Good News For the Poor, Part 1

21 Apr

We believe in YHWH, the God of Israel, Creator and Judge of the universe. His greatness is inexpressible and his sovereignty is without limit.

“Behold, to YHWH your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it…YHWH your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Deuteronomy 10.14 & 17).

And yet, YHWH loves and defends the lowly, as he did Abraham and his offspring, Israel, whom he rescued out of slavery in Egypt.

“YHWH did not set his love on you or choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because YHWH loved you and kept the oath which he swore to your forefathers, YHWH brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt…on your fathers did YHWH set his affection to love them. [He] has done these great and awesome things for you…your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now YHWH your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 7.7-8; 10.15, 21-22).

In this YHWH reveals himself as a good and faithful judge who works justice for the vulnerable.

“YHWH…does not show partiality, nor take a bride. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows his love for the stranger by giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10.17-18).

And so YHWH calls Israel to do the same for the vulnerable in their midst, remembering what he did for them in Egypt.

So show your love for the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10.19).

This kind of command is repeated throughout Israel’s law. Never oppress the vulnerable; defend them, because YHWH rescued you from oppression in Egypt.

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan” (Exodus 22.21-22).

“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you were also strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23.9).

“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…You shall do no wrong in judgment…You shall have just balances…I am YHWH your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19.33-37).

“Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor…then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God, that your countryman may live with you. You shall not give him your silver at interest, or your food for gain. I am YHWH your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt… (Leviticus 25.35-38).

“You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and YHWH your God redeemed you from there…When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that YHWH your God may bless you in all the works of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing” (Deuteronomy 24.17-18; 19-22).

These laws express the heart of YHWH, the exalted One who humbles himself to help the needy. We believe in him.

“YHWH is high above all nations, his glory is above the heavens. Who is like YHWH our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people” (Psalm 113.5-8).

“How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in YHWH his God; who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. YHWH sets prisoners free. YHWH opens the eyes of the blind. YHWH raises up those who are bowed down; YHWH loves the righteous. YWHW protects the strangers; he supports the fatherless and the widow” (Psalm 146.5-9).

“When they are diminished and bowed down through oppression, misery, and sorrow…he sets the needy in an unreachable, high place, away from affliction” (Psalm 107.39 & 41).

This is the God of Israel’s poets and poet-kings. We believe in him.

We believe in the God of their songs…

“‘Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,’ says YHWH, ‘I will set him in the safety for which he longs’” (Psalm 12.5)

“A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, is God in his holy place. God makes a home for the lonely. He leads out the prisoners into prosperity” (Psalm 68.5-6).

“I know that YHWH will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and justice for the poor” (Psalm 140.12).

…the God of their prayers…

“Give the king your judgments, O God, and thy righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your afflicted with justice…May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor…he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and the needy, and the lives of the needy he will save. He will rescue their life from oppression and violence; and their blood will be precious in his sight” (Psalm 72.1-2, 4, 12-14).

…the God of their wisdom poetry…

“He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors him” (Proverbs 14.31).

“YHWH will tear down the house of the proud, but he will establish the boundary of the widow” (Proverbs 15.25).

“He who is gracious to the poor lends to YHWH, and he will repay him for his benefits” (Proverbs 19.17).

“He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Proverbs 22.9).

“The righteous one knows the cause of the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such knowledge” (Proverbs 29.7).

…and the God of their warnings.

“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? 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” (Psalm 82.1-4).

“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered” (Proverbs 21.13).

“Do not rob the poor because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for YHWH will plead their case, and take the life of those who rob them” (Proverbs 22.22-23).

“He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who hides his eyes [from them] will have many curses” (Proverbs 28.27).

These warnings and curses echo that of Israel’s law.

“‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen’” (Deuteronomy 27.17).

If Israel were to forget that God rescued them from Egypt, to begin to oppress her own, to ignore the afflictions of the vulnerable, to flaunt her wealth, the Law of Moses predicts that YHWH will curse her with a kind of return to Egypt. Israel will again be oppressed by other nations.

“YHWH will cause you to be defeated before your enemies…you shall be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth…A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you shall never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually…YHWH will bring you and your king, whom you shall set over you, to a nation which neither of you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among the people where YHWH will drive you…So all these curses shall come on you…because you did not serve YHWH your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom YHWH shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things…YHWH will bring a nation against you from afar…it shall besiege you in all your towns…your enemy shall oppress you in all your towns…And YHWH will bring you back to Egypt…(Deuteronomy 28.25, 33, 36-37, 49, 52, 57, 68). 

Israel’s prophets, too, predicted and lamented the coming of these curses.

“How the faithful city has become a harlot, she who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her…Everyone loves a bribe, and chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow’s plea come before them. Therefore the Lord God of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel declares, “…I will turn my hand against you…’” (Isaiah 1.21, 23-24).

“YHWH arises to contend, and stands to judge the people. YHWH enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people, ‘…the plunder of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, and grinding the face of the poor?’” (Isaiah 3.13-15)

“Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of my people of their rights, in order that the widows may be spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the day of devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? (Isaiah 10.1-3). 

“‘They do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?’ decalres YHWH, ‘On a nation such as this shall I not avenge myself?’ (Jeremiah 5.28-29)

“‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place…If you will not obey these words, I swear by myself,’ declares YHWH, ‘that this house will become a desolation…Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages…Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and the needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know me?’ declares YHWH.” But your eyes and you heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion (Jeremiah 22.3, 5, 13-17).

