Have you seen these signs? This one is from Nashville but we have them.
“Real change not spare change”
There’s one right off the interstate on Pawnee…where I have frequently seen men asking for help.
Wichita Police in partnership with the Rescue Mission and other similar organizations are trying to educate the public on “wise generosity.”
The news is ablaze with stories of: Homelessness, local, national and international poverty the border.
It’s difficult to think clearly about any of this when it seems that there is so little actual discussion going on but there is a lot of noise.
*Negativity bias is the phenomena where humans give more much weight to the negative than the positive…lots of research on this unfortunate reality of human nature.
-In fact people tend to believe negative stories more readily than positive ones.
-People also remember the negative longer than the positive.
*However…There are many people working quietly on real solutions to real problems (many churches)…but they don’t make the news very often.
This year we are looking at how the Bible is a single narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.
It speaks to all aspects of our lives in ways that are real and practical
We have looked at themes like: Suffering, family, work….this summer we have looked at the general theme of: The Bible and living within culture.
Historically there have been three general approaches Christians have taken towards culture, they have been called…
-Christ in (in not of, transformation)
We have looked at how to think and act biblically in regard to different religions, nationalities, politics, criminal justice, race…today we look at poverty.
If you have been here this summer you will have recognized that we haven’t said…”Think this way”…in terms of politics, or criminal justice, etc….there is room for diversity within the unity of Scriptures.
We have tried to stay with…”Think Biblically…then go act faithfully.”
In regards to poverty…
Some say it’s pretty straightforward: poverty is bad, giving is good…enough said.
Others say it’s pretty straightforward: Stop being poor…go get a job…enough said
Still others say: Government needs to act to end poverty…enough said.
Not nearly that simple is it?
I could tell many stories of the mistakes I’ve made in trying to help people:
*Seminary: My approach was for most part…”act now, think later”
*Many more personal relationships over the years…where my approach to giving time, money, and effort was not guided by wisdom.
*Sometimes, to be honest…the relationships ended poorly…I was frustrated (felt used)…they were frustrated (I had created dependency)…well intentioned, not well thought through.
I experienced this progression personally
- give once and you elicit appreciation;
- give twice and you create anticipation;
- give three times and you create expectation;
- give four times and it becomes entitlement;
- give five times and you establish dependency.
I failed to recognize this important principle:
“While one-way giving may seem like the “Christian” thing to do, it can undermine the very relationship a helper is attempting to build. Such charity subtly implies that the recipient has nothing of value the giver desires in return. To the extent the poor are enabled to participate in the systems intended to serve them, their self-worth is enhanced.”
Lupton, Robert D.. Toxic Charity (p. 130). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
Governor’s challenge Team: Prevent Suicide
*Evidence based approach
* “Support the programs that demonstrate in long-term, real ways (by evidence not hope or emotion)…that they actually achieve the results you want.”
*Translation: “Don’t do things that merely feel good or sound good, do things that are good”
This is complex in many ways but simple in its essence…we must be faithful…and faithfulness includes both love and wisdom.
-Toxic Charity: Robert Lupton (I’ll use some of Lupton’s writing as we go on)
-The Tragedy of American Compassion: Marvin Olasky (National critique)
-Poverty and Wealth: Ronald Nash (philosophical overview of the topics)
I’ll make some general statements that for me personally that help define some of the reasons this topic can be confusing.
We (American society at large and the church) are overall generous and care about people in need.
-The data bears this out.
We(society at large and the church) are prone to believe that caring (well-meaning attitudes) is what matters most (rather than wise actions)
-It is true that to “mean well” is important, heart attitudes are important…God cares about them, so should we
-But well-meaning but unwise in the end counts for little in terms of actual results.
We are prone to see material prosperity as the highest good and poverty as the greatest evil.
-This, of course is false…and prosperity and poverty are relative terms (relative to time and place)
We are prone to prioritize “symbolic” action over “substantive” ones.
-Not that symbolic actions don’t matter…they sometimes help…they can draw attention and resources to problems.
But there is a bias towards actions that make us feel and look like we are being helpful over the ones that actually help but in the short run don’t look as good…or make us feel good in the moment.
All this is complicated by the fact that various people and organizations see these difficult issues as opportunities to further their own agendas.
