The most recent Census Bureau statistics reveal that there are now more poor people in America than at any other time in the 52 years records have been kept. This is the new age of doubling up where households in which adult children who can’t afford life on their own return to live with their parents.
As tensions rise many of these individuals who are doubling up will eventually find themselves among the 3.4 million homeless Americans. The break-up of the family unit, high unemployment, cut backs in mental health and addiction treatment programs are all contributing to the epidemic of homelessness we are now witnessing.
Nationwide, 9.6 million families spend more than half of their income on housing. Missing one paycheck or encountering a single emergency can at anytime thrust them into the ranks of the homeless.
In the midst of such growing need the question is, where do we as a people who care start? How do we keep going in the midst of what appears to be impossible odds and opposition?
1. Define the need – This may even involve living with those in need for a while so that you can feel what they feel, think what they think and experience the daily frustration they experience. Be in prayer, asking God to show you what is needed for deliverance from this situation – avoid simplistic responses.
2. Use whatever resources are presently available to you to help those around you who are suffering – For example, when New Life Evangelistic Center first got started, it involved my first wife Penny and myself using our 50 foot trailer home to house homeless men on the living room carpet. Now that has grown to a large number of centers throughout Mid-America. If you have a home, access to a church basement, a car or whatever you have, use it to reach out and help those who are in need. Don’t forget that even if you are penniless, you have the greatest resource in the world available at your disposal. That resource is prayer. Since New Life Evangelistic Center first started, it has had special prayer and fasting Communion services every Wednesday at noon for the needs in the community. The staff are also asked to pray daily for the needs of those they meet during their daily ministry.
3. Stand fast in faith – There will be moments of discouragement, loneliness, fear and frustration. At times you will feel like you are totally alone. At those moments it is critical for you to remember Hebrews 12:1-4: “Wherefore seeing we also are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradictions of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds.” If you keep your eyes on Jesus, even those who resist you or don’t appreciate you today will come to respect your labors tomorrow. But do all earnestly for the glory of God. Remember that public opinion will change daily towards your work, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
4. Pace yourself according to the Word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit – The need will always be greater than your ability to respond. Realize your human limitations and thank God for them. Jesus is the Lord and supplier. If you try to assume His role and become the savior of mankind and their needs, you will burn yourself out and will find yourself becoming increasingly frustrated with the very people you are trying to serve. Clearly define to people what you can do for them and what you cannot. Be honest with the people you serve, your God and yourself. Share not only what God has given you physically, but also share with those you are helping what He is doing spiritually. Then they too can come to know Him and trust Him to meet their needs.
5. When you encounter community problems bigger than your ability to serve, don’t run from them or make excuses for not responding to them – Take them to the Lord in earnest prayer. Seek Him for an answer. Sometimes He will say wait, other times He will show you exactly what to do, like He did when I asked Him how to respond to the 1980 Heat Crisis. God told me to buy as many window fans as possible to distribute to senior citizens in danger of heat stroke throughout Missouri and Illinois. Even as I stepped out in faith and ordered the fans, I received the first check in the mail from someone who wrote, “please use to purchase fans.” The check was for several thousand dollars. Each year NLEC continues to provide “Fans for Life” to senior citizens and those with acute medical problems.
After praying concerning the low-income and elderly people’s inability to pay their gas bills, I felt God leading me to initiate “Dollar Help” with the cooperation of the local gas company, whereby people have the opportunity to add one dollar to their gas bill to help those who are struggling. Each year hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised through this program to help the needy pay their gas bills. The increased amount of human need in our communities at the same time that government cutbacks are taking place – dictates that every one of us implement that faith in Jesus Christ that we so readily speak of. As the Word of God says, “Faith without works is dead.” Such dead self-centered faith leaves thousands to freeze in their unheated homes or to die quietly on the streets of cities all over America. How can this continue to happen when James 1:27 says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
All God asks of us is to take that first step, to reach out even in some small way to our brothers and sisters in need with His love. As the song says, “Our ‘little’ becomes much, when we place it in the Master’s hands.” The time to step out and help the hurting in our community is now!
61,000 jobs lost in Metro St Louis since employment peaked in February, 2008 and workers have been idled for longer than ever. This headline in the St Louis Post Dispatch should provide a wake up call to those who care about others.
