Posts Tagged helping the poor

Evil Schemes and Generous Plans

This post was published a couple of weeks ago on the Compassion International Blog, but I thought I’d run it here as well for those who missed it.

“…the schemes of the schemer are evil; He devises wicked plans To destroy the poor with lying words, Even when the needy speaks justice.” (Isaiah 32:7 NKJV)

I can’t think of a more accurate description of poverty.

The evil one, the wicked schemer, devises wicked plans against the poor, and he has been highly successful. Over half the world’s population is a slave of his plan. This wicked scheme called poverty has stolen hope, killed dreams and destroyed lives.

He has spoken lying words to those caught in his scheme. He has told them they don’t matter. He has made them believe they are all alone in their suffering. He has deceived them into thinking their situation will never change. They no longer dream or aspire to anything better, because they have believed his lies.

Imagine, billions of souls caught in the greatest destructive plot in history! Who will help them? Who will save them?

Look at the next verse,

But a generous man devises generous things, And by generosity he shall stand. (Isaiah 32:8 NKJV)

The answer is us.

Me, and you, and all who call themselves by the name of the Lord. The answer is generous people, devising generous plans. Those generous plans are the antidote to the schemes of the enemy.

I’m thinking about generous people who plan and pray and devise ways to help the poor. The family that fasts a meal a week so they can sponsor a child. The student who bypasses a few lattes so she can feed the hungry. The church groups who pool their resources so they can make a difference.

Those are generous plans. They exist to speak the truth into the lives of those who are enslaved by the enemy and his lies.  They exist to bring light to their darkness, and hope to the hopelessness of his wicked scheme.

It’s not an easy fight, and it takes sacrifice and humility and persistence. But just think what might happen if enough generous people decided to use their intelligence, skills and resources to devise enough generous plans! Maybe we could defeat the wicked scheme called poverty once and for all.

So what is your generous plan?

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Which One Are You?

Taken as a whole, the teachings of Jesus are the most subversive, radical, counter-intuitive philosophy ever thrust upon the human condition.  The statement “Love your enemies” alone could inspire many volumes as we seek to apply its weight and gravity to all areas of life and civic interaction.

The same could be said for Jesus’ parable known as “The Good Samaritan”

I think it’s the most radical story ever told.  If you don’t know the story, read it here.

Most interesting to me is Jesus’ choice of characters.  There’s the Priest and Levite, men known for their strict adherence to religious rule and ritual.  Men who would have had more than sufficient means to take care of the injured man.  Men who, had they understood the teachings of which they so proudly considered themselves experts, would have been compelled to stop.  But they didn’t.

No explanation of why, no mention of prior engagements or work that was more important.  They simply didn’t stop  But Jesus took it one step further.  Not only did they not stop, but they passed by on the other side of the road.  They altered their path so as to avoid the suffering of the wounded man.  They went out of their way to ignore him.  It’s not simply that they didn’t stop, but that they knew they should stop and didn’t.

Then there’s the Samaritan.

That word “Samaritan” just doesn’t carry the emotional weight for us that it carried for those who heard it from Jesus’ lips.  I don’t think Jesus could have chosen a more controversial protagonist for His story than a Samaritan.  To say these people were hated would be a gross understatement.

There was a racial and religious hatred centuries old between the Jews and Samaritans, dating back to the Assyrian occupation of Israel during the 8th century BC. When the Assyrians conquered Israel, they settled conquered peoples from other lands in Samaria, Israel’s capitol.  These pagans over the years intermarried with the native Jews left in Samaria, creating a race of what the Jews considered to be “half-breeds.”  The hatred and antagonism was present when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity.  In fact, just thirty or so years prior to Jesus telling this story, Samaritans had entered the temple in Jerusalem during Passover and desecrated it by spreading human bones in the porches.

Jews hated Samaritans.  They were racially impure, their food was considered as unclean as swine flesh, their religion was illegitimate. In fact, when the Pharisees could think of no greater insult to hurl at Jesus, they called Him a Samaritan.  Even Jesus’ own followers couldn’t believe He was talking to the Samaritan “woman at the well.”

