Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

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CCDA, the Christian Community Development Association, was founded by an African American hero of mine, John Perkins.  John was nearly beaten to death in the 60's by a police chief in a Mississippi jail—-his offence?  He was establishing Bible clubs for African American boys and girls in Mendenhall, Mississippi.

John developed a philosophy of ministry to inner city and other poor communities described by the three R's, Reconciliation, Redistribution, and Relocation.

Reconciliation has vertical and horizontal aspects.  Vertically people must be reconciled and restored to a relationship with God.  The apostle Paul wrote:

If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone; the new has come.  All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ and not counting men's sins against them.  And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ's behalf; be reconciled to God.  God made Jesus who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Cor. 5:17-21)

This is the classic, biblical passage dealing with primarily vertical reconciliation.

The classic biblical passage directly connecting our vertical reconciliation to God and our horizontal reconciliation to our brothers and sisters is found in Paul's epistle to the Ephesians:

formerly you who are Gentiles...were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners...without hope and without God in the world....Jesus Himself is our peace—-our peacemaker—-who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. (Eph 2:11-16)

Here we have spiritual, racial, ethnic and social reconciliation. 

In Paul's primary writing about spiritual gifts, in I Cor. 12, he says that each believer has received a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit that is given for the common good of the members of the body of Christ.  Paul goes on to say:

The physical body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts...the parts form one body.  So it is with Christ's body, the church.  For we were all baptized in one Spirit into one body—-whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free...God has combined the members of the body...so that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. (I Cor 12:12-13, 24-26)

Here we have full and complete reconciliation and total mutual dependence on each other's spiritual gifts and concern.  Paul teaches me that I need the spiritual gifts of the poor exercised for my benefit—-on my behalf.  We who are materially rich—-and that includes almost everyone in this room—-have a deep need to be ministered to by those who are economically poor.  I guarantee you that your need is as great as the need of the poor.  Only in life in the Kingdom of God is each person in any relational transaction both the giver and the receiver—-the rich and the poor.  Only in the Kingdom of God can each person both be Jesus to another and also be touched by Jesus in every relational transaction.  Every person I know who became intimately involved in meeting the needs to the poor—-in being God's gift to the poor—-has come to the realization that he was really the poor one who received God's gift of grace from the economically poor—-who were really the rich ones.

When we speak of redistribution in CCDA we include all resources—-wealth, education, time, talent, wisdom, personal networks, professional skill and knowledge, etc.  My first action in the inner city was to redesign some homes so they were highly energy efficient for a Christian Community Development Company.  Over the last fifteen years, I have redistributed all of the above types of resources and more to inner city people and organizations.

The greatest, ultimate example of relocation is Jesus.

Have this attitude and mindset which was also in Christ Jesus.  Although continuing to be in the very nature God, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; but He voluntarily emptied Himself of His glory as God taking the form of a slave becoming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death—-even death on a despicable cross.  Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him a name that is above every name. (Phil. 2:5-9)

Paul says that this mindset of Jesus is to be our mindset.  This attitude of leaving where we are comfortable and affirmed to go where we may be despised and rejected—-this is physical relocation.  Physical relocation by one who is committed to fully follow Jesus will ultimately result in radical reconciliation and radical redistribution.  Relocation logarithmically intensifies reconciliation and redistribution.  At my age relocation has been my greatest challenge.  For several years I lived communally about half the week in a house with most of the employees of the not-for-profit company I founded in inner city North Lawndale.  When we stopped operating the not-for-profit, my four children and seven grandchildren living close by in the suburbs and the suburban homebuilding business made it difficult for me to continue living in the city.  However, I am contemplating returning to North Lawndale in two to three years.  I have maintained much, but not nearly all, of the benefits of relocation by remaining very active in Lawndale Community Church.  Most of my friendships outside of business are in Lawndale.  My heart, except for my family, is in North Lawndale.

I would like to spend the rest of my time telling you snippets of the stories of people I have met in North Lawndale over the last fifteen years who are touching Jesus by touching the poor and who are daily living out the three R's—-reconciliation, redistribution, and relocation.

I want to directly challenge each one of you to prayerfully consider the three R's.  There can be no question but that we are all called by Jesus to radical reconciliation and radical redistribution across racial, ethnic, social, economic, educational, generational and demographic lines.  The greatest joy and spiritual growth is to be found in radically answering Jesus' call to feed, clothe, visit and welcome Jesus into your home by almost continuously feeding, clothing, visiting and welcoming the poor to your house when you live in a distressed community such as inner city North Lawndale.

This is my challenge to you.  Don't be satisfied with saying you're not racist while smugly living in your nice suburban home when you could be touching Jesus in the inner city.  Don't be satisfied having a nice job doing little in particular for God's Kingdom and for the welfare of mankind other than tithing to a suburban church.

Over and over again the apostles echo Jesus' call to not store up for yourself treasure on earth, but to store up for yourself treasure in heaven.  Let's go do it.

December, 2003


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