Tag Archives: poor

how we silence the prophets today

back in the day no one wanted to hear what the prophets had to say. not much has changed to this day.

i’m not even talking about modern day prophets…i’m just talking about the same ol’ prophets’ we find in the bible.  i’m not even talking about nonbelievers not listening to the prophets…i’m talking about believers (since the prophets were talking to them anyway).  when was the last time you heard a message from the book of ezekiel, amos, or even malachi?

why don’t we want to listen to the prophets?  yeah, some of the things they say might be confusing.  but most of what they say is quite clear.  they tell us things that aren’t always soothing to our ears.  they point out the blind spots in our lives. they warn us of things to come if we continue the way we do.  they tell us the truth.  we should be suspect of people who only tell us what we want to hear and should pay attention to people who call us out on our junk.

so what are all the prophets basically saying?  Jesus summed it up when he said “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  the prophets were God’s mouthpiece that continually pointed us back to these two things (bc of our infidelity and our injustice).

growing up in the church, i heard a lot about the first commandment.  this is not at all to say that we’ve graduated from the first and greatest command to love Him with our whole being.  however, there was a marked absence of the fleshing out of the second commandment.  i learned we should be nice to our neighbors and that should be all good.  but upon a closer examination of the scriptures, “my neighbor” is not who i expected and how to love them was much more inconvenient than i realized.  my neighbors are the ones this world considers “the least” (those in need, those forgotten, those rejected).  to love them is costly.

Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish what the prophets had to say but to fulfill them.   yes, Jesus saved us by grace (or else we’d be screwed).  yes, we’re not saved BY good works, however we are saved TO DO good works.

to see if this new perspective i’ve been learning, of God’s concern for the marginalized, was not just my bias, last year i began to actually go through ALL the books of the prophets in the bible (16) to underline the passages concerning “the least of these.”

i’d like to compile and share them all here for reference, but most of all, in hopes that we will truly engage with God’s heart.  please feel free to let me know if i’m missing any (i’m sure i will).

ISAIAH

  • 1:17 = learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless,  plead the widow’s cause.
  • 1:23 =Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves.  Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts.  They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.
  • 3:14-15 = 14 The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. 15 What do you mean by crushing my people,  by grinding the face of the poor?” declares the Lord God of hosts.
  • 10:1-3 = Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
    that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?
  • 11:4 = but with righteousness he shall judge the poorand decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
  • 14:30 = And the firstborn of the poor will graze, and the needy lie down in safety; but I will kill your root with famine, and your remnant it will slay.
  • 14:32 = What will one answer the messengers of the nation? “The Lord has founded Zion, and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.”
  • 16:3 =  “Give counsel;   grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; shelter the outcasts do not reveal the fugitive;
  • 25:4 = For you have been a stronghold to the poora stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,
  • 29:19 = The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lordand the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.
  • 32:6-7 = For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lordto leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. As for the scoundrel—his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right.
  • 35:5-6 = Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
  • 41:17 = When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
  • 42:7 = to open the eyes that are blindto bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
  • 56:3, 8 = Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,  “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”The Lord Godwho gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
  • 57:15 = For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spiritto revive the spirit of the lowlyand to revive the heart of the contrite.
  • 58:6-7 = “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
  • 58:10 = if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflictedthen shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
  • 61:1-2 = The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenheartedto proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are boundto proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
  • 66:2 = All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LordBut this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

JEREMIAH

  • 2:34-35 = 34 Also on your skirts is found the lifeblood of the guiltless pooryou did not find them breaking in. Yet in spite of all these things 35 you say, ‘I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.’ Behold, I will bring you to judgment for saying, ‘I have not sinned.’
  • 5:27-29 = 27 Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich; 28  they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. 29 Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord,
  • 7:5-7 = “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm,then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
  • 22:3 = Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
  • 22:13, 15-16 = 13 “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages…15 Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness?  Then it was well with him. 16 He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord.
  • 34:14 = ‘At the end of seven years each of you must set free the fellow Hebrew who has been sold to you and has served you six years; you must set him free from your service.’ But your fathers did not listen to me or incline their ears to me.
  • 49:11 = Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me.”

LAMENTATION

  • 2:19 = “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children,
    who faint for hunger at the head of every street.”*

*why was this happening?

