To Give to the Poor

October 27, 2007

The 3rd Pillar of Islam has got nothing on me! Zakat, being the giving of tithes and/or alms, is similar for Christianity. Simply put, it is pretty well assumed that Christians are supposed to give to the poor.

With all of the philanthropic giving by Americans to churches and organizations, very little actually arrives into the hands of the intended recipients. (Often monies are whittled down by “administrative expenses” and such.

Though often unspoken, it is generally acknowledged among American givers that we have become pretty cynical to give to the poor.

Something happened today that illustrates this.

Coming out of my local grocery store, I saw a lady struggling in a wheel chair by herself. She was not elderly and decrepit, but she was certainly having difficulty.

Initially I kept walking. Something made me stop. (AKA, God really shamed me for being so hard-hearted. That and I thought that one day may be one of my parents trying to get along.) I guess He wants me to work on being tender-hearted.

So, I asked if she needed me to help her. She did. And I began to wheel her to her desired destination.

As we went, she told me that she had just moved here, that her food stamps had not come in, and if I would give her money for food.

What do you think I did?

Made up a lame excuse, got her to her destination and went to my car is what I did! Honestly. That is what I did. There was not a single ounce of sympathy or empathy.

Starting my car, I headed to the exit, when that Tugging happened again in my heart. What is this, thing?! Oh, God wanting me to be more tender-hearted. Thoughts flooded to mind:

What does it matter if she is trying just to get cash from you? Charity isn’t so much for the recipient as much as the giver. What does it matter if you saw SERIOUSLY poor people in India, Kenya and Vietnam? And, what happened to just plain ol’ giving?!

You are right, God. I should.

I whipped my car around and pulled up next to where the lady was. She was speaking to someone else trying to get money. Embarrassed for her, I circled the parking lot once more.

When I arrived, I told her I would pick her up something for breakfast from the grocery store. Now, here is why I am cynical.

She begins to custom order something. “Well, I really like sausage, and eggs, and cheese. But nothing too tough on my stomach. Something that…” and on she went for a moment. And not in the way that someone who is appreciatively excited. It was more in line with loading up your plate at a all-you-can eat buffet with no regard to the server.

Shrugging the critical thoughts that began creeping into my mind, I smiled, said ‘sure’, and made my way. I had taken about 10 steps when she called out.

“There is ONE thing you could do for me.”

“What’s that?” I asked in a way to hide the fact that I knew she would ask for 1 more thing.

“I could use some cigarettes,” she began.

I cut her off. “I am not going to buy you cigarettes, ma’am.” I knew it! I thought.

I purchased her a bagel and cream cheese, some granola bars, an orange juice, a water, a banana and an apple. Handing her the bag, I pointed out some of the items, we chit-chatted, and with a “God bless” I was off and got into the car.

Now, you tell me how wrong I am, and I won’t argue, but all I could think of was, “this woman is not poor!”

“I have seen the poor and destitute, not able to lift their arm because of their weakness. Were someone to offer them something, anything, a moving caterpillar or foul mushrooms, they would eat it. They would not debate it, because their lack of calories would not allow them. All they could muster would be to lift their skeletal arm and bring that thing to their mouth.

“I have seen the poor, and this is not it.”

As I drove away, I was glad that I heeded the Lord, but border-line bitter. I brought my inner turmoil to Him, begging for some relief.

“Giving has more to do with the giver than the receiver.” And you can see that being true I guess. I guess that so many people scurry away from the poor and destitute when asked for change. They are uncomfortable with the thought of, gasp, helping the poor.

Maybe we are broke.
Maybe we don’t have much extra money.
Maybe we are in a hurry.
Maybe it is out of the norm.

But what does that say about us? What does that say about where we are at internally? What does it say about what we value?

Does anyone know how good it feels sometimes to really give something with ZERO expected return? I know that this particular instance was a bummer and drove me to bitterness and cynicism, but half of that is from ME!

Giving is about the giver. It speaks more about where the giver is at. Who knows why the poor are poor. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is where we are at as a society of individuals, and what our willingness to give indicates.

Take time this week to give to someone. Don’t give cash, because you know how awkward you feel. Give something to them that they could seriously use and benefit them. It doesn’t take much. And give to a person or in a way that you know that there is no way you will ever be repaid.

