Poverty


This month the Impact Community is doing a series called “Conversations.” It is series designed to foster better relationships between the mainstream white evangelical church and four different marginalized people groups. Each week will include an apology letter from the church to that community.

This week we discussed the homeless community. This is our apology.

Dear Homeless Community,

I’m sorry.

I know it’s not every day you hear those words from me.

But that’s where I wanted to start.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that too often I have chosen to overlook you. I’m sorry for every time I have crossed the street in order to avoid awkwardly passing you; for every time that me eyes glance downwards, refusing to look into your eyes; for every time in my actions I have made you feel as though you are less than human; I am sorry.

In my better moments I have compassion.  In my bad moments I wonder what you did to find yourself in this situation.  In my worst moments I simply and arrogantly ascribe your loss to laziness, assuring myself that no respectable and hard-working person could ever wind up in your shoes.  I rarely, if ever, stop to think of the dizzying array of circumstances, some completely outside of your control, that might have led you to this point.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I refuse you basic generosity while refusing myself not even the smallest of pleasures.  I’m sorry that I tell you I have no money while walking into Starbucks.  I’m sorry that too often I deprive you even of the basic generosity of conversation and touch.  More often than not I have believed lies about you.  I have told myself that I’m better.  I have done anything but follow the gracious, loving and compassionate model of our Savior and Lord.

For this I am sorry.  I’m sorry. You deserve better.  Jesus’ name deserves better.

Please forgive me,

Signed The Church

(Letter by Benj Petroelje and Sarah DePriest)

A team from my faith community Impact recently spent a week serving the thousands of people who live around the Guatemala City Garbage dump. The trip was part of our partnership with a Guatemalan ministry named Potter’s House.

Unlike our last 3 trips, this team was able to go inside the actual dump. They passed out water, vitamins, and medicine to hundreds of people who were scavenging through the dump that day.

My colleague Benj Petroelje shared his journal entry with me, and gave me permission to post it.

Guatemala City Garbage Dump – Journal – Day 5

Vultures.  They are what’s eating at me most about this trip and the Guatemala City dump.  Human Beings.  They are in competition with these vultures for the precious scraps of garbage.  Is there a more obvious picture of death anywhere in this world?  Vultures – a bird that represents death.  Human Beings – made in God’s image and meant for life … Standing/Flying side-by-side wading through garbage.

Seriously?

Jesus spoke about a place where two valleys met at the site of a garbage dump.  He spoke of a kind of unquenchable fire that existed there.  It was a literal place.  It was sub-human.  No one was meant to exist there.  Not even vultures.  He called it Gehenna.

We call it hell.

I rode into hell today in the back of a pickup truck.  Unlike Lazarus, I was able to bring water.  But what does water do for those working next to vultures?  What do vitamins do when your very existence is less than human?  What does medicine do when the worms living in your stomach are guaranteed to return?

I’m not sure what they do.

But I do know that hell exists.  And I do know that hell isn’t meant to exist in a world meant for heaven.

So we brought water.

We brought vitamins.

We brought medicine.

We brought ourselves.

Because hell exists (and it shouldn’t).

I know.  I went there today.

Explore how you can partner with Potter’s House on their site.

Should you run away from a church that is involved in social justice?

A popular media figure recently pleaded with people to do just that.

But, what do the scriptures say?

Here are just a few of the many scriptures that speak to God’s thoughts on faith and justice:

Isaiah 58

6 “This is the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke.

7 It is to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.

Micah 6

8 He has shown all you people what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Matthew 25

40 “Jesus will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

45 “Jesus will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

James 1

27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Should you run away from a church that is involved in social justice?

No.

In fact, I believe that the scriptures call us to the opposite action.

You should run away from your church if it is NOT involved in social justice.

The God revealed in the bible is not interested in any faith that does not include justice and mercy for the poor, oppressed and marginalized.

In early 2010 there was a major announcement in the world of archeology that we should all take note of.

