Needy


The Lord takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.  The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses” (Isaiah 3:13-15 NIV). ”

One commentary says, “[ruined, plunder] Normally refers to that taken by violence, but this is probably Isaiah’s way of condemning a social order which allowed the powerful to grow rich at the expense of the weak, even though this might be done by legal means…all the more appropriate that Yahweh is here depicted as bringing the powerful to trial”

I find it interesting that this passage is probably on the verge of the Assyrian invasion and exile of the Northern Kingdom.  More liberal scholars would place the date perhaps after the exile.  Either way it is apparent here that although it would seem that the Assyrians are in control of history and the fate of Israel and Judah—it is actually Yahweh who calls the shots and is at work.   For instance, in Jeremiah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is viewed as the Lord’s “servant.”  That is, Yahweh uses him to bring judgment upon his people.  Not a very comforting thought, huh? As a side note:  I don’t think God deals with his people like this anymore, even if he does have to chastise/discipline us at times.  I will not get into it here in this article but let me put it this way…EVERYTHING changes within the life, death, and resurrection, especially the way God deals with his people and all people of the world.

I suppose that the invasion and exile caused many to blame the evil of Assyria or perhaps Yahweh.  Yet this passage here paints a different picture.  It is because of the evil of the leaders of Israel and Judah that terror came upon the region as judgment.  Yahweh is envisioned as The Judge in the court room delivering the accusations and verdict.  It is intimidating and fearful.  He is the defender of the poor and an ever watchful protector of them.  When those leaders whose essential role was to provide for and defend the poor instead exploit and rape them economically, socially, and emotionally, Yahweh intervenes on their behalf.

Although I am discomforted by this image of a forceful god, I am comforted by the thought that he is on my side—or rather I hope I am on his.  He is a god who is involved, and even though there are times where it seems as though he is silent, he is fully aware, attentive, and watchful–especially for the vulnerable.  Leaders should serve with fear because it is apparent from this passage alone that they will be held accountable for the way they lead.  Are they ethical and honest?  Are they egocentric and self-serving?  Are they mindful of the people or are they more mindful of their wealth, power and careers?

This is an important thought not only for leaders to consider but for those of us who live in a quasi-democratic society that “chooses” our leaders.  Who will you vote for for president of this nation?  What is our accountability when we choose leaders?  Are we aware that some of them may be getting rich or making this nation rich at the expense of the poor or third-world countries?  Do we care? What about the abortion issue?  If we vote for a president who supports abortion, is the blood of millions of innocent children on our hands too (an issue for many Democrats)?  If we vote for a presidential candidate whose answer to most foreign conflicts is war, is the blood of all those young men and women who are fighting for oil or our “influence” around the world on our hands (not to mention foreigners blood)?  That’s a typical issue for Republicans.  Or ignoring the poor or making fun of those on food stamps or government assistance.

These are big issues with a lot of consequences.  We must vote prayerfully.  I may even suggest not voting if you don’t have a peace of mind about who you vote for.  Don’t fall for these comments that people make that you are irresponsible if you don’t vote and have no reason to complain then.  That is a lie!  We have every reason to complain when what we are offered for candidates I wouldn’t trust them with cutting the grass in my backyard nonetheless running the government.  And frankly, I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils.  I vote for Christ because in the kingdom of God he is king and commander-in-chief and is such over this world if they recognize it or not.  My allegiance is the Christ first and foremost and the state is at best secondary.

Let’s also not vote for people just because they say they are a Christian.  I don’t want to hear they are a Christian, I want to see it.  I want to see the fruit of it.  And sadly enough, the Republican candidate who appears to be most Christian of the four stooges is a Mormon.  Then there is another who touts Christian values but has cheated on his wives more than my brother cheats in monopoly.  And that’s just the Republican field.  My point is, God is watching and is fully aware of their ploys and our votes.  Let’s not vote for who we want but for who God wants.  And if we don’t have a peace about anyone…vote for no one.  I believe that when it is our turn to give an account…God will understand that we trust in him and in good conscience could not vote for anyone.

Lord, help me to defend the poor and out of my substance and ability serve them.  I pray for the leaders of our nation that tend to hide behind the rhetorical veil of “freedom” “liberty” and “democracy” and yet either do or are tempted to be drawn by the lust of wealth and power.  May they serve the people like Christ serves and loves his Church.  In Christ name, Amen.

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I mentioned earlier that I am quite tired of the bad press the Church is always getting.  Of course there are issues that need to be addressed and changes that need to be made to have a more effective Church, not only in America but around the world.  Yet I wonder if one of the things that need to be addressed and changed is the constant complaining about ourselves.  For one thing the world does not think a whole lot about the Church these days, does it?  And I am not entirely sure they are going to want to have much to do with us when we are constantly publicizing how horrible we actually are as well.  The world says we stink (to put it very mildly) and then we respond, “Yup we do stink.”  Clever!