“‘…you have not merely walked in [the] ways of  [Sodom with her sisters and daughters] or done according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you acted more corruptly in all your conduct than they. As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘Sodom, your sister, and her daughters, have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and the needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before me. Therefore I removed them…’” (Ezekiel 16.47-50).

YHWH “will remember their iniquity, and punish their sins; They will return to Egypt. For Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; and Judah has multiplied fortified cities, but I will send a fire on its cities that it may consume its palatial dwellings” (Hosea 8.13-14).

“…because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, yet you will not live in them. You have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes, and turn aside the poor in the gate” (Amos 5.11-12). 

“Then YHWH said to me, ‘The end has come for my people Israel. I will spare them no longer. The songs of the palace will turn to wailing in that day,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Many will be the corpses; in every place they will cast them forth in silence.’ Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land, you who say, ‘When will the new moon be over…and the sabbath that we may open the wheat market…to cheat with dishonest scales, so as to buy the helpless for money and the needy for a pair of sandals, and that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?’ YHWH has sworn…”Indeed, I will never forget their deeds. Because of this will not the land quake and everyone who dwells in it mourn?’” (Amos 8.2-8).

“Thus has YHWH of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice, and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor…But they refused to pay attention, and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing, and they made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which YHWH of hosts had sent by his Spirit to the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from YHWH of hosts’” (Zechariah 6.9-12).

The God of Israel would not accept the religious ceremonies of a people who oppress or ignore the poor.

“‘What are you multiplied sacrifices to me?’ says YHWH. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings…When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer. Incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies–I cannot endure iniquity with solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to me. I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you. Yes, even though you multiply your prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from my sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good: seek justice, reprove the oppressor, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1.10-17).

Eventually, when the curses came, when the nations began to oppress them, Israel would fast and pray, begging God to defend them. But God would not hear their prayers while they ignored the oppressed in their own cities.

YHWH says, “…they seek me day by day, and delight to know my ways, as though a nation that has done righteousness, and not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask me for just decisions! They delight in the nearness of God. They say, ‘Why have we fasted and you do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and you do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast find you find your pleasure while driving hard all your workers. Is it a fast like this that I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed, and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to YHWH? Is this rather the fast that I choose instead: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own people?” (Isaiah 58.2-3, 5-7).

YHWH searched Israel for a just ruler, but he found no one.

“I said…to Jerusalem, ‘I will give a messenger of good news.’ But when I look, there is no one, and there is no counselor among them, who, if I ask, can give an answer. Behold, all of them are false (Isaiah 41.27-28).

“The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and the needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22.29-30).

Still, YHWH would not forsake Israel. The prophet Isaiah began to foresee the coming of a great King from David’s line, a Servant who would end the curse by bringing YHWH’s own justice for the poor. We hope in this Servant King.

“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. And the Spirit of YHWH will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of YHWH. And he will delight in the fear of YHWH, and he will not judge by what his eyes see, nor make a decision by what his ears here; but with righteousness he will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth” (Isaiah 11.1-4).

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst; I, YHWH, will answer them myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land fountains of water…Behold, my Servant, who I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise his voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 41.17-18; 42:1-4).

But Isaiah predicted a darker task for the Servant. Not only would he defend the poor and oppressed in Israel, but he would enter in to their poverty and suffer oppression alongside them at the hands of Israel’s own corrupt judges. And somehow, through his poverty, he would carry away the curse upon Israel, his own sufferings functioning as a guilt offering on behalf of the whole nation.

“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised and we did not esteem him. Surely our griefs he himself bore, and our sorrows he carried; yet we ourselves esteemed him struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but YHWH has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off from the land of living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet he was with a rich man in his death, because he has done no violence, nor was there any deceit in his mouth. But YHWH was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief; If he would render himself as a guilt offering, he will see his offspring, he will prolong his days, and the good pleasure of YHWH will prosper in his hand. As a result of the anguish of his soul, he will see it and be satisfied; by his knowledge the Righteous One, my Servant, will justify the many, as he will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:3-11).

When would he come, this Servant King anointed with the Spirit of YHWH? He speaks to the poor through Isaiah, and he speaks as though he is YHWH himself, promising them justice and a blessing that will be known among all nations.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign YHWH is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of YHWH, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of YHWH, that he may be glorified…Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, and instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, everlasting joy will be theirs. For I, YHWH, love justice, I hate iniquity in the burnt offering; and I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Then their offspring will be known among all nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples, all who see will recognize them because they are the offspring whom YHWH has blessed. I will rejoice greatly in YHWH, my soul will exult in my God; for he has clothed me with garments of salvation, he has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes things sown in it to spring up, so the Sovereign YWHW will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all nations” (Isaiah 61.1-3, 7-11).

Israel waited. Mighty empires oppressed them. Assyria. Babylon. The shadow of the curse was upon them. The prophets continued to scold the nation for asking God to defend them against their enemies, while they themselves were unjust. And they continued to predict a coming Lord who would purge Israel of injustice.