God cares and so should His people. One of the greatest needs at this time is for churches and individuals of faith to seek God as to the means of creating jobs thru the establishment of small businesses.
When there were no hospitals the church and the people of God created hospitals. When there were no schools or universities, the church created schools and universities. When there were no means for caring for orphans and the homeless the church established orphanages and rescue missions. The orphan train was a result of caring Christian people taking homeless children out of big cities like New York and placing them with families across America.
Now the poor and homeless are crying out for jobs, and as we listen to the people and respond to their needs we must get about the task of creating jobs. For that reason in addition to utilizing a new 20,000 square foot building God has given us in Overland for administrative offices for NLEC we have a vision to see it used to create jobs for the new poor and homeless throughout Mid-America.
Jonathon Edwards’s in His discourse, Christian Charity, points out that caring for the poor is “a thing so essential, that the contrary cannot consist with a sincere love for God” (I John 3:17-19). Those with a sincere love for God are part of a caring economy that focuses on “justice and mercy”. “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
This is the hope for America, God’s people directly caring for the homeless and hurting. It is the hope for creation and an economy enslaved in a culture of greed. This hope is not religion but a relationship with Jesus Christ, the world’s greatest revolutionary who has come to set free the captives to the economy of greed and the politics of self-service.
Jesus was a dangerous man. He was dangerous to the manipulating power brokers who perpetuated the cultural values that enabled the rich to get richer and the poor, poorer. Jesus was dangerous because He not only declared “the Kingdom of God is at hand” but brought justice through to victory through His death and resurrection.
The question is, where is that child like faith in the Living God that will cause all of us to stand up for justice and question a system where the top 1% of the population controls as much wealth as the remaining 99% of the population? As a result, thousands are left in cold, dark homes or even homeless while others will bask in extravagance and wealth beyond description. Where are God’s people who are burning with a passion for justice rather than selling out to the cultural fashions of the day? How is it that some who claim to be Christians can endorse politicians who support a payday loan industry which charges rates up to 1,950% annually to the poor and elderly who are forced to use these payday loan services.
The living Jesus is a problem in our religious institutions. They call churches sanctuaries yet these same churches refuse to let the homeless in on cold nights as they heat their basements so the pipes don’t freeze. They do this because they are afraid they will upset the neighbors, the city officials or their big givers.
It was Jesus who taught us how to break the cultural rules of selfishness and prejudice against the homeless! It was Jesus who touched lepers which was against the rules! It was Jesus who broke the Sabbath by healing people on that day and that was against the rules! It was Jesus who forgave people of their sins and that also was against the rules because those caught in the act of adultery were to be stoned, not forgiven.
Today we live in a society that is increasingly hostile to the poor and homeless. Rules, regulations and ordinances are constantly being created that are making it increasingly difficult to house the homeless and feed the hungry. In St Louis the power brokers won’t give NLEC a permit to put a porta potty behind its building yet send citations to NLEC if human waste is found there. The homeless using the bathroom in public are fined $100 or given a citation by police if they go in the downtown park after 10:00 o’clock that has the one porta potty the city placed there. In fact the homeless can get arrested or fined for going in any park after 10:00 p.m.
How many future saints have been lulled to sleep by television and computers, which take more priority in their lives then meeting the needs of the starving and homeless? Jesus was not persecuted as long as he was in the carpenter shop. Stephen wasn’t stoned until he started doing signs and wonders. While Peter was fishing he wasn’t beaten and put into jail. It was only when followers of Christ (Christians) started putting a passion for God before the fashionable things in the world that they got in trouble.
God cares that mothers around the world are crying because their withered breasts are milkless and their children are starving. God cares that mothers in the US find themselves enslaved to utility companies who will cut off their utilities because the company has not gotten their last dollar. God cares that power brokers and fear-laden people support a prison industry that is locking up the poor and mentally retarded in record numbers. God cares that in the name of choice some support cutting up babies in the wombs of their mothers, or flushing them out in a powerful saline solution that make the unborn baby thrash around in agony, then vacuum them out to be dropped into garbage cans. Yes God cares! The question is do His people care enough to pray and take direct action?
At such a time like this we must pray and pray some more. As we pray we must be passionately seeking God’s will for our lives. Prayer is the language of the poor. In Psalms 34:6 we read, “This poor man cried and the Lord heard him.”
