Sunday, November 4, 2018

A Study of the Counterintuitive: It's an Honor to be Poor

Those Who Are Living Paycheck to Paycheck
Are More Blessed Than They Realize
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
To view this on my website, click here :-)

I don't have to explain what's been happening to the US Middle Class over the last 35 years or so. Many people who used to be Middle Class in America are now poor. I should know, since I used to make a whole lot more money than I do now. But that was before the bottom fell out of everything. I've been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. Everyone is lamenting because they're living paycheck to paycheck and they don't know what to do about it. Going to the ballot box, so far, has produced an exacerbation of America's political problems – exactly the opposite of what is intended. Now we have people talking about civil war, and America's citizens are emigrating at record levels. The ones who are staying are buying guns and ammo at record levels. No wonder everyone is so tense and on edge!

That's why the purpose of this week's message is to console those who are angry and hurt, to counsel those who have been pushed aside or shown the door without just cause, and to reassure the frightened and confused. It's not hard to get pretty befuddled about current events. We live in a world of mass shootings in schools, work places, grocery stores and even churches – or synagogues, as was the case recently. Things have gotten so bad that we can't even attend church or go out for a movie without having to be alert for anyone carrying a weapon. There is a good side to being poor, and a positive thing about being oppressed, according to the Word of God (or the Bible, if you prefer). Allow me to cite a few examples from Scripture.

My first example is that of the apostle James, who was a very astute individual, and so his writings are something to take very seriously regardless of one's religious beliefs – or even a lack thereof. These words can still be beneficial regardless of faith. “5) Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6) But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7) Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong? 8) If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right.” (James 2, verses 5-8)

Take heart if you are poor or otherwise financially hard pressed! Contrary to what many think and say, there is no shame in being poor. I was pretty well off at one time myself, mainly back in the 1990's through most of that decade, wrapping around to the early 2000's. I know what it's like to earn a six figure income, and to have to meet a payroll every week. But those days are gone for good, and there's little I can do about it except to keep on writing. I live on my small pension check, plus a little extra each month when I sell a book or two, and I've come to terms with that. But, what James wrote is even more true today than back then: “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” The student loan crisis is one modern example of this, foreclosures are another, and the so-called Drug War is yet another. Over half the people in state and federal prison are there for nonviolent drug offenses. America spends entirely too much money locking up all the wrong people.

Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” If you're poor, mentally depressed and running low on hope, then heed these words of the apostle James, the half-brother of Christ. To say this another way, it's better to be rich in faith than rich with worldly goods, and it's better to be poor in worldly goods than it is to be poor in faith. “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” The much-beloved phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is found first in Leviticus 19: 18, and it was an admonishment from the Lord Almighty to us all, that there be no hate among us – none at all! Judging by the racial tensions that simmer all across America, I'd say we have our work cut out for us as far as loving our neighbors – regardless of color.

Jesus himself was more blunt and direct than James in Luke's gospel when he said: “20) Looking at his disciples, he said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21) Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22) Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23) Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. 24) But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25) Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26) Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.'” (Luke 6, verses 20-26)

The world's poor, sick and disabled, Jesus was saying, will be the first through the gates of heaven. If you hunger, you will be filled by Christ, not by McDonald's – Jesus guarantees it. Weep all you want for now, Jesus was saying, because in the end He will give us life and laughter everlasting. The more people hate you because of me, Jesus was teaching them, the greater your reward will be. So, let others hate you just because you will not hesitate to make a stand for Christ. Never mind Republican or Democrat, conservative, liberal or progressive – they all pale in comparison to the Spirit of our Lord and Savior. But in verses 24 and 25, Jesus taught that anyone who enriches themselves in this life does so at the expense of another, and those wealthy individuals risk paying an eternal price for being selfish beyond reason while others went hungry. Verses 24 through 26 could also be interpreted as a prophecy against America, but that would be another message for another time.

So, I want everyone reading this who is going through a hard time financially – and that would be the majority of you – to take heart in their situation. Granted, you are suffering and miserable, I know how you feel. But take it from a guy who's been there, you can and will survive the ordeal you are currently undergoing. If you can't raise your income, then find ways to cut your expenses. The main thing is knowing that Jesus is walking beside you in every conceivable way, every step of the way.

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