Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

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"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."  (Mt 25:31-46)

Whenever and wherever this judgment occurs, I want to be on the side that is blessed, not cursed.  Verse 34 says that I am blessed by the Father when I bless and touch the poor by feeding, clothing, visiting and welcoming them into my house.  I want that blessing!  Jesus says, "come take your eternal inheritance, the kingdom, that was prepared for you because you physically fed, clothed, visited, and welcomed me when I appeared before you in the distressed disguise of the poor."

Quite simply, when you bless and touch the poor by feeding, clothing, visiting or welcoming them into your home, you are doing it to Jesus.  This is the Scripture that drove Mother Teresa.  This is the Scripture that drove me to become intimately involved with the poor in the inner city in Chicago.

The downside of not feeding, clothing, visiting, and welcoming the poor into our homes is terrifying.  Jesus said He will say to them at the final judgment:

Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Mt 25:41)

The meaning is all too clear.  Those who do not have intimate concern for the poor will experience eternal damnation.

Sider (Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger) asks a sobering question.  Is it not possible that many rich "Christians" so disobey God in their neglect of the poor that they are not followers of Jesus at all?  It was often the most religious people that Jesus and the prophets denounced most for their attempt to worship God while they were oppressing the poor.

The apostle James has a similar message:

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?   In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

This is a very strong incentive for being very proactive in reaching out to the poor.  I want to have a confidence in Jesus that is alive and vibrant.  I don't want a faith that is dead.

The apostle John also has a similar message:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (I Jn 3:16-18)

John says that the way we imitate Jesus laying down His life for us is to share our material possessions with needy brothers and sisters.

In light of these Scriptures and those from the other session, how should we now live and give.  John Wesley said that we should give away all but "the plain necessities of life" i.e. plain, wholesome food, clean clothes, and enough capital to carry on one's business.  Wesley insisted that any Christian who takes for himself anything more than the plain necessities of life lives in habitual denial of the Lord.  Wesley lived what he preached.  He once wrote: "If I leave behind me 10 pounds, you and all mankind bear witness against me that I died a thief and a robber."

Ron Sider writes about how his family gives a "graduated tithe".  Here's how it works.  They give 10% on a base figure that includes (a) the current poverty level for their size family, (b) education expense, (c) taxes, (d) and genuine emergencies.  On the income above that amount they increase their percent giving by 5% on each $1,000 increase in income.  As a result, by the time his income is $19,000 above the base figure, he is giving away all of his additional income.

There was a time in my life when I thought I could be on the right side of Jesus' parable and James' and John's teaching by giving to missions and letting other people feed, clothe, visit, and welcome the poor.  I came to realize that I personally had to feed, clothe, visit, and invite the poor into my home.  The problem was that there were no poor among my acquaintances, and I didn't know any in my suburban church or community.  I clearly had a major problem.

It was about this time that I read Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and three of Colson's books: Born Again, Life Sentence, and Loving God.  I came to realize that my faith was very shallow and that I needed to drastically change.

I explored several ways that I could personally, physically touch the poor.  I joined the Chicagoland Prison Fellowship Board.  Finally, while continuing to operate my home building business in the Chicago suburbs, I commuted each week to Eastern College in Pennsylvania to take graduate courses in inner city economic development.

I started a not-for-profit community development company in the inner city community of North Lawndale in Chicago.  Our mission was to restore and build up the spiritual, physical, educational, and social assets of depressed inner city communities.  Our primary vehicle for doing this was building homes.

I became a member of an inner city primarily African American church, Lawndale Community Church, which has been my church now for over 15 years.

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