The more people pray the less worldly they are. The time has come for us to lust after the things of God. Our prayer room is the boiler room for our spiritual life. How we need to pray for a world that is a pigpen surrounded by a church that too often is in a playpen. We must pray earnestly because it is too late to play church. We must arise now as the empowered people of God and engage in earnest PUSH prayers. Push Prayers involve passionate prayers that feel the needs of those who are suffering. PUSH stands for Pray Until Something Happens. As a woman in labor is told to push until something happens, the Scripture tells us to engage in PUSH prayers in Matt. 7:7 when Jesus says, “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
The time has come for us to engage in push prayers that will result in a revival of compassion. As Joel 2:12 declares, “Now therefore says the Lord. Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting with weeping, and with mourning.” The web of impurity and injustice is tightening around the country. The cup of sin is filling up. The Hand writing is on the wall (Dan. 5:26-27).
It is time to wake up and leave the church suppers for the battlefield of prayer and direct action. We have feasted long enough. Now is the time to fast and fight. We have clapped our hands to long. Now it is time to let those hands grasp the sharp two-edged sword of God’s word and fight the principalities and powers. May we be the fearless prophets that God needs at this hour who will be too bold for the system to hold, too hard to be heard. Today most people who call themselves Christians know more about competition than consecration. They know more about promotion than prayer.
Jesus offers freedom for those who are so possessed by their possessions that they cannot have a relationship with God and value life, His people or creation. He at first says in Luke 12:32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” In other words, don’t be afraid. Let it all go. Let God deliver you and set you free. Then He goes on and tells us how to experience this freedom. It is so simple that those enslaved to materialism often refuse to believe it. Jesus declares in verse 33, 34, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Only as we take literally the words of Jesus and let Him deliver us from our addictions to things can we be set free to have a true relationship with God, His people and the rest of creation.
Randy Alcorn in his book, “The Treasure Principal” says, “Jesus doesn’t just tell us where not to put our treasures. He also gives the best investment advise you’ll ever hear. ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven’ (Matt. 6:20). Jesus has a treasure mentality. He wants us to store up treasures. He’s just telling us to stop storing them in the wrong place and start storing them in the right place.’ Store up for yourselves! Doesn’t it seem strange that Jesus commands us to do what’s in our own bester interest? Wouldn’t that be selfish? No, God expects and commands us to act out of enlightened self-interest. He wants us to live to His glory, but what is His glory is always for our good.”
God cares and so should His people. Jesus makes it clear that He wants the best for His people and that involves storing up for themselves treasures in heaven by sharing with those in need. Alcorn goes on to explain, “What is this ‘treasure in heaven’? It includes power (Luke 19:15-19), possessions (Matt. 19:21), and pleasures (Ps. 16:11). Jesus promises that those who sacrifice on earth will receive ‘a hundred times as much’ in heaven (Matt. 19:29). That’s 10,000 percent! An impressive return! Of course, Christ Himself is our ultimate treasure. All else pales in comparison to Him and the joy of knowing Him (Phil. 3:7-11). A person, Jesus, is our first treasure. A place, heaven, is our second treasure. Possessions and eternal rewards are our third treasure.”
How we need to pray that God will awaken us to the daily opportunities He sends us to serve Him. Life is short and passes so quickly. We need to pray along with David in Psalm 39, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about but only in vain; he heaps us wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you” (Ps. 39:4-7).
We have that hope because Jesus died for our sins and then rose from the dead. He gives us life both now and for all eternity. If we are truly alive in Christ we will no longer be God’s chosen frozen saints content to be just sitting on a church pew in hopes of being blessed.
Many years ago Oliver Cromwell was told of a shortage of precious metal in Old England that was needed for coins. After he sent out his troops to find some they reported back that the only precious metal was found in the statues of the saints standing in the corner of the churches. To this Cromwell responded, “Well melt down the saints and put them into circulation.”
The time has come for us to stop standing around and let God melt us along with our earthly treasures down until we can be put into circulation doing good in this hurting world. God cares and so must His people. The opportunities to shine are everywhere. We must now move forth by Faith and seize these opportunities to let the love of Christ flow through us on a daily basis into the lives of the hurting, hungry and homeless.