“You have wearied YHWH with your words…in that you say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of YHWH,” and [at the same time] “Where is the God of justice?’ ‘Behold, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come into his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming,’ says YHWH of hosts. ‘But who can endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiners fire…and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so they may present to YHWH offerings in righteousness. Then I will draw near to you in judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely , and against those who oppress the wager earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside from the stranger, and do not fear me,’ says YHWH of hosts. For I, YHWH, do not change, therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are no consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes, and have no kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says YHWH of hosts. ‘But you say, ‘How shall we return?””(Malachi 2.17-3.1-3, 5-7)

Centuries later, as Israel languished under the yoke of the Roman Empire, a young prophet began to baptize many of the people, preaching as Isaiah’s “voice in the wilderness,” the one who would prepare Israel for the appearance of YHWH’s coming.

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of YHWH,’ as Isaiah the prophet said” (John 1.23).

His name was John, and like the prophets before him, he warned of coming judgment and urged the nation to return to YHWH.

You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham has our father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3.7-9).

And when the people asked him how they were to return, he again echoed the prophets.

“The multitudes were questioning him, saying, ‘What then must we do?’ And he would answer them saying, ‘Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.’ And tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you have been ordered to.’ And some soldiers were questioning him saying, ‘And what about us, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.’” (Luke 3.11-14).

He taught with such power that many in Israel wondered whether he was the Anointed One, the Messiah. But he denied it, insisting that one far greater than himself was about to be revealed to Israel.

“After me one is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie his sandals. I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1.7-8).

What happened next must have reminded John of the opening words of Isaiah’s first Servant Song: “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42.1).

“And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him; and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are my beloved son, in you I am well-pleased” (Mark 1.9-11).

YHWH’s Spirit was upon this man. YHWH’s delight was in him. Isaiah’s Servant-King had arrived, a threat to all oppressors, the hope for all who are oppressed. We believe in him.

(to be continued in Part 2)

The Symbolic Power of Your Donations

9 Dec

Your financial contributions to The Hub make our work possible. Without you, we simply could not do what we do.

But there is much more to your giving than that. In addition to supplying our needs, your contributions are a living symbol of love and unity to the poor in downtown Shreveport. It reminds of us something in the Bible.

During the first generation of Christianity the most difficult place to be a Christian was where it had all began: in and around Jerusalem. The very earliest Christians were, of course, Jews, and for them believing that Jesus was the Messiah cost them immediately. Social connections, family connections, jobs, homes. Jesus’s promises to the one who “has lost his life for My sake” were more practically relevant to them than anyone (see Matt 10.34-39). Their faith cost them “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions” (Mark 10:29-30).

For these reasons at least, the original Jewish Christians were very poor.

The apostle Paul, running around the wider world spreading the gospel to Gentiles, remembered them (Gal 2:10). Even though his ministry took place outside of Jerusalem and Judea, he made it his aim to take up a collection from his Gentile churches as a gift to take back to Jerusalem. He mentions one such collection in Romans 15:25ff and 2 Corinthians 8-9. The practical purpose of the collection, obviously, was to provide financial relief to the poorest and most persecuted community of Christians in the world. But, the symbolic meaning may have been even more important.

As you know, Jews habitually kept themselves separate from Gentiles. And even after some Jews converted to Christianity, it was still difficult for them to imagine fellowshipping with Gentile believers. Many criticized Paul’s mission and even questioned his apostleship. But Paul was convinced that, in Jesus, God had “broken down the barrier” between Jew and Gentile, “making the two groups one…establishing peace,” intending to “reconcile them both into one body..through the cross” (Eph 2.14-16). The collection was Paul’s way of saying to Jewish Christians: “The Gentile churches love you, are thankful for you and want to be in fellowship with you.”

In our view, your gifts to The Hub function in a similar way. Your gifts do more than just supply the physical needs of the poorest in Shreveport. Your gifts say, “we love you and want to be in fellowship with you.”

The Hub is convinced that God does not want different churches for different kinds of people. This was Paul’s conviction, and it is ours. We minister in order to erase a horrible assumption that exists among the most destitute in Shreveport. Just this weekend, one of our street friends asked if he could come sing in the choir at my church. He followed this request by asking me to make sure that no one in the choir told him to get out. How heartbreaking. Impoverished Christians in downtown Shreveport assume they do not belong and our not wanted in our churches.

Your gifts, backed by the unifying message of our gospel, say otherwise. Thank you for giving.

Thankful

14 Oct

Hi Hub family!

I am thankful.

I am thankful
that I have the honor and privilege of serving our city.  The fact that the Lord allows me to be a part of His redemption plan for people never ceases to amaze me.  If you know anything about me you know that I am the least likely candidate to lead a charge.  I am scattered and emotional and unorganized….so I am thankful that God chose to wire me from the inside to do the calling He has placed on my life.

I am thankful for the people we serve.  I get to sit down face to face daily with some of the most beautiful, strong, courageous, hungry, sad, anxious, tired, joyful people on the face of the earth.  The people that we serve through The Hub have taught me more about the heart of God than any teacher from the pulpit.  I have learned how to serve and lead from a place of humility…and I’ve learned that because they are my friends.  I have learned how to fight against injustices and to be a voice for those without one…and I’ve learned that because they are in my life. I have learned that God’s heart is for the ones everyone else has decided are worthless…and this truth has set me free.

I am thankful for persecution Our ministry has seen its fair share of attack, persecution, slander, nay-saying…etc. in the past year.  I can honestly say that I am thankful beyond reason for it.  The last year of my life has sharpened my vision, challenged my motives, tested my dependence on the Lord and taught me what it’s like to suffer (nothing in comparison to those all over our world) for the Lord.  I am thankful for persecution because it has made me more like Jesus.  I am thankful for persecution because it is a marker that tells me to press forward…that we must be doing something right.

