Friday, January 16, 2015

The Poor and "Real Relationship with God"

This is from Graeme Seller's message to the Alliance of Renewal Churches, I think in 2012. Let me know if you're interested and I'll make the recording available. We'll share some of this at Crossroads on Sunday.

...I would contend on the basis of what scripture teaches, that caring for the lowest and the least, the poor and the needy, confirms real relationship with God.

In Jeremiah 22:16 we read,
"He [King Josiah] made sure that justice and help we given to the poor and the needy and everything went well for him. Isn't that what it means to know me, asks the Lord."
Now the background for this text is that the prophet Jeremiah has gone to king Jehoiachim, and he has brought him a devastating word of judgment from the Lord. Jeremiah is announcing to Jehoiachim that his kingdom, his reign, will utterly fail, and it will fall precisely because of his shabby treatment of the poor and the needy. And in this verse he is contrasted unfavorably with his father, King Josiah.

Now Proverbs 14:31, picking up on the theme, says
"Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who help the poor honor him."
Now I think it's easy to think that we're on track with the Lord, and miss his heart almost entirely for the poor. It's easy for men and women who follow Jesus in a culture that that worships at the altar of success, and does so in the church, it's easy to believe that we're on track with the Father because our prayer life is on the right trajectory, because we finally got that finally got that building program off the ground, because we're beginning to grow as a church or if we're not growing we're declining for all the right reasons. And it's easy to think that we are flat out on target with the Lord and miss his heart for the poor and the needy, and never even see it. Never even see that we've missed it.

I really believe in my heart that the Lord would have us to ask, in the Alliance of Renewal Churches:
  • Where is your heart for the poor?
  • Will you have a reputation among men and women in the world, both those who know Jesus and those who do not, as those who have mercy and compassion for the ones who have no one else to care about them? 
  • Will you be known for mercy? 
  • Will you be known for your compassion for the poor?
...Proverbs [14:31], that to oppress the poor, which is accomplished both by what we do to them and what we fail to do for them, brings shame to the name and reputation of the living God. The Hebrew word [for "insult"] in the text means literally to defy or blaspheme.

So, as we consider this let's look at Jeremiah 22 again. I want to read verse 15 as well. The prophet is having a conversation with Jehoiachim and he remarks:
"A beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king. Your father Josiah also had plenty to eat and drink, but he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him. He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn't that what it means to know me?"
I think that's the key phrase in this passage. Isn't "caring for the poor and needy" what it means to know me?

This is no small thing because knowing God is the end game of this entire enterprise we've embarked on. Jesus says, in the last days, many will come to him and say, "Well, Lord, didn't I do amazing things in your name, didn't I cast out demons, didn't I heal the sick, didn't I start and international ministry didn't I go to the places where nobody had heard the gospel, didn't I lay down my life and give up my dreams for you?!" and Jesus says, I will say to them in that moment "Leave my presence. I never knew you." [Matthew 25]

Knowing God is everything. And knowing God, as you are well aware, is not a matter of information assimilation. Knowing God is a dynamic in which we experience heart transformation. And scripture contends that those who know God are led, inalterably and irrefutably to compassion for the forgotten and the friendless.
  • If you know God you will love the loveless. 
  • If you know Him, you minister to the poorest of the poor. 
Standing with the down and outers, walking alongside them, this is what God says verifies personal friendship with him.

So James observes in chapter 1:27 and 2:5,
"Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. Listen, dear friends, isn't it clear by now that God operates quite differently. He chose the world's down and out as the Kingdom's first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God."
What do you think? Does Graeme get it right? Let's talk!

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