  • 4:13 = This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous.**

**sins of the people are seen throughout prophets.  see in particular Ezekiel 18:5-9 (for definition of a righteous person: taking care of the needy is one of the key points)

EZEKIEL

  • 16:47-49 = 47 Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways. 48 As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
  • 18:5-9 (definition of someone who is righteous) = “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.
  • 18:12-13, 16-17 = 12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, 13 lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself…16 does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 17 withholds his hand from iniquity,takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live.
  • 22:29-30 = 29 The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without justice.30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.
  • 34:3-4 = You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.

DANIEL

  • 4:27 = Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

HOSEA

  • 12:6-9 =

    “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, he loves to oppressEphraim has said, “Ah, but I am rich; I have found wealth for myself; in all my labors they cannot find in me iniquity or sin.” I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; I will again make you dwell in tents, as in the days of the appointed feast.

  • 14:3 = Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.”

JOEL

  • 3:2-3 = I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.

AMOS

  • 2:6-7 = Thus says the Lord“For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicteda man and his father go in to the same girlso that my holy name is profaned;
  • 3:9-10 = Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria, and see the great tumults within her, and the oppressed in her midst.” 10 “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord, “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.”
  • 4:1 = “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’
  • 5:11-15 = 11 Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 12 For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. 13 Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time,  for it is an evil time.

    14 Seek good, and not evil,  that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. 15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

OBADIAH

  • 1:3, 5-6 = The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?”…If thieves came to you, if plunderers came by night— how you have been destroyed— would they not steal only enough for themselves? If grape gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleaningsHow Esau has been pillaged, his treasures sought out!*

*gleanings were the leftover crops that God commanded his people to leave for the poor

  • 1:10-11, 15 = 10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. 11 On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them…15 For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.

JONAH

  • 4:11 =  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”*

*In the book of Nahum the prophet you will see some of the sins for which Ninevah was judged

MICAH

  • 2:1-2 = Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.
  • 6:8 = He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindnessand to walk humbly with your God?*

*biblical justice often goes hand in hand with the needy being uplifted and the oppressor being brought low

  • 6:11-12 = 11 Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights12 Your rich men are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.**

** wicked scales and deceitful weights assumes that someone is profiting by taking advantage of another

NAHUM

  • 2:2 = For the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches.

*Ninevah as plunderers (those who get rich at the expense of the destruction of others)

  • 3:1 = Woe to the bloody city,  all full of lies and plunder— no end to the prey!

HABAKKUK

  • 2:6-8 = Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own— for how long?—  and loads himself with pledges!” Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.
  • 2:9-11 = “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! 10 You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples;  you have forfeited your life. 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.

ZEPHANIAH 

  • 2:3 = Seek the Lord, all you humble of the landwho do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the Lord.
  • 3:1 = Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city!*

*oppressing assumes the oppressed

  • 3:12 = But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowlyThey shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord,
  • 3:19 = Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcastand I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

HAGGAI

  • 1:4 = “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
  • 1:9 = You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house.

ZECHARIAH

  • 7:9-12 = “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” 11 But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. 12 They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts.

MALACHI

  • 3:5 = “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

questions to consider before one dismisses the urban poor

my heart is grieved with the division i see within the nation (acutely highlighted with the events of this past week), within my cultural circle, and even within myself. in the midst of the chaos i have been reminded to take a step back and not so much seek to be understood (important as that is) but to understand (and Lord knows there needs to be more of that) if there is to be any progress.

i grew up middle class (and if i consider the context of global poverty, probably upper class).   somehow from there i found myself teaching at an inner city high school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in LA for eight years. for the past three years now my family and i have chosen to live in a urban poor neighborhood. through walking a little with the urban poor i have learned some things in terms of understanding my neighbor that i hope will be helpful in your journey.

let me first start by making clear this is not a post to justify any kind of violence. if you want to read about a response to that there are those who have articulated the temptation of that sentiment much better than I could.

now then, i believe that all people have equal value. but I also recognize that not all have been afforded equal resources. it may be tempting to think achievement in life and generosity of spirit is simply gained if you work hard enough. hard work is great. with hard work amazing things can be accomplished. but not all have the equal amount of hard work they must endure. and not all hard work produces equal results. please consider some of these questions with me before you are tempted to dismiss the experience of the urban poor…

BACKGROUND

– did you get to choose the neighborhood that you grew up in?

– did you grow up in a setting where people having a college degree was a minority?

– have you witnessed or experienced someone close to you being killed?

– have you or a family member been pulled over/aside by law enforcement even though you had committed no crime?

– did you grow up in a culture that has a heritage of being conquered/oppressed

– are you a part of cultural group that to this day does not enjoy the privileges that most other citizens of your country do?

PARENTING

– did you grow up in a single parent household?

