Sometimes it is better to use caution prior to writing something and then there are times one needs to say what needs to be said. Others will see the comments from today’s posting as something I should use caution with. I am doing that, but please understand; I have quite a few years of working with, being with and of serving the poor, homeless, mentally ill, and others often neglected by society under my belt. What I write is from experience, and personal, first hand observation. It is with this perspective that I hope people seriously think about the words I am putting on paper. I will assure you, I am fully convinced, that unless we do, we as a society (speaking specifically of America) and we as a Church, are quite possibly doing more harm than good with the populations we serve, albeit with good intentions.
Many have heard the comment that; ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ In this saying is the implication that no matter how much good is intended, it is possible that nothing of value is being accomplished in the work one is doing. I believe with all of my heart that our politicians, care providers, and yes the Church are quite possibly doing more harm than good. Let me explain.
It has been stated by some that the Bible speaks about poverty in over 2,000 verses. While I personally don’t know if that is true, (I tend to think it is not), one can’t deny the reality that the Bible does speak quite a bit about poverty, the poor, orphans, widows and so forth. There is no denying the reality of Matthew 25 when Jesus clearly states, that what we do for the least of these is of catamount importance. As a follower of Jesus, it is simple, I am commanded to serve, and help the poor. The question becomes though, what is helping the poor?
It is in the definition of help that many have come to irreparable points of debate. Some say the government should have no role in helping the poor, some say God judges nations for their treatment of the less fortunate, and unfortunately, many perspectives are based not on Biblical guidelines, but on political influence. It is after working with the poor and disadvantaged for over 30 years that I have come to the conclusions I have. I am aware that for many, those views will be controversial.
Let me be clear from the outset of my ongoing experiences. My wife and I have as an act of faith, given back much of our material possessions to carry out the ministry we do. For many years of our life we have had people living with us, and our children grew up seeing those people living with us, and celebrating holidays with us. My daughter, now approaching 30, has had more Thanksgivings with the mentally ill, than she has had with extended family. My wife and I still live by the concepts taught by Ron Sider in the Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger book. We are both an active part of our church which has as a point of emphasis, serving the poor. I am with the homeless and mentally ill approximately 6 days a week, for extended hours. Through our church we operate programs for the homeless at least 5 days a week and we located to our present location to be of service to the downtown community including the homeless. To be blunt, I value and have exhibited a life of service to the poor and homeless. This concept continues today, and will continue tomorrow. I say this not to boast, but to assure you, if it is possible with me, it is possible with we.
Some may ask, with my perspective of helping the poor and the belief that all followers of Jesus are commanded to do as much, what is the problem regarding governments, churches, and individuals doing more harm than good? A part of it is sense of competition that exists among these groups.
The overwhelming majority of programs established for the poor, and the homeless in my opinion should be largely defunded and new programs, on a limited basis reestablished to require effectiveness in what they are doing. The funding of keeping people in a disadvantaged state is largely what is taking place in many agencies. There is an old missionary concept that says, ‘It is better to teach a man to fish than to give them a fish. When you give him a fish you feed him for a day, when you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.’ I challenge, when you teach a man to fish, not only do you feed him for a lifetime, you feed his family for a lifetime. That individual also teaches others around them something that has them in effect, changing and feeding their families for a lifetime. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of our programs and tax dollars are providing a perpetual cycle that teaches laziness and an attitude of entitlement, thus doing more harm than good.
While we may have read passages that command us to feed, help, and touch, we can’t forget about the passages that encourage us to work, find value, and discover our purpose in serving our fellow human being. Unfortunately, many programs provide just enough to get by from day to day but we haven’t done what is necessary to help one provide for them in the long term. Not only is this a shame, I think it is a sin.
I was reminded today that for a large percentage of folks, as much as 35% of the homeless, they are stuck in their environment no matter what. While this is a shame, and we should help these people, we can’t ignore the shame of not doing what is necessary to help the other 65% get back on their feet and rediscover their life. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of programs and ministries I have come into contact with have as a focus the 35% while ignoring the 65% who can, and should be helped to get back on their feet. As a result, through the definition of ‘ministry’ we have created systems that develop a sense of entitlement and in reality cause dependency as opposed to independence. On this point, there is blame that could go around, but the bulk of the blame has to go to those who deserve it, those who have created systems of service that give a man a fish as opposed to teaching him to fish.
Today I was reminded that as hard as it is, there are those who appreciate being taught how to fish. For some, it has been years of going through what they call disrespectful services, or requirements to realize they aren’t worth more than those services see them as, a no good homeless or poor person. I am reminded, it is as one believes in the abilities and talents of others, created in the majesty and image of God that they will see themselves as worth while and as one who can do more, and in fact, wants to do more. I saw it today as individuals thanked me for a program that respects them, cares about their welfare, sees them as equals, and as people deserving of being served as opposed to something less. A pat on a man’s stomach, a hug for a lady washing dishes, a touch of sympathy for a man needing glasses, it causes one to want more for themselves as they see themselves as someone with potential, worth a touch, and worthy of love for the first time in a long time. When the Bible talks about Jesus touching the sick, the down and out, the prostitute, the hungry, the homeless, the leper and more, there is more implied than we sometimes recognize. It is in touching someone that he showed love, that he showed their worth. He did more than touch their bodies; He touched their souls with a penetrating love that had not been experienced in some time, and for some, ever.
