I pass a church on my way to work. Well, I pass a lot of churches, but there is one which has drawn my attention repeatedly. They perpetually collect donations on their front porch and regularly hold free clothing and furniture giveaways. They always hold the giveaways no matter what the weather is. And they attract long lines of people. It is a pretty rag-tag crowd which gathers and waits in the rain or snow or heat. I imagine it takes an incredible amount of work to keep up with that project, but they have been doing it for years so I have been told. To me that shows a love of God and an understanding of His commands to us as believers.
I got really ticked off one early one morning when I drove by that church and saw a brand new bright red shiny Ford F-150 parked right in front of the doors where people drop their donations off. The driver was out, prowling through the assorted furniture and clothes and toys and loading up certain items. Really? This society seriously has some of the greediest people I have ever seen. If you can afford a brand new truck, you have no business stopping to steal donations which have been left in good faith for the poor. Disgusting. How selfish can we be? It makes me angry and sad at the same time. What has happened in society to drive people to the point where anything about that man’s actions is okay? I don’t understand how he could do it without some sort of guilt pangs. Yet I do understand.
We live in a society which has drawn some very political lines around poverty. Unfortunately, if you call yourself a Christian and you also try to be a good citizen and stay politically active, you often align yourself with people who blame those in poverty for their situations and you start to feel justified in not helping. I once heard a wealthy pastor cautioning people about helping a poorer family in the church because he felt they had brought their poverty onto themselves and he believed helping them would justify their actions. I have yet to find Scripture to support that attitude. When I was homeless, I had to go through the humiliating process of receiving food stamps. It made me feel so worthless and selfish, but Maddy and I had to eat. A Christian friend posted on Facebook a long and cutting description of the lazy, no-good people who use food stamps - it was one of those posts that makes people feel brave if they put it up and try to get others to share it as well. And boy did the other Christians jump on that “like” bandwagon. I almost deleted them all from my page, but then realized they were doing it out of ignorance and because of the lack of empathy many people who call themselves Christians have for the poor and not as a direct assault against me and Maddy.
The ignorance among Christians partly stems from their lack of knowledge, or maybe willing dismissal of what God’s Word says about the poor. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” And in Deuteronomy 15:11 God says, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” How about Luke 12:33? “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” And there are many more. When I do a study on God’s commands to us as His followers to care for the poor - I have yet to find verses which justify deciding which poor people are worth investing in and which are not. Maybe that is because that is not my responsibility because I am not God. He is looking to see what I actually do when I encounter opportunities to care for those in need. He will take care of the outcome.
Many years ago, Christians in the United States abdicated the God-designated responsibility to care for the poor over to the government. That was neither Godly nor was it wise and it has created a political situation which causes Christians to lose compassion and ignore the Bible to follow the popular, wealthy Christian leadership this society has created. It has made a Christian society in which pastors caution against helping the poor and people who drive brand new pickup trucks have no qualms about taking goods meant to help the poor. The whole attitude of I have worked hard to achieve all that I have so why should I share with anyone who doesn’t work as hard? fits American society but does not line up with Biblical commands. In the book of Acts the description of the early church was populated with early believers who shared everything they had out of love and fellowship. And that was so unusual others were drawn to God because of it.
I think those early Christians understood everything they had wasn’t really theirs anyway. If someone else had a need, they met it because they realized God was providing everything they had - it wasn’t because they were such hard workers or so clever or good at investing their money. Ultimately it was all God’s and they let Him use it as He saw fit. He apparently sees fit for His people to take care of the poor. John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them,how can the love of God be in that person?”
I am left to believe it cannot. And that is a poverty of another kind.