I am thankful that The Hub, the volunteers and the people we serve, are my family and my community.  A few weeks ago I was at the end of my rope, feeling beat up and tired.  I was exhausted and felt attacked on all sides.  I walked into the Discipleship class at The Lovewell Center.  The 60 people in attendance gathered around me and prayed over me.  They prayed for my strength, healing, rest, encouragement and my heart.  They prayed against the enemy, the attacks of satan, doubt, fear, insecurity and many other things that I was feeling weighed down by.  I am thankful that I can walk into a room of people that most have counted out and be met with an army of prayer warriors who truly care for my well being.  I am thankful for a community of misfits and rag tags… because with them I find great company.

I am thankful for the churches in our city.  I am honored and blessed to work alongside the local church in our city.  The Hub is supported by over 30 churches from all over our city, every size, shape, color and denomination.  We live in a city where God is moving and we are beyond blessed with the churches He has planted here.  I am thankful for every pastor, minister, staffer, secretary, Sunday school or small group teacher and every member that attends our churches.  You are our heroes at The Hub and we will never cease to pursue the local church as a place for people’s freedom.  I am thankful that our ministry has the covering of the local church and not the government.  I am thankful to say that our entire work is funded through the church and individuals in our city.

I am thankful that I can be a leader who is vulnerable, honest and myself.  It is rare to be in leadership and be allowed to be raw, open, emotional and honest.  You, Hub family, have allowed me to lead from that place and I am thankful.  Thanks for putting up with my crazy.

I am thankful for The Hub/Purchased staff.  Words can not do justice to what those 10 individuals mean to my life.  They have forever changed me.  I am thankful to live, laugh (a lot), love, serve, fight, cry, celebrate, travel, eat (a lot) and walk through my days with them.  God has brought together the greatest team on the face of the earth to love our city.  I am honored to be their leader.  I am thankful that they stand in agreement with me for the poor.  I am thankful that they never quit, no matter how tired, worn out, angry, frustrated or challenged they feel.  I am thankful for their stories of redemption and the hope that they bring every time they open their mouth.

I am thankful for our volunteers.  The Hub has the greatest boast in the army that God has called out to fight with us for those in our city who are broken.  I could have never imagined 6 years ago, when “The Hub” was me and 5 volunteers…all of which were family so they weren’t volunteering…it was by force, that The Hub would be blessed with over 1200 dedicated people.  I am thankful that you give your time, energy, talents, money and are willing to step out of your comfort zone to love people.  I am thankful that you put up with us…even when we’re unorganized or flustered.  I am thankful that you come, ready to serve, with a huge smile on your face and a story of hope to tell.  I am thankful that you allow God to speak through you to the people we serve.  I am thankful for volunteers that will lay down church names, denominational lines and personal preferences for the greater calling of service.  I am thankful that you too believe in the love of God and what it can mean to a person who is hurting.  I am thankful for your words of encouragement, support and for truly being a family for us.  The people we serve will never be the same because of our volunteers.  They now have a family.  Thank you.

I am thankful for Jesus.  Sounds cheesy and sort of obvious.  But I am.  I am thankful that everything I need is found in Him.  I am thankful that He walked the earth and left us a template for how to live life like the Father.  I am thankful that when He was here, he hung out with the broken, the widow, the orphan, the prostitute, the tax collector…the “wrong” crowd…showing us what our lives are supposed to be about.  I am thankful that every problem, injustice, hurt, hang up, addiction and emotional pain has its healing in Jesus.  I am thankful that Jesus is ENOUGH for anyone who comes to Him.  I will never back down from my belief that helping the poor MUST begin and end with Him.  I am thankful for His death and even more for His coming back to life!  I am thankful that He took me, dead and in a pit, and breathed life back into me.  I am thankful that He never changes, never leaves, never forgets and never stops loving me.

Cassie Hammett
Director
The Hub: urban ministries
http://www.thehubministry.com

“Fitching” the Homeless??

10 Jun

Abercrombie_Fitch_Logo

Teen clothier Abercrombie and Fitch has been in the news lately for their controversial preference for thin women and “cool kids.”

The recent media storm began with the opening lines of a Business Insider article back on May 3: “Teen retailer Abercrombie and Fitch doesn’t stock XL or XXL sizes in women’s clothing because they don’t want overweight women wearing their brand.” The article goes on to quote a 2006 Salon bio on A&F CEO, Mike Jeffries:

“…[W]e hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that…In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids… Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Things got worse for A&F six days later when Elite Daily dubiously cited an unnamed A&F district manager claiming that it is the company’s policy to “rather burn their clothes” than give them to non-profits requesting donations.

Part of the unsurprising public backlash that has ensued is an intensely sarcastic youtube video campaign (over 7 million views) calling on Americans to “Fitch the homeless” by donating all A&F apparel to local homeless shelters. The stated goal is to “rebrand” A&F as “the world’s number one brand of homeless apparel.”

Yikes.

It doesn’t take the wisdom of Solomon to figure out that #fitchthehomeless, despite clothing the needy, is an idea in the category of NOT AWESOME. Still, Rachal Karman, a social worker in L.A.’s Skid Row, does an excellent job of explaining why in a recent article for Relevant. Especially poignant is the response of her homeless friends to the video. One said, “we may be homeless, but that doesn’t mean we want to wear…clothes to prove a point—what purpose would that serve, to dehumanize us even more than we already have been?”