– did your parent(s) grow up in a single parent household?

– were you raised by someone who was not your parent?

– do you know your father and/or do you have a relationship with your father currently?

– did you grow up in a home where at least one parent was laid off or unemployed for an extended period of time?

– did your parents work minimum wage jobs and have difficulty providing for your physical needs?

– did your parent/s complete high school? college?

– were your parents able to help you with your homework?

– were your parents home when you were home?

– did you grow up having different people coming in and out of your house?

– were you emotionally, physically, and/or sexually abused as a child?

– did you have a parent addicted to some chemical substance?

– did you ever have to buy food with food stamps or experience not being able to eat for extended periods of time?

EDUCATION

– did you have to be careful not to be robbed by people or accosted by gang members to and from school?

– did you miss school because your parent needed help with translation or needed you to take care of younger siblings?

– did you have to take care of younger siblings when you came home from school?

– did you have classes in which there were not enough seats or books for students?

– did you go to a school where having a teacher new to teaching was a common occurrence?

– did you have classes in which students being kicked out of class for disruptive behavior was a common occurrence?

– did you have classes in which teachers quit or left inexplicably before the school year was over?

– did you grow up in a school setting in which achieving academically was interpreted as trying to act like another race?

– did you often have teachers who would just show videos for the duration of the class?

– did you have classes where the assignments were frequently to copy things out of a book?

– did you meet with an adult in your high school for academic counseling only once or less?

– were you asked to shoulder the financial needs of your family once you passed the age of 18?

– did you have to work while going to community/college in order to make ends meet?

if you answered no to most of these questions consider that you may have had an upbringing of privilege or at least an upbringing that was more conducive to having a variety of options in life.  maybe we are where we are not simply through our own hard work but through the hard work of others/another we have not fully acknowledged.   maybe because we have been recipients of generosity we can afford to be more generous.

if you answered yes to most of these questions consider that you may have something within you greater than you think to have survived what you have. maybe you have more to offer than you might currently believe. maybe i can learn something from you.

why are the poor blessed and the rich cursed?

child_poverty_tears_ah_51884

I have heard the phrase “blessed are the poor” many times before.  Growing up, I always heard the phrase qualified as, in Matthew’s account, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5:3a)  The former phrase has frequently been explained away to me as not being literal, i.e. not having anything to do with the amount of money you have, and rather about having a heart of desperation for God.

Now although the latter (longing for God) is true, only in the past year or so have I been challenged to consider that the connection to the former (amount of resources one has) may not be so easily dismissed.

In the Luke account the passage reads: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” – Luke 6:20b

The language is quite direct here.  Jesus is talking about a specific type of person: a person who is poor.   Of course, especially in light of Matthew 5, this could also mean a person who is poor in spirit or is in need spiritually.  It may be hard to insist though that Jesus is ONLY speaking figuratively here since the context of this phrase, that comes in a series of blessings, are all shocking statements that go against what we’d expect to be the blessed state (hunger, weeping, and being hated as being blessed in God’s kingdom).   If the statement about the poor is only figurative, considering parallelism, then the rest of the statements are also likely only figurative, which becomes difficult to maintain.

However, what makes it most difficult to deny that Jesus is speaking of a literally poor person is the following statement, in a contrasting series of statements by Jesus in the SAME message: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” – Luke 6:24

Jesus is directly contrasting the poor to the rich, the haves and the have nots.  When we read this statement of the rich it is harder to explain it away as referring to someone who is rich in spirit.  The rich have “received (their) consolation” meaning they have already gotten something of worth.

What then can such a statement mean, that in God’s kingdom the poor are blessed and the rich are cursed?   We may be quick to qualify that, certainly (and rightly so), being poor doesn’t make you more godly, but are we as quick to say that being rich doesn’t make you more godly?   Poverty is not good in it of itself but, let us consider, NEITHER is wealth. Do we even see the trap of riches?  We must be suspicious of a tendency to want to explain away statements of poverty and to ignore the warnings of wealth.  If anything, Jesus is making a stronger statement here about the dangers of wealth than the dangers of poverty.

What I think Jesus is saying in these statements is not that poverty is a godly end we should attain to but rather calling our attention to the condition toward God that poverty and riches engenders.  Being literally poor tends to makes one desperate and being literally rich tends to make one consoled.  Which is easier to say? “I have nothing without you, God” and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from OR to make the same statement knowing you have plenty of goods to spare?  Who is more likely to be in touch with their need for God, a person who is poor or a person who is rich?  Are we desperate for the Kingdom of God as a poor person might be or are we alright with our kingdoms now?

