The Poor

“They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do.” Galatians 2:10

The persecuted church is a global fellowship of suffering.  The membership of this body of believers is widening with every step that the forces of evil take. Pray for those who are on the front lines resisting the relentless effort of evil focused on snuffing out the light of The Gospel, in an ever-darkening world.

Chinese Christians are having crosses removed from their buildings and their meeting places are being destroyed. Syrian Christians are being murdered by Islamic militants. During the greatest U.S. military presence in Iraq, virtually all the Christian churches were destroyed. Nigerian Christians are burned alive, in their houses of worship, by the soldiers of Islamic warlords. This is the tip of the spear of an all out assault on Christians and Jews that has been promised by Islamic imams for years. It should come as no surprise, and it must no longer be ignored.

The earliest sign of Christian unity was a concern for the poor. This was not a vital sign of an early form of liberalism. It was a heart-felt response to the pain of those who were part of the same body, The Body of Christ. Jewish believers, and Gentile converts were part of the same Body. When one part of The Body was in pain, the other parts of The Body felt it.

It is virtually impossible for a believer to be a member of The Body of Christ, without feeling the pain and responding to the needs of a fellow believer. Extending the right hand of Christian fellowship to The Poor should reveal a hand filled with more than platitudes.

The heart and the hands of a believer should be over-flowing with generosity. This kind of concern and genuine generosity is not the result of a ravenous system of government taxation, or mushy, compassionate conservatism. It is the by-product of a vital relationship with Jesus Christ, and it flows from the heart of the living God.

A tight-fisted, stingy Christian reveals a hardened heart.  Only a fool believes the grace of God is an excuse for becoming a self-absorbed, stingy skinflint who prays for more while ignoring the poor.

While serving as a pastor on the east side of Fort Worth, I discovered the median income of the families surrounding our church was $8,000.00 per household. In 1960 this had been a great deal of money. By 1990 the foolish fiscal polices of a series of federal administrations had made sure that it was not.

People from corrupt countries in Central America had crossed the porous borders of the nation and made their way to our doorstep. The demographics of our community became 90% Hispanic with breath-taking speed. Our new neighbors were wonderful people with pressing needs, but a typical Southern Baptist church was not one of them.

Responding to those needs, our church launched a Crisis Pregnancy Center, Clothing Closet, Food Pantry, ESL Language Center, Adopt-A-School, Coats for Kids, Mission Fort Worth: Disaster Relief. Efforts included purchasing winter coats for 900 children, and roofing hundreds of homes following a disastrous hailstorm.  This effort didn’t change the community but it changed me. That may be the key point of compassion.

As the new arrivals continued to press in, established local residents retreated to the suburbs. The culture clash between the remaining residents turned into a running battle for turf between The Crips, The Bloods and The Latin Kings. They turned tagging into an art form, and anything that didn’t move became a canvass for gang graffiti.

Gunfire and drive-by shootings became commonplace. One took place before a Saturday morning wedding, right outside the front doors of the church. The wedding party arrived moments after a bullet-riddled car crashed into a telephone pole. The father of the bride, observing the suspects being handcuffed and taken into custody, said, “I wouldn’t go outside if I were you.” I responded, “I don’t have a choice. I live here.”  Good times.

During this period of time, I read, “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” by Marvin Olasky. Geoffrey Prewett’s review is a great summary of this must read book, “Today ‘compassion’ generally means “giving a handout,” yet Olasky shows that it originally meant “suffering with.” Originally helping the poor meant spending time teaching them skills and spending painstaking time developing character.” This book profoundly impacted my perspective towards and passion for The Poor.

The early church leaders had a concern for The Poor, but it was not a call to blindly throw their meager resources at a problem or substitute social justice for life-change. Casting all the money they had into the four winds, and hoping for the best was not compassion. It never has been.

Being concerned for The Poor will always mean investing in them. This means taking the time to suffer with them, not just throw money at them. It also means expressing tough love that determines who are worthy of concern and those who are not.

Paul’s was concerned for those who were poor because of the consequences of their choices. They had identified with Christ, and His church, and they were paying a high price for it.  If The Poor were Gentiles, this meant many lost their jobs. If The Poor were Jews, they lost their families and the support of the local synagogue. Lack of concern was considered by Paul and the leaders of the early church to be a poor testimony of the compassion of Christ. It would be shameful to call people to Him, and not be concerned enough to suffer with them.

Culture change is a result of character change, one life at a time. Only God has the capacity to make it happen. Beware of liberalism or conservatism posing as compassion, in the church or from the government. Neither one has the power, nor the inclination to change character. Their interest in giving to the needs of the poor is based on a corrupt strategy that is focused on buying loyalty, not changing character. Big difference.

The motivation of the church’s concern for The Poor is both corporate and personal.  Identifying with the pain of the smallest part of the body is a reality of Body Life. The slightest part of the body can bring the greatest pain to the rest of the body. Real pain requires genuine relief, not the appearance of it.   When you hear, “I feel your pain,” check your wallet.

Note to self: Hit your little toe on the bedpost, and you will feel a flash of pain that quickly renews your genuine concern for your poor toe. This only works, EVERY TIME.

The Poor are worth of concern not because they are poor, but because they are part of The Body of Christ. Those who have come to a state of poverty due to the relentless persecution of their faith in Christ are especially worthy of the compassion of the rest of The Body.  This is not social justice. It is Body Life.

In the wake of the corruption, chaos and confusion that comes with the disintegration of governments and regime changes, sending financial aid to the persecuted may be impossible. It does not mean nothing can be done to invest in them. Intercession is an investment in The Poor that cannot be impeded or diverted. It is a priceless commodity of the church.

Praying in the Spirit, in its purest form, is marked by intercession for others. This kind of prayer is a personal investment in those who are suffering. It involves giving people time, not just money. Those who are short on time know how valuable it is. Those short on compassion would be wise to invest their prayers in The Poor, not just their money.

Prayer cannot be hijacked or stolen by the forces of evil. Intercession has the power to intimidate the enemy and to encourage the persecuted, by inviting Jesus to take the field.

The Poor of the persecuted church have problems money can’t solve. The Poor who believe they are the darlings of a culture of entitlement need a change of character. Money can’t buy it.  Concern for The Poor is guided by a passion for prayer and the wisdom of God. Invest in others. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!