2:39pm Wednesday, September 2, 2015: Less than an hour ago we finished studying God’s Word with our neighbors as we all sat around in an oblong rectangle of chairs, stools and wooden benches in our dining room. It is now what we do every Wednesday afternoon, and many of the same people are coming week after week.
As the time was nearing for the Bible study to start earlier this afternoon, one of our young dogs vomited for the fourth or fifth time today as he lay nearly motionless, skin and bones after struggling with a devastating virus during these last three weeks even while receiving veterinary treatment. As I entered the kitchen, frazzled, the music coming from the little CD player seemed way too loud, and everyone seemed to want to tell me something or ask for help all at once. Large drops of sweat began rolling down my temples as my fever broke. Again. I had not slept last night and therefore felt like everything got on my nerves, and I snapped as kids and teens came strolling in too late to eat after having sacrificed the hour that is designated for eating in order to play soccer in our front yard. No one had moved the tables and benches, and as I began to somewhat frantically (although I tried to appear calm) sweep out all the dust, dropped bits of sticky rice and other mysterious particles from our large concrete dining room floor, I think everyone was very purposefully (and wisely) trying to stay out of my way. And the bad news: I, the Big Grump, would be leading the Bible study in less than five minutes!
As we sat down to begin the study, I sensed that several of the kids/teens whose food I took away for having arrived late had become bitter toward me and that everyone was probably wondering why I looked so stressed. So, with gritted teeth, I asked for forgiveness for my bad attitude in front of everyone and quickly blamed my insomnia before proceeding on with the teaching.
The marvelous part about all of this is not that I did not particularly want to be present and, much less, be the one designated to impart God’s Word to the 25 people all looking at me, but that even in the midst of my terrible attitude, near nervous breakdown, and general exhaustion, God’s Word came through without folly.
This week’s discussion centered around the question: How does the World treat the poor, the widows and the orphans? And, once everyone’s faces and general morale dropped as person after person shared how they themselves or people they know have suffered mistreatment, been taken advantage of, and generally been overlooked in society, we turned to God’s Word to answer the question: How does God treat the poor, the widows and the orphans?
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling. Psalm 68:5
Each week thus far we have taken a theme – be it injustice-Justice, lies-Truth, or change-Constant to compare how the World is with how God is.
Many of our neighbors have no concept of who God is, and if they don’t understand who He is – compassionate, just, good, true, loving – they will not even have the first notion of wanting to hear His Word or know Him.
My whole being will exclaim,
“Who is like you, Lord?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35:10
Our mentor Larry has taught many times that Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s first command in the garden of Eden because they doubted His goodness. God gave the command out of love: “Do not eat from said tree.” Then the serpent came, calling God a liar and proposing to the humans that they do exactly what their Creator God warned them against. In believing the serpent (the liar), they evidently felt him to be more trustworthy than God, somewhere deep down feeling that God didn’t have their best intentions at heart, and therefore disobeyed.
[He] who shows no partiality to princes
and does not favor the rich over the poor,
for they are all the work of his hands… Job 34:19
If I think (wrongly) that God just wants to control me, is content with all the pain and suffering in the world, takes the side of the bad guys or better yet just ignores humanity, and doesn’t want me to enjoy life, why would I even have the slimmest desire to know and, much less, serve Him?
The poor will see and be glad—
you who seek God, may your hearts live!
The Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his captive people. Psalm 69:32-33
So we are, with the little pinches of wisdom that God grants us, trying to disarm the Garden-of-Eden mentality. We ask: What are some of the lies or instances of trickery or unfilled promises in our world? Everyone, obviously, has a lot to say, from false advertising in the marketplace to corrupt government leaders to infidelity among spouses and so on. We then assert: It is impossible for God to lie, and He always fulfills His promises.
On the topic of ‘change,’ we brainstorm: everything – our own bodies, time itself, buildings, relationships, plants – changes in our world. On the contrary: God does not change; He is the only constant that exists.
What are some of the injustices that we see or experience in our world, our neighborhood, our own lives? Another long, long list is shared as everyone in the oblong rectangle of chairs, stools and benches pipes in. But God? He is absolutely just and loves justice.
Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
So today we discussed how the World treats the poor, widows and orphans. And, with many of the people present themselves being poor and/or orphans, it almost seemed like too-touchy of a subject. Literally their faces fell as person after person spoke the truth: in general, the World does not place a high value on the marginalized. I assume many thought the discussion would end there; a sad summary of the suffering and shame they already know too well.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
But as we remembered that each week we a take a contrast (how the world is versus how God is), the despair painted on their faces was literally turned to a visible joy-surprise as we read Bible verse after Bible verse about God’s heart for the poor, the widow and the orphan and his desire for justice for them. As several people took turns reading the verses out loud, person after person read words of truth about God’s prophetic promises to bring justice to the wronged, to comfort and protect the widow, to be the father to the fatherless. Jesus Christ’s own personal statement about his purpose in the world includes pronouncing good news to the poor, declaring freedom to the captives and giving sight to the blind!
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19
As we finished the study, it occurred to me to ask if anyone was hearing this – God’s heart for the poor and outcast – for the first time. To my surprise, almost half of the people present shared through smiles of joy-struck awe that this was, in fact, the first time they had ever heard that God truly loves the poor and desires justice for them.
You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat… Isaiah 25:4
I was astonished as one person after another — several of whom were middle-aged adults — shook their heads in awe and confessed that they literally never knew that God desires to be their refuge, that He commands His people to treat them well for love of Him. One older neighbor of ours, a man in his early sixties who has probably lived his entire life as a poor man, was the first to admit that today was the first time he had ever heard such outlandish Truth.
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
So I am encouraged anew to share the good news of the merciful, loving God — the Creator of the universe who favors all equally and offers the same promises to all who choose to repent and follow, the justice-desiring King who cries out to defend those on the margins and who Himself became one on the margins to save many. There are people who have literally never heard!
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14