Monday, August 02, 2010


Some of us have to admit that we just don't care about the poor. We'd rather just write a check and be done with it.

I can understand that, and I've been there before in fact. For most of my life as a Christian I was comfortable writing the checks so that someone else could step out and touch the poor and serve the lost. Unfortunately, we are called to do more than write checks.

What frightens many of us most is the suggestion that Jesus might be asking us to invest something more than just a check.

A check is easy. I don't have to touch anyone. I don't have to look them in the eye, or smell their breath, or become entangled with their problems.

A check is still, ultimately, about me. I even get to write it off my taxes at the end of the year.

But sharing what I have, listening to someone's story, touching another person, loving them the way I would love Jesus? That's frightening. That would take a lot of faith. It would involve trusting God like I've never trusted Him before.

And that would be exactly what Jesus was talking about when He asked us to lay down our lives for one another and take up our cross to die daily to ourselves.

It's Not About Money
For the last five years or so we've been serving families at the Studio Inn in Santa Ana, California. During this time of service I've learned that the less program we have the more Jesus we can bring.

Our monthly motel service costs our little house church just over $100. That covers groceries for about 30 families, renting a bounce house and buying a box of popsicles for the kids. But again, it's not about money. In fact, there have been times over the years where we didn't have a bounce house, or treats, or free groceries. We just showed up, my wife and I and our two boys, and a few others, and we played games, ran relay races, made a craft and prayed for our friends. Those were honestly some of the more amazing times we ever had, actually.

Keeping it simple, and learning to love the people who are right in front of you, is all it takes. That doesn't cost anything. It doesn't take a small army of trained workers. It only takes an open heart and a desire to put the needs of others ahead of your own.

Strength in Weakness
One of the principles of the Kingdom is the power of weakness. Paul talks about boasting in our weakness because in our weakness the power of Christ is revealed (2 Cor 12:9). That's a huge lesson. I used to always believe that the power of Christ was revealed in my eloquence, or in my talent or skill or ability. Instead I've discovered that the more I come in weakness, relying on God's strength, the greater the outcome.

Living in Orange County, California I've come in contact with some very wealthy people. Many of them are paralyzed by their wealth. Because of their great supply of cash they are tempted to lean on that money to save their marriages, or to protect themselves from reality, or to insulate themselves from the poor. I wish for many of them that they were not so wealthy. If they didn't have all that money to make things easier for themselves, I wonder, would they lean more on Jesus to rescue them or challenge them or change them?

Freely You Have Received, Freely Give
So, what can you bring if you leave your money belt at home? If you have a wallet full of money to give away you'll be tempted to meet physical needs without paying attention to the spiritual poverty. If your focus is on what you can do, or give, or bring, you might just miss what God wants to do.

Jesus announced his ministry on Earth by reading from Isaiah 61 saying, "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favour..."

Even though the annointing that was on Jesus involved the poor, and even though he warned us that we would be judged based on whether or not we had compassion on the poor and the outcast and the forgotten (Matt 25), we cannot miss the fact that Jesus was called to the poor in order to preach the Good News of the Kingdom to them.

We have that same calling.

I've been reminded recently that if we bring the poor free groceries and we put on a big production for them, we can't forget to bring them the Gospel of the Kingdom too.

Your Portion is Small
If you can't bring them money, what can you bring the poor?

"Then Peter said, 'Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." - Acts 3:6

Maybe this is what Jesus had in mind when he sent out the twelve to preach the Good News of the Kingdom? Maybe it's why God told Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver my people from the Midianites"? (Judges 7:2) Because when we are strong, we have no need of God's strength. When we come bristling with our own wealth and talent and power and possibility the best we can do is the best we can do.

Perhaps if we left some of our resources at home and simply went out with nothing in our hands but worship, nothing in our hearts but faith, nothing on our lips but the Gospel of the Kingdom, we would see more of the power of God revealed in our weakness.

I'm eager to find out. Aren't you?



Dan Allen said...

Great post!

I have always thought, being in the lower income bracket myself (we still have far more than we need), that I could not serve the poor and needy, that the job of helping those in need fell on those who had wealth, but this post really clarifies that we are all called to serve those in need, because ultimately, even if we don't have silver and gold, we do have the power of Christ to change lives and as you make clear in this post God works through the weak and foolish things in the world because his strength and wisdom are seen in them. Thanks for sharing this!


Marc said...

Keith, you mentioned power and weakness. Do you think the lack of real miraculous power in the Church today is a sign that it is a fraud?

I ask because Paul says to the Corinthians that he came, not with talk but with power. I assume he meant a display of real spiritual healing because that's what they would have understood and not the "power" of a suffering apostle.

Real power is something most churches today don't have and I think it calls their legitimacy into question - Jesus healed and walked on water and said we would do greater things but we can't.

Cammie Novara said...

"For most of my life as a Christian I was comfortable writing the checks so that someone else could step out and touch the poor and serve the lost. Unfortunately, we are called to do more than write checks." I am thrilled by the truth in those words.

Norma Hill - aka penandpapermama said...