Let me know how it goes and how it makes you feel!

Church Kids Less Affected by Poverty

October 24, 2007

This is an interesting finding by the academic authors of The Role of Religious and Social Organizations in the Lives of Disadvantaged Youth.

They say:

Overall, we find strong evidence that youth with religiously active parents are less affected later in life by childhood disadvantage than youth whose parents did not frequently attend religious services. These buffering effects of religious organizations are most pronounced when outcomes are measured by high school graduation or non-smoking and when disadvantage is measured by family resources or maternal education, but we also find buffering effects for a number of other outcome-disadvantage pairs. We generally find much weaker buffering effects for other social organizations.

Though this, in itself, is profound, what they said next I thoroughly appreciate.

Our data do not allow us to determine to what extent the buffering effects are driven by religious organizations actively intervening in the lives of disadvantaged youth (through tutoring, mentoring, or financial assistance) as opposed to providing the youth with motivation, values, or attitudes that lead to better outcomes.

The authors ascertain that the data is inconclusive, but my experience tells me that this is a valid conclusion. Coming from a church background, I can tell you that when I was a child and my family was in need I hardly recall any actual help or intervention (barring the odd ‘practicing’ Christian.)

What happened more often was a shunning from the church for those who are “down-and-outers.” It is more likely to be treated as if that person dealing with poverty was being punished by God. This is hardly acceptable behavior.

What I DO reflect on often are the motivating teachings, and the passion and fervor I felt to live a life with purpose. What I DID gain from the church was reliance on God.

How we deal with this apparent dichotomy of wonderful teaching versus poor doing I will leave for the philosophers to resolve.

Hey, Jude, Are You Even A Book In the Bible?

October 23, 2007

Why do these guys always look down?Jude. Jude. I had to think just to remember where that was? Oh, yeah, one of the obscure ones just before Revelation.

Someone had inquired of me about the word ‘rebuke’ in Jude verse 9. (Yes, it is such a short book/letter of the Bible that they decided against even using chapters!)

In Jude 9 it is written: “Yet, Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he distputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord Rebuke thee.” (KJV.)

So, I checked the Strong’s reference for ‘rebuke.’ Now, there are plenty of other Greek words that have been translated into “rebuke”. I will just stick to this one real quick.

Because the word was ‘Epitimao’, I assumed that it had something to do with being removed from the center (‘epi’ being the Greek preposition often used with regards to the center.)

Well, being wrong has never bothered me before, and being wrong here was more enlightening than anything.

The two root words, epi + timao, carry something a little different here. It is as if to say, “I will let the Lord affix your value”, or “Let the Lord decide on your value (with a negative assumption to imply that He will find your value as very little and cast you off)”.

Now, I know that the latter is quite a leap, but when you look at the two words they really carry this sort of meaning. (That is, without an exhaustive study on the tone of the actual Greek.)

I found it quite interesting that the word would be translated as ‘rebuke’ in this one instance. Why would it not be translated “The Lord judge you” or “Let the Lord judge your worth”? I will leave the intense study to the scholars.

For now I will take from this brief study the knowledge that it is the Lord who should estimate one’s value. Even the archangel felt that it was not his place. We can leave the same critique of those around us to God, and seek Him for the value of others around us.

After all, who would want to judge the value of another, only to be “rebuked” by the Lord?!

Holy vs. Common; Clean vs. Unclean.

October 18, 2007

“They are to teach my people to difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.”

Ezekiel 44:23 

In Ezekiel 44, we find that he is having another wacky vision. (Crazy prophets, huh?)

Here, though, he hits on something really profound. As Christians, we know that we are a holy priesthood (Exodus 19:6). We know that we are to be set apart in all of our ways.

So are we? Do our lives show the people around the difference of the holy and the common? Is there a difference from the way you do business and the way others do business? Is there a difference from the way you treat your family than the way others do? Do we live in a way that others can better distinguish between the unclean and the clean?

Thought for the day: observe yourself throughout the day.

Look for whether or not your life is really that much different than the life of those around you. Ask yourself if you are living in a way that illustrates to the people around you the difference between the holy and the common; the clean and the unclean.