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ego triumphs compassion

Ego Triumphs Compassion

The Beauty of Compassion

As I flipped television channels last night, I came upon a Nova program that chronicled the journey of two Bangladeshi conjoined twins. They underwent a grueling, 34-hour separation surgery in Australia. They are now doing great. One of the twins has some developmental difficulties, but they are both so lucky to be alive.

The story was dramatic and heart-warming. Many, many people came together to create this miracle, including case workers, adoptive parents, doctors, nurses, surgeons, even the Australian government. It was a beautiful story, but one thing troubled me.

Why is this drama not repeated every day for “normal” people?

Why are people hurting and dying from hunger and homelessness when we have such sophisticated medical technology?

Why were these twins chosen to live while others are chosen to die?

How many homeless or working poor people did the doctors drive by that day on their way to surgery for these twins? How many people would only ask for a month’s rent, or a small job, or child care to lift them out of their situation, and to save their life? Is this not a small thing compared to such a large, complicated surgery?

How complicated is fixing poverty?

Poverty and Ego

Yes, fixing poverty is complicated, but I suspect the issue boils down simply to ego. Ego triumphs compassion. Who gains fame and fortune from giving somebody a hand up?

The doctors and surgeons for the Bangladeshi twins were recognized on national and international television for their work. Separating these twins is a beautiful act of love, but it also meant fame and fortune.

There are other beautiful acts of love. Give a poor person a job and a car. Give parents food stamps to get groceries for their hungry children. Give a homeless family a warm blanket to protect from the cold. These are all beautiful acts of love, but they do not mean fame and fortune. Works done in secret do not stoke the ego. Jesus understood that ego triumphs compassion when he said:

Matthew 6:1-4
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Compassion in Public

The working poor, the down-and-out, the hopeless, sometimes attempt suicide in their utter despair. When they jump off a bridge, take up the pill bottle, or put the gun to their head, suddenly the police, social workers, and doctors are there to help. Oh, the irony. The helpers come when the cameras are flashing, and their good works are their for all to see. But why didn’t they come in secret, bring hope to the poor, to prevent the despair from going that deep?

Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard about a lady who jumped off the Ross Island Bridge here in Portland. There was a heroic effort put forth to save her, and then, when hope had faded, a search team continued until they found her body.

Where was the search team to take care of her needs before she jumped off that bridge? Why was the hospital ready to house and feed her only after she had reached the end of her rope? Is this only another case of media fame, five minutes on the nightly news, a public attaboy and attagirl for the police and rescue workers?

Ego Triumphs Compassion

Our true problem as a society is that ego triumphs compassion. It is good to perform heroic surgeries and heal the sick with handsome remuneration. That is work done for human ego. It is better to perform compassionate acts of love for the least of these in secret. That is work done for Jesus.

We do not give enough effort to help the poor and the sick in secret. We say poverty is too hard to fix. All it takes is a meal for the hungry, a cup of cold water for the thirsty, an open door to the stranger, some medicine for the sick, or a visit to the prisoner. One person at a time, in secret.

Woe to such a society. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

churches help homeless families

Churches Help Homeless Families

Churches help homeless families. A few churches in Portland, Oregon have answered the call to give a small amount of money toward the big needs of families suffering homelessness this winter. Will more churches answer the call, or are they too focused on prosperity and pretty trimmings?

JOIN: New City Initiative for the Homeless

There is a nonprofit group called JOIN in Portland, Oregon. They have put together the New City Initiative as a way to gently push churches to help homeless families among the overwhelming homeless population in Portland. They are asking for 10 churches to give $2400, $800 a month for three months, to help house 10 families for three months while they get on their feet. The organization is also asking that these churches provide a few volunteers to visit with the homeless families. If $800 is too much to ask, then the organization suggests that several churches band together to support one family. Furthermore, this is not an ongoing commitment. It is only a one-time thing. Easy peasy. Read more with this Oregonian article Expanding capacity to help homeless.

