Category Archives: When Helping Hurts

The poor you will always have with you…

After an act of incredible love and worship, the disciples of Jesus questioned their Lord and Master on why He did not rebuke this blatant waste of expensive perfume by a woman who clearly did not grasp the “big picture.” In response Jesus said:

The poor you will always have with you…but you will not always have me.” Matthew 26:11 NIV

Captured in this statement rests a challenge for the devoted. Did Jesus suggest that the plight of the poor stood as a universal reality that could not and would not be change? Has the plight of the poor become our accepted reality?

I fear we miss understand Jesus if we suggest that He stood indifferent to the poor. Jesus demonstrated time and time again His open engagement with the poor and His gracious invitation to them to join Him among the ranks of His Kingdom citizens on earth even as they are in heaven.

Sincere, intellectually honest followers of Jesus must embrace the plight of the poor as part of their Kingdom assignment if they seriously intend to follow their Lord.

In 2002, President Jimmy Carter upon receiving the Noble Peach Prize said:

“At the beginning of this new millennium I was asked to discuss, here in Oslo, the greatest challenge that the world faces. Among all the possible choices, I decided that the most serious and universal problem is the growing chasm between the richest and poorest people on the earth. Citizens in the ten wealthiest countries are now seventy-five times richer than those who live in the ten poorest ones, and the separation is increasing every year, not only between nations but also within them.”

I have lived long enough to be an eye-witness to this reality. Since moving to El Paso, I face this reality every single day as I drive to work. From my office I can look out and see a third world reality just across the river. I wonder how high must we build the wall?

Yes ago, I traveled to Rio. We arrived just days before an international conference was to be held in that great South American city. On our way from the airport to the heart of city we traveled by some of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the world. Our guide noted the huge welcoming billboards that had been erected along the road. Brazilian leaders strategically placed these billboards to hide from the foreign dignitaries the plight of the poor. In the vain philosophy of: “if you don’t see them–they don’t exist.”

English author and critic of modern society John Berger wrote:

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitted…but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”

A few days ago, I sat down with a father with tears in his eyes who shared with me that his children were hungry and he did not have any food to feed them. He was not a stranger standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign. I worshiped with him each week. Immediately I knew I must help and did, but deep inside I wrestle with the affluence of my life and the plight of my friend. Helping did not ease my conscience–in some ways–it only intensified my emotions.

In a world where Jesus’ words still ring true…”the poor you will always have with you”–we must choose to keep our eyes and hearts open. We cannot numb ourselves. We must  not build walls to hide the reality.

I cannot end this disparity alone, but I can do something.

Rick Warren is quoted saying that on his tombstone he wants these simple words:

“At least he tried”

Jesus calls us to His side with these words:

“Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

In a world of brokenness: do good and let your life shine especially to the least among us.

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“Packed Coffins”

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”–Jesus (Luke 9:23-24)

As I reading Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert’s book When Helping Hurts, I came across a disturbing, challenge quote. The authors in a conversation about the early missionaries sent to Africa wrote “they packed the coffins in the ships that brought them to Africa.”

The mental image of a missionary packing his or her coffin for their journey spoke volumes about their commitment. The early Student Missionary Movement deployed hundreds of men and women who used coffins for shipping their supplies over, and these same coffins would be used for their own burial.

I fear when we lose sight of our mission, and our passion for the Kingdom wanes our sanctuaries become mausoleums and pews become coffins. When sharing and living the gospel becomes a hobby for our spare time rather than life itself  we might as well arrange for our pre-need policy because the signs of death await.

As usual Jesus was spot on–only through losing your life can you find it.

Take up your cross, pack your coffin, and change the world.

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“The King without the Kingdom”

In Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert’s book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, I came across a story from the ol’ South of the 1960 and the dilemma of a Baptist pastor preaching the gospel in the seat of racism and oppression.

The pastor in the story was an honorable man serving a First Baptist Church. His focus during those dark days was “packing pews” and preaching people into heaven while making sure they avoided the vices of alcohol and sexual immorality. Meanwhile, he was manning the ship during a sea change unlike any see in decades.

As Martin Luther King Jr. and others fought and died for civil rights, the pastor continued to focus his preaching and ministry on personal piety rather than public policy and of course he avoided politics at all costs.

Meanwhile young men and women flooded into the ol’ South from the North pushing the civil rights agenda–and a few gave their lives for this cause. Many of these young men and women claimed little or not Christian faith.

In frustration the pastor preached a sermon entitled “The Sorrow of Selma”. In the sermon he called the civil rights workers “unbathed beatniks”, “immoral kooks”, and “sign carrying degenerates” who were hypocrites in his eyes because they did not believe in God.

Corbett & Fikkert observed the stark contrast between these two opposing forces writing:

Both Reverend Marsh and the civil rights workers were wrong, but in different ways. Reverend Marsh sought the King without the kingdom. The civil rights workers sought the kingdom without the King. The church needs a Christ-centered, fully orbed,  kingdom perspective to correctly answer the question: “What would Jesus do?”

I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with this observation. Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom Come and Thy Will be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Our work is to bring the reality of heaven down to the dusty streets of earth. It is not “either/or” but it is “both/and”. I find it much easier and cleaner to preach a gospel of personal piety and to avoid the struggles of the world around me, but for the gospel to be the gospel I believe it must speak to the hurts of our society.

I pray I will work for and serve the King and His Kingdom all the days of my life.

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