Huge topic so let’s set some modest goals for our time this morning:
- A brief Biblical overview of the topic
- A cursory look at what does and doesn’t work…mostly using Lupton’s work
- Some suggestions as to where to go from here.
- BIBLICAL OVERVIEW:
Matt. 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (looks at those on the left and delivers the opposite message)
Jesus is not teaching that you enter heaven because of all the good you have done…or hell for the lack of good.
This parable is about evidence for salvation not the cause of salvation.
*Salvation is not by works…but salvation works…it shows up in actions.
Takeaway for today: If we belong to Christ, then we will demonstrate practical love for others.
This is not a parable about giving to the poor…not a set of rules to follow…otherwise you must become involved in ministry to: the poor, prisoners, sick, and you need to be inviting strangers to come live with you.
It is about how the gospel will change our lives in relationship to others…especially others who have nothing to offer us in return.
1 Cor. 13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
We see here that if you gave all you own away to the poor, including your physical life…but it was not done out of love for God and others…it was all for nothing.
So again, motive does matter to God and should to us…but this about more than mere motive.
It is about the gospel transforming our hearts…and lives.
Love as a human concept is very subjective and a squishy thing…love as God defines it is clear.
“This is how we know what love it, Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for each other.” 1 John 3:16
So r1 Cor. 13 is more than merely making sure our motives are pure…they never fully are.
It is about our lives being founded in the love of God revealed in the gospel…and living our lives out of the power of that love.
Otherwise…all the good we do…ends when our lives end…if we give, but do not have eternal life…all is lost.
Takeaway: Just “doing stuff” is not the point. Our loving actions must be grounded in the reality of the gospel.
Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
This comes from a famous sermon by Jesus that turned conventional wisdom upside down…”You have heard it said…but I say.”
Jesus demonstrating his authority to reframe what the law actually intended…since he is God he can do that.
“Here’s what you have heard…here what that really means.”
He is not teaching that literally if you get struck on the face, you must ask to be hit again.
Or if someone takes you to court for your car you give them your house as well
He is going beyond the mere external code of the law.
It was a law that by the time of Jesus had been added to so much that it outlined precisely what everyone should do in every situation.
But the heart intent had been lost…love God, love people.
Jesus is teaching about new heart that acts in ways that don’t always make sense…actions that go way beyond what is written.
Important: This is not a new set of laws, this is a new heart…a hearts that acts in ways that are sometimes radical in their expression of obedience and love
Go on in this passage…Look at 6:1-4
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Giving to the needy is assumed, but it’s not to be done for the show of it…but because of a love for God.
Takeaway for today: We are to give…but we give to please God by loving people…not to look like or feel like good and loving people.
Lev. 19:9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
This is an example of one of many laws given to Israel to intentionally pay attention to the poor
Takeaway: There is balanced provision for the poor in the Scriptures. You find the church coming together to strategically take care of the needy in the NT as well.
-There were people who were unable to take care of their own needs adequately and provision should be made for them.
Back story…the people Paul wrote these two letters to were eager for the Lord’s return…and some used this as excuse to not be faithful and work hard day to day…they ended up relying on others to take care of them…though they were able to take care of themselves.
1Th. 4:11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
So, Paul, how do we live with the Lord’s return in mind?
Be busy, be productive…work in ways the others will respect and that will allow you to take care of your own needs.
But, some didn’t get the memo…so he wrote again.
2Th. 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” 11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.
Takeaway: Don’t give to those who can and should be earning for themselves…it is not good for them or anyone else.
Okay…that is a flyover of the Biblical balance…let’s look at these principles in practice.
I’ll use Lupton’s work here…he is a Ph.D. Psychologist, Christian…and has 50 years of practical experience in this field…he offers evidence-based insight and solutions.
- WHAT DOESN’T WORK AND WHAT DOES WORK
IN THE UNITED STATES, THERE’S a growing scandal that we both refuse to see and actively perpetuate. What Americans avoid facing is that while we are very generous in charitable giving, much of that money is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help.
What he calls the “compassion industry” is almost universally accepted as virtuous and constructive…but on the ground he says the reality is it may hurt more than help.
How? Creating Dependency. Destroying personal initiative. Undermining human dignity.
He says…When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.
He uses Africa as a large-scale example: The continent has received 1 trillion in benevolent aid in the last 50 years.