Lord, let me long for you as if I am poor, and let me give to others as if I am rich.

What I Learned from the Servant Partners Internship

This past month marked two years since my family moved to Lincoln Heights and the end of my internship with Servant Partners.  This month also marks the beginning of my role as a fundraised Full-time Staff with Servant Partners in Lincoln Heights as a Youth Pastor at Epicentre Community Church.

A lot has happened in the past two years…new home, new neighborhood, new church, new friends, a new family member, and new work to name a few.  The internship was an important part of this transition that really helped me to process the changes and some major paradigm shifts that are occurring in my life.  Here are a few of the things I have learned in the past two years with the internship.

1. God REALLY loves the poor.

I sort of knew this casually in my Christian upbringing but at best it was a minor chord…something for some Christians.  Through the in-depth inductive study of the Gospel of Luke in the first year, I began to see that God’s love for the poor was a major aspect of the mission of Jesus and the Kingdom He is bringing upon the earth.  Jesus was born into a poor family (Luke 2:24, Lev. 12:8), He affirmed that his ministry was to proclaim good news to the poor, (Luke 4:18, Isa 61:1) He preached a radical worldview in which the poor are blessed and the rich are distressed (Luke 6:20-26), He taught parables on the surprising destiny of the have and have nots (Luke 12:13-21, 14:15-24, 16:19-31), He challenged His followers constantly to be people who give ridiculously to those in need (Luke 6:30, 9:13, 10:25-37, 12:33, 14:13-14, 18:18-30), and He modeled the giving of everything…even his own life.

It is simply shocking if we actually consider applying what Jesus taught.  If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, loving the poor is not an option; it is a sign of our discipleship.  This sparked an examination of the rest of the scriptures for what God has to say about the poor and sure enough the centrality of God’s love for the marginalized is found in the law, the poetry, the wisdom literature, the prophets, the history of the early church, and even in the epistles of the church fathers.  The gospel is indeed the good news that God became poor so that we would experience the riches of Him.  My world is still being rocked by these revelations and, to be honest, I am still a little disturbed that I grew up in the church and this vein of God’s word had either been largely ignored or explained away.  I am in the process of being redeemed to His heart.

2. A Spirit-filled life is essential for work in the inner city…or any work of witness for that matter.

After eight years of working as a high school teacher in the inner city I was already reaching the limits of my ability.  The testimony of the life of Jesus and the early disciples affirmed what I was already experiencing for myself…any long term or lasting work amongst the needy must involve the Spirit of God.  John the Baptist was filled with the spirit from the womb, Jesus was filled with the Spirit before embarking upon his ministry years, and the apostles could not be his emboldened witnesses without being empowered by the Spirit.   In the second year of the internship we focused our inductive study upon the Book of Acts.  There is no escaping the fact that things happened when His people were filled with the Spirit…and when I say filled with the Spirit I don’t simply mean when someone has accepted the message of Jesus (i.e. all believers) as the testimonies make a distinction between a state of being a believer and that of being a believer filled with the Spirit (Acts 4:31, 6:3, 8:11-17, 13:9).

I know that as a believer I have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-10) but I also know that I need to be filled with His Spirit (Galatians 5:16,25, 1 Thes. 5:19) .  There is a difference.   As I minister in the inner city I am coming up against issues and powers so much bigger than what I can handle (poverty, prostitution, addiction, disease, joblessness, gangs, violence, learning disabilities, academic failure, broken families, systemic injustice).  I need, we need, a power greater than ourselves for strength to persevere, for deliverance, and for true transformation in the face of what the world says is impossible.  “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

3. White people do things differently…and that’s okay.

Okay, obviously there are some generalizations here but knowledge of cultural patterns are helpful…some we can learn from and some need redeeming.  So moving into the inner city I was prepping myself for the culture shock of entering into the inner city…what I wasn’t prepared for was the culture shock of entering into my Servant Partners team.  Out of 8 of us in the original team God brought me to, 5 are Caucasian-American (as for the other three, there was me, a Japanese-American, 1 Nigeran-American, and 1 half Caucasian and half Chinese-American).  I didn’t realize how steeped my experience was in the Asian-American experience, and even minority experience (working and living amongst Blacks and Latinos) until I was faced with spending more time sharing life with White Americans then I ever had up to this point in my life (I know it’s strange for most of the U.S. but this is possible living in Los Angeles).

