Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: poverty

The Visible and Invisible Poor

I believe we in North America have a problem in the way we see the poor. We are acutely aware of the poor people in Africa and Asia and believe it is up to us to do something to relieve their poverty. We are blind to the existence of poverty in our own countries, because our countries are rich and there is no excuse for anyone to be poor.

Isn’t pride the principal motivator in both cases? We think ourselves better people than those who are poor; as if it was our superior wisdom that caused us to be born in prosperous countries and stable homes.

We send enormous amounts of used clothing, mosquito nets and other goodies to Africa and pat ourselves on the back for our kindness. It is not kindness – these are poisoned gifts that take jobs away from those in Africa who would be fully capable of manufacturing them.

Some years ago there was a surplus of rice in the USA. The government decided that they could help US farmers and the poor people of Haiti by donating the rice to Haiti. It did help US farmers, but before the free rice came there were farmers in Haiti growing rice and plants to process the rice. Those people all lost their livelihoods.

Our supposed generosity is a display of contempt for people in those countries; we are telling them that you are inferior people, incapable of providing for your own needs. Does that sound harsh? Aren’t we just trying to help? We may think we are helping, but we need to step back and look at the gap between our supposedly noble intentions and the damage our gifts are causing. There are voices in Africa telling us, “For God’s sake stop helping us!” We should listen to them.

Contempt is a harsh word, but isn’t that what is really behind our thinking about poor people in North America? Have they truly had the same opportunities as those who are most prosperous? The same respect, the same educational and employment opportunities?

There are many factors that can’t simply be brushed aside. There are the lingering effects of slavery in the USA, the white race riots in the Red Summer of 1919 when white mobs in two dozen US cities rampaged through black neighbourhoods, vandalizing and looting businesses and homes owned by black people, the Detroit riot of 1943 when several black people were offered supervisory jobs in the Packard plant and many other incidents. My father and his brothers grew up in the USA. Anything they ever said about black people indicated that in their minds the inferiority of black people was an unquestioned fact.

In Canada, the residential schools for indigenous people, with supposedly benevolent intentions, undermined the family structures of those people. That brings me to the principal cause of poverty in North America – the lack of fathers. Most young people who get into trouble, most members of street gangs, most petty criminals, most prostitutes, most of the poor people, have not had a father who loved and cared for them, who gave them a sense of security at home.

A friend of ours in Montreal 25 years ago, grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese cic=vil war that lasted from 1975 to 1992. Almost all the buildings in Beirut showed some damage fro the bombs and shooting. Her father, a retired military officer, told his sons that if they enlisted in the army he would not allow them into the house. He did not want to bring the turmoil outside into his home. His sons obeyed their father’s wishes. Our friend told us that whatever the strife around them, she always felt safe and secure at home.

If all men could give their families that level of security, that would go a long way to eliminate the disorders and dysfunctions of our time,.including poverty. If you have grown up with a father like that, thank God for him. And don’t despise those who live in poverty because they have not had the same opportunity.

What is a Biblical ethic of work and wealth?

There are Christians who revere voluntary poverty, seeing it as a means of escaping from the materialism of the world and of not abusing the resources of the earth.

Other Christians revere work and consider the benefits that flow from it to be good stewardship and evidence of the blessing of God.

Those in each group see themselves as being more righteous than those in the other group.

Taking that as a warning and a starting point in seeking God’s will for our material affairs, here are some points that come to my mind:

  1. Self-righteousness is abhorrent to God
  2. We need to do honest work to provide for our needs and the needs of our family.
  3. We should be content; there is no need to envy those who have more than we do.
  4. We need to have enough to give to the work of God and to help those who do not have enough.
  5. If we don’t have time for family, worship, prayer and reading the Bible and other Christian literature, we are probably too busy with material pursuits.
  6. If we are ashamed to ask for advice or help, we are too proud.
  7. Recreational shopping wastes not just money but valuable time that could be spent with family and friends.
  8.  Maybe we don’t need to travel as often, or as far, as we would like to.
  9. It’s not healthy to never leave home; visiting in other communities gives us new insights.
  10. God is interested in every aspect of our life.

What do you think? Suggested changes or additions are welcome.

