Tag Archives: Poverty

More Than “Boy Meets Girl”

More than "Boy Meets Girl" (CaD Ruth 2) Wayfarer

So [Ruth] went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
Ruth 2:3-4 (NIV)

When I told Wendy yesterday that I’d begun the story of Ruth, her response was, “Oh good! I love the story of Ruth!” I was not surprised by this. In fact, I mentioned it because I knew she would be pleased. When Wendy and I were married, we wrote our own vows. Her vows to me included Ruth’s vow to Naomi:

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

The story of Ruth often resonates deeply with women. It’s a boy meets girls story, and it is basically an ancient version of the film Pretty Woman. Destitute young woman who is a societal outcast and pariah meets older man of means. As I’m fond of saying: “All good stories are reflections of the Great Story.”

But there’s more going on under the surface of the boy meets girl romance in the story of Ruth. Ruth is a story of redemption, and it’s important for 21st century readers to understand a bit of context.

The early chapters of the Great Story are about God calling one man, Abraham, and growing his descendants into a nation. That doesn’t happen overnight, but over centuries as Abraham’s grandson has twelve male sons/grandsons who become leaders of tribes (the story of Abraham through Jacob and his sons is told in Genesis). Those tribes then become slaves in Egypt for 400 years before Moses led their deliverance. Then God has the difficult task of turning slaves who have had zero autonomy, freedom, or education for generations into a fully functioning nation. To facilitate this, God give them His law through Moses (this story is told in the books of Exodus and Leviticus). What’s utterly fascinating about the law of Moses is that it is an ancient blueprint for how a nation and society should function lawfully and it prescribes ways for managing common societal ills including immigration, incurable and infectious diseases, and poverty. Those issues sound familiar?

Having a blueprint is one thing. Actually convincing a couple of million former slaves in the brutal world of the ancient near east to actually implement it is another. The time of the Judges, in which this Pretty Woman story of Ruth takes place, is a time when the implementation is failing miserably. This new nation remains a tribal system with no central leadership, violent wars and feuds within and without, and little adherence to the laws and blueprint God had given them.

In today’s chapter, we’re introduced the prototype of Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman. We learn that Boaz is a “guardian-redeemer” or “kinsman-redeemer.” This was part of the societal blueprint God gave through Moses. Men in each family clan within each tribe were appointed as “redeemers” to care for those in their clan who’d been dealt a bad hand. The law required leaving part of your field unharvested so the poor in your clan could glean food for themselves. It required the redeemer to buy-back (e.g. “redeem”) clan members who, because of poverty, had been sold into slavery. It required them to help widows of child-bearing years to bear heirs who would then be responsible to care for them so they wouldn’t become a drain on the nation at large. Only, men in the time of the Judges were not known for living up to their responsibility or following the blueprint.

Boaz is far more than just a dashing figure with salt-and-pepper hair who looks good in an Armani suit and Julia Roberts on his arm. The first thing we hear from Boaz is his greeting to his own servants: “The Lord be with you.” Boaz is, first-and-foremost, God’s man, and that lays the foundation for the rest of the story. At a time when not following God and His blueprint led the nation into repeated chaos, violence, war, and tragedy, Boaz represents how when those with status, wealth, and power within the system trust God and faithfully follow the blueprint, they become agents of redemption and the entire society benefits.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about a larger conversation going on right now within our culture in which the Christian church is accused of not following Jesus’ blueprint of caring for “the least of these.” I won’t deny that this is true, though I believe that it is a broad-brush, black-and-white generalization that completely paints over the tremendous work of sincere followers of Jesus, throughout history, who fulfill Jesus’ mission of caring for the marginalized and improving life and humanity on earth.

I also can’t help but think about Boaz. He’s simply one faithful believer who is obedient within his clan. He may not be altering the course of the entire nation in those dark times, but he is altering the course of Ruth, Naomi, his clan, and his community. Boaz is an agent of redemption within his circles of influence. Imagine if there was one Boaz in every clan in every tribe in that day?

I often read the headlines over coffee with Wendy in the morning and enter my day feeling impotent to make a difference in the national and global problems plaguing the world. This morning, I’m reminded that I have the power and ability to be a Boaz.