Abercrombie and Fitch discriminates against a certain class of human being for profit. “Fitching the homeless” uses another kind of human being to make a political point. Exploitation, like partiality, is a long way from love.

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Hub staffer Sarah Ditt expresses her opinion of the “Fitch the homeless” campaign.

The Lovewell Center

21 May

We at The Hub seek to intentionally love the materially poor in such a way that they will one day—hopefully—no longer need our help. We really do labor to make ourselves superfluous in the lives of those to whom we minister. We want them to learn to provide for themselves materially, and join a church where they can serve and be shepherded. Our first three blog posts from the month of March (3/4, 3/11, and 3/18) provide our rationale for these ideas. If you have not read them, please do, as they include our definition of “poverty” and what it means for us to truly “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

This kind of thinking informs our plans for the soon-to-open Lovewell Center—a facility specifically designed to address the endless cycle of poverty by encouraging participatory earning instead of a handout system. Our program intends to challenge the generational issue of entitlement and replace it with one of biblical stewardship. The Lovewell Center will be a place that views poverty as an unhealthy version of humanity (spiritually and materially), and it will therefore address the needs of the entire human.

We believe that The Lovewell Center will be a place of learning, accountability and life change.

HOW IT WORKS…

Every person who comes into The Lovewell will receive a membership card upon registration.  Any one is eligible for a Lovewell Center card.   On the back of each card is a magnetic stripe (like the one on your credit or debit card). Using software designed primarily as a reward system for businesses, we can credit or debit points to/from every person’s account.

Each card holder will choose a “track” to work to earn credits.  The tracks are designed to offer holistic teaching and skill building, based in Biblical truth, with the goal of building a solid foundation in their life.  These skills will assist them in their journey out of poverty and into freedom and the life that God designed for them.

Once a track is chosen by a participant, they then can begin attending classes and meetings.  Each time they attend a class and work on their track they earn points on their card.  Those points become a currency for the people we serve.  They will get the opportunity to earn the resources that they so desperately need.  They will feel again what it’s like to be a part of thier own lives.

Points are earned within one of six stewardship “tracks.” 

1 – building maintenance (2 pts. per task)

2 – discipleship (10 pts. per bible class attended)

3 – GED (10 pts. per class; 50 pts. for taking placement test. 100 pts. for passing final test)

4 – Financial Literacy (10 pts. per class)

5 – Addiction Recovery (10 pts. per Celebrate Recovery class or 20 pts. per Active Recovery class)

6 – Jobs For Life job training and placement (10 pts. per class)

REDEEMING POINTS:

The Lovewell Center will offer downtown many amazing resources.  None of these resources will be free, they require points to be purchased.

Earned points can be redeemed the following ways:

Eat Well: Grocery Store

Groceries

Family Bag = 5pts. (cap of 1 bag per week)

Snack Bag = 2pts. (cap of 1 bag per week)

Hygiene

5 items = 5pts.
1 item = 1pt. per item

Smell Well: Laundry

5pts. per load

DressWell: Thrift Store

shirt = 1pt.
pant = 2pts.
dress = 1pt.
jackets/sweater = 2pts.
underwear = 1pt.
socks (1 pair) = 1pt.
shoes (1 pair) = 2pts.
accessories = 1pt.
bedding/sleeping bag = 4pts.
Bus (Day) Passes = 4pts. (limit 1 per week, unless class facilitator feels more needed for class attendance)

We are so excited about what is to come with The Lovewell Center.  We understand that it is a unique and uncommon approach to helping the poor, but we believe that God gave us this vision so graciously and we want to be obedient to the call He has placed on us.

Please begin to pray with us as the opening grows closer.  Pray that the concept of earning is accepted among the people we serve and that a revival begins in downtown Shreveport.  God is on the move and we are so excited to see what He alone can do.

Was Jesus Homeless?

22 Apr

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“…He became poor, so that you out of His poverty might become rich.” – Paul

There is no denying that Jesus was poor from birth. His mother identified with “the hungry” and those “of low estate” (Luke 1.48, 52). His father was a carpenter in Nazareth, a town that was mocked in its day (1.46), and which recent archaeological excavations have shown to be a poor village of roughly fifty houses. When Jesus was an infant, his family offered a sacrifice of two turtle doves or pigeons (Luke 2.24)–the sacrifice required of those “who cannot afford a lamb” (Lev 12.8).

When Jesus began His ministry around the age of 30, he left Nazareth and “settled” in a fishing village called Capernaum (Matt 4.13). It is not clear if Jesus ever owned a house in Capernaum. It was certainly his base of operations during his ministry, but He may have always stayed in Peter’s house. Jesus famously said, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt 8.20), and it appears that He said this while in Capernaum, or at least very nearby (see Matt 8.14-20). Most certainly, while Jesus traveled throughout Israel preaching and healing (away from Capernaum), He and His disciples slept wherever they could.

This brings us to sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz’s latest work (pictured), a truly stunning bronze sculpture called “Jesus The Homeless,” which had a tough time, appropriately enough, finding a home before it was finally accepted by a Jesuit seminary at the University of Toronto. A recent article in The Toronto Star tells how two prominent Catholic churches, one in Toronto and one in New York, rejected the sculpture as inappropriate, “too controversial” and “vague.”

What do you think? Even if you believe that Jesus wasn’t truly “homeless,” or since there were no park benches in 1st century Israel, is the sculpture appropriate? Why?