This is a great idea. Sometimes churches use the excuse that there are too many needs around them, too much money, too much time required to get involved. This initiative breaks it down into bite-sized pieces. The only problem?

Only three organizations have stepped up- Saint Andre Bessette Catholic Church, the First Congregational United Church of Christ, and the Islamic Social Services of Oregon State. Kudos to these organizations.

What Other Churches Help Homeless Families?

Where is everyone else? Where are the Protestant churches? Where are the area mega-churches who are certainly bringing in a lot of revenue? The Charismatic church claims to hear God personally. Well, is anyone hearing Yahweh’s heart right now?

They complain that their giving is down in this economic climate. They say that their members have no time to volunteer. Well, what exactly are these members then doing with all their unemployed time that they claim as the source of their paltry giving? Also, many pastors are living comfortably with $60,000, $70,000, or even 6-figure salaries. Where is this money coming from? Can these pastors give up just a paltry $2400 for one year, even if it came from their salary?

What Would Jesus Do?

Yeshua never gave such complaints. He didn’t just financially support one poor family and help them move into their new home for three months. He lived right with the homeless. He preached, but he never took a salary, especially a six-figure one. He said, “The son of man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). He befriended the poor, healed their ailments, and fought their cause. Why does the church not do the same? They talk about it, but they rarely put their money with their mouth is.

I visited several (Protestant) churches in the Portland area recently. They all had coffee and pastries before service, shiny brochures for visitors, state-of-the art sound systems and instruments, computers and flat-screen televisions for their Power Point sermons. One church met at a middle school; the rest all had big, beautifully decorated buildings. One church even gave us coffee mugs just for visiting. Nice, big, gleaming white coffee mugs.

This same church says that it wants to be a hope for the poor. Yet, it does not give money to the poor. Only prayer. Maybe this church could buy a few less mugs and brochures and online advertisements, and put just $800 into really helping the poor.

Or maybe I live in a dream world. Maybe Yeshua would have used coffee mugs and sound systems if he lived today. Maybe that’s the way to take care of people’s needs. A safe, warm place to live is not really that important, is it? Those people can at least be safe and warm once a week in the big, beautiful church building. In today’s model, Yeshua would have been sure to pray for them after service and send them back to the streets. He would say they had an “entitlement attitude” anyway, and that they should just fix their own life. God helps those who help themselves, after all (well, that’s not in the Bible, maybe they forgot to put it in).

Or would he? Is Yeshua the leader of churches helping their own prosperity roll calls, or is he the leader of the churches helping homeless families?

Christian responsibility to the poor, homeless and depressed boy

Christian Responsibility to the Poor

The Christian responsibility to the poor is clear. Over 300 times in scripture, God commands his followers to care for the poor. His eye is on the poor who cry out to him day and night for justice.

The life of the poor person is stressful, and highly uncertain from day to day. God has compassion on the poor. He understands poverty intimately, as He came to walk the earth in the form of a poor man named Jesus. Jesus was so poor that he did not even have a home, or a place to lay His head (Luke 9:58). Jesus still walks the earth through the poor who are close to his heart.

Jesus Teaches Us Responsibility Through Lazarus

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), God heard the prayers of Lazarus the beggar. In response, God sent him to the rich man’s doorstep to ask for help.

Yet day after day the rich man walked by Lazarus. Ignored him. Told Lazarus it was his own fault that he was poor. Told Lazarus that he simply needed to think more positive thoughts. Told Lazarus that he would not “enable” him by giving him money. Told Lazarus that he should just get with the times and start a business, find a job, stop being lazy.

The rich man never stopped to ask Lazarus why he was having a hard time or how he could help him. He rich man just made excuses about  not being responsible for poverty.

The rich man also never bothered to ask God about Lazarus. We know the end of the story. When both men died, God welcomed Lazarus to heaven, a place of endless love and comfort. Lazarus never had another need after that. No more hunger. No more pain. No more shame from people walking by and blaming Lazarus for his problems.