“Be a Boaz.” That’s the cry of my heart as I enter this day.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Give and Live

Give and Live (CaD James 5) Wayfarer

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
James 5:1 (NIV)

The times in which James wrote his letter to scattered believers was tumultuous. Jesus railed against the aristocrat Pharisees and religious leaders who lived in luxury while they exploited the poor. He cleared out the temple moneychangers who were getting themselves and the priests rich by charging poor pilgrims exorbitant exchange rates. Jesus’ criticism and the favor it gained him among the poor and marginalized was what got him crucified. Jesus wasn’t crucified for religious reasons. He was crucified because He threatened the religious racket’s cash cow, and stirred up resentment that already ran deep.

Thirty years later, the situation has not changed. It’s only gotten worse. James was the leader of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. He was well respected as he tried to manage the political powder keg between the Jewish religious leaders, local ruler Herod Agrippa II, and Rome. The gap between rich and poor continued to grow further and further apart. The aristocratic priests lived in spacious homes in the city’s upper city while the poor lived downwind of the local sewers. Exorbitant taxes pushed poor farmers out of business and wealthy landowners took over everything. The rich sided with the Romans in an effort to keep stability. This gave the poor more reason to hate them. Tensions were high, and about to spill over.

Reading today’s chapter with this context, it’s easy for me to feel James’ situation. The Jesus Movement exploded in part because it addressed the disparity of members. The wealthy generously gave. The poor and marginalized were welcome at the table with the rich and noble. James calls out the wealthy who are exploiting the poor. He calls on poor believers to persevere in chaotic, desperate circumstances. His instructions are about maintaining simple, daily ritual: Keep praying, keep praising, keep healthy, and stay in community with other believers. Pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that the current chaotic times are a cakewalk compared to what it would have been like to be a poor day laborer in Jerusalem back in James’ day. History is always good for providing me with much needed context. At the same time, the same general principles and forces are at work today as they were then. Generosity, equality, deference and humility are still the tangible ways that the love of Christ is to flow through me to others. As a follower of Jesus, I’m to live out my faith daily in simple rituals that channel those same values. I’m called to view my current earthly circumstances in the eternal perspective of the Great Story.

James’ warnings in today’s chapter were incredibly prescient. The rich in Jerusalem continued to hoard more and more wealth. The rich priests withheld tithes from poor priests, forcing them into day labor. There were 18,000 day laborers who worked to finish construction work on the temple who didn’t get paid. James was condemned by the religious leaders and stoned to death. In 66 AD a revolt broke out. Priests and the Roman Garrison on the Temple mount were massacred. The four-year revolt against Rome would end in 70 AD when the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed it along with the temple.

“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
Luke 21:5-6 (NIV)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Wayfarer Weekend Podcast: Andy Bales on Skid Row

“I worked my whole life to end up on Skid Row.”

Andy Bales

At the age of 15, just a few months after my decision to become a follower of Jesus, I met Andy Bales. For the next three formative years he was my youth pastor, my mentor, and my friend. When I think of Andy I think of John the Baptist’s words about Jesus: “I’m not worthy to tie his shoelaces.”

Andy is an Iowa boy who has given his life to serve the poor, addicted, homeless, and most destitute people.

This week, my Wayfarer Weekend podcast is a conversation with Andy. I’m not worthy to tie the laces of the shoe on the one foot he has left, but I’m grateful for the opportunity of having this conversation and sharing it with you.

(WW) Andy Bales on Skid Row Wayfarer

Please listen, and check out this article about Andy in LA Weekly:

Click on this photo to read the story.

Let it Flow

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…
1 John 4:10 (NIV)

As number of years ago our daughter lived in the Catholic Worker community in Des Moines. She participated in the communal living and, as part of that community, daily worked to serve the poor and homeless.

One of the observations she shared with us from her time there was a realization she came to as she listened to people sharing their stories. Person after person shared tales of brokenness and the insecurity of being one step away from homelessness and the hopelessness of having no safety net. Then came the understanding that she has never, and likely will never, experience that reality. She has a safety net. In fact, she has multiple safety nets of family and friends who love her and to whom she could turn in need. Love, safety, and provision had always flowed freely, surrounded her, and remain a phone call away.

In today’s chapter, John continues to write to Jesus’ followers about love. What struck me was that there is a flow to the love John describes:

  • Love comes from God
  • Everyone who loves is born of God
  • This is how God showed his love, by sending his son…
  • This is love. Not that we love God, but he loved us and sent his son as a sacrifice for our sins.
  • He has given us his Spirit.
  • We love because he first loved us.