Like a Root Out of Dry Ground

15 Apr

We have written in previous posts (here, here, and especially here) about the importance of stewardship and responsibility to human thriving. We cannot help but notice this biblical emphasis from the very beginning: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it” (Gen 2.15). It may not always be a literal garden that we must tend, but we believe that every person was created to cultivate and keep something. This is a truth that we try to teach to our people, pointing them ultimately to Jesus, the One who gave us hope by fulfilling His responsibilities; as He once prayed: “I have manifested Your Name to the people whom You gave me…They were Yours and You gave them to Me…I kept them in Your Name…I have guarded them and not one of them has been lost…” (John 17.6, 12).

If you know where our Lovewell Center is located–even if you’ve visited us as we prepare to open there–you may be surprised to learn that our building (in downtown Shreveport!) has a back yard! Ever since we first set eyes on the property, we envisioned the possibility of planting a community garden in our own back yard. We hope this will provide at least five things for our people:photo copy 2

1) Our garden (as only a part of our park-like back yard) will be an oasis of natural beauty in a mostly greenless downtown.

2) Our garden will produce healthy food for the poor in the area.  Not only will this food be available at the Lovewell, but it will also be made available in a small “Farmers Market” in Ledbetter Heights.

3) Our garden will be a stewardship which our street friends will tend responsibly.

4) Our garden will be a model which could be reproduced in Ledbetter Heights by the people of that neighborhood.

5) Our garden will be a practical object lesson that can provide a context for our people to understand some of the Bible’s central truths (and many of Jesus’ parables).

The Lovewell’s garden has been on our minds in the last few weeks for a couple of reasons. First, we came across an inspiring video in which Ron Finley, a resident of South Central Los Angeles, discusses the “guerrilla gardening” efforts of his group L.A. Green Grounds. Check out this recent Huffington Post article on Finley’s work.

Second, and more significantly, at our most recent staff bible study we looked at Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus as the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). In verse 2 the Servant is described as growing “up before Him like a tender plant, and like a root out of dry ground.” It is a remarkable thing to think of Jesus as a young, tender plant, struggling to thrive in dry, unhealthy soil…soil much like the kind in our back yard (pictured below). photoThe most beautiful thing in the history of creation, our Lord Jesus, was conceived in the soil of all our sin (Rom 1.3), directly descended from incestuous unions, murderers, adulterers, and prostitutes (see here). He was literally born in a barn (Luke 2.7). From His earliest days His poor family was on the run from those who sought to kill their firstborn, forced even to flee the country for a time (Matt 2.13-15). But through all of that suffering and injustice, and through the far worse suffering and injustice that was still to come, God perfected a masterpiece of a human being and the author of our salvation (Heb 2.10). “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” they wondered (John 1.46). Yes, and more than just “good,” the very best.

This gives us hope for the people to whom we minister. Our people come from the worst situations. Violence, sex trafficking, drugs, alcohol, abusive parents, neglectful parents, no parents. And it gives us hope for own lives. We may not have come from settings as horrible as many of those to whom we minister, but each of has sin as our heritage, and many of us live with the fear that we are bound to repeat the mistakes of our parents or our past.

But we are not. The One who knows what it is like to be “a root out of dry ground” is able to bring life where it appears impossible.”Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth. Will you be aware of it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43.19).

So we will strive on to “give ourselves to the hungry, to satisfy the desire of the poor,” trusting that the Lord will keep His promise to “satisfy our souls in scorched places,” and we “will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail” (58.10-11)

Post-Easter Breakfast

1 Apr

After Jesus was raised from the dead, He occasionally visited His disciples “over a period of forty days” (Acts 1.3).

One morning He finds them fishing on the Sea of Galilee (John 21). They had been at it all night but hadn’t caught a thing. So, Jesus yells some advice from the beach which immediately results in a huge catch–so many fish, in fact, they have trouble hauling the nets back into the boat.

Eventually, they get the fish to shore (no thanks to Peter, who had jumped overboard to swim in as soon as he realized the identity of the Man on the beach). Jesus has breakfast waiting on them: fresh fish of his own simmering over a fire.**

“Bring some of the fish you just caught,” He says. “Come eat.”

After breakfast Jesus asks Peter a tough question: “Do you love me more than these?” What does that mean? Do you love me more than what? More than the fish? More than the disciples? No, Jesus most likely means, “Do you love me more than these disciples do?”

Remember, Peter was always the one to proclaim ultimate loyalty toward Jesus. He loved Jesus more than anybody did! He had just left the others with the boat and swam to Jesus. Days earlier he had run to the empty tomb and was the first one brave enough to actually go inside (20.3-7). A few days before that he had promised, “I will lay down my life for you,” (John 13.37), and when the moment came, he drew his sword in defense of his Master (18.10).

But, after Jesus told him to put the sword away, he had, in his bewilderment, denied even knowing Jesus…three times (18.15-17, 25-27). So now, three times, Jesus asks him, “Do you love me?”

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep. (John 21.15-17).

Each time, in one way or another, Peter says he loves Jesus. And each time, Jesus replies by telling him to love others. Tend my lambs. Shepherd my sheep. Tend my sheep.

We at The Hub often say that Jesus takes our love of others (or lack thereof) personally, and we quote the “you have done it unto me” passage in Matthew 25.31-46 in support of that belief. But, John 21 shows us something grander. Jesus takes our treatment of others even more personally than our treatment of Him. And coming from the supremely selfless One, that sounds about right, doesn’t it?