I have been wondering why it seems like Father has been calling mostly "poor people" to reach out to the poor(er/est) people in our community. I've been told by some folks that it's "because you can relate" ...

But I think what you wrote here may be even more to the point: because we have relatively little of our own to give (especially in material terms), we can often only give:
- ourselves (as friends, servants, carriers of God's love, sharers of Jesus' gospel)
- and of course our amazing God.

And that "only" is, in the end, so much more than all the riches the world can offer.

I guess that makes us "privileged poor!"

Keith Giles said...

Marc - I mentioned power and weakness only in the sense of how Paul uses these terms in 2 Cor 12:9

I'm not really thinking about miracles here, but I do think it's interesting that in James 2:5 it says, "....has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith..?"

If faith is required for miracles, maybe this is why we only see great miracles in Third World Countries? America is the richest nation on the planet, so perhaps this is why we don't see as much miraculous power.

As for the verse you reference about Jesus' promise that those who follow him will "do even greater things than me" I would suggest that there's more going on here than you're thinking of.

The verse is John 14:12 and in it Jesus says:

"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

What was Jesus doing? He was spending time with the outcast, he was opposing the religious leaders of the day who put yokes on the common people, he was preaching the good news of the Kingdom to the poor, etc.

Jesus is saying, in the first part, that those who claim to follow Him will be doing what He was doing - modelling the Kingdom life and demonstrating the love of God to people.

I agree, this would also include praying for the sick for them to be healed, but it's more than that.

Secondly, when Jesus says we will do even greater things than this, he is saying that the increase of these activities will surpass what he was able to do on his own.

Frankly, it does not mean that "real Christians" will do even greater miracles than Jesus did. If that were so then Paul and Peter and the other Apostles were disqualified off the bat because those guys didn't outdo Jesus in the miracle department. None of them ever walked on water again, and none of them multiplied a handful of fish to feed thousands, etc. So, obviously that wasn't the point of what Jesus was trying to communicate.

This verse is meant to show us that the followers of Jesus will keep on doing the things he did, namely to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and to demonstrate the same compassion to the poor that he did and serve others as he did.

Miracles may happen, or they may not. I think our focus shouldn't be the miracles but the obedience to the commands of Jesus to put his words into practice.

Dan Benson said...

I was thinking along these lines the other day. I lost my job last year and by a miracle found another job a few months later, but half the salary I had before. Fortunately, God put it on our hearts to downsize a couple years ago so we can still meet our needs with the new job. And then some, because our giving seems to have increased with the new job. My new employer even matches what I give to World Vision. So .... interesting. But like you we're still working on the getting down and dirty part and not just writing checks.

Marc said...

Thanks for the reply Keith, but I worry about relativising texts in the name of apologetics and defending the status quo. The natural meaning of Jesus words in this context is certainly "greater miracles" and not more small ones or over a wider area. Phillip was asking him to "Show us the Father" and Jesus speaks in the singular about "he" who will do greater things.

Nevertheless, great or small, I can't shake the impression that Jesus initial followers were able to do miracles and we aren't and this shows that we're radically off track as Christians, probably not even on the same page as true disciples.

In short, I think most western Christians, including myself, who do not have the power to work wonders, are not true Christians. This ties up with what Jesus said at the end of Luke 14: "any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." The world can see that we're not following Jesus and we think, thanks to Luther, that our belief is all that counts.

Mark said...


I think it is a bit extreme to say that, because we don't do miracles, we are not true Christians. I think the lack of "signs and wonders following" is more of a reflection on our immaturity in Christ, than not being in Christ at all. I believe that once the body begins to mature, and function in true faith, and encourage one another to develop the gifts given to us, we will then see more of these workings of the Spirit, including miracles.


Keith Giles said...

Marc - I really don't think that the passage is ONLY about miracles.

In context, Jesus says, "Those who follow me will do the things that I have been doing."

It starts there. Following Jesus means hearing his words and putting them into practice. (see John 14 and 15 for example).

If we don't start at daily taking up our cross and dieing to ourselves, we're already off track.

Secondly, yes Jesus says that (after we have been doing the things he has been doing) we will "do even greater things than these" but that, again, doesn't just mean exclusively miracles.

I would caution you not to become too focused on miracles without first beginning with the simple basics of daily following the humble example of Jesus to become a servant (see Phil 2) and washing feet.

"Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.." Jesus says.

I've seen too many christians get of track by wanting - even demanding - signs and wonders from Jesus without having any regard for the needs of other human beings who are suffering.

For example, I can't stand sitting in a church service where the pastor calls for people to expect miracles and that they want to see Jesus raise the dead. But, none of those people is seriously willing for their wife to die, or their child to die. I ask you, if no one dies, how will anyone be raised from the dead? They don't really know what they're asking.

I'm also sick of christians who claim to have the gift of healing but their gift only seems to work in a 30,000 seat arena. Why can't they just quietly visit a children's cancer ward on their own on a tuesday afternoon and pray for kids? That way only Jesus would get the glory and those kids would be healed and saved.

The crowds who followed Jesus constantly demanded a sign. His disciples followed him because he had the words of life and they knew that they had no where else to go, even when they didn't understand what he was doing.