One of the roots of poverty

There’s a nifty new all terrain electric quadricycle from France called the Swincar. Each wheel is independently powered, each wheel and the driver’s nacelle have independent suspension.

I want one.

But I don’t expect to ever have one. It costs $15,000 and there are more pressing needs for any extra money that comes in. Things like upgrades to our house and/or a trip to visit friends 3,000 km from here.

That’s an extreme example, but one of the big differences between the haves and the have-nots in a prosperous country is the difference between needing to have instant gratification for one’s wants and the ability to defer gratification and decide which of one’s wants are of the greatest importance.

Should we aspire to be poor?

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Image by 1820796 from Pixabay

When there are so many warnings and examples in the Bible of the dangers of being rich, why does it seem that many Christians think it is desirable to be rich?

Luke 18:25 For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. / 1 Timothy 6:9-10 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. / James 5:1-2 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. / Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. / James 2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

So, it is well nigh impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, but God has chosen the poor to be heirs of the kingdom. Have we got our priorities wrong?

Some Christians interpret these verses as referring to those who are poor in spirit. Hmmm. Honestly now: does it really seem like those who make that interpretation are poor in spirit? Or are they trying to justify their riches, in their own eyes at least?

The middle class was created by Christians who were honest and diligent in work and business and not wasteful and self-indulgent in their spending. That kind of living is right and good and inevitably leads to a measure of prosperity. Therein lies a snare. People who were converted under the preaching of John Wesley quit spending money and drink and rather took it home to feed and clothe their families. Their children grew up never having known poverty, many of them forgot God.

This is the danger when Christians grow smug in their prosperity and forget that their prosperity has more to do with the grace of God than with their devotion to their work. When we despise the poor, say that their poverty is their own fault, they should be wise and have a work ethic like we have, we have become too rich.

Most Christians are not hypocrites, hungry for money and status. A few may be, but there is far too much good being done in little and big ways to say that all is lost. But perhaps most of us would benefit by examining ourselves to see if we have the right balance between the spiritual and material aspects of our lives.

How much time do we take for Bible reading and prayer? Something more than a few verses of the Bible and a one minute prayer? How much time do we make to help a neighbour in distress? How much time do we have for a friend who wants to talk? How much time do we have for our family? Our Lord is probably much more interested in these things than in the state of our bank account, we should be, too.

Matthew 6:31-33 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

It’s not that we are doing everything wrong. But it is worth taking stock every once in a while and honestly asking ourselves if the kingdom of God is our first priority. We should not aspire to be rich, or poor, but to be faithful citizens of the eternal kingdom.

Poverty + Prejudice ≠ Hopelessness

Some years ago I read an article in Ebony magazine written by a man who had grown up in one of the worst black tenement ghettos in Chicago. Drug dealing, crime and violence were the everyday reality and the police felt the area was too dangerous to send in individual officers to patrol.

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Like almost all the other children in this ghetto, this man and his two siblings grew up in a single parent home without much money. Their mother wanted her children to escape the ghetto and the first step was not to give in to hopelessness. She introduced them to the library and to museums and did everything that she could think of that was educational and free. When they went to the store to buy something she let the children pay and then count the change to see that it was right.

All three of those children finished school, went on to university and established professional careers. And they moved their mother out of the ghetto.

The man who wrote the article was now a lawyer. He wrote about going back to visit his old neighbourhood and trying to look up the boys he had grown up with. Some were dead, others were in jail, all the rest had criminal records. None had escaped the hopelessness of the ghetto.

There are a multitude of government programs to help children escape the effects of prejudice and poverty. Billions of dollars are being spent. What are the results? A lot of well paid government jobs to administer the programs. Besides that – not much.

One mother with hope and determination made a difference. No government program can create a mother like that.

Snow

Snow – snow – fast falling snow!
Snow on the house-tops – snow in the street –
Snow overhead, and snow under feet –
Snow in the country – snow in the town,
Silently, silently sinking down;
Everywhere, everywhere fast falling snow,
Dazzling the eyes with its crystalline glow!

