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Archive for the ‘poor in spirit’ Category


I always enjoy Portland’s annual mission conference and this year’s event was no exception.  I was excited to hear Brian Fikkert, the author of “When Helping Hurts,” address the complex issue of poverty alleviation.

He did not disappoint.

Fikkert likened the West’s method of helping the poor to a doctor who misdiagnoses his patient.  If the cause of the illness is misunderstood, then the prescribed medicine will cause harm–no matter how well-intentioned the doctor might be.

Fikkert believes that most westerners have misdiagnosed the cause of poverty.  We think it comes from a lack of material goods, so our “cure” is to pour capital and technology into impoverished areas.  But still the sickness spreads.

The World Bank surveyed poor people around the world a few years ago, and asked how they would define poverty.  While many made reference to their lack of resources, most described poverty in emotional terms:  a state of helplessness, feelings of shame and inferiority, a lack of options.

Fikkert believes poverty is caused by broken relationships–with God, others, ourselves and creation.  There are plenty of resources to go around this planet, but because we are broken, we ignore God’s principles of stewardship and hoard and misuse what we’ve been given.

In his book, Fikkert develops the topic of transformational development–which is essentially a strategy to reconcile people to God, each other, themselves and creation.  It is a holistic approach to sharing the gospel and emphasizes that Christ is the creator, sustainer and restorer of all things.

But even with this holistic approach, poverty alleviation is complicated.  I loved the example Fikkert gave from Acts 14; where Barnabas and Paul come across the crippled beggar.  They didn’t give him a hand out; they gave him a hand up and pointed him in the direction of the One who could supply all of his needs.

I know I’m not quoting him properly, but Fikkert said that if we want to help the beggars, we must become beggars ourselves, reaching out our hands to lay hold of what only God provides.  We need to acknowledge our own brokeness as we come along side the poor and needy, and reach out together to Jehovah Jireh.

How this would look, practically speaking, I have no clue.  But I love the concept of a band of beggars approaching the throne of grace together, hands raised to receive His grace!

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“As I stand at the brink of a new year, I find myself still waiting. Still straining to hear His quiet voice say, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” Still scanning the horizon for mileposts to point the way. Still wondering if our future will ever come into focus . . .”   from last year’s New Year’s post, 2010 vision.

Boy howdy, did things ever come into focus this past year!

If 2009 was a year of waiting, then 2010 was a season of receiving.  Just thinking of all His good gifts to us this year makes me feel like a spoiled child!  I am so undeserving . . .

We married off our last daughter to a very godly man–God gave us sweet Ramona–we got to visit Africa and Alaska–God led us back to Abundant Life!  Those are just the highlights; there really are too many blessings to recount!

I believe that 2011 will be a year of speaking up.  The verses I want to camp out on for  the next 12 months are:

Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8,9

I just finished reading through the Bible this year, and if there’s one theme that is close to God’s heart, it is defending the defenseless.  I’m not sure how He intends to use me this coming year–but I’m confident it will be one wild and wonderful ride.

Anyone want to join me?

PS:  A good resource to jump start your heart is Kimberly Smith’s blog.  She speaks up with boldness and compassion for the most destitute people on the planet.

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In between our church’s Christmas eve services last night, I ran downstairs to help my new friend, Amanda, prepare for a very different Christmas eve event–she and a group of volunteers were heading out to give presents and hot coffee to the shivering prostitutes who worked the streets on this most sacred of nights.

“It’s so cold out–and it’s raining!  Are you really going out tonight?”  I asked Amanda, who started Scarlet Cord ministries.

“The women are out there–so we will be, too,” she answered without hesitation.  I hugged her and returned to the cozy church service as Amanda walked out into the freezing rain . . .

*********

Forming redemptive relationships with the women who work the strip joints and the streets of Portland is Scarlet Cord’s purpose.  This is accomplished by providing a meal and basic necessities (including condoms) for these ladies and their children every Friday night–at our little church building in north Portland!

Female volunteers divide and conquer each Friday afternoon.  One group, the street team, heads for 82nd and the other teams stays and prepares the meal.

Amanda told me that the street team goes out on the streets and into the strip joints to invite the women to the dinner being served at the church.

“These girls all have stories,” Amanda told me recently.  “No little girl ever just decides she wants to be a prostitute or a stripper when she grows up. ”

Once the women realize the volunteers don’t want anything from them, they often let down their guard.  Amanda was in the G-Spot (a strip joint on 82nd) not long ago and had an enlightening chat with one of the dancers.  “D” was wearing the usual skimpy attire–and a beautiful cross necklace.  After Amanda admired the pendant, “D” explained that it was a gift her mother had given her during her battle with cancer.