Peter had denied Jesus. Jesus knows it, and Peter knows Jesus knows it. But Jesus isn’t interested in making Peter wallow in the guilt. He doesn’t even force Peter to say it out loud. What He does force Peter to say out loud is something more important, another thing they both know to be true: he really does loves Jesus. And He wants to remind Peter that for the rest of his life, even after Jesus has gone away, he can love Jesus by taking care of those whom He has given Peter to love.

We’ve all denied Jesus. But Jesus is the risen Lord anyway. And today He’s glad to cook us breakfast and give us the opportunity to love Him by loving others. More than any worship song we could sing or prayer we could pray, He appreciates it when we shepherd his sheep. And more than any direct denial we wish we could forget, He hurts when we fail to love those whom He has given us to love.

“To the extent that you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto Me.”

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meal**Jesus knew very well what the Pevensie children learned in Narnia at Mr. and Mrs. Beaver’s house: “…there’s nothing to beat good freshwater fish if you eat it when it has been alive half an hour ago and has come out of the pan half a minute ago” (Lewis, C. S., The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, 74).

Incidentally, other resurrection appearances in the gospels make it a point to show Jesus eating (Luke 24.30; 41-42). The writers wanted us to know that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. Ghosts don’t eat. Consider Nearly Headless Nick’s (Nicholas de-Mimsy-Porpington) 500th deathday party in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets (Rowling, J. K. 131ff). Yes, there was a buffet of rotten fish, burned cakes, maggoty haggis, and moldy cheese, but the ghosts couldn’t eat it.  “Harry watched, amazed, as a portly ghost approached the table, crouched low, and walked through it, his mouth held wide so that it passed through one of the stinking salmon. ‘Can you taste it if you walk through it?’ Harry asked him. ‘Almost,’ said the ghost sadly, and he drifted away.”   

Is The Hub “Faith-Based”?

26 Mar

From time to time we at The Hub hear our ministry referred to as a “faith-based organization” or a “faith-based initiative.” At first glance the terms seem appropriate. After all, our identity and work are unashamedly based in our faith toward Jesus. We make no attempt to hide that. So, I guess we are a “faith-based organization,” aren’t we?

Umm…

A quick glance at wikipedia will help to explain why the term “faith-based organization” is not at all appropriate to The Hub. The term, coined in the 1970′s and made popular by President George W. Bush, refers to government-funded organizations whose efforts are based in their (usually Christian) religion. The Hub is in no way funded by the government. It is important to us that you, our supporters, know that.  Bear with us as we try to explain why.

You may remember that President Bush’s “faith-based initiative” raised questions about “the separation of church and state” because, while it provided government funding for explicitly religious organizations, it did so only for the “non-religious” or “non-spiritual” aspects of those organizations (whatever that means). We don’t even want to think about trying to determine which aspects of our ministry are “spiritual” and which aren’t.

Consider the testimony of Brian Fikkert (founder and director of The Chalmers Center for Economic Development):

“…I once served on the board of an inner-city ministry… We applied for federal funds to pay for part of our job-preparedness training for unemployed people… [O]ur ministry was very committed to using a curriculum that communicated a biblical worldview concerning work, including the need for Jesus Christ to restore us to being productive workers. 

The government’s grant administrator, who happened to be a Christian, informed us that the law prohibited us from using the government’s money to cover the costs of such an explicitly gospel-focused curriculum. He was doing his job in informing us of this law. No problem with that. However, he then said, ‘Brian, just remove the explicitly Christian material from the lessons. You can teach the same values that you want to teach–responsibility, punctuality, respect, hard work, discipline, etc.–without articulating their biblical basis. These values work whether people see them as coming from God or not.’ In essence, the grant administrator was encouraging us to apply evangelical gnosticism, separating Christ from His world, encouraging us to use Christ’s techniques without recognizing Him as the Creator of the techniques and without calling on Him to give people the power to employ those techniques.

We decided not to use the federal funds to pay for the curriculum” (When Helping Hurts, 91).

The Hub so wholeheartedly agrees with Brian Fikkert’s reasoning in this instance that we simply avoid the question altogether.

But, more than this, The Hub refuses to rely on government funding because we have no desire to be accountable to our government.  In order to continue receiving government money, we would have to continually report to them, providing data about, for instance, the amount of people we “service” over a given time period.  We do not care to allow the hassle and pressure of this “paperwork” to distract us from our real work. In any case, we intentionally avoid fiscal accountability to any organization whose structure and goals are not derived and centered in the New Testament.

We are accountable to God, but our stewardship from Him is overseen by His churches. The Hub is not a church, but we are accountable directly to the churches in our area and are completely funded by them.

The Apostle Paul described his relationship with the Philippian church as a “partnership in the gospel” (Phil 1.5). And, this is exactly the kind of relationship that The Hub has with our churches. Like Paul and his team, The Hub is engaged in an intense conflict with the enemy—both seen and unseen. We are in the darkest parts of our city, loving the most broken individuals. And like Paul’s team, we have faithful churches who are “engaged in the same conflict” alongside us (1.30).

Our churches–YOU!–do this, first of all, “through your prayers” (1.19). We can do nothing without that. Secondly, we have “fellow workers” and “fellow soldiers” (2.25)—volunteers who plug in to help build God’s Kingdom in the inner city. Finally, we serve the needs of the poor through our churches’ material donations and financial commitments. These gifts are “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God;” and as we take and use these gifts, we believe that our “God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in Christ Jesus” (4.18-19).