I don’t need to go on a lengthy discourse here, but let me ask the question, are you supporting ministries that give fish or teach how to fish. Have you spent enough time with the homeless to understand where they are coming from and what they believe or see? For those that do spend time with these folks, you will quickly learn how they know how the systems and approaches have failed them. It is easier to send a few dollars to a cause and never really know that cause than it is to spend time with the people being served. If you spend time with the people, you won’t often hear the same things you are being told by the agencies. Go into one of these programs as a homeless person undercover and see for yourself. Don’t just do it for a day, do it for a week and get a real taste of what life is like when you are treated like a piece of dirt with little or no value, even from those who say they are in ministry.
It is so easy to just send money, let me remind you of something, as strange as it may seem, God don’t need your money. What God wants and desires are for you to get your hands dirty. He desires for you to touch and to love the undesirable. When you do, you will find out that the undesirable really isn’t undesirable; it is in reality, Jesus. Remember the words of Jesus, ‘What you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.’ Bono from U2 is right, why worry about what to do or how to get close to Jesus. We know that Jesus is already with the poor, He is already among their mist, why not go to the place where we know Jesus is.
Now in closing, don’t assume that I am ignoring the reality that the Bible has some strong statements regarding the poor, the lazy and so forth. I haven’t forgotten, but neither have I forgotten the concept of doing more than just giving bread or water, we are called to serve a savior who has come to give us life and to give it to us more abundantly. God has the desire that people love themselves, no matter their condition, but He also would have us love others, not just feeding them, but in providing opportunity to know, and experience, the fullness of what God has for them. For many, this will include finding a home, getting a job, being a part of a loving community and more. Unfortunately, few places exist that provide these things. It is why I am honored to be at Mosaic and with The Virtual Pew though, we try to do these things. While it is very hard and we are relearning this new process, it is well worth it.
Today, I ask you to be willing to get your hands dirty; touch the person you are called to love, not metaphorically, but literally. Encourage work survival skills instead of simple day to day survival skills. Advocate for programs, churches and agencies that do more than just feed, have the expectation that we do more, because we can, and we should.
Now as I close today, check out the verses that talk about laziness. As you read these, understand I am advocating for doing more, not less, but I am also advocating that we do something that is effective, putting Band-Aids on a persons heart isn’t much of help for one that has just gone through heart surgery. Neither is a simple feeding of a man or woman who needs to learn living skills or work skills. Let’s teach people how to fish instead of just giving fish.
Now those verses I was telling you about:
Work hard, and you will be a leader; be lazy, and you will end up a slave. ~ Proverbs 19:15
If you are lazy and sleep your time away, you will starve. ~ Proverbs 12:24
Laziness leads to poverty; hard work makes you rich. ~ Proverbs 10:4
You lazy people can learn by watching an anthill.
(7) Ants don't have leaders, (8) but they store up food during harvest season.
(9) How long will you lie there doing nothing at all? When are you going to get up and stop sleeping?
(10) Sleep a little. Doze a little. Fold your hands and twiddle your thumbs.
(11) Suddenly, everything is gone, as though it had been taken by an armed robber. ~ Proverbs 6:6-11
Having a lazy person on the job is like a mouth full of vinegar or smoke in your eyes. ~ Proverbs 10: 26
Work hard, and you will be a leader; be lazy, and you will end up a slave. ~ Proverbs 12:24
Anyone too lazy to cook will starve, but a hard worker is a valuable treasure. ~ Proverbs 12:27
No matter how much you want, laziness won't help a bit, but hard work will reward you with more than enough. ~ Proverbs 13:4
A lazy person’s way is blocked with briers, but the path of the upright is an open highway. ~ Proverbs 15:9
Being lazy is no different from being a troublemaker. ~ Proverbs 18:9
Some people are too lazy to lift a hand to feed themselves. ~ Proverbs 19:24
If you are too lazy to plow, don't expect a harvest. ~ Proverbs 20:4
As the door turns on its hinges, so does the lazy man [move not from his place] upon his bed. ~ Proverbs 26:13
Don't be so lazy that you say, "If I go to work, a lion will eat me! ~ Proverbs 22:14
The servant who had been given one thousand coins then came in and said, "Sir, I know that you are hard to get along with. You harvest what you don't plant and gather crops where you haven't scattered seed. (25) I was frightened and went out and hid your money in the ground. Here is every single coin!"
(26) The master of the servant told him, "You are lazy and good-for-nothing! You know that I harvest what I don't plant and gather crops where I haven't scattered seed. (27) You could have at least put my money in the bank, so that I could have earned interest on it."
(28) Then the master said, "Now your money will be taken away and given to the servant with ten thousand coins! (29) Everyone who has something will be given more, and they will have more than enough. But everything will be taken from those who don't have anything. (30) You are a worthless servant, and you will be thrown out into the dark where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain." ~ Matthew 25:24-30
Then you would never be lazy. You would be following the example of those who had faith and were patient until God kept his promise to them. ~ Hebrews 6:12
Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest. ~ Proverbs 20:4
Despite their desires, the lazy will come to ruin, for their hands refuse to work. ~ Proverbs 21:25
Take it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
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