But when the rich man died, he found himself with a one-way ticket to hell, do not pass go, with no get out of jail free card. He begged and pleaded for a second chance, but he had shown his true heart on earth. God judged fairly.

And what was his crime? Simply not caring for the poor.

Interesting that the rich man has no name in the story. Was Jesus saying that, by his actions toward the poor, he showed a dark heart unworthy of even a name?

Jesus stated clearly that the rich man had a responsibility to Lazarus, a responsibility to the poor.

The Christian Responsibility to the Poor

Christian responsibility to the poor, people with fancy things and homeless man
Image credit: Foto_Michel Licensed under CC2.0

Jesus’ story should give pause to the average American Christian today. We live in our nice houses, with our nice picket fences, and walk to our nice churches, ignoring all the Lazaruses around us.

As a matter of fact, the story of Lazarus and the rich man is the ONLY specific picture of hell in the entire Bible. So what do you think is foremost in the mind of Jesus? Is it homosexuality? Is it abortion? Is it sexual immorality? No! The church says these are the foremost things, but, clearly, not caring for the poor is the number one sin of the church.

The church should have learned from history. Every time the Israelites were sent into captivity, it was foremost because they broke the command to care for the poor. Social justice was the cry of every ancient prophet.

Through His prophets, God called his bride Israel a whore who cared more for other lovers. Who were her other lovers? Money, money, money!

Baal is the number one false god which Israel worshiped. Baal is the god of money. Baal-worship started with Aaron’s golden calf, and it continued to the famous showdown of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. How much more evidence do we need? Don’t you know that Baal was represented by a bull? And what is the emblem of Wall Street? A bull!

Give Up Your Stuff, Gain the Kingdom

Now I will let you in on a little secret which I learned from Jesus. Giving up your stuff is vitally important for your heart.

The fallen condition of the human heart is that of greed and selfishness. No matter how good a race that you start in the faith, you must finish that race (Hebrews 11, 12:1-2). Many, many Christians have started the race by calling on Jesus in their darkest hour of need. He answers them, but then how quickly they forget the healing and turn back to their ways of greed and selfishness.

Jesus talked about this in the parable of the sower.

Mark 4:3-8 (NIV)
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Most Christians receive the seed, and they rejoice, but the seed never takes root. They are the seed choked by thorns. Jesus explained it this way.

Mark 4:18-19 (NIV)

18Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Did you catch that? The “deceitfulness of wealth” chokes the seed. Most Christians refuse to sell out for the gospel and to take up their own cross. They see the needs around them, but they say it is too inconvenient, too risky, too messy, or a million other excuses. They keep their big houses full of pretty things, and they give little or nothing away. The seed dies inside of them, choked by the greed of their fallen heart.

You have to understand that when you give something up to care for your poor brother or sister, you gain even more than they do. The seed of joy sprouts and grows. You learn to overcome your fallen nature, and you become a new creature. This is a lesson that must be repeated often so the newly born you can grow and mature.

God cares greatly for the poor, and He cares greatly for your heart. In His perfect system, when you give, you do plant a seed, and the return is 10 or 100 fold. It is not the return of finances in this life, as so many false prophets and televangelists will tell you. It is the return of spiritual rewards in this life and the next, and it is the return of a renewed heart. You will learn to truly keep your treasure in heaven. You will follow God’s law, and you will Jesus’ kingdom on earth, just by giving up your stuff.

Christian Responsibility Goes Beyond the Tithe

Some people say that the Christian responsibility to the poor is fulfilled by the tithe. This is wrong. Simply tithing 10% to your church does not let you off the hook.

You are called to give everything, not just 10%. Jesus did not tell the rich young ruler to only give 10%. No. You are to give your very life as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

Also, tithing, as it explained in today’s church has a problem. Churches most often mismanage the tithe and put it into staff salaries and building funds, not into helping the poor. The 10% which the church talks about has been divorced from its Biblical context. God told the Israelites to bring the first-fruits of their crops to be distributed to the poor. The Malachi 3:10 passage they so often quote, about bringing the tithe to the storehouse, comes directly after God chastises the Israelites for not helping the poor.

