Help the Poor 4

James 2:12-13

In all my years of ministry I only remember one person coming to the church seeking help who offered to do work to earn the money. It can be very frustrating to see person after person who claims to be in dire need of financial help and wonder if they are genuine in their requests. And often those who are truly in need are chronically in need. They require assistance time and time again.

An initial reaction is to put a limit on how much help will be offered. But James has something to say about limiting our mercy. What attitude should we have in our behavior? What awaits those who are not merciful? What is his final comment?

“Mercy triumphs over judgment!” The words may need to ring in our ears and in our hearts as we face the needs of the poor all around us. Is it our place to judge the decisions they have made? Is it our place to judge that they deserve what they have?

According to James, the answer is “no.” We are to be merciful over all things. We should allow mercy to rise in our hearts and guide our responses.

With so much need in the world, with so much poverty, we can feel helpless in changing the world. But we need to put our faith in God and trust that He can use us in His kingdom. We must also recall the mercy He has for us. Perhaps that might guide our judgment.

With all the problems and struggles in the world there are ample places to show mercy and compassion. Let us each prayerfully consider where our hearts are at this time and ask God to lead us in our decisions to help.

While it is not our place to judge our brothers and sisters and the situations they find themselves in, we can use God’s wisdom and our own intellect to put our money and efforts into ministry that has long-lasting impact for the needy. Let your judgment be the judgment of choice, but let it be overshadowed by mercy.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Where and how do you feel called to contribute toward easing the suffering of the poor and needy?

Help the Poor 3

Isaiah 1:16-17

Look around you. Take stock of your surroundings. Do you live in a comfortable house – warm in winter, cool in summer? Do you have a job, an income? Is there food in your cabinets and clean clothes to wear?

If so then you are better off than millions of people around the world. And when you hear about the poor and needy in the world, starving children in Africa, orphans in Bosnia, displaced families in the Middle East, or even a struggling family down the street, it is easy to reach in your wallet and pull out a few bills to help them out. But what then? Are the problems solved?

The prophet Isaiah was speaking the words of God when he addressed a people living in comfort, celebrating their own lives and special holidays with abundance and ignoring the problems of the needy living among them. What does God command? What should we do for the oppressed? What about the poor families?

There is nothing wrong with expressions of mercy and compassion, even if they are in limited amount. A few dollars here and there, a donation of canned goods and used clothing can make a difference in the lives of the very poor. But it can’t solve the problems faced each day by so many people.

Isaiah urges his listeners to learn to do right. He tells them to seek justice and encourage the oppressed. We are called to defend the needy and plead their case.

Donations to address immediate needs are necessary and helpful when dealing with the poor, but it must go beyond that. Need and struggles are symptoms of a larger problem, the problem of chronic poverty. The solution is to address the core issue of poverty. To do that we as Christians need to put our time, talent and efforts into changing the way things are.

One time gifts or occasional giving is not enough to stop poverty. We are called to find justice and fairness for the underprivileged, to offer training and education to those stuck in oppressive societal conventions. If we will live out the teachings of Christ we will take action to teach and train, to change our society to be more helpful to the needy so they may achieve a better life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What long-term solution can you and your church work on to help end poverty?

Help the Poor 2

James 1:27

The other night at Bible study I commented that I felt James was a Methodist. It is part of the Methodist heritage, initiated by John Wesley about 300 years ago, that we not only pray for and have compassion for people in need, but we also do something about the situation. In other words, we can’t simply sit around feeling sorry for the plight of people. We need to get out there and try to make things better.

What is James’ comment on religion? How might we do these two things?

James is blunt and perhaps has over-simplified our faith. His claim is that what God wants, what is acceptable to God as pure, is a faith that takes care of the needs of others. In this specific instance James refers to widows and orphans, but I believe this comment can be extended to anyone who is struggling and poor.

James urges us to “look after” these needy individuals. I don’t think he is referring to dropping in on them from time to time to see how they are getting on. I believe he means for us to be active in improving their situation. Looking after another might involve helping them get a better life.

In Matthew 26:11 Jesus tells those around him, “The poor you will always have with you . . . .” There is indeed no shortage of needy persons. There are desperate poor in Africa and Asia, in the Middle East, and in Eastern Europe. We have recently been made aware of the poor in Haiti.

But you don’t need to go beyond the borders of our country to find people who are struggling. I would wager that you don’t even need to go beyond your own community, maybe your own neighborhood, to find someone who needs help.

The questions are, do you see the need, and will you do anything about it?

If we will be followers of Jesus then we must live out our faith. If our faith is to be pure and faultless, if our faith is to be acceptable to God, then we should be looking for ways to assist those in need. Being active in your expression of God’s compassion can help you to remain free from the spiritual pollution of the world.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Can you find a ministry that helps the poor and become involved in it?

Help the Poor 1

Mark 12:38-40

We recently saw the movie “Up in the Air,” with George Clooney. The movie centers on a man whose job it is to down-size employees – lay them off, end their employment. Watching the uncomfortable scenes of employee reactions to the fact that they are no longer employed reminded me of the times when I faced down-sizing myself.

In that moment a person feels that they are nothing but a number, a cipher, a dollar amount that is completely expendable to the corporation. In that moment a person feels little worth.

Jesus addresses the attitudes of religious leaders in his time. How does he characterize these teachers? According to verse 40, how do they treat the poor? What will be the result?

There is little any of us can do to bring a sense of humanity to the bottom line of corporate America, but in this lesson from Jesus we can see what not to do in the life of our faith. Just as business owners and corporate managers may view people as a number that must be removed or spared, there are many Christians who can take a cold attitude when dealing with people in need.

It often surprises me when I encounter Christians who do not even seem to take notice of the needy around them. It is all too easy to see these working poor, these struggling individuals as objects. It is too easy to not have any compassion for them.

So often help to the poor is seen as a drain on what we have. We must give up something and that is hard to do.

But if we will truly imitate Christ in our lives then we must open our eyes to the poor. If we will live a life of compassion and mercy we must recognize that those who are suffering and struggling are people with real feelings and real worth.

As followers of Jesus we need to be willing to abandon the lofty appearances of devout believers, a look and behavior that may separate us from the needy, and treat all people – even the poor – as children of God deserving of our help and compassion.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How many poor people do you see every day during the mundane activities of life? How do you treat them when you see them?