How can we really help

Published 3:26 pm Saturday, January 12, 2019

by Nathan Decker

“You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me.” – Jesus in Matthew 26:11

Jesus is correct. Poverty will always exist in some form, and the church will always be among the poor. Where many of our social problems are symptoms, poverty is the disease. Crime happens more in poor neighborhoods. School systems are easily overwhelmed by kids who come from impoverished homes.  Drug abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence all rise when income declines. Poverty destroys mental health and handicaps generations from being able to experience full salvation to be who God created us to be.

Since Pentecost, the church has been involved in helping those who are in need.

The very first church argument in Acts has to do with how the church is and isn’t helping the poor. The Gospels, especially Luke, show Jesus as having a compassion bias toward the poor.

Christians have experienced salvation from our debt of sin and slavery to brokenness. It makes sense that once freed, we would want to free others.

So how can we really help? First, let’s not be toxic in our charity. Toxic charity is when we hand out crutches instead of encouraging physical rehab. When we steal dignity from people by giving gifts and providing what they need instead of empowering them to give their own gifts and provide for their families — our love is laced with an addictive drug called dependence. Our help needs to do no harm.

Second, let’s see people as people. Ministry with the poor looks a lot different than ministry to the poor.  When we don’t assume we know the answers we begin to see John and Mary instead of the poor couple with all the kids.

Applying labels like ADHD or Section 8 draws lines and creates power structures with us and them. Our help needs to be relational with people we know by name.

Finally, let’s focus on the one in front of us instead of the millions beyond our generosity. There is an old story of a boy picking up starfish on the beach, throwing them back into the ocean to save them.  Someone watching yells, “you can’t save them all, what you are doing doesn’t matter!” The boy looked at the starfish in his hands and responded, “It matters to this one.” We can’t save everyone. Our help needs only save one.

Jesus asks us to encounter him in the people who are imprisoned in poverty. The church offers salvation through Christ: Salvation from debt, slavery, sin. If we really want to be helpful, we must empower the powerless and see the faceless.

If we want to encounter God we need only look at the one who we can help because more often than naught, they are also the one who reflects the face of our Savior. The poor will always be with us, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t called to the divine work of salvation. After all, it’s what Jesus would do.

“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.” – Jesus in Matthew 25:37-40

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.