King Solomon once said,
“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Prov. 14:31, ESV).
For the majority of my life I have been poor. I didn’t always know it, but I was. At least according to the way our society reckons poverty, I was. I grew up in a house in central Louisiana that my mom and dad built with their own hands. They used recycled lumber from condemned houses that had been donated to them. They first had to tear down the old houses, then haul the usable materials to the build site and then, with the help of a few friends erect a structure that would provide an adequate amount of shelter for our family.
Don’t get me wrong . . . it wasn’t without its charm. My mom had french doors that opened up into the kitchen, which often didn’t have running water in the sink. Water costs money. I can still remember, just like it was yesterday helping my mother carry water from the creek behind our house in jugs so that we could boil it in order to have clean water for our home. I remember boiling water on the stove so I could have a hot bath in the winter.
Remember the “outhouse” from Little House On The Prairie? Yep, my family had one of those too! We struggled to keep running water, electricity, phone, propane, and other things turned on that most of us consider being essentials. My sister and I wore hand-me-down clothes and when we grew out of our shoes or our clothes it was often the next school year before we got new ones (I can still remember what it was like to wear “high water jeans” and shoes with holes in them). And I can remember what I felt like when I was picked on for it by other kids my age.
Needless to say I was embarrassed to bring friends over to my house, and most of them didn’t want to come anyway. “It’s weird not being able to take a shower,” they would say.
My parents lived paycheck to paycheck, and was never able to shake a posture of mere survival. And when I graduated from high school in 1995 I went to work for whomever would hire me to do whatever and I began a lifetime of proliferating the same process that had been modeled by my parents since I was able to remember. Survival.
I’m not sure of the exact reason we lived the way we did, and looking back I’d rather not speculate.
Fast forward a little bit, and for a decade of our lives my wife Amy and I have been (by choice) the indirect object of the aforementioned proverb. We have been poor, at least according to the standards of our society. In 2003 I quit a high paying job in the car business (yes, I sold Toyotas!) and moved to Fort Worth to study Christian ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the hopes of one day becoming a pastor in a local church and helping teach people how to live gospel-centered lives. Amy worked full-time teaching pre-school and I took a full load of classes and worked part-time myself. Those days were difficult, but we never lacked for the basic necessities of life (food, shelter, and some version of clothing-we weren’t exactly being interviewed by GQ or Vogue magazine for our trend-setting style), and I knew we were doing something that was worthwhile, something that we were “called” to do.
Everyone knows seminary students are supposed to be poor – it’s almost like a badge of honor…
When our first son was born we made the decision to leave seminary and move back home to Shreveport, La so that I could work full-time and Amy could stay at home raising our son with the support of her family around her. Since that time we’ve had two other children, one of which almost killed his mother before he was born (some of you HCBCDS veterans know what I’m talking about – anybody remember karaoke Sunday?).
Our commitment to Amy staying home with our kids and me being the sole source of income meant that we had to live sparsely. And that’s what we did. We’ve not been able to do the same things that many of our friends do (vacations, nice cars, nice homes, fancy dinners out, trips to the salon, etc. ). And we’ve been ok with that, even when we moved out to Dripping Springs to help with a new church plant we were glad to do it. We have been poor and that has been ok with us because we know that true riches come in less flashy ways than new wheels or a big house.
Ok, ok. What’s the point? This is starting to sound like a biopic on the Lifetime network…
I don’t say any of these things to make anyone pity us for having been in our situation, or to move anyone to do anything on our behalf. We chose to do what we have done and we have been extremely blessed by God in the process. And by the grace of God we are looking forward to a horizon in which we will be the givers instead of always being the getters.
Over the last 6 years of being in Dripping Springs we have not lived lavishly, but we also haven’t lacked for anything that we have needed.
And the main reason we can say that is . . . well, You!