Yet country by country Africans are far worse off than they were 50 years ago
“It’s a kind of curse,” says Dambisa Moyo, an African economist and the author of Dead Aid. “Aid, though intended to promote health, becomes the disease of which it pretends to be the cure.”
Same is true nationally:
One night within sight of the Jim Carter presidential library a homeless man froze to death.
The former president was so disturbed that he was compelled to do something…he was going to eliminate poverty in one city (Atlanta)…not a big challenge for a person with his resources, and power.
Everyone wanted in…money flowed…brain power showed up.
In 1991 the Atlanta Project (TAP) was launched…it was the most ambitious private effort of its kind in the country.
By 1997 the project had run out of gas…with no lasting impact.
According to a Stanford University analysis, “TAP’s greatest achievement to date: consolidating application forms for social services from sixty-four pages to eight. All of this for $33.6 million.”
*Main problem was the approach was top-down, one-way giving.
Okay, let’s go all the way to the ground level…one home.
Lupton tells the story of after having lived for years in the inner city he was in the home of a neighbor on Christmas eve…having coffee with a now trusted friend when there was a knock on the door.
A well-dressed family with young children were on the porch with armfuls of wrapped gifts.
No one but the mom noticed that the father had quietly slipped out of the room.
Lupton said after years of participating in these kinds of charity events…he saw a side he had never seen before.
He saw how a father is emasculated in his own home in front of his wife and children for not being able to provide presents for his family, how a wife is forced to shield her children from their father’s embarrassment, how children get the message that the “good stuff” comes from rich people out there and it is free. Only after becoming a neighbor was I able to see what we had done. Christmas Eve in that living room, I became painfully aware that not all charity is good charity.
The father was grateful…but there was a better way.
For instance…instead of donors bringing free toys to homes…Lupton wrote of one place where generous people were able to buy and donate toys to a neighborhood family store
Then the toys were priced very modestly so parents who lived locally could come shop…they could buy them and have the joy of giving them to their own children.
If they had no money they were able to work in the store to earn what they needed for their purchases.
He said, this was transformational for people.
Okay…you get the picture, read the book if you want more…he is not negative…he is realistic…there are things that work…things that don’t.
The Oath for Compassionate Service
- Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves. • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
- Strive to empower the poor through employment and investing,
- Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.
- Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said—unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
- Above all, do no harm.
Let’s finish with where do we go from here?
I don’t want to leave us paralyzed…afraid to act.
- WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
- Be Faithful
- Be Balanced
- Be Strategic
- Be faithful:
-Bottom line, do what God wants you to do.
–But it is unlikely God is going to lead you to consistently do something that seems to be unwise…that people with vast experience say you should not do.
-Certainly he will not lead you to do something that does harm to people.
How do we know what faithful looks like?
Live with a ready “yes”…sometimes, you will obey and others will not be grateful or you won’t see results right away.
But obey…live with a ready “yes”
Then seek to be balanced and strategic in your actions.
- Be Balanced:
Guilt is an unproductive emotion.
If you are guilty of sin…confess it and go live forgiven.
If you find yourself living in guilt as an ongoing emotion…it is terrible engine to drive actions.
Move towards living with conviction coupled with wisdom instead.
When you couple conviction (this is what I believe I should do and here is why) and this is how I should do it…you end up with wise action…minus the guilt.
You can even learn how to say “no” to all the many things you should say no to…and “yes” to the specific things you should say yes to.
“But I have a hard time saying ‘no’ to people in need.
**Every “yes” is by default a “no” to many other things…no way around it.
So don’t say “no”…if you find that too difficult…say “Yes, but.”…and here is what my yes looks like.”
USE WISE “YES’S”
For instance…The guy standing staring inches away asking for money…as you sit in your car waiting for the light to turn…what do you do?
Our community has many different and successful groups helping people:
-Union Rescue Mission, Wichita Children’s Home, Interfaith Inn, St. Anthony Family Shelter,
Lord’s diner(6000 volunteers): Three locations, three mobile food trucks…over 5.5 million meals served
If you want some great tips for how to help and not help people…check out the rescue mission’s website
They have many programs (other organizations do as well) to help men change…not just survive.
Look at their advice regarding helping a homeless person…protein bar, bus pass, information on men’s shelter.