Like anything it is always easier to point out the negative instead of finding the positive.  So here is one reason why I love the Church…the people.  Now I will be the first to admit that church people aren’t perfect, in fact they are far from it.  But that is exactly what I love.  They are humans, just like me.  They are full of flaws, mistakes, mixed emotions and faulty reactions.  But they are people and I love them for it.  The problem is we expect too much of our brothers and sisters in Christ…we expect them to be perfect.  Really?  Are you perfect?  So we bicker sometimes and often about little stupid things.  Have you been married for more than a year?  Have you lived in the same house with a family member for more than a week?  Then you would know that it is often the people we love the most and that we are the closest to that we find it easiest and most comfortable to bicker with over stupid things.

We are a family!  We are brothers and sisters in Christ in the household of God as Paul says in Timothy.  If you want to find a church where everyone is perfect and always get’s along…then stop looking for a church because you will not find one like that.  Why?  Because even though we are Christians, we are still humans in the process of being sanctified.  It is a process that isn’t immediately completed the moment you say the sinner’s prayer.  In fact, it is a process that will last a lifetime.

So get used to that brother who always makes sure he is the first in line for food at the church banquet; the sister who bellows out every note and lyric of every hymn or praise song above everyone else; the guy who sits behind you every service sniffing in your right ear when all you want to do is turn around, hand him a kleenex and say “blow your frickin’ nose!”; the kid who double dips his communion bread in the cup of grape juice we use for communion leaving bread crumbs floating  for the next victim who is going to dip the body of our Lord in Christ’s blood–thanks kid!; the elderly lady who takes 3 minutes to dig for the loose change at the bottom of her purse while the patient usher holds the plate under her nose; the pastor who tells the same life stories each Sunday to illustrate non related points and the list goes on endlessly.

But these are the people we are commanded to love because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Why are they goofy?  Because they are people.  They are broken.  They come with baggage and in constant need of healing and a warm friend to say, “Peace be with you…I love you.”  Your hug may be the only hug they get all week.  Your smile may be the only smile that warms their heart.  And we all need each other.  What annoys people about me?  I get quiet and short-tempered when I am tired or hungry and I can tend to be a private person on many things.  I love to talk about theology and scripture and can tend to share more than someone asks for and can thus come acrossed as a theological know it all.  I don’t mean to be that way but I have to be purposeful in not coming acrossed that way.

I love to sit around a table with my church family over good to not so good crock-pot meals and cheap church coffee and for a brief moment in our lives shut out the cares of the world and laugh together.  I love when I am feeling down or things aren’t going so well, to hear the old church lady say in her simple faith “Jeremy, it will all work out for those who love God…he is in control.”  And even if I don’t agree with their premise, I hear and receive the love and care those words carry from their hearts.  I know those old church ladies love me and will be proud of me even if I turned out to be the world’s biggest failure.

I love the hymns I have song a million times and the ability they have to bring tears to my eyes when I hear the small voice of my daughter sing them next to a 90-year-old woman who used to be my daughter’s age.  I love the lipstick marks on my sports coat or dress shirt from the elderly women who gave me hugs.  The smell of Old Spice on the old ushers.  I love the sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a charismatic contemporary church or in a reserved liturgical service.  I have found him just as strong in both but in different ways.  Why?  Because the human hearts in a 150 year old church hunger for him just as much as the human hearts in the youthful modern church.

I once attended a church that was very old.  I remarked to one of the lay leaders that the building was very beautiful.  It had a gorgeous chandelier, beautiful architecture, a balcony overlooking the sanctuary, a spectacular painting of Christ behind the platform, and the pews were rather ornate.  After the third time of mentioning to this man how beautiful and historical the building was he interrupted me and said, “It is the people inside that are beautiful.”  He was right.  Those people in that small congregation are beautiful.  They are all unique and they all have different and very special life stories.

I believe that if we would pause and listen to each other we would learn to love and appreciate each other.  I have heard all of the gimmicks of how to fix the Church today, how to start revival and how to make our churches grow.  I have read the countless books and heard the many lectures and sermons.  Yet I believe that what the world wants now more than anything, is a family that will love them unconditionally.  That’s the Church folks.  I find the love of Christ more and sense his presence greatest sitting around a table of brothers and sisters in Christ fellowshipping like a family than I do in loud technological churches with fine-tuned theologies and theatrics.  Each has its place but being a family must be at the center of it all.  Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and strength.  The second greatest commandment is like the first…love you neighbor as yourselves. What’s that mean?   Well the second is LIKE the first.  I think it is impossible to do the first without also being able to do the second.  At least, obeying the first will cause the second.  Loving God will cause us to love each other.