The Hub has over 30 “network churches” who faithfully provide us with resources and volunteers.  Several churches in our area directly fund the salaries of our staffers, some of them in full!  Most importantly, we have 10 “partner churches” who provide us with monthly and yearly funding. We have close relationships with the pastors and elders in these churches, and we are directly accountable to them:

So, all that to say this…

No, The Hub is not a “faith-based organization.”  We rely entirely on God through the financial gifts of His wise stewards in our churches.  Our “official” relationship with the government is a blessed exemption for which we are thankful: we are a “non-profit;” we pay no taxes.  But, we are infinitely more thankful for the church of God, through whom we are “amply supplied” (Phil 4.18), and because of whom we can live in the freedom of ultimate accountability to King Jesus alone.

Loving Our Neighbors As Ourselves

18 Mar

Two weeks ago we defined “poverty” as “having a relatively small amount of those things that, in God’s design, are essential to life.”  But, we went on to define life’s “essentials” as more than just food, shelter, and clothing.  We wrote that all people need 1) a relationship with their Creator, 2) fellowship or community with other people, 3) a healthy view of themselves as God’s image-bearers, and 4) a stewardship over some aspect of God’s creation.

Last week we shared how our expanded view of poverty is due in large measure to the work of The Chalmers Center and their book When Helping Hurts.  We explained how material poverty (the lack of things like food, shelter, and clothing) is only a symptom of sin–either one’s own sin, the sin of others, or (most likely) a combination of the two.  Finally, we traced the global presence of sin to the Garden of Eden, and showed how all four of life’s deepest essentials were immediately corrupted by Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

Paul wrote, “There is no partiality with God” (Rom 2.11).  This is one of the most important truths that can ever be known about our Creator.  It literally means that He does not make judgements based upon appearances.

You and I do. (See 1 Sam 16.7). We see a homeless man or a prostitute and we automatically assume their inferiority. We may not say so out loud. We may not even overhear ourselves making the distinction in our own heads. But, the ungodly assumption is there and it manifests itself in the way we minister. Consider one simple example: what are we saying when we consistently feed the homeless, but never offer them the opportunity to plan, prepare, or serve meals with us or for us?  We are saying that they are not capable of the responsibility. We are saying they are not capable of shouldering the responsibility that we think God has given us.

You cannot “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12.31) if you view those to whom you minister as unworthy of ministering similarly to you.  This is the often overlooked lesson of Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.30-37). A 3-year-old can recognize that it was the Samaritan, not the priest or the Levite, who had compassion on the victim. But that’s not Jesus’ main point. When we remember that Jews despised Samaritans, then we realize the power of Jesus’s story as an answer to the Jewish lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10.29). Jesus’ story of a Samaritan ministering to a Jew attacks the presumptive bigotry in all of us.

As you know, we are very nearly done with the renovations in The Lovewell Center.  Last week, our plumbers cut a 22″ wide trench in the concrete floor of our main room in order to install new sewer and water lines.  The trench was about 130 feet long.  After the new pipes were installed, several of our street friends helped to refill the trench with dirt in preparation for the concrete to be repoured. During the refilling process we learned that Donnie, one of our homeless friends, had plumbing experience and seemed very knowledgable about the concrete job. In the end we made the decision to let Donnie oversee the pouring of the concrete. Our contractor, Clarke Is Here, with the help of R&G Construction, scheduled the delivery of the concrete through Builders Supply (who gave us the concrete at no charge!).  The rest was left to Donnie.  He, his team of homeless men, and our own John Robinson, set the rebar and poured the concrete beautifully. Below they are pictured putting their handprints and signatures in a portion of the concrete. We wish you could sense the joy that they expressed upon completion of their work. We could see it on their faces, hear it in their voices, and recognize it in their strides. And so long as The Lovewell Center is open, these men will see it, not merely as something for them, but as part of a stewardship that God has given them.

photo

Nothing we have ever provided–no meal, no jacket, no shower, no shelter–has ever expressed God’s love to Donnie, and our own desire to be in fellowship with him, quite like putting him in charge of that concrete job.  Donnie is a human, not a pet.  He is as capable as any of us of responsibility and stewardship in God’s creation.  So, we at The Hub must love him in a way that is appropriate to his status as God’s image-bearer, thereby teaching him that he, like us, has a stewardship from God to fulfill.

In closing, we are reminded of something C. S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves. He was speaking in the context of a mother and her children, but the words are appropriate to us at The Hub:

“…the maternal instinct…is a Gift-love, but one that needs to give…needs to be needed. But the proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching. Thus a heavy task is laid upon this Gift-love: it must work toward its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say “They need me no longer” should be our reward. But the [maternal] instinct, simply in its own nature, has no power to fulfill the law. The instinct desires the good of its object , but not simply; [it may want] only the the good itself can give. A much higher love–a love which desires the good of the object as such, from whatever source that good comes–must step in and help or tame the instinct before it can make the abdication. And of course it often does not. But where it does not, the ravenous need to be needed will gratify itself by keeping its objects needy…” (76-77).

The Hub seeks to love the materially poor in such a way that they will eventually, hopefully, no longer need our help. We labor at making ourselves superfluous. We guard against the kind of “love” that gratifies ourselves by keeping the needy needy. We try to love our neighbors as ourselves.

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