The source is God. God is love incarnate. Love flows down, in, and through.

Father (God for us) love creates, gives, sends

Jesus (God with us) love comes down, touches, gives, and sacrifices

Spirit (God in us) love indwelling, flowing through

As I enjoy being endlessly reminded, the Greek word for Trinity (Father, Son, Spirit; Three is One; One is Three) is perichoresis, literally “circle dance.” When I, standing like a wall-flower at the middle-school mixer, choose to accept the invitation to join God in the dance, then I join the circle. I participate in that dance; I become an active, participating member of love’s flow:

Me (God through us) receiving, changing, forgiving, giving, loving

Then I get to this from John’s letter: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” Suddenly I find myself thinking of those I’ve met along my journey for whom God is punishment and condemnation. That’s always been their experience just as Taylor’s friends at the Worker who have never gotten to experience love, security, and provision. How tragic that humanity’s penchant for works-driven religion based on shame, guilt, punishment, and condemnation continues to flourish. It flourished in Jesus’ day, too. That’s what He spoke against.

In the quiet, as I mulled these things over in my mind this morning, I realized that there is a certain relationship between my willingness (because willingness plays a part) and choice to accept, receive, and experience God’s love and the extent to which that love can transform me and flow through me to others. And that’s the point. How can love’s transformational work be experienced by those mired in punishment and condemnation if it doesn’t flow through me to them by my acts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control?

And, that’s where yesterday’s uncomfortable realization continues to motivate me to be willing and decisive to let more and more of God’s love transform me so it can flow through me with greater power to others.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Let love flow.

More.

Escalation, Truth, and Discomfort

“[The teachers of the Law] devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Mark 12:40 (NIV)

Over the years I have had the privilege of serving certain clients in the monitoring, coaching, and providing Quality Assessment (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for quality and training purposes.”) for their collections teams. The process of working with customers who owe you money can be a sticky wicket. We’re not talking about third-party collection agencies who just want to bully people into paying so they can quickly get their cut and make their margins. My clients are businesses who want to collect the debt, but also want to keep most of their customers knowing that the lifetime value of that customer’s business far exceeds the amount they are past due in the present moment.

As I always remind both my team members and my clients: “When you are dealing with people’s money, the conversation takes on additional layers of complexity and emotion.”

In today’s chapter, Mark continues to share episodes from Jesus’ final days. There had always been conflict brewing between Jesus and the religious power brokers and rule keepers in Jerusalem. Most of His ministry, however, had been in the region of Galilee far from Jerusalem. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem and is teaching in the temple during the most crowded week of the year. Three times in previous chapters Jesus has told #TheTwelve that He was going to Jerusalem to be arrested, beaten, and killed, and then He would rise from the dead. The episodes Mark relates in today’s chapter illustrate the escalation of conflict between Jesus and the institutional religious powers.

In the first episode, Jesus tells a parable that metaphorically states what He has said plainly before: The religious rule-keepers killed the prophets that God had sent in the past, and now they’re going to kill God’s own Son. The parable antagonized Jesus’ enemies who have already been looking for a way to make sure Jesus “sleeps with the fishes.” Ironically, Jesus said that, like Jonah in the belly of the fish for three days, He would spend three days in the grave. [FYI: That’s a reference from The Godfather for those of you who didn’t catch it.]

What follows is three different attempts to trip Jesus up with religious questions that were political hot potatoes. The intent in at least two of the three questions was to try and get Jesus to say something that His enemies could either spin to diminish His approval rating or condemn Him. Each time, Jesus deftly handles the question and leaves His enemies flummoxed.

On the heels of these trick questions and attempts to trip Him up, Jesus speaks critically of His enemies and warns His audience to “watch out” for the teachers of the law. He then offers a curious accusation that is lost on modern readers. Jesus says that the religious power brokers “devour widows houses.”

In most cases, women had very poor legal and social standing in Jesus’ day. This was especially true of older widows who might have been left with her husband’s debts. With limited means and a social system that made it virtually impossible for her to produce an income, the widow was incredibly vulnerable. Unless she had an influential and/or wealthy male advocate, the widow fell prey to wealthy and powerful men (remember, the religious power brokers were “Teachers of Law” (aka lawyers) within the Jewish religious, legal, and social system. These lawyers would use the law to seize a widow’s home and assets, leaving her destitute and living off the mercy of others. Even though the Law of Moses demanded special consideration for the defenseless (including widows), the “Teachers of the Law” found legal loopholes to justify their greedy victimization of these women.