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Snow, snow – beautiful snow!
Hear the bells ringing o’er the fresh-fallen snow!
How the bells ring, as the sleighs come and go!
Happy heart voices peal out in the air,
Joy takes the reins from the dull hand of care,
Singing and laughter, and innocent mirth,
Seem from the beautiful snow to have birth.

Pure, pure, glittering snow!
Oh! to look at it and think of the woe
Hidden from sight neath the mantle of snow!
Oh! but to think of the tears that are shed
Over the snow-covered graves of the dead!
Aye, and the anguish more hopeless and keen,
That yearneth in silence over what might have been!

Snow – snow – chilling white snow!
Who, as he glides through the bustling street,
Would care to follow the hurrying feet,
Crushing beneath them the chilling white snow –
Bearing up fiercely their burden of woe,
Till, weary and hopeless they enter in,
Where food and fire are the wages of sin?

Snow – snow – wide-spreading snow!
No haunt is so cheerless, but there it can fall,
Like the mantle of charity, covering all.
Want, with its suffering, – sin with its shame,
In its purity breathing the thrice blessed name
Of One who, on earth, in sorrow could say –
“The sinning and poor are with you alway.”

Oh, brothers who stand secure in the right –
Oh, sisters, with fingers so dainty-white –
Think, as you look on the fast-falling snow –
Think, as you look at the beautiful snow,
Pure, pure, glittering snow – chilling white snow –
Think of the want, and the sin, and the woe,
Crouching tonight ‘neath the wide-spreading snow.

Give of your plenty to God’s suffering poor,
Turn not the lost one away from your door;
For His poor He prepareth blest mansions on high;
Rich in faith, they inherit bright mansions on high.
The lost ones, though sunken never so low.
Christ’s blood can make them all whiter than snow,
Pure, pure, glittering snow, beautiful snow.

Jennie E. Haight, 19th century

Africa rising

What picture comes to your mind when you think of Africa? A remote village of mud huts with scantily clad people scratching their subsistence from the soil with hand tools? Or modern cities with skyscrapers, factories, hospitals and universities?

Both scenarios exist, but far more people live in the cities. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa, with the largest population. There are 20,000 millionaires in Nigeria nd 20 billionaires.

The wealthiest man in Nigeria is Aliko Dangote with interests in the manufacture of cement, sugar and petroleum products. The fourth wealthiest person in Nigeria is Folorunsho Alakija, a lady who started out as a fashion designer and now also has investments in the oil industry. She has created a foundation to help widows and orphans through scholarships and business grants.

Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of university graduation. Emigrants from Nigeria are among the most successful immigrants in Canada, the USA and the UK.
I believe it was at least 10 years ago that someone said that the heartland of evangelical Christianity is now in Africa, not North America. Nigerian churches see North America and Europe as mission fields. In Saskatoon, our nearest city, there are five or six congregations of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, including one French-language congregation. There is also a congregation of the Deeper Christian Life Bible Church. The Anglican churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America have severed all ties with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the USA and are now guiding the establishment of a new Anglican movement in North America that is more true to the Bible, especially in the area of morality.

What is true of Nigeria is also true of other African countries in varying degrees. It is true that there is still much poverty in some places, but economic growth rates are astounding.

There are acts of terrorism in various places by hard line Islamists. I have no prophetic vision of how this is all going to play out in coming years, but I wonder if these acts might not a last ditch attempt to hold back the tide that they see sweeping over Africa.

Is it time to take a fresh look at Africa and African people? The evidence shows that these black-skinned people are in no way inferior to white-skinned people. We are equals, in intellect, in faith, in management ability, and we should respect each other as equals.
International aid has done more to hold Africa back than to help it move forward. Emergency aid in time of disaster is always in place, but it would probably be best to have it administered by local people as much as possible. Sending used clothing and mosquito nets may give us a worm glow, but does it undercut the local production of those goods?

Surely it’s time to revamp our selection of mission hymns. The idea of carrying the gospel to “every dark land” has always given a skewed idea of mission work; we need to find better ways to describe the practice of being ambassadors for Christ. The call to proclaim the faith once delivered to the saints and to make disciples in all the world has not expired. But we render ourselves unfit for the task if some illusion of superiority still lingers in the way we relate to others.

