Sep 22 2010

Out Live Your Life - Stand Up for the Have-Nots (Chapter 10)

Chapters posted will be made available on the Lisa & Eric page for one week.  To purchase Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado, click here. All author royalties from the book will go towards building water wells in Uganda*

 

Out Live Your Life by Max Lucado

 

Chapter 10

Stand Up for the Have-Nots

The Greek-speaking widows were not given their share when the food supplies were handed out each day.

—Acts 6:1 (cev)

Jim Wallis took some scissors to his Bible. He was a seminary student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School when he and some classmates decided to eliminate a few verses. They performed surgery on all sixty-six books, beginning with Genesis and not stopping until Revelation. Each time a verse spoke to the topic of poverty, wealth, justice, or oppression, they cut it out. They wanted to see what a compassionless Bible looked like. By the time they finished, nearly two thousand verses lay on the floor, and a book of tattered pages remained.

 

 

Cut concern for the poor out of the Bible, and you cut the heart out of it. God makes the poor his priority. When the hungry pray, he listens. When orphans cry, he sees. And when the widows in Jerusalem were neglected, he commissioned his best and brightest disciples to help them.

 

Rapid church growth brought needy people, and among the needy people were widows. They had no source of income. When they buried their husbands, they buried their financial security. Government support? Company pension? The Widows Job Corp? Didn’t exist. According to the culture of their day, the extended family provided support. But extended families disowned Christian relatives, leaving the widows of the church with only one place to turn . . . the church. The congregation responded with a daily distribution of food, clothing, and money.

 

That’s when the trouble began.

But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. (Acts 6:1 nlt)

The Greek-speaking widows were overlooked. Why? They were outsiders. Immigrants. These women didn’t grow up in Judea or Galilee. They hailed from the distant lands of Greece, Rome, and Syria. If they spoke Aramaic at all, they did so with an accent.

 

Consequently, they were “neglected in the daily distribution” (nkjv). The driver of the Meals on Wheels truck skipped their houses. The manager of the food pantry permitted Hebrew women the first pick. The food bank director separated requests into two stacks: locals and immigrants.

 

How did the church respond? I’m picturing a called meeting of the apostles, a circle of bearded faces: Andrew, John, Peter, Thomas, and the others. They heard the concerns of the women and pondered their options. They could dismiss them entirely. They could ignore the needy, neglect the neglected. After all, the apostles were spiritual leaders. They fed souls, not stomachs. They dealt in matters of sin and salvation, not sandals and soup. Couldn’t they dismiss the disparity as an unnecessary concern? They could, except for one problem. Their Master didn’t.

 

Jesus, in his first message, declared his passion for the poor. Early in his ministry he returned to his hometown of Nazareth to deliver an inaugural address of sorts. He entered the same synagogue where he had worshipped as a young man and looked into the faces of the villagers. They were simple folk: stonecutters, carpenters, and craftsmen. They survived on minimal wages and lived beneath the shadow of Roman oppression. There wasn’t much good news in Nazareth.

 

But this day was special. Jesus was in town. The hometown boy who had made the big time. They asked him to read Scripture, and he accepted. “And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written” (Luke 4:17).

 

This is the only such moment in all the Gospels. Jesus quoted Scripture many times. But the Son of God selecting and reading Scripture? This is it. On the singular occasion we know of, which verse did he choose? He shuffled the scroll toward the end of the text and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18, quoting Isaiah 61:1).

 

Jesus lifted his eyes from the parchment and quoted the rest of the words. The crowd, who cherished the words as much as he did, mouthed the lines along with him. “To proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).

 

Jesus had a target audience. The poor. The brokenhearted. Captives. The blind and oppressed.

 

His to-do list? Help for the body and soul, strength for the physical and the spiritual, therapy for the temporal and eternal. “This is my mission statement,” Jesus declared. The Nazareth Manifesto.

 

Preach the gospel to the poor.

 

Heal the brokenhearted.

 

Proclaim liberty to the captives.

 

Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.

 

Set at liberty those who are oppressed.

 

And proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

 

“Acceptable year of the Lord” describes, perhaps more than any other words, Jesus’ radical commitment to the poor. They are reminiscent of the year of Jubilee, a twice-in-a-century celebration intended to press the restart button on the machinery of justice. Beginning on the Day of Atonement, all the fields were allowed to rest. No farming permitted.

 

The fallow land could recover from forty-nine years of planting and harvesting.