What was most fascinating for me in today’s chapter is the very next episode. Right after criticizing the Teachers of the Law for their treatment of widows, Jesus leads His followers to the place where people came to give their “offerings” to the temple treasury. Wealthy Jews from around the known world were in town for Passover, so there were certainly many wealthy travelers using the annual pilgrimage to give generously (and publicly). Jesus sits and watches the riches being offered to the temple coffers. Then an old widow (I wonder which Teacher of the Law there at the temple now owned the home she once shared with her husband along with all of its possessions?) steps up and puts in two pennies.

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Two things stuck with me this morning. The power brokers in this world have their way through systemic advantage, intimidation, instilling fear, dishing out punishment, and eliminating the opposition. This is true of any number of systems including criminal, political, governmental, organizational, business, financial, social, educational, legal, military, familial, and even religious systems. It is obvious in the episodes Mark shares that there is rapid escalation between Jesus and His enemies, and His enemies have political, religious, social, legal, and financial systemic power. They want Jesus dead, and Jesus knows this. In fact, He knows that they will kill Him. Nevertheless, Jesus continues to fearlessly speak spiritual truth that both condemns His enemies and pushes the buttons that will ensure the signature on His death warrant.

The second thing that struck me is that I have infinitely more in common with Jesus’ enemies than with the widow whom Jesus praises.

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,” Jesus said, “and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

In other words, Jesus is in the Collections business.

Most days the chapter and my meditation leave me encouraged, challenged, inspired, contemplative, and even comforted.

Today, I leave my quiet time very uncomfortable.

Drilling Down to Spring Generosity

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2 (NIV)

About 12 years ago Wendy and I made the decision to purchase my parents property at the lake. At the time the property had a  70 foot single-wide from the early 1970s which I used to refer to as “The Love Shack.” At the end of a gravel road, the property requires a well for water and a septic system for waste management. After agreeing to make the purchase my dad walked me through the process they went through each year to have their water supply tested and treated against the nasty things that can get into a natural water supply. It was pretty gross just thinking about it.

A year or so later we had a new well dug on the property. I’d never experienced this before, and I was fascinated by the process. The young man who owned the drilling service loved his work and I’ll never forget the passion and enthusiasm with which he went about his drilling a well. By the end of the day he’d explained to me that the old well on the property had been way too shallow which was why the water was prone to some of the nastiness that had to be tested and treated. The driller had to go much deeper than planned and get through some tough stretches of rock to reach the aquifer which would pump clean water to our house. I’ll never forget the guy grinning from ear-to-ear. “You’re pumping ‘crystal clear’ now, dude!

That little experience really got me thinking just how much I take for granted the luxury of a clean water supply that I don’t have to think or worry about. That got me digging a little deeper for information about water in the world. The good news is that since 1990 great progress has been made. In just 25 years a staggering 2.5 Billion people have gained access to an improved water supply free from fear of contamination. I love it! That’s huge progress that we can feel good about. [cue: We are the World]. Nevertheless, there’s still 665 million people in the world who don’t have access to a simple, clean water supply. Most of them are in Africa. For many years Wendy and I have been supporters of Blood:Water Mission, a group actively working to improve access to clean water across Africa.

Along life’s journey I’ve had to confess that it sometimes takes an  experience for me to wake up to the needs of others, and the opportunity I have to make a difference.

In today’s chapter, we discover one of the major reasons Paul was writing his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. There was a severe famine in area of Syria and Israel. Historical records confirm that a massive famine broke out in that region in 47 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Claudius. People were literally starving to death, and Paul had been taking up an offering among the believers in Greece and Asia Minor to take much needed supplies to the believers back in Jerusalem.

There was kind of a cool spiritual principle at work. Back when Jesus was tempted to turn stones to bread He quoted a verse from Deuteronomy to the enemy: “You shall not live on bread alone, but on every word the comes from the mouth of God.” The believers in Jerusalem had blessed Greece and Asia Minor by sending the Word and spreading Jesus’ Message through Paul and others. Now those believers in Greece and Asia Minor had the opportunity, in turn, to save the believers in Jerusalem from starvation by providing for their physical needs.

Yesterday I wrote about Paul finding joy in “all his troubles.” He uses that same same spiritual principle again, and takes it a step further, as he describes the believers in Macedonia who found joy amidst their trials and generosity amidst their poverty.

