Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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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.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Considering the Poor


Psalm 41:1-3
Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
 
In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; 

he is called blessed in the land;

you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.
The Lord sustains him on his sickbed;

in his illness you restore him to full health.

There is something very foreign to our way of thinking in this psalm.  In 2010 when we say, "blessed is the one who considers the poor..." we mean, "blessed is the one who thinks about the poor and then goes and buys running shoes, a gym membership, and gets a personal trainer."  In the days when this psalm was written the phrase meant "Blessed is the one who does something about the poor."  Faith in those days equaled action.  That's why there are so many movements attached to the idea of worship in the Bible.  When the Word tells us to "bow before the Lord," for instance, it really means we are supposed to do it!

So the promise here is for someone who doesn't just talk about doing something for the poor.  The person God honors by delivering from the day of trouble; by protecting him and keeping him alive; by not giving him up to the will of his enemies; by sustaining him even in sickness and restoring him to health?  It isn't that such a person is any more valuable to God, but frankly, that's a person who is crucifying his own flesh by offering his body to the poor.  If God works in any kind of strategic way, and I'm not saying his strategy looks like ours would, I believe that he does preserve those who offer themselves sacrificially on behalf of the poor and weak in this world.

And let's have no talk about how nice this is to think about and then never do anything about.  It simply isn't enough for us to pray, "O Lord, remember those who are less fortunate than we are," and then dig into our steak and potatoes.  Somewhere in your life God expects you to honor the poor and the weak with your industry.  I'm not saying you have to sell all you have and give to the poor (unless you've made such an idol out of your money that you've become like the Rich Young Ruler Jesus encountered).  What the Word is telling you is that there needs to be a significant interface between your life and that of those who are weak or needy.  

Let me give you an example of what I mean.  A pastor has two options.  He can take a church that is healthy and doing well and get a full-time salary, benefits, and a 401k, or he can take a church that is "on their last legs", that needs a whole lot of TLC.  Oh... and in order to do it, he'll have to work bi-vocationally.  Which should he do?  See, it isn't as clear-cut as you're probably thinking I'm going to suggest.  The teaching in Psalm 41 only comes into play if the pastor in question has been relying on the full-time salary, benefits and 401k to create a zone of comfort in his life... making his "career" an idol.  And only that pastor can parse that out before God.  No outside observer can say, "you're not considering the poor!"  You have to figure that out yourself, wrestling it in prayer.

A teacher has worked for 25 years in the public schools.  Now he/she has the opportunity to retire early and go have a nice time.  But there's a school on an indian reservation two counties over where the teaching has been substandard.  They could really use a great, committed teacher there.  What should our educator do?  Well, it depends.  Have they made an idol of their career or of their retirement plan?  Are they in good health and able to keep teaching for a few years?  

The one thing you can not do is say to God, "I just don't feel moved.  It just isn't my ministry."  Don't forget the message of the Goats in Matthew 25: "Lord, didn't we cast out demons in your name?"  And the Lord's reply:  "I never knew you.  Depart from me."

The Scriptures are so up-front about what kind of people we really are.  The very next verse of Psalm 41 has the psalmist confessing, "As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me;
heal me, for I have sinned against you!”  He knew that he, of all people, had not "considered the poor."  

Lord, be gracious to me.  Cause me to wrestle with how you want me to engage with the poor and weak, and when.  And make me a man of integrity, who doesn't just say he's going to do something about it, but someone who does what he says.

Jon




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