Pastor Steve’s Full Blog Posts
Rolled in the trough of thick desire
No oars, and no sea-anchor out
To bring my bow into the pyre
of sunset, suddenly chilling out
To shadow over sky and sea,
And the boat helpless in the trough;
No oil to pour; no power in me
To breast these waves, to shake them off.
I feel such pity for the poor,
Who take the fracas on the beam–
Being ill-equipped, being insecure–
Daily; and caulk the opening seam
With strips of shirt and scribbled rhyme;
Who bail disaster from the boat
With a pint can; and have no time
Being so engrossed to keep afloat,
Even for quarreling (that chagrined
And lavish comfort of the heart),
Who never came into the wind
Who took life beam-on from the start.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
Paraphrase: Daily we struggle with our desires and weaknesses, yet woe to the poor who cannot steer their life, so struggling to just remain alive.
“You shall not wrong an immigrant or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.”
The widows and orphans are those who have no ability to bring their matter to court because they had no social or legal standing, just as a felon or the very poor do not in our society, because they cannot sue. God especially sees the helpless in any society– the children, the mentally ill, the outcast, those who cannot or will not be listened to by society at large. One of those groups today are the homeless. Note that God takes very seriously those who use their privileged position to harm the helpless. God’s judgment is reserved for the poverty pimps– those who take advantage of those who cannot strike back.
How blessed is he who makes plans for the poor; The LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble.
The LORD will protect him and keep him alive,
And he shall be called blessed upon the earth; And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies.
The LORD will sustain him upon his sickbed; In his illness, You restore him to health.
Just as we do to others in need, the Lord will do to us in our time of need. The amount of mercy we show, that is the mercy we will receive. Many of the homeless are blessed by God because of their generosity to their friends.
God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers.
How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Selah.
Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I said, “You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like any one of the princes.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations.
I think this is one of the most under-discussed passages in the Bible. The rulers of the world—whether spiritual or earthly or religious—will be destroyed unless they assist the poor as God commands them. Why did God judge Sodom? Because they oppressed the poor. Why does God destroy the Hitlers and Sadaams of this world? Because they harm the helpless. Every nation should take note– God cares how they treat the most needy under their care. Some cities are on the edge of being judged, just for how they treat the homeless.
And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say,
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.
Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”
Jesus was saying this to his disciples—“You of my disciples who become poor, you will possess God’s kingdom… but you who remain rich, you will gain nothing.” It isn’t the amount of wealth that we have, according to Jesus, but what we do with it. If we use our meager resources for the needy and desperate, if we have struggled to endure with God and others have been attacking us for it, then we will gain all we need and more by God’s hand. However, if we use our great resources for our own comfort, our own entertainment, to soothe our addled minds, then no matter how good of a disciple we are, God has no room for us in His kingdom. Many of the craziest of the homeless are God’s people, while many of those safely in church leadership are out.
“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.
The rich man suffers because he refused to give. The homeless man is rewarded because he suffered.
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.
The church who honors the rich but does not honor the poor has broken Christ’s law. The church who honors the poor honors the ones who live in faith. Churches should stop trying to find ways to get more middle class people into seats. They should start planting churches among the homeless, no matter how much money they lose.
And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
I Corinthians 12:21-26
The church has the responsibility to give greater respect to those of the body who are less honored by the world, and those who are weaker. The members of Christ who suffer should be assisted by those who do not. How many churches seek to welcome the poor to their leadership groups?
A recent study has found that religious people, in general, have less compassion than others who are not religious. NPR article This is odd, since it has already been shown that religious people tend to give more to charity than the non-religious. Study by Stanford
What does this mean? First of all, that the religious give more out of duty rather than compassion. It would be interesting to try to get the numbers that religious and secular people give to charities to the poor or give to political causes or one’s own religious community. It also means that duty is a more effective means of motivating giving rather than compassion.
For Christians, however, why should this be? There is something terribly wrong with this. Some Christians say, “The important thing is that we are giving, not the motivation for giving.” At least when I first posted the original study and concluded something was wrong, that was the response I got. Obedience to the command of giving is what is important, not the motivation behind it.
I strongly disagree. For a number of reasons.
First of all, to give out of duty means that giving is significant, not where we give. Most Christians feel that it is sufficient to give to their church and their church primarily gives that money to staff salaries and property maintenance and growth. Because there is little concern about compassion, little of the money actually goes where Jesus says it goes. He never said, “Sell your possessions and give to the church.” The apostles didn’t take the sacrifice of the people and give themselves good salaries, nor did they build any buildings. Rather, they used the far majority of their funds creating programs for the poor. (Acts 4-5) The poor is where the majority of Christian funds should be given. There is nothing wrong with salaries (“The worker is worth his hire”) or buildings necessarily, but if the staff and buildings aren’t used for the benefit of the poor, then we are disobeying Jesus command. Thus, neglecting our true duty.
Secondly, we are supposed to have the character of God. This isn’t taught much in Christian churches, (sadly), but there is a strong theme in the NT about having the character of God. “Be imitators of God and walk in love” (Eph 5:1) “Love your enemies so you may be sons of your Father in heaven for he is kind to the ungrateful.” (Matthew 5:42-43)
And most Christians do know that we are supposed to imitate Jesus. And one of the main characteristics of Jesus is compassion for those in need. “He had compassion on them.” (Just in Matthew: 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34). Jesus spent all of his time teaching and meeting people’s needs. He really had no other ministry.
If the church of Jesus has rejected compassion as their main motivation, but duty, they are no longer sons of God, who is “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in merciful faithfulness.” Instead, we are slaves. The slave does the duty of the Master because they must. It is the son of the Master that sees his duty as being like the Master.
We all have a certain amount of empathy. Without it, we cannot learn, we cannot live in societies or communities. And we have the ability to exercise our compassion. If we refuse to grow our compassion, we refuse to become like God, thus we are refusing to be children of God. Yes, we can give out of duty, but then we remain slaves.
God deliver us from our limited moral vision.
Anselm said that to know we must first have firm faith. Honestly, we can’t figure out anything until we first stand on something.
DesCartes experimented with what he could know if he doubted everything. However, he was an amateur cynic. That which he accepted, his own existence, was doubted by others given the same set of criteria. The fact is, if we stand on nothing, we are left floating, aimless, pointless, purposeless. If we refuse all faith, we end up being led by others’ knowledge and our contradictory desires.
If we must remain firm about something, what should we remain firm on?
Some choose religion, a system of thought that someone else created. That’s good to begin with as long as when religion finally fails us, we must be ready to stand on something else.
Some choose a self-improving government because even if it fails today, we can always work toward a better tomorrow. Or law because it creates justice and bad laws can be done away with. But even government and law cannot be aimless. They, too, must rest on something.
Some, without thought, rest upon fear. They uphold the structures they are used to and the family they care for and either avoid or attack those who threaten these personal institutions. The problem with relying on fear is someone elses’ fear will end up attacking us. Fear leads to destruction, every time.
I think Tolstoy had it right. Love– or the well being of all people– is the only faith worth establishing. We still need to clearly define what love is, and how to make sure that everyone has well being, but this we know: love needs freedom. And if we give love freedom, then fear must be limited. Or possibly thrown away completely.
Once we rest on love, it doesn’t take to long before we realize that love needs power if it is to accomplish anything.
In that moment, may we fully understand that God is love.