Sunday, March 11, 2012

Loving the Poor

Dear friends, picture this: You go out to lunch with a bunch of your favorite friends and as you sit there a woman walks up and asks if she can join you. What? It’s your lunch! They are your friends and you hardly ever get to see them! Especially with no kids around! But then you remember, oh yeah, we’re all Christians and we’re supposed to love other people and all that good stuff. She looks nice anyway, and after all, she’s wearing a super cute dress and you are curious where she got that handbag she’s carrying. Maybe that will come up in conversation. “Okay, sure, join us. What’s your name?”

Rewind. Now imagine that you’re having that same lunch with those same friends and a dirty, poor woman in rags comes to you and asks to join you. She doesn’t have her lunch because she can’t afford to buy it but she wants to sit with you anyway.

It was hard enough to welcome the first woman, the one we can relate to, but the second one, well, that seems nearly impossible. If we do welcome her, how many of us would do it purely out of pity?

This scenario comes from James 2, though I adapted to a scene I could more easily relate to as a woman, a friend, a mom. James talks of a rich or poor man coming into our church. It’s a bit easier to be welcoming at church, but even there, in the midst of worshipping our almighty God, we can still get lost in materialism and prejudice against the poor.

I talk about life in Cambodia here on this blog. I joke about the silly cultural things that I encounter on a day to day basis. I laugh about things because sometimes I have to laugh about them to survive and not cry for home. Please don’t think for a moment, though, that I don’t deeply love this place. Oh, the year round supply of fresh fruit at a small price and the weather that gives me a great tan and a reason to find a pool to play in as much as I can are great, but it’s the people that I love.

They are beautiful and I love them and I hope that the things I say about their cultural differences don’t ever make anyone think differently about my feelings for them.

As a nation, Cambodia is very poor. Out of the 225 countries listed in the world on the CIA factbook, Cambodia is at 183 with the average income per family being just over $2000 per year. How many of us make that in one paycheck? As anywhere, there are rich here, too, but overall it is composed of very poor families. There are a huge number of families that don’t even make that much in a year.

That’s why so many of them sell their own children into situations that they may or may not know lead down a road into sexual slavery. It breaks my heart. It breaks God’s heart.

God has a heart for the poor, and as I study Beth Moore’s bible study on James while living amongst the some of the world’s poorest people, I feel as though He is giving me a glimpse of that part of Him. Why does God command us over and over again in His word to seek out the poor and care for them? What do you think?

I think it’s because it humbles us. He doesn’t just tell us to send money to the poor through some random organization (though this is a great first step!). He commands us to care for them. Caring for the poor usually means getting uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable at times. It means going to their homes and truly meeting their needs. Their home might be in a part of our hometown that is dirty. It might be a part of town that is what we think of as the “bad part,” which is dangerous. It might be smelly. Have I ever mentioned that the city here in Cambodia has open sewers? They are basically little creeks that run through the middle of town and the sewage pipes drain into them. The poorest of the poor live among these places.

Caring for the poor is not comfortable, but it is commanded.

God chose the poor of the world to be rich in faith; to inherit His kingdom (from James 2:5). Loving them more means loving Him more. I mean, isn’t that what Jesus did? He left the beauty and riches of heaven to live among us, as one of us, facing trials and temptations just like we do, humbling Himself by leaving his throne at the right hand of the Father to become a helpless baby, born in a manger who grew into a man who was beaten, bruised, and crucified though in his life He never sinned. He chose this way because of His great love for us. For you. For me.

We need to love others more. All of us. He isn’t asking us to become poor. If we were all supposed to sell everything and live on the streets ourselves, then there would be no one to follow God’s command of serving the poor because we’d all be poor.

We all want to be more like Jesus. If serving those living in poverty whom He loves so dearly brings us closer to Him and helps families who are in need of food, clothing, shelter, and some of the sweet, saving, love of Jesus, then what are we waiting for?

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