Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

I am going to start this seminar with the summary from God & Money seminar.  This will set the stage.  If you want the full foundation for this seminar you may get the tape of that session or read the expanded version of the session on this web site

Here is the summary:

1.    In Israel, God's economic system, including Jubilee, provided every family with the equal opportunity to own and pass on to the next generation modest wealth, but it eliminated the opportunity to become exceedingly wealthy.

2.    God condemned those who became exceedingly wealthy and denounced their attempt to worship Him with their wealth as an abomination.

3.    Jesus presents us with a decision: If I serve, love and am devoted to God, I will hate and despise Money.

4.    When I serve, love, and am devoted to God, I will not store up treasure for myself on earth, and I don't need to worry about life.

5.    Jesus never in any way encouraged wealth accumulation for oneself on earth.

6.    If I do store up treasure on earth, it is for the sole purpose of giving it away.  It must not be for myself.

7.    As an alien on earth my great opportunity is to store up treasure in heaven where it cannot corrode or be stolen.  I am reminded of the famous saying of the martyred missionary, Jim Elliot: He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

8.    Money is a root of all evils.  People who want to get rich fall into a trap that will (not may) plunge them into ruin and destruction.

9.    Money has no place and will have no place in the Kingdom of God, which is characterized by abundance.

10.  However, Money can be converted into heavenly treasure by giving to the poor and similarly by investing in Kingdom building activities.

11.  Ellul says that the only way to neutralize the power of Money over our life in this world is to give it away.  Over and over again, Jesus tells people to sell their possessions and give their money away, or He commends people for doing it.

12.  The good work that God prepares for many to do involves owning a business. The output of a business can bring glory to God.  Providing a workplace based on biblical relational principles brings glory to God.  Providing a workplace requires the accumulation and ownership of capital in the form of Money.  This can be a particularly dangerous temptation and trap for a Christian businessman.

13.  There are two great traps.  One involves treating workers with less dignity than God has given them as His image bearer; or paying unjust wages.  The second is crossing the fine line that separates retaining the capital required to operate a business and distrusting God by storing up treasure for themselves.  This is why I do not have a savings account and why I do not own any investments outside of the business.

14.  The warning against wealth accumulation and the diatribes against the misuse of wealth should cause all serious Christians to be zealous to give away everything they can as fast as they can.

15.  It is undeniable that God wants there to be an equality of economic sufficiency amongst the aliens in this world who are citizens of God's Kingdom.

16.  The opportunity to give is itself a gift of God.  It is not a burden; it is a gift from God.

17.  The greatest expression of giving as a gift of God is to give so riskingly and with such confidence and trust in God that at some future time other's plenty will be required in order to supply the original giver's need.

18.  When a Christian gives generously God receives thanks and glory.

19.  To summarize the summary: If I serve, love, and am devoted to God, I will hate and despise Money.  As a citizen of God's Kingdom living as a stranger in the world, I can convert Money into treasure stored in heaven for myself and I can bring thanksgiving and glory to God by giving Money generously.

Near the beginning of Jesus' ministry, Jesus read from prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

After reading these words, Jesus told the audience that He was the fulfillment of this Scripture.  This is alive with concern for the poor, imprisoned and oppressed.

Jesus' actual ministry corresponded precisely with these words.  As C.S. Lewis said, our main goal in life is to become "little Christs" – to be and do what Jesus was and did.  This is the central reason for Christian concern for the poor.

Some have tried to blunt Jesus' concern by spiritualizing it.  I think you'll see in a moment that that only increases our responsibility as ones who have been delivered from slavery to sin into the freedom and joy of living as full blown citizens of the kingdom of God.

Jesus spent His entire public life doing two things: healing the sick, and standing up for the oppressed and marginalized.  He instructed His disciples to follow Him and do the same.

Two proverbs identify God's concern for the poor:

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but he who is kind to the needy honors God. (Pro 14:31)
He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done. (Pro 19:17)

When I oppress the poor, I am thereby showing contempt to God who made them.  On the other hand, when I proactively respond with kindness and generosity to a person who is in need, I am honoring, glorifying and respecting God.  To glorify and honor God is my highest calling.  I can accomplish my highest calling by proactively helping poor people.

It is hard to imagine that I have enough resources to figuratively lend them to the Lord.  What can this mean?  Paul says in Romans 11:35: Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him.  For from Him, and through Him, and to Him, and for Him are all things.  How can you reconcile this?  While God is the source, means, and purpose of all things, by proactively responding with kindness and generosity to a person who is in need, I am in some real way lending to the Lord, and the Lord will not only repay me but He will also reward me for being kind to the poor.  This is partially explained by the following parable that Jesus told.

Jesus not only came to free and release the poor and oppressed; but in some mysterious way we can only partly imagine, He identifies Himself intimately with the poor in this parable:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?"
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"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.

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 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