And so Jesus chose a Samaritan to stop and help the wounded man.  A Samaritan showed compassion on a Jew.  A Samaritan did what the “righteous” priest and Levite would not: he stopped and helped. He treated the man’s wounds, took him to a local inn and provided for his care and recovery.  He promised to return and make sure the man had recovered and the bill was paid.  He didn’t just stop and help, he committed himself to a man who hated him.

Jesus could have chosen anyone.  It was His story.  He could have made the man a fisherman, a commoner, even a leper.  But He chose a Samaritan.

His meaning couldn’t be any clearer. 

The Samaritan who stops is better than the Priest who doesn’t.  The half-breed, unclean, reject who has mercy is better than the morally righteous person who doesn’t.

Jesus is clear in His teaching, and the essence of that teaching boils down to one word: love.  And the outcast “sinner” who loves is, according to this parable, more a part of the Kingdom than those who appear to keep all the rules except one: to love.

There is no other rule in the Kingdom.  Jesus said all the law and the prophets could be boiled down to love. So any rule or moral obligation that does not result in love is not scriptural.  Any “religious” person who does not love is simply wearing a facade.  He’s a fake.  He who does not love is not a follower of Christ.

Everything is upside down in the Kingdom.  The last become first.  The poor become preferred.  The rejects get moved to the front of the line.  The sinner who deserves death gets life.  And the “Samaritan” who stops and helps is better than the “Priest” who doesn’t.

Which one are you?

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It’s not about the dollar

I live in Nashville, TN.  Over the last couple of years, I have noticed a new development.  We have homeless people at many intersections selling a “homeless newspaper” called The Contributor.  I don’t know much about this newspaper, who puts it out, what the purpose is, or where the money goes.  Frankly, I’ve never bothered to find out.

I must admit my reaction to these guys has been, “Well, they found a new way to panhandle.”  I have given them a dollar a couple of times, but most of the time I just look the other way or drive on by.  Why?  I ask myself, “How do I know where the money goes?” or “How do I know the guy isn’t just going to buy booze or drugs with the money?”  And I guess on the surface those are legitimate questions.  I don’t want to be guilty of blindly supporting something that is only enabling their dysfunction and addiction.  I generally do want to give money to a place where I know it’s going to be used wisely, and that’s why I support my local rescue mission.

But I’ve been thinking and questioning my heart lately.  It’s only a dollar.  I won’t really miss it.  And what if the money is going to something legit?  What if the money is really helping to develop productive work in those who would otherwise be standing on a corner with a “will work for food” sign?  What if it’s really helping homeless people overcome their dysfunction and return to society?  I wouldn’t know because I’ve never bothered to ask.  It’s been easier to just look the other way and be safe in my assumptions.

You see, it’s not really about that homeless guy selling The Contributor.  It’s not about the principle, and it’s not even about the dollar.  It’s about me.  It’s about how easy it is for me to write something and someone off that I don’t know anything about.  It’s about my safe zone.  I’m willing to live with my preconceptions because they protect me from having to climb into the world of a homeless guy and find out what he and his newspaper are all about.  It’s easier to drive on by than to recognize that it’s not just a homeless guy holding that newspaper, it’s a human being.  A human being Jesus died for.

Maybe I’m right.  Maybe The Contributor is just another clever cover for panhandling in 2011.  Maybe the guy is going to take my dollar and go buy something cheap and numbing.  And maybe I’ve been hiding behind words like responsibility and accountability so I just don’t have to get involved.  Maybe this is what God told Israel in Zechariah 7,

Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion, everyone to his brother.

So I’m not going to stop making excuses.  I’m going to give the guy a dollar any time I have one in my wallet, then I’m going to pray for that guy and trust that God will use my dollar to make an impact in his life.  If I’m going to be wrong, I’m at least going to do it with my eyes and heart open, my head upright and not buried in the sand.

After all, maybe it’s Jesus standing on that corner.

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