The American church today pulls this passage out of context and steals the10% from God. The tithe was never intended to give some pastor a lavish lifestyle or to build a lavish church. The church is apostate and does not deserve your money, unless they can prove where every penny goes and how it is helping the needs of the poor and least of these in the surrounding community.

Bypass the church and bring your tithe and all your abundance to lay at the feet of the poor around you.

Turn from your greed and apathy, and go out and give today. Take your first step toward bearing your cross, losing your life, and gaining the kingdom of heaven. This is the Christian responsibility to the poor.

Christian responsibility to the poor, homeless Afghan refugees
Image credit: “Homeless Afghan Refugees” by Zoriah [Flickr]. Check out her work at www.zoriah.net. Licensed under CC2.0

Salvation Army- Not Saving Anyone

I read in The Oregonian today that the Portland Salvation Army, and its bell ringers, takes in about $5000 in donations from the red Christmas kettles every day! (Oregon Live) What  do they do with all of this money?

Two years ago, my husband and I were struggling to pay our bills. He had been laid off from his seasonal job at JCPenney, and I was 9 months pregnant. We had exhausted all of our credit and all of our savings paying our rent and utilities and trying to stay afloat.  I had been desperately searching for work for months, but no one seemed to want to hire a pregnant woman. We were only days from having our electricity turned off, and only weeks from eviction from our apartment if we could not find some money soon.

I talked to our apartment complex, and they refused to allow us to pay late. I called the electric company (PGE), and they said that unless we came up with a minimum payment of $50, they would be forced to turn off our electricity. I pleaded with them, saying that we were about to have a newborn baby in the house (in January!), but they said that was not their concern. They suggested calling Oregon Heat. I did so, and Oregon Heat said that they were out of funds and would only possibly be making more intake appointments in 8 weeks. We did not have 8 weeks!

I then started to call every help agency in Portland. This included the Salvation Army. I knew about the red kettles, indeed I had often donated to them in my own better days. I thought for sure they would help. They turned me down, saying that electricity was not an urgent need, and that I needed to have a 72 hour eviction notice before I could fill out an application for rental assistance. 72 hour notice? What kind of policy is that? I would not have enough time to fill out an application, wait for a decision, and get the money to the apartment in just 72 hours!

After all of this letdown and a little panic, YHWH intervened for us, and my husband ended up getting another temp job as a school janitor. Our baby was born, and we were able to keep the heat on. We did end up getting evicted when the baby was 3 months old, but we left Oregon at that point and YHWH sent a pastor in California to take us in for a while.

The point is this- be careful to which charities you give money. Examine their records carefully, and perhaps call them and pose as a needy person to see where their heart really lies. According to a report by Forbes, W. Todd Bassett, the Salvation Army’s CEO, made $175,050 in 2004. This is the latest figure that I can find. And that is just salary, benefits are not calculated! I am sure the number is even higher now. (As a side note, this same report shows that the government contributed $353 million to the Salvation Army in 2004. That means my taxpayer dollars are going to an organization that refused to help my family in our time of need, an organization that I am sure has turned away thousands of other families as well.)

The median income in the United States was just $26,354 in 2010 (The Huffington Post). So if Mr. Todd Bassett makes $175,000, he is making almost 7 times as much as the median American income! And his job supposedly exists to help the poor. How much can he really know about being poor? Perhaps he should donate $100,000 of his salary to truly help the poor. $100,000 could go a  long way in setting up more charitable programs. Mr. Bassett and his family could live a very good life on $75,000, a life that most Americans only dream about. Yet he, and so many other charity leaders need more, ever more.

The hypocrisy of the Salvation Army and our nation’s other charities is simply astonishing.