A small Hebrew writing has been found on an ancient piece of pottery. It is dated from the 10th Century BCE (BC), about 4 Centuries earlier than any other writing that we have.

The text has now been deciphered. In English, it reads (by numbered line):

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

While this is not necessarily a direct quote of our scriptures, it is certainly consistent with a number of biblical texts.

This discovery gives us an insight into the faith of people living at the time of King David. They saw a connection between worshiping the Lord God and seeking justice for the poor and the marginalized. This is a major theme in the scriptures, and it was recognized by the ancient Hebrews.

May we also make that connection in our faith and life.

( Other posts on this text: Shank, McKnight, LiveScience )

Martin Luther King Jr. saw the pictures of the world in the scriptures.

Martin Luther King Jr. saw a world around him that did not line up with the pictures in the scriptures.

He did not resign himself to the presupposition, “That is just the way the world is.”

Like prophets before him, Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, a vision, an imagination of a world that looked more like the picture of the world in the scriptures.

He spoke that vision.

He worked for the vision, in ways that were consistent with the vision.

May you and I have the grace and strength to dream, speak and work toward a biblical imagination of this world.

Yesterday, I read a blog post about the increased conflict over the proper role of social justice within the Evangelical movement. So-called “Younger Evangelicals” (among others) are placing a high emphasis upon justice issues. There are some evangelical leaders who fear that this is, or will lead to, theological liberalism.

Here is a question in the post and my response.

“Are you feeling the tremors in your church of a conflict over the scope of the gospel and the proper role of social justice? And where are you turning for informed theological reflection on this subject?”

For me it has honestly been studying the scriptures.  My study of the scriptures in has been from an evangelical (Historical/ Cultural/ Grammatical) approach to the biblical text.

From this approach, I see that social justice and  mercy for the poor and oppressed are major themes of what God calls His people to in the scriptures.

With that understanding, I can not claim to be a “Bible believing Christian” without making the biblical call to social justice a priority in my life. Social Justice is a priority for me because it is a priority for God, as faithfully revealed in the scriptures. I would be forsaking the scriptures, and the God of the Scriptures, if I did not prioritize care for the poor.

When I decide to follow that call of God to work for justice – I am being a disciple of Jesus.

When I am actually being a disciple of Jesus – I am in a much better position to follow Jesus’ call for me to make other disciples of Jesus. Jesus defined that as: bringing people into faith in Jesus & teaching them to obey all of his commands – including care for the poor.

The scriptures do not force us to choose evangelism OR justice. In fact, I do not think that the Scriptures allow us to choose only one of those two (Do we have to choose sexual morality OR evangelism?!).

God made people pretty complex. We can do more than one thing at a time!

(A lot more on this latter!)

My family has a membership at an amazing fitness center  in metro Milwaukee. The Princeton Club has an outstanding facility, leading-edge equipment, exciting programs, great staff, and admirable leadership. The entire family fits the description of raving Princeton Club fans.

They could get a Sunday Shout Out post just for being such a fantastic club, but they are at the beginning of new campaign that deserves the full attention of the post, and your participation or replication. The Princeton Club has begun a campaign called the Million Pound Challenge.

Here is the Situation:

People need food and exercise to be healthy.

Some people do not have enough food.

Some people have too much food and/ or not enough exercise.

Here is a Solution:

People pledge a number of pounds that they want to loose, or a number of hours that they want to exercise, over the next five months.

The Princeton Club will donate 10 pounds of food to a local food pantry for every pound lost, or hour exercised, in that time.

Brilliant!!!

I just love this idea. It meets some very real needs in the area, hunger and obesity. It also helps broaden the focus of personal fitness beyond self, which I suspect will make it more  fulfilling.

Please join me in shedding a few pounds and getting some food to those in need. My personal goal is losing 10 pounds by the end of May, which the Princeton Club will turn into 100 pounds of food for a local food pantry!!!

If you live in Madison or Milwaukee, sign up here.

If you live elsewhere, do it on your own or start a similar campaign!

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