It was challenging to work through the differences racially and culturally (probably the two biggest differences were the ways younger people interact with older people and how decisions are made).  In most Asian cultures there is more of an emphasis on respect for elders and those in positions of authority.   In the white culture, at least in the group I was a part of, there is more of an emphasis on equal treatment regardless of age or position.  In the Asian culture, of how I was raised, decision are made more by the people who are in roles of authority.  In the white culture of our group decisions are made more by everyone weighing in on the decision no matter their role.  This is not to say that one way of life is better than the other but that there is a difference of approach culturally and one must learn to work together with those who may not share the same background as yourself.  I learned to roll with the group and the group learned to be flexible to my needs.  Racial reconciliation is tough but sharing life together helps to break down barriers and, in God, we can learn from one another’s perspectives.  We need each other to have a fuller picture of the Kingdom of God.

I’m sure there may be more lessons but those are the main ones that have surfaced thus far.  Thank you Servant Partners Internship Team Class of 2013 and a special thanks to Papa B-Rad and DGrootie.  And thank you God for leading me thus far.

SP team

day 25: welcome!

Psalm 24:7-10; Luke 2:1-14

 “7 Lift up your heads, O gates!  And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory!” – Psalm 24:7-10

“1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'” – Luke 2:1-14

***

open up them doors!  open up your hearts, that the King of Glory may come in.

who is this King of Glory?

He is mighty to fight AND WIN the battle for our souls!

– He grew up in a town that people thought no good could come from!

– He is simultaneously the Root (source) and the Branch (spread) of His family tree!

– He is born in the “house of bread” (bethlehem) and is our Bread of Life!

– He was born to a teenage mom!

– He was born to a dad, who wasn’t even His biological dad!

– He was born to low-income  parents!

– He was born into a world that didn’t have space for Him!

– He was born in a cave and his crib was a food trough for animals!

– He was born wrapped in death to die for us!

– He makes His best baby shower announcement EVER to a bunch of filthy nobodies in the dark!

– He is the I AM that even commands all the armies of heaven!

open up them doors!  0pen up your hearts, that the King of Glory may come in.

from infinite to finite, from the throne of heaven to the lowest place on earth, from most respected to most disrespected, from eternity to now…where could we ever find a more awesome King?!  Let’s welcome Him in and leave no room or space in our heart empty of Him!

thank you Lord that you came to us!!!

day 23: child king

Psalm 72:10-15; Matthew 2:1-11

10 “May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! 12 For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. 15 Long may he live; may gold of Sheba be given to him!  May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day!” – Psalm 72:10-15

1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

 6 “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” – Matthew 2:1-12

***

why is this king worthy of worship? 

– He is a helper of the needy, He is compassionate (Psalm 72:12-13)

– He is a ruler with eternal origins, He is a ruler that will shepherd His people…He will care for them with the tenderness and thoughtfulness of a shepherd who lives with the sheep. (Micah 5:2, Ezekiel 34)

who actually worships Him?

not who you’d expect.

– the people of israel, the very insiders of the culture, knew about this king.  the “religious” people knew this…even pointing to the very prophetic scriptures that were theirs from God.  they even knew where the messiah was.  yet, what was their reaction?  they stayed right where they were.  they may have given lip service that they intend to worship (Matthew 2:8) but they did not go to worship Him.  in fact, they were “troubled” by Him.   the king, and later the religious rulers, were plotting to kill Him.  this child, this king of compassion, posed a huge threat.

– the wise men of the east, outsiders of the culture, learned about this king too.  not only were they foreigners…they were pagans…unfamiliar with the “right” religious practices.  they had to resort to astrology, which was forbidden in the scriptures, because they didn’t have the same access to the prophesies.  this king wasn’t even the king of the land they had come from.  yet, what was their reaction?  they gave true worship.  their worship was not just lip service.  it cost them a lot to make the long perilous journey…but they are the ones who “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” when they found Him.  they laid themselves on the ground in recognition of the greatness of this child.  in fact, they seemed to understand the significance of this child king better than His own people.  their gifts pointed out that He is a king (precious gold for royalty), He is a priest (frankincense used as incense in temple worship), and that He would sacrifice his life (myrrh used to embalm dead bodies).  (Matthew 2:11, more background into the significance of these three gifts)

so what is our response to this child king?  does His existence, His agenda (to help those in need), His reign threaten us?  would we rather have this season, our lives, be about what’s comfortable for us now?  or will we learn from the wise outsiders that sought Him out, and joyfully lay down our lives in worship?

thank you Lord that you reveal yourself to those who really seek.