 

In addition, all the slaves were freed. Anyone who had been sold into slavery or who had sold himself into slavery to pay off debt was released. Bondage ended.

 

And as if the soil sabbatical and slave emancipation weren’t enough, all property was returned to its original owners. In the agricultural society, land was capital. Families could lose their land through calamity, sickness, or even laziness. The Jubilee provision guaranteed that every family, at least twice a century, would have the opportunity to get back on its feet.

Consider the impact of this Jubilee decree. A drought destroys a farmer’s crop and leaves the family impoverished. In order to survive, the farmer decides to sell his property and hire out as a day laborer. A sharp investor swoops into the region and buys the farm and also a neighbor’s. Within short order the developer has a monopoly, and the farmer has nothing but a prayer.

 

But then comes the year of Jubilee, what one scholar described as a “regularly scheduled revolution.” God shakes the social Etch A Sketch, and everyone is given a clean slate. This injunction was intended to prevent a permanent underclass of poverty and slavery. People could still be rich, very rich, but they could not build their wealth on the backs of the very poor.

 

As far as we know, the people of Israel never practiced the year of Jubilee. Still, Jesus alluded to it in his inaugural address. What does this say about God’s heart? At least this: he values a level playing field. In his society the Have-a-Lots and the Have-a-Littles are never to be so far apart that they can’t see each other.

 

Can they see each other today?

 

Not very well. According to a United Nations Human Development Report, three quarters of the world’s income goes to 20 percent of the world’s population. Statistics can stagnate, so try this word picture.

 

Ten dairy farmers occupy the same valley. Among them, they own ten milk cows. But the cows aren’t evenly distributed among the ten farmers—not one cow to one farmer. It’s more like this: two of the farmers own eight cows, and the other eight farmers share two cows. Does that seem fair?

 

The two of us who own the eight cows might say, “I worked for my cows.” Or “It’s not my fault that we have more cows.” Perhaps we should try this question: Why do a few of us have so much and most of us have so little?

 

I spent the better part of a morning pondering such a question on the Ethiopian farm of Dadhi. Dadhi is a sturdy but struggling husband and father. His dirt-floored mud hut would fit easily in my garage. His wife’s handwoven baskets decorate his walls. Straw mats are rolled and stored against the sides, awaiting nightfall when all seven family members will sleep on them. Dadhi’s five children smile quickly and hug tightly. They don’t know how poor they are.

 

Dadhi does. He earns less than a dollar a day at a nearby farm. He’d work his own land, except a plague took the life of his ox. His only one. With no ox, he can’t plow. With no plowed field, he can’t sow a crop. If he can’t sow a crop, he can’t harvest one.

 

All he needs is an ox.

 

Dadhi is energetic and industrious. He has mastered a trade and been faithful to his wife. He’s committed no crimes. Neighbors respect him. He seems every bit as intelligent as I am, likely more so. He and I share the same aspirations and dreams. I scribbled out a chart, listing our many mutual attributes.

Attributes

Dadhi

Max

Physically able

X

X

Willing to work

X

X

Trained to do a job

X

X

Loves family

X

X

Sober and drug free

X

X

Good reputation

X

You tell me

 

We have much in common. Then why the disparity? Why does it take Dadhi a year to earn what I can spend on a sport coat?

 

Part of the complex answer is this: he was born in the wrong place. He is, as Bono said, “an accident of latitude.” A latitude void of unemployment insurance, disability payments, college grants, Social Security, and government supplements. A latitude largely vacant of libraries, vaccinations, clean water, and paved roads. I benefited from each of those.

 

Dadhi has none of them.

 

In the game of life, many of us who cross home plate do so because we were born on third base. Others aren’t even on a team.

 

You don’t have to travel sixteen hours in a plane to find a Dadhi or two. They live in the convalescent home you pass on the way to work, gather at the unemployment office on the corner. They are the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the blind.

 

Some people are poor because they are lazy. They need to get off their duffs. Others, however, are poor because parasites weaken their bodies, because they spend six hours a day collecting water, because rebel armies ravaged their farms, or because AIDS took their parents.

 

Couldn’t such people use a bit of Jubilee?

 

Of course they could. So . . .

 

First, let the church act on behalf of the poor. The apostles did. “So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers” (Acts 6:2 nlt). They assembled the entire church. The problem of inequity warranted a churchwide conversation. The leaders wanted every member to know that this church took poverty seriously. The ultimate solution to poverty is found in the compassion of God’s people. Scripture endorses not forced communism but Spirit-led volunteerism among God’s people.