The first year we lived out here, with 2 kids and one on the way our total family income (i.e. mine) was less than $20,000. From the church stepping up to help us through a 3 month long pregnancy crisis, to men who gave money to help pay bills and then offered coaching to help with the family budget, to ongoing life-skill mentorship, to those who constantly share with us “the finer things in life,” to friends who have been willing to watch our kids over night so that we could have a much needed D8Nite!, we have been the recipients of overwhelming grace and love. I praise God for that!
I know there is nothing in me that could warrant such affection or mercy. Pity perhaps, or the scratching and shaking of the head, but certainly not what has been poured out into our lives by people who have felt blessed by God to be a blessing to others. We just happen to be “lucky” enough to know these incredible saints of God who hold the things they have with such a loose grip that they are willing to share it with those in need.
So, in the midst of all of that I find myself filling the role of a “worship leader.” And I can tell you, I’ve learned more about worship from the people who have cared for us over the years than from any song or from any worship book or any conference I’ve ever attended. I have learned what true worship is, and worship music is only a very small part of it.
We have had the privilege of knowing people who, as the proverb says honor their maker by being generous to the poor.
This Sunday we are taking our worship outside the walls of our church, outside the normal weekly gathering of saints to the streets and neighborhoods of Dripping Springs. Instead of worshipping “in service,” we’re worshipping “through service.” Please see this, not as a Sunday off but as a Sunday to show what true worship really is – offering up ourselves as living sacrifices for the benefit of others to the glory of God (Rom. 12:1).
I have encouraged each member of the worship band, who leads you in worship every Sunday to see this as yet another opportunity to lead in worship. Let’s make this the most worshipful Sunday of our existence as a church so far as we reach out to those in need and offer basic neighborly aid to those who live around us.
It is likely that none of us will be guilty of actively “oppressing the poor.” But to neglect to “be generous to the poor” is just as bad.
I understand what it’s like to be poor, to wonder if we will have enough money to buy food this month, what it’s like to use a food stamp card in the grocery line, to be dependent on the help of family and friends. We have always been grateful for those who helped us, though often pride keeps us from enjoying the blessings as much as we should have. So, theres a lot to be said for the way in which we go about helping those in need.
First and foremost we must see needy people as being equals with ourselves, human beings created in the image of God and loved by their creator. We should not see ourselves as being above anyone else, no matter if they are struggling with drug addiction or simply down on their luck in the job market. We must treat them the same way we would treat one of our neighbors who might need help repairing a nice fence that has been damaged by a storm. In the gospel of Christ, all walls have been broken down between rich and poor, royal and common, hispanic and white, etc.
The times my family and I have benefitted the most from the “charity” of others is when it didn’t feel like charity at all. Not that straight up charity doesn’t help. Bills have to be paid… But the times we have felt the most encouraged was when it just felt like friends sharing with friends and aiding one another in life in Christ.
In my experience, people who are in need don’t want to be made to feel like they are less human than those who are in a position to give. And that has been a big problem with charity work in the past. There’s a lot to be said about solidarity – but it might mean you have to give up your vacation plans for the Summer.
My friend, The Rocketman (just to name one example) might be able to take me out for a fancy steak dinner and then send something home for my wife to enjoy too, but I also have something to offer him. I offer him whatever the Lord has blessed me with. He could tell you more about that than I could . . . and he may not always agree that what I bring to the table is as beneficial to him as what he gives to me, but the point is I have something to offer. We share in life together as brothers in Christ. He has more money and financial wisdom than I do and I know more about philosophy, music, and theology than he does. The point is, even though he has more to offer in material things we both mutually encourage one another by using the gifts God has given to us.
The poor are people, human beings who have been created in the image of God. And they just might be able to help you in ways that you never imagined. Don’t just help them. Get to know them. Love them. Let them help you. Bring them into your circle of friends. And if your circle of friends only works on an economy of expensive dinners out and elite social gatherings then perhaps its time to reevaluate your lifestyle in light of the gospel. Jesus willingly gave up his privileges as being the son of the king and chose to spend his time with the lowest people on the planet. Let us follow his example.
See you guys on Sunday morning as we worship our great king through service to others!