This morning in the quiet I find myself counting my blessings. Our hot water issue was fixed yesterday. It was a pesky annoyance caused by build up of ice that choked the flow of air to the system. Ultimately, it was a small problem. Such a luxury, and what an opportunity I continually have to make a difference in the lives of others through the abundance with which I’ve been blessed. The Macedonians, Paul wrote, had been generous despite their poverty. How much more generous can I be out of the wealth with which I’ve been blessed?

Featured photo courtesy of Seeds of Hope International Partnerships: http://sohip.org

The Call to Contentment

Not that I was ever in need,  for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. Philippians 4:11-12 (NLT)

Jesus never told poor people to seek after earthly riches.
Jesus told certain rich people to give up all their earthly riches.
Jesus told all people to seek after heavenly riches.
God’s Message tells us all to learn to be content.

I have come to believe that God’s call to contentment is one of the most critical spiritual concepts we have most consistently ignored.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 7

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 17:  Joe Uva (L), Presid...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

So don’t be intimidated by them. God, your God, is among you—God majestic, God awesome. Deuteronomy 7:21 (MSG)

When I was younger, I found myself easily intimidated by people. Perhaps it was from being the  baby of the family, but it didn’t take much for me to feel “less than” another person whom I perceived to be have some kind of power or authority.

Along life’s journey God has placed me in positions in which I’ve interacted with people at many different levels of worldly power and authority. I’ve worked with people in extreme poverty and have dealt with people of extreme wealth. I often work with both front-line employees fresh out of college starting their careers as well as Presidents and CEOs. I’ve had the opportunity to know leaders of business, well-known authors, and government officials.

One of the lessons that these experiences have taught me is that every person, no matter their position in life, has their own set of troubles, trials, and temptations. Means and influence do not make you a better person, and often I’ve observed how they create more problems. I’ve known some individuals in relatively impressive positions of earthly power and influence who are deeply insecure, while others with little or no earthly power and influence have incredible personal strength.

My experiences have made me far less likely to be intimidated by others. I am constantly reminded that God instructs me to be content, keep growing and be fruitful where I’ve been planted. Others may have more worldly power, more influence, more stuff, and greater means than I do, but in God’s economy we all stand on equal footing.

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Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 19

via Flickr and vanhookc

“When you harvest your land, don’t harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don’t strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am God, your God.” Leviticus 19:9-10 (MSG)

It is spring in Iowa and as I drive down the highway I can see the perfectly planted rows of corn and soybeans emerging in bright green dotted lines on a canvas of thick, espresso and black soil. Farmers have planted their fields wisely to get as many seeds in each row and as many rows in each field to ensure, God willing, a high yield and a measureable profit. Come harvest, they will gather as much grain as they possibly can for market.

I found it an interesting contrast to read God’s command to the farmers in the days of Moses. Poverty was as much a social issue and economic reality for people in the days of Moses as it is today. What I find fascinating in today’s chapter is that God’s prescription was for individuals to take personal responsibility for giving of their own means to the poor in their own community. The farmer left some of his field unharvested so that the poor in his community could eat and have a little to trade for their needs. There was a direct transaction of goods between people who knew one another and lived together in community. I also note that God did not command the farmer to harvest the crop and give some his profits to the poor, not did he command Moses and his cabinet of elders to take grain from farmers and administrate a system of distribution among the poor. The crop was left standing and the gleanings left so that the poor had to go to the field and do the work of harvesting it for themselves. It was a constant reminder to those of fewer means that the harder they worked, the more they had to eat and trade. There were no food stamps in the law of Moses, only food available for those who were willing to do the work to harvest it.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 50

It's your sins that put you here, your wrongs that got you shipped out. Isaiah 50:1b (MSG)

We wouldn't have a healthcare problem, were it not for these bodies slowly returning to dust.
We wouldn't have war, were it not for hatred, prejudice, covetousness, and pride.
We wouldn't have a welfare and poverty problem, were it not for selfishness, greed, sloth and corruption.
We wouldn't have divorce, were it not for self-centeredness, resentment, brokenness and infidelity.
We wouldn't have an problem with obesity or STDs, were it not for appetites out of control.
We wouldn't have tragedies, were it not for poor choices married to imperfection.

We wouldn't be lost if our own imperfect actions, words, choices, thoughts, and motivations hadn't brought us to this place.

Lord, have mercy on us.