 

Second, let the brightest among us direct us. “And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility” (v. 3 nlt).

 

The first church meeting led to the first task force. The apostles unleashed their best people on their biggest problem. The challenge demands this. “Poverty,” as Rich Stearns, president of World Vision in the United States, told me, “is rocket science.” Simple solutions simply don’t exist. Most of us don’t know what to do about the avalanche of national debt, the withholding of life-saving medicines, the corruption at the seaports, and the abduction of children. Most of us don’t know what to do, but someone does!

 

Some people are pouring every ounce of God-given wisdom into the resolution of these problems. We need specialist organizations, such as World Vision, Compassion International, Living Water, and the International Justice Mission. We need our brightest and best to continue the legacy of the Jerusalem task force of Acts 6.

 

And one more idea. Get ticked off. Riled up enough to respond. Righteous anger would do a world of good. Poverty is not the lack of charity but the lack of justice. Why do two of us have eight cows while the rest of us have two? Why do a billion people go to bed hungry every night?  Why do nearly thirty thousand children die every day, one every three seconds, from hunger and preventable diseases? It’s just not fair. Why not do something about it?

 

Again, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Some people can fast and pray about social sin. Others can study and speak out. What about you? Get out of your comfort zone, for Christ’s sake. Why not teach an inner-city Bible study? Use your vacation to build houses in hurricane-ravaged towns? Run for public office? Help a farmer get an ox?

 

Speaking of which, I received a note from Dadhi the other day. It included a photo of him and a new family member. A new three-hundred-pound, four-legged family member. Both of them were smiling. I’m thinking God was too.

 

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

(James 1:27 nlt)

Dear Lord, you promised we would always have the poor among us. Help me to make sure that the reverse is also true: that I am always among the poor—helping, encouraging, and lending a hand wherever I can. Enable me to love the invisible God by serving the very visible poor in my corner of the world. Help me to be creative without being condescending, encouraging without being egotistic, and fearless without being foolish. May the poor bless you because of me, and may my efforts somehow reduce the number of the poor. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

 

Questions for Discussion

1.   The church in Jerusalem had overlooked Greek-speaking widows and sought to resolve the problem (Acts 6). What groups or individuals are overlooked in your community? Why are they forgotten or ignored?

 

2.   Who is the target audience of your church? Describe the kind of person who is most likely to visit. If your church tried to become more like the people highlighted by Jesus in Luke 4:14–21, what adjustments would you have to make? What steps could you take to reach out to and worship with the poor, brokenhearted, captive, and blind?

 

3.   Why do you think the people of Israel never practiced the revolutionary concept of Jubilee? Describe what Jubilee would look like in your area if this law went into effect immediately. What mini-Jubilees can you establish in your heart and habits even though this radical concept is not the law of the land?

 

4.   Max mentioned several of the brightest and best organizations that are doing great work on poverty (World Vision, Compassion International, Living Water, and the International Justice Mission). What organizations would you add, and why?

Ideas for Action

 This week find out more about what your church is already doing with the poor. Volunteer to get involved personally, to improve the work, or to fund it more intentionally.

 

 Rich Stearns told Max, “Poverty is rocket science.” Consult the best thinkers on the more-complicated issues related to poverty. Learn about well-informed poverty solutions and strategies by visiting the Web sites of the excellent organizations mentioned in this chapter: www.wvi.org, www.compassion.com, www.water.cc, www.ijm.org.

 

■ “Cut concern for the poor out of the Bible, and you cut the heart out of it.” Take time this week to study just a few of the nearly two thousand scriptures on poverty, wealth, justice, and oppression. Start with the following verses:

 

Exodus 23:6

Leviticus 19:15; 23:22; 25:35, 39

Deuteronomy 15:7–11; 24:10–15

Psalm 35:10

Proverbs 14:21; 22:22–23; 31:9

Isaiah 10:1–3; 58:6–7

Jeremiah 5:26–29

Matthew 19:21

Luke 12:32–33; 14:12–14

Acts 4:33–35

James 2:1–4

 

Reprinted by permission.  Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make A Difference by Max Lucado, 2010, copyright date, Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, Tennessee.  All rights reserved.

 

Comments (1) -

3/3/2011 9:57:47 AM
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Thought is the fountain of speech.
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