“I wear it to remind myself that God healed me and has a purpose for my life,” D confided.

As I listened and struggled to make sense of this strange scenario, Amanda leaned forward and said something even more mind-boggling:

“God is in the G-spot,” she told me.  “His love has deeply impacted “D”‘s life.  Jesus is in those terrible, dark places, reaching out to those women with His unconditional love.”

If you doubt Jesus’ affinity for prostitutes, you need to read through the gospels a few times.  Our worship service last night was lovely, as we focused on the babe in the manger.

But I’m pretty sure the Prince of Peace was out on the streets . . . cradling the broken.

*********

Take me to that place where we’re children again
And we crawl on the lap of the Peace Child
Take me to the land where love is discovered
With the prince undercover as the Peace Child

And the poor can now see
How a king can believe
In a kingdom that cradles the broken

O come, o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
From lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears

We look to be upright as we grasp for a chance
But we’re too dirty to dance with the Peace Child
But the sunset and its red floods the world with its rays
Like the blood of the babe of the Peace Child

And the dead can now sing
At the throne of the king
‘Cause heaven is full of us peasants

The Normals

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May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. Amen.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. Amen.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection,starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. Amen.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.

And the Blessing of God, who Creates, Redeems and Sanctifies, be upon you and all you love an pray for this day, and forever more. Amen.

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So, you may think this sounds crazy–and perhaps it is–but about three weeks ago, I thought I heard the Lord say, “I’m giving you the gift of poverty.”

My first response was, “But I didn’t ask for that!” My second reaction was to pretend I didn’t hear Him.

Like that would work!

The day after His announcement, our Honda CRV refused to shift into reverse. The transmission had been making a cranky noise for several months, but we just kept turning up the volume on the radio and ignoring it. But it was obviously time to take it to the car doctor . . .

One week–and $3,200 later–our Honda was up and running again. But, ouch, what a blow to the bank account! To top that off, the day we brought the car home, our electric garage door stopped working. That repair added up to over $300! Yikes, if this had to do with my “gift,” I really wanted to return it!

Every time we turned around, it seemed we were hit with unexpected bills and unbudgeted expenses. I felt like there was some invisible vortex somewhere on our property, sucking down our financial resources faster than we could replenish them. I knew we were a long way from true poverty, say, living under the Burnside bridge, but our financial situation felt increasingly out of control.

I briefly wondered if we were being punished. But after praying about it, I felt that wasn’t the case. We were fairly good stewards–tithing regularly, practicing hospitality and serving the needy. But I certainly didn’t feel like I’d been given a present, either!

To help bring in some extra holiday cash, I’d signed up for several Christmas bazaars. I was supposed to sell my journals at a craft fair on Saturday, but ended up staying home with a touch of the flu. Bummed by the fact that I’d just lost my $20 booth fee, plus whatever I would have made in journal sales, I groused around in bed all morning. Feeling too yucky to either sleep or get up and be productive, I finally grabbed my Bible and looked up a few verses on poverty.

I didn’t have to look far. From my reading, I gathered that God is not a fan of oppression, but He has a special place in His heart for the poor. And yeah, the Bible actually does indicate that poverty can be a gift: Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? James 2:5

As I meditated on that verse, I recalled what was possibly the most powerful sermon I’ve ever heard. Preached by Jackie Pullinger back in the early ’90s, it was a message about how much God loves the poor–and the incredible gift of faith they possessed because they had nothing else but Him. Her stories of His grace and provision in the midst of abject poverty rocked my soul then and have stayed fresh in my heart until now.

Then I read in Matthew 5, where Jesus says that blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Poverty of spirit is the state of realizing our utter bankruptcy without God. It’s not a false humility–or the kind of poverty that comes from poor choices–it’s the simple undertanding that Christ is our all in all. He is our portion, our provision and our inheritance!

This was the gift of poverty the Lord was giving me–the understanding that whatever resources I have–be they many or few–they are His. I am a true pauper in the sense that I actually own not a thing–it all belongs to God. Peace flooded my soul as I realized it was His savings account that was being depleted. His house was showing major signs of decrepitude. We had just borrowed money to get His car fixed. I felt amazingly freed from anxiety as I released my hold on stuff that was never mine to begin with, embracing both my poverty and all my riches in Him.

He gave me another gift that day, but I will blog about that later . . .

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