lift a finger to do research, buy cars that can park themselves, boats, and jet skis, pools behind fences, five computers, and five cell phones. We are called to be a generous people not people who need fences and alarms to protect all the crap we buy and think we need.

 

At the same time, those of us who need assistance, should not think that we are entitled to millionaire lifestyles without doing the work necessary to gain that lifestyle. We need to end a generation of people thinking that McDonalds should provide you with $15 an hour. We need to raise a generation that sees McDonalds for what it is – a place to start. We must teach the value of hard work to the next generation. We must build government programs to be what they were intended to be – temporary stop-gap measures while people figured out how to get back on their feet. We must not think that people who have worked hard and earn good money as the enemy. We should aspire to be like those who have put in the hard work and effort to get where they are.

 

We are called to be a charitable people as Christ followers. We are called to be generous. We are called to help set others on their feet and not leave that job to the government. We are called to get out from behind our fences and alarms and be in the world and using our bounty and blessing to solve real problems in our world. We are called to give rather than gather. We are called to give rather than amass all the toys we can. We are called to give to others sacrificially just as Jesus gave to us through His sacrifice on the cross. We are called to be so generous that our churches can actually help any person that needs it in ou community rather than think its somebody else’s job. We are called to be generous by God. Ultimately, He is the Creator and it is from Him that our talents are given. It is from our talents that we earn our livings. Therefore, it all comes from him. Why then are we so intent on seeing it as ours and whomever has the most toys at the end wins? Be generous. Be uncommonly caring for those in need around you. But let us help in ways that will set people up for independence rather than dependence. And let us be people who, when in need, take only the charity necessary to get ourselves back on our feet.

 

Wise counsel from the Lord in two very short verses.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Release for Debtors

Yesterday, we talked about a story of a girl who cried a river and changed the whole world. We borrowed the chorus from a song by a group called Nine Days as a lead-in to our story. It was a fictionalized story with real examples that we see every day. It was a story about a single mom who had two kids that made some poor choices as a teenager and was now deeply awash in a lifestyle where it was difficult for her to rise above her financial situation. She is the type of person who gets locked into poverty by some poor choices of their own, the choices that others sometimes force upon us, and sometimes by the combination of life choices and the expectations of the world around us. There are those around us who live on the edge of disaster on a daily basis.

 

Many of us look upon those who are poor as deserving of their poverty and/or that they simply want the government handouts that are doled out to them. Sometimes, that may well be true. There are certainly those out there that “are just working the system” to get what they can get without having to work for it. They actually feel that the world has made them this way (not their own choices) and they deserve to live off the government and the guilted generosity of others. Probably the majority of people that come seeking help at our church each day the church office is open are the career charity seekers that bounce from church to church and from agency to agency trying to get what they need. The story is always urgent and they typically always want cash. These are the career charity seekers. However, there are those who are genuinely in need. Being able to tell the difference is often difficult because the natural inclination becomes jaded after a while and you automatically think that a person is just “working the system.”

 

Then, there are those who genuinely need help that want to be above the poverty line but circumstances are keeping them there. There is a girl that my wife knows that has made some poor choices in life for sure – the biggest of which are two choices to sleep with men that she was not married to and that resulted in pregnancies. She has an oldest son who is ten who lives with her mom’s choices every day. A gentle little soul is he and he has bounced around from crisis to crisis with his mom. The second pregnancy resulted in another sweet little boy but this boy was born with down syndrome. This mom loves her children immensely but the needs of her youngest child keep her from holding a steady job of any kind. He requires constant attention. Doctors appointments galore. Development challenges are daily. Yes, she made poor choices and it seems that those poor choices are going to haunt her for a long, long time. This single mom knows now that she is living with her poor choices. She knows her poor choices have caused her to live permanently on the edge of one financial crisis to the next. However, she is truly one of those people that are not able to work. My wife invests much time and tenderness with this woman and just loves her. My worry with any investments that we make in her financially are just band-aids. My worry is how can we get her to a place of independence. My worry is that such a day will never come. How can you continue to help someone when there is no way to improve their situation. You want to think that your help will result in making permanent life changes in someone’s else life. But what if there is no way to change things. Having a child with down syndrome is a lifetime commitment that strains even the best of marriages not to mention what is doing to this single mom. But when you watch this mom love her youngest child, it is a reminder that love never questions. Love just loves. This single mom is in love with her child and will do anything she can for him. She doesn’t care that never gets a moment of peace and that the demands are so demanding. She just loves her child. I know that she wants more out of life than she is getting. It is not that she wants to live in poverty and live from financial crisis to financial crisis. She wants to be free. She wants to climb out of the poverty hole. But she will probably remain there for the rest of her existence. So, do we not help her because she will never get out of the hole.

