"But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?"
When I came into the office this morning... wow, it feels good to say "I came into the office", since I spent 25 years of my career with a home office... I sat down at my desk and had a brief conversation with my co-worker Jack. We're both in the same boat, really. Jack and I both "work for" Vision New England. But VNE is a missions organization. To work for VNE is to raise your own funds to support your part of the ministry. Like I said, Jack and I started to talk about our efforts in fund-raising and we agreed first that asking for money is one of the harder parts of what we do. The second thing we agreed on is that we simply can't concern ourselves with who is giving or how much when it comes to the outworking of our ministry.
There is a great temptation when you are at the mercy of people with money to lean a little in their direction when it comes to offering your time, attention, and affection. This doesn't happen just in the church. In politics they have a word for it: Influence peddling. That's why political campaigns that accept money from lobbyists are automatically seen as suspect when it comes to their objectivity about the thing the lobbyist supports. If politicians need to be careful about this kind of thing, so much more do we who give ourselves to the ministry of Jesus need to take care to offer Christ not just free of charge, but free of personal strings attached.
I know that James was talking specifically about those who are poor and wealthy in financial terms when he wrote this passage, but Jesus spoke about another kind of poor person: those who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). I have so often shown preference to those who are wealthy in social -- what I perceive wrongly as spiritual -- terms. Here is a person who quite simply attracts. They are the social equivalent of Warren Buffett. Money just seems to come to him. People just seem to flock to certain types of people. This kind of rich person is talented or witty or good looking or just fun at parties. They are usually a bit narcissistic, but no matter, we like them. The problem is that generally they are not the ones who suffer a need of God. They can't be bothered.
I had a young man who wanted to be part of my ministry group years ago who, when I asked him if he was a Christian said, "Yea. God is cool with me." As a teen he was always surrounded by a bevy of girls vying for his attention. What wasn't to like? He had long, well groomed hair, a nice personality, an engaging smile, AND he was an awesome guitarist. The road for him to really give his life to Christ was long and winding. It was years before he finally really gave himself to the Lord. He was just too engaged with being rich to be bothered by how poor he was.
This kind of young person is a burden for a discipler like myself. I will confess freely: I'm a bad judge of character when it comes to someone like this. The reason is that I find myself drawn to this kind of person just like everyone else. I find myself needing to be needed by them. I guess I figure that if I can reach the star of the show, everyone else will follow. But this is such a lie. It isn't their fault. They're just saddled with the wealth of who they are. And their wealth ends up oppressing me. Meanwhile there are so many "poor" people -- really rather rich in the things of God -- who are so grateful to be included. I'm thinking here of one of the guys I share a Bible study with weekly right now. There is, for sure, a great deal of affirmation I receive every time we meet for study. I believe he gets that same thing from me. But the overpoweringly deep work that God is doing in his heart as he receives the Word? THAT is the thing that makes me want to go out of my way to make sure I don't miss our appointments. He isn't a star. In fact he's someone that goes unnoticed by most of his friends. That's because he is sincere, faithful, kind, generous, and other-minded. He doesn't play the star game. And so, in his poorness in the world he is becoming rich in faith.
God, forgive me for focusing on the wrong people. I know ALL need your love and forgiveness. But forgive me for thinking and spending more time on the ones who seem the most put-together, the most beautiful, the wealthiest in the things of this world. I pray for them that you will break into their lives and use someone who is oh-so-not-impressed with them to reach them with the gospel. Send me instead, God, to those who are poor. Through those relationships I pray you would end my poverty toward you and draw me near to what your heart values.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.