I love being a Christian and I love Christ’s Church.  Although there is always work and reform to be done in the Church there is so much that blesses me and that I am thankful for.  The Church has never been perfect and if we think the early church had it all together…think again.  The Church has always been filled with humans and humans have always been imperfect, opinionated, silly, childish, passionate and yet lovable.  If God can love us…than we can love us too!

Not too long ago I was driving home from work and all of a sudden my car was swallowed up by the shadow of a mammoth SUV/pick-up truck.  This thing was a gas guzzlin’ monster-beast of a truck.  We came to a red light where the beast-truck was in the right lane and I in the left.  As we sat at the light and I was diagonally behind him, I could hear him revin his engine…VROOM…VROOM!!! Then my eye caught a white bumper sticker on his truck that read in red and blue patriotic letters…”I can drive this truck because we can’t all be on welfare!!!” 

Suddenly the light turned green and rubber tires pealed-out leaving smoke everywhere.  As I coughed on this manly man’s dust I couldn’t help but think about Deuteronomy 15:7-11 and feel the heart of God aching.

 

7 If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. 8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. 9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’, and therefore view your needy neighbour with hostility and give nothing; your neighbour might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. 10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’

With this passage in mind I don’t understand the attitudes and prejudices that people who can obviously drive gas guzzlin’ trucks have.  Now one might say, “Well, you don’t know if he was a Christian or not so how can you hold him to that standard?”

Well first…I don’t know if he was a Christian but I have met MANY Christians with that same exact disgust for those in need or on welfare. These are Christians who have gotten caught up in the American dream and love affair with capitalism more than the economy of God and the ethics of the kingdom. 

Secondly, God does hold the unbeliever to ethical standards.  Unbelievers are not given a get out of jail free card and dismissed from a standard because they don’t believe in it.  There are several places in the Bible where unbelievers are held accountable to ethical standards of God.

But for the sake of this post, let’s explore our own feelings about those in our society who are in need.  How about the elderly, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, the family stuck in the ghetto, the disabled, etc the list is unending?  It is so sad the bitter and horrible things I hear said about these people…from CHRISTIANS!!!  We can tolerate the widow and orphan as long as the orphan grows up and “get’s a damn job.”  We have little use for immigrants, especially “illegals” (as we title them) regardless of the circumstances they may be trying to escape. If they are “legal” we say “they can stay as long as they learn to speak our own damn language!”  And “there are NO families STUCK in the ghetto, this is capitalism they need to go to college and go out and get a job!”

WHAT CARELESS IGNORANCE!!!

I have heard all of these things, even from elderly church-going grandmas.  HOLY COW!!! What terrific attitudes we have toward the needy.  The Old Testament get’s a bad rap on a lot of things, but especially on this issue…it does not have the often affluent evangelical capitalistic American attitude toward these people.  On the contrary, the Old Testament goes to GREAT lengths to help and provide for these folks. 

Now do I think there are some people leaching off the system and taking advantage of it?  Absolutely.  But we are not called to be their judge of intentions on those issues.  We will be held accountable for what we do when we are met with those needs.  They will be accountable for their own intentions…but even God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  He provides for all…and a so are we called to do so. 

We all have certain types of people in our hearts that we have been conditioned to despise.  Who are they in your heart?  Are they black?  Are they white or asian?  Are they Muslim?  Are they drunk, poor, homeless, elderly, ghetto, white-trash, rich, catholic etc?  When those feelings and thoughts arise we need to repent of them and reject them.  We need to love those people and “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”  God loves them and so should we.  We are called to love our neighbor…they are our neighbor!

We are not to be “hard-hearted or tight-fisted.”  We are not to “entertain a mean thought” against them.  But we are to “give liberally and be ungrudging.”  We are not supposed to drive around with stupid bumper stickers on our vehicles and join the culture in abhorring these people and treating them as lazy, invisible, and pests to society. 

I pray for you and for me that we can overcome this bitterness we have for different groups of individuals and see them not as  the world sees them but as Christ sees them in Matthew 25.  Jesus identified with the needy and said when we minister to them…we minister to him.  When we feed the hungry, we feed him.  When we clothe the naked, we clothe him.  When we allow the customer to shop freely without spying on their every  move because they might be stealing, we allow Christ to shop freely.  You get the point. 

May we see every human being as created in the image of God.  May we see them as Christ sees them.  May we see them as Christ.