Prejudice + Poverty ≠ Hopelessness

Some years ago I read an article in Ebony magazine written by a man who had grown up in one of the worst black tenement ghettos in Chicago.Drug dealing, crime and violence were the everyday reality and the police felt the area was too dangerous to send in individual officers to patrol.

Like almost all the other children in this ghetto, this man and his two siblings grew up in a single parent home without much money. Their mother wanted her children to escape the ghetto and the first step was not to give in to hopelessness. She introduced them to the library and to museums and did everything that she could think of that was educational and free. When they went to the store to buy something she let the children pay and then count the change to see that it was right.

All three of those children finished school, went on to university and established professional careers. And they moved their mother out of the ghetto.

The man who wrote the article was now a lawyer. He wrote about going back to visit his old neighbourhood and trying to look up the boys he had grown up with. Some were dead, others were in jail, all the rest had criminal records. None had escaped the hopelessness of the ghetto.

There are a multitude of government programs to help children escape the effects of prejudice and poverty. Billions of dollars are being spent. What are the results? A lot of well paid government jobs to administer the programs. Besides that – not much.

One mother with hope and determination made a difference. No government program can create a mother like that.

Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor

Jesus told the rich young ruler: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21). He didn’t really mean that, did He? There must be some hidden meaning . Many preachers and teachers have expounded their ideas of what that hidden meaning might be.

Let me begin by saying that it appears quite plain that Jesus literally meant that the rich young ruler needed to do exactly what He said. That was Jesus’ message to this particular person in that particular time and place. The gospels also record numerous instances where Jesus warned that the temple, Jerusalem and the whole Jewish kingdom would be destroyed. What good would earthly possessions in that region be then?

Those who united with the followers of Jesus after the day of Pentecost got the message: “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45).  “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common” (Acts 4:32).

They believed the Lord’s warnings about the destruction of Jerusalem and they were preparing for the time when they would need to flee. Josephus tells us that there were no Christians left in Jerusalem when the Roman siege began.

That was then, this is now. Does Jesus still want us to sell everything we have and give to the poor? It may be that there are individuals today to whom He is saying this, but I believe His plan for most of us is quite different. Nevertheless, the Bible makes it plain that the accumulation of wealth should not be our primary goal in life. “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24). Do we want to be so attached to material possessions that this warning of Jesus applies to us?

“But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1Timothy 6:9-10)  “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (verse 17).

Perhaps the area that is most in need of change is our attitude towards those who are poor. Do we tend to blame them for their poverty? After all, often they appear capable of working, yet very often are idle. and when they do have money, they spend it quickly on the wrong things. Do we understand the hopelessness and futility that these people are feeling? They do not have a network of family and friends to help them find good jobs, help them deal with banks, government agencies or even find the education and health care that they need. When you have all that and take it for granted, it is difficult to understand those who are not even aware such a thing is possible.

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (James 2:1-6)

God and Mammon

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.  (The words of Jesus, quoted in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13.)

Here is a stark warning that the pursuit of spiritual gain and the pursuit of material gain are not compatible. In such a materialistic age as we live in it is hard for us to fathom that this could be true. Yet here is another pronouncement of Jesus for reinforcement:

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:31-33).

Here is a clearly stated promise that if we make spiritual gain our goal, we will not suffer material ruin. On the other hand, it is clearly implied that to make material gain our main priority will lead to spiritual ruin.

This is a basic truth that is supported by many other statements throughout the New Testament. There is nothing in the New Testament to suggest that the pursuit of material gain will be beneficial to our spiritual life.

We must also resist the temptation to make either poverty or prosperity the gauge of a person’s spiritual life.  North America is a land of opportunity and  many Christians here have attained to a level of prosperity that is well above that of most Christians in other lands. This is no proof that we are more spiritual than they are, or that God is more pleased with us.

There are people in North America who have been denied access to the opportunities most of us take for granted. Others, for various reasons, seem unable to see or to manage the opportunities that are available to them. This is not proof that they are less capable of spiritual gain or that God is angry with them.

According to the social conscience of our time, material poverty is the one great sin of our society. In the light of eternity, the spiritual poverty of those who live for ease and pleasure is the great sin that will bar them from heaven.

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