 

Then, there are those whom you help that are around us (sometimes even those that related to you) that never seem to get it. They always have reasons for their crises. They always have justifications. They seem to want to live out of an entitlement mentality. Maybe they grew up spoiled and think that the world is supposed to take care of them. They never seem to get the concept of that their own hard work will result in the improvement of their situation. They have amazing capabilities and they have nothing other than their own fears and rationalizations that hold them back. They, too, live from crisis to crisis and often only seek you out when there is a financial crisis that they need to avert. You want them to see that there is nothing that a little hard work and dedication and working at a job for more than a year can’t cure for them. You pray that someday they will get it. They often, upon receiving your help, say that they do get it and will do better in the future. But year after year you see no change of the crisis to crisis mentality and just a sense that they do not see past the next weekend. Do you have someone in your life like that? They live crisis to crisis. Maybe, they are the result of your unwillingness to let them show them tough love. Maybe they need to crash and hit rock bottom. Is this the story of someone close to you? What do you do? Do you stop helping? Do you cut them off and refuse to help in the slightest? Do they blame you when you don’t help them?

 

These are the tough choices of generosity. Do you help once. Do you help twice. Do you quit helping? Do want to see results as a condition of your help? We are called to be generous but we are also called to be wise. These were the things that I thought of today when I read about the forgiveness of debts that God called the Israelites to with the cycle of forgiving debts every 7 years in Deuteronomy 15:1-11:

 

15 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. 3 You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. 4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

 

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

 

In this passage, God told the Israelites to help the poor among them when they began to live in and possess the Promised Land. This command was an important part of possessing the land. Many people think that the poor are responsible for their lot in life. And if they just got off their rear ends and worked that it would change their story. In some cases that may well be true. But there are those among us that are going to always be poor because of personal limitations or by limitations of someone in their family that they must care for. Does the assumption about those who are working the system excuse us from helping anyone who is poor? This kind of reasoning helps us make our heart hard toward anyone in need. We are not to invent reasons for not helping the poor. We are to not ignore the issue altogether. We are to engage those who are poor and understand their story. We are called to be a generous people. Each one of us with the right sequence of circumstances and right length of those circumstances are only a couple of paychecks and a savings account away from losing everything we have. Everything that you and I have is simply a blessing from God and it could all be taken away in an instant with an extended period of unemployment, an illness of ourselves or of a loved one that saps the family’s finances, a major life event that sends you reeling into poverty because you can’t handle life for a while. We are all just a step away from being on the street.

 

No one is immune to poverty. We should not pride ourselves in what we have accumulated. We could lose it all in very short order. Therefore, we should be generous to the world around us. We do not judge others for their poverty. We simply help. Sure, we ask God for discernment when we are dealing with habitually lazy people but we do not write off all people as lazy. We do not ignore the poor. We get to know them. We get to know their story. We help. We love. We give. We help. We love. We give. We do this because God so loved us that He was exceedingly generous to a fault with us through Jesus Christ. God is a generous God. We are to be a generous people.

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 12:13-21 — The parable of the rich fool is appropriate for the American reader. Jesus is in the middle of a sermon teaching his disciples to fear God alone, when he is suddenly interrupted by a man who is dissatisfied over what he considers to be an unfair division of his father’s estate between himself and his brother. The man says in verse thirteen, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Then, Jesus responds with the parable. Jesus’ story ends with the point that a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not a have a rich relationship with God.

Today, we are taught by each other and by the media that we should live the good life. We need to have the biggest house we can afford and maybe more than we can afford. We are taught by each other and by the media that we need the biggest, newest car on the market. We are taught by bumper stickers that you whoever dies with the most toys wins. We are made slaves to our own goods that we purchase. We finance our lives away. And we live our lives in hopes of retiring with a big house on the coast of Florida or on some tropical locale. This is the parable of the rich fool in modern times. Americans are so enamored with the good life that it has become our god. We have bought the story that we need all the latest gadgets and that what we have now is not good enough.

You know sometimes that God sends us messages in multiple different formats and in multiple different ways when He really wants you to hear something. That is why this passage makes you go, wow, I think God is trying to say something that I need to share. Right now, I am leading a book study at church based on the book, I Was Broke Now I’m Not by Joseph Sengl. At the same time, for my personal reading time, I am currently reading the book, Counter Culture by David Platt. These two things are converging by the Holy Spirit in my heart for today’s message. First, Pursuit of earthly wealth and all the debt that goes with keeps us from being effective witnesses for the Lord. Second, pursuit of wealth takes our mind off things that really matter in this life and in eternity.

