The Poor Among Us: Old Problem, New Consequence-Part II
The Worldview Solution to Poverty
By Brannon S. Howse
This is the second of two articles in which Brannon Howse explains the root cause<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
of poverty in developed nations and argues for the real solution.
To be sure, Jesus promised that the poor will "always be with us." A key reason is man's sinful nature, and one all-too-common consequence of sin is poverty.
It is crucial to understand that sometimes when the Bible speaks of the poor, Scripture is referring to a person's spiritual, not financial, condition. However, when the Bible does discuss the fiscally poor, it is not the American definition of the term. Biblical poverty is someone that does not have a coat, food or shelter. Often in America those the government says live in poverty not only have a home, an apartment, and a coat but a color television, cable TV, video games, an automobile, beer, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and other comforts as well.
In the first of these two articles on poverty, I cited Theodore Dalrymple's well-reasoned view that liberal, humanistic philosophies have guaranteed us a chronic underclass. The worldview foisted upon the down-and-out by elites has fostered an epidemic of bad choices among those living in poverty. As a result, a large number of the indigent reap misery from what they have sowed. Nevertheless, Christians must reach out to them, offering a worldview that calls them to personal responsibility and adherence to a godly moral code.
I know from first hand experience that Dr. Dalrymple's observations are true. For five years on the first Tuesday of each month, I traveled to the Union Gospel Mission in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />St. Paul, Minnesota to speak and lead music for the nightly service before the mission's free supper. Except for the few mentally ill regulars left on the streets after the death of a parent who had cared for them, I met individuals that choose to be homeless. In fact, most have a home and parents, or even a wife and children, but they opt to live awash in drugs, alcohol, serial sexual encounters-in short, a life of no responsibility. Many men who showed up for the service (attendance required if they wanted the free meal), admitted that they choose to live as they do.
The mission chaplain told to me numerous personal stories of habitual attendees who could return to their families if they would simply take responsibility for their actions, clean themselves up, get a job, and stop abusing drugs and alcohol. There were men, he explained, who at one time had been judges, doctors, attorneys, or businessmen who destroyed their lives through drugs and booze.
Regardless of how the patrons get there, though, countless Union Gospel Missions across the nation do the work of the Lord in ministering to and assisting those who want help getting off drugs or alcohol and landing a job. Yes, there are those who abuse the missions, but once we step into the trenches of the war on poverty, the legitimate victories are worth the occasions of being "had." I believe firmly that Christians should financially support and volunteer at local missions to the homeless.
Even individuals who have made poor decisions and are reaping the consequences sometimes surprise us by-thanks be only to God!-changing. I have seen more than one such person come to Christ, and I have watched as a life is transformed in the way only having a personal relationship with Jesus can do. These people need our support and encouragement-God's mercy and grace expressed through us-as they strive to put their lives together and become productive citizens.
They rightfully need our friendship and financial support. A word of caution, though: Don't just hand them cash; take them shopping and purchase for them the things they need. This not only shows you care, but-unlike handing them dollars that can be mismanaged-it gives them much-needed accountability. If you can't take them shopping, give them a gift card to a department store, and tell them you want to know what they buy. Explain that they should purchase things to build a personal "infrastructure," the everyday items essential to bettering their lot-a coat or dress, pants, cookware-and let them know you will be excited to see what they come up with. This teaches in a small step how to wisely manage life.
Outside of missions, there is also a great realm of people genuinely needing help. My personal favorite is older adults raising their grandchildren because the parents have abandoned them. These sweet grandmothers and grandfathers are the modest daily heroes among us.
Many of the poor have made bad choices and suffer the consequences, but we all have made personally destructive decisions in one way or another. I'm grateful for God's grace, mercy, forgiveness and compassion and believe I honor the Lord by treating others as He has treated me. Some people truly don't deserve our help or compassion, but then, God loved each of us before we loved Him. As we muse over how to handle the poor among us, we do well to remember Martin Luther's famous call to humility in our judgments: There but for the grace of God go I.
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