"Don't walk on the poor just because they're poor, and don't use your position to crush the weak, Because God will come to their defence." (Proverbs 22:22-23a The Message)
"Not poverty again! Would someone please give him another drum to beat!" I can almost hear the groans of some who feel that they've "been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the message and would like to move on - please!".
Now, I feel sure that discussing the weekend's football results would be more pleasant (at least for some!) and complaining about the weather would be safer (for most!) - though what there would be to complain about when we are being blessed with a light snowfall, even as I type, I could not imagine! But as for dropping the uncomfortable (for most!), conscience-searing (for some!) topic of poverty, I have but one response: as long as they keep knocking on Salvation Army doors, begging on our streets, screaming - mostly silently - their need of our help, I'll write! And, as long as God's Word continues to focus my attention on the blight of poverty - almost exclusively through my normal, scheduled daily readings - I'll write!
Why? I write to inform, to be informed (by the responses and reactions of others), to inspire, to challenge, to engage. I write to reflect on the consequences of what I am thinking for myself, individually, as well as for the Army corporately. Of course, I will be addressing other things in my blog posts as well - possibly including football and the weather - but, today, I choose to return to poverty.
It seems to me that, in the verses quoted above, the book of Proverbs issues a double challenge to the Church - and, by definition, The Salvation Army.
Firstly, as members of the Army and therefore the Church - God's community of grace - we have a responsibility to be godly, walking honestly and compassionately in regard to our own stewardship of the resources with which the God of grace has blessed us (often connected to our location - north or south, west or east); being respectful, generous and loving in our attitudes and our actions towards people who are marginalised.
I might have left it at that - that every believer (read "soldier") has a personal obligation. But believers are not obligated to be generous - that would be merely humane. Any decent human being should be expected to behave like that to the needy - respectful, generous and loving. As recipients and communicators of God's grace, believers have a higher calling, a greater obligation, the perfect example in Jesus who unselfishly, unconditionally, and sacrificially dispensed grace. If we are to take our obligation seriously, "generous" doesn't quite cut it.
Two recent pieces I have read highlight the sacrificial nature of our obligation as believers: one, a blog (see http://kennykenya.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/politically-correct-too.html) by Richard Bradbury, a salvationist living out his convictions in Kenya, and the other, a commentary (http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/ivp-nt/Ethics-Gods-Kingdom) by The IVP New Testament Commentary Series on Monday's reading from the "Go Deeper Challenge (Matthew 6, especially vs19 to 31). Unlike James Bond's favourite cocktail, these pieces leave one both shaken and stirred! They confirm that, far from being content with generosity, we should feel ourselves obligated to give sacrificially, not only of our leftover cash and our moral support, but of all we are and have.
To quote from the commentary: "Charles G. Finney warned that God requires us to surrender to him the ownership of everything, so that we never again consider it as our own."
Such a change in our thinking would also affect the way we relate to the poor - generosity would become sacrifice. God's property, God's standards! Enough said, now, what to do about it, eh?!
Secondly, the verse in Proverbs suggest that, as a community that embodies God’s graciousness and communicates that grace to a world in need, we are to represent God by coming to the defence of the marginalised - to become their voice, to defend their cause.
For the community of grace the Army, as part of the Church, is called to deal with both the consequences of marginalisation (by intervention) as well as its causes (by representation). Transformational mission, which is what the Army is about, includes this vital aspect of relating to, and bringing about, transformation in, society. I am encouraged to hear of this being done, of representation being made to authorities at all levels, of The Salvation Army being the voice of the poor, of instances where local authorities are persuaded to provide funding so that we can help people in need without discrimination and regardless of whether they have obtained the necessary rubber stamps.
Along with saving souls and growing saints, The Salvation Army has to continue to place this element of mission high up on our priority list if we are to attain our objective of being an agent of transformation in the world. This two-fronted assault on poverty - alleviating the pain of its consequences by being the hands of Christ, while alerting the powers-that-be of its causes by being the voice of Christ - is our obligation and part of the Army's mandate. And it requires us giving all we've got, corporately, and individually, as, indeed, some are already doing. May we continue and, indeed, step up the campaign.
I end with a prayer: Father, help us to live up to your expectations of us, and the world’s need of us, no matter the cost because, since all we are and have belong to you, you are actually paying!