In leading the I Was Broke Now I’m Not six week study, one of the most poignant statements that Joseph Sengl makes is that Satan wants us broke because it makes us ineffective. When we are mired in debt and living paycheck to paycheck always seeking the next greatest thing to buy to make us happy, we lose sight of God. We become slaves to our money. Having too little money can become a god just as much as having too much. When we mortgage our lives to the hilt, it dominates who we are. We think about it all the time. But, yet, we continue to buy things. Joseph Sengl says that how Satan wants it. He wants to spend 100% or more of what we make so that we cannot help the homeless man in need. He wants us to spend, spend, spend, so that we cannot help the single mom whose husband has left her. He wants us mortgaged to eyeballs so that we cannot help finance a friend’s mission trip. He wants to have so much debt that we cannot follow a holy calling from God on our lives. Switch careers to become a missionary in India or Africa or Asia? No way, I have got this 2015 Lexus to pay for, the house in River Falls Plantation to pay for, and the 2014 Corvette too. You know the tune. Most all of us sing it. Why not though be radical? Start paying off debts and keeping assets longer. If we become less enamored with things, we will start to pay down all these debts to the point one day we will be debt free. As the debt stranglehold loosens maybe then we can become what God intended us to be, what he called us to be. When we have earthly treasures in the right perspective (that they are to be used by us to help expand God’s kingdom) and that our ability to earn all these things comes from God, maybe then we will become effective tools for the kingdom. Maybe then, we can make a difference in a world that needs change.

There is so much injustice in the world that we sit in our pretty little homes in the United States and say that is so sad and then we do nothing. Sometimes it is because we are so in debt that we cannot do anything financially. Most times it is because we really are so enamored with the good life that we are unwilling to do more than watch a news show. For example, in the book, Counter Culture, David Platt tells us that there are so many social issues out there that we need to be addressing as Christians (not in protest but in ways that are compassionate that bring about real change). Yet, we are more interested in our houses, cars, movies on the weekend, the parties we go to. There was a song on this subject back in the 80s about how we ignore the issues of the world around as Americans. It is about how we seek pleasure and ignore the social issues of the world around us. Don Henley’s “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” is a searing indictment of us as pleasure seeking Americans. David Platt tells that we need to open our eyes. For example, there are 27 Million women in this world that are currently in sex slavery around the world. 27 Million women that have no hope. Yet all we want to do is dance. We spend more on going to the movies than we do on contributing to our churches. There are 27 Million women who are forced to have sex 20 times or more a day and are kept drugged and beaten and they have no hope. We paint Red X’s on our hands and say we support ending sex trafficking but as long as it doesn’t interfere with my weekends at the lake in the summer or my season tickets to Clemson football in the fall. All she wants to do is dance. Poverty abounds around the world but we spend more on video games than we do on charity. All she wants to do is dance.

What would happen if we lived as Christ followers who did not get wrapped up in the good life. What if we decided this much is enough for me to live on and now use the rest to be effective missionaries at home and abroad. What if we managed our finances so well that we could follow when God calls. What if we put God first in our finances such that we were satisfied with this much. What if we put God first so that we could see all the injustices in the world and actually could address them because we are not seeking the American dream. What if we really put God first in our finances so that we were free to as the body of Christ to address issues of sex trafficking, of poverty, of illiteracy, of social injustice. What if we wanted to do more than seek our own pleasure. What if we wanted to do more than pay lip service to the causes that we care about. What if we were free of earthly wealth concerns and could go to the places here in America and around the world and rescue 27 Million women from sex slavery instead of just painting Red X’s on our hands. What if we could do more? Satan wants us to support our favorite causes but do nothing about them. He wants us to be ineffective. He wants the sex slave to have no hope of any Christ follower ever really doing anything real to help her.

Let us store up treasure in heaven rather than in our driveway. Let us make arrange our financial lives such that we put God first and things second. Let us arrange our lives such that we can respond to God’s call when He calls. Let us arrange our lives such that we can pick up and move to southeast Asia or Hong Kong or the streets of any large American city to fight against sex slavery. Let us care more about our fellow man’s plight than arranging our next flight – for our vacation in Vale. Let us live our lives to use our resources to address the things that need addressing. Let us live our lives to make a difference for the kingdom of God. Let it not be said of us as Christ followers that “all she wants to do is dance.”