Saturday, March 12, 2016

What is Poverty? Transformation is for Everyone! (2 of 8)

...And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow...  (Matthew 6:28)


Pop quiz! Read the sentence below then fill in the blanks with:  (Spiritual, Social)  Which one fits into which blank?  Which one comes first? 

“True _________ transformation cannot happen without _________ transformation.”

Now reflect on these points:
1. We are image bearers of God (Gen 1:26). Our goal is to be transformed into God's image and God's purpose for our life.  This speaks into our identity and our vocation.
2. Transformation is: changed people, changed relationships.  Relationships with God, self, others, environment.  This concerns every human being. 
Transformation has nothing to do with “making you more like me” outside of discipleship. 
3. Transformation is for everyone. When we confuse and interchange "the social and spiritual" then we can dangerously make an assumption that if we are socially sorted, then our lives are whole and complete and if we are socially broken then we are not yet fit to come to Jesus (or the church).   Also, we might slowly begin to think that the gospel teaches that if/when we are spiritually whole then God is ready to also make us socially, physically, economically complete and prosperous.  I believe these false teachings and beliefs have already crept into the church.  It is prosperity faith. This can be highly destructive and derailing for someone’s transformation journey.
4. True social transformation begins when we seek spiritual wholeness.  Our relationships with self (self image), others, and the environment will not be whole and true until we address our relationship with God (spiritual).
5. Positioning for discipleship.  This process of transformation helps us form relationships that guide us into discipleship with others, walking together, following Jesus.
 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
People usually make the mistake of thinking that when we speak of transformation, we are referring to the rescuing of the materially poor.  Often this is the mentality of the non-poor thinking about socioeconomic disparity and development work.  Actually, we believe transformation and wholeness is for everyone.  Certainly Scripture over and over commands us not to neglect the marginalized poor, to take on God’s heart of compassion and to take action in the relief and rehabilitation of society, but that is not what we mean when we refer to transformation or even social justice.

Let me turn our relief thinking on it's head a little.  Do you realize that we from the west are far more concerned, "anxious about clothing" (Matthew6:28), what we wear, than any "poor" individual I ever met? Sure, everyone wants to look nice, but I find much more of a concern and dependence on clothing and image in the west than in the global south.  This is also exactly why we tend to think that if we just bought someone new clothes, or found a better house, of a better something, we've done the right thing.  Not necessarily.  There probably was a bigger, deeper need.  Much of our materialism and need for comfort and convenience is unique to us in the west.  So who should be paying more attention when we read Matthew 6 and Jesus saying, "why are you anxious?" Who is poor and who needs the relief? Poor in spirit, poor in relationships, poor image of self, poor in purpose...

What is generally misconstrued is that the process is not limited to desiring for the poor to be "like us” socioeconomically or wanting to level the playing field by “rescuing people out of poverty.”  Yes, we should desire for people to live a life free from material poverty but not forsaking a relationship with Jesus and certainly not transferring our materialism in the process.  If the church helps rehabilitate someone materially but fails to introduce that person to a relationship with Jesus, then the church has missed the mission.  That individual is still poor, no matter what their social and economic status is.  I believe that Africa, particularly the youth, is already struggling with the materialism of the west and is at least coveting to be everything that the material west looks like.  Is that what we want for them?

- we believe transformation and wholeness is for everyone


What we also fail to recognize is that in this process of helping others, the “non-poor” are also transformed and made into the likeness of God.  Transformation happens because if and when we allow it, the process of discipleship and loving others transforms us all into Christlikeness.  Therefore, when the church is involved in the process, not only can the marginalized be helped, but the rest of society is also influenced and reformed into Christlikeness; whether we rewrite social policy in government that speaks to the rights of the marginalized, or a broken family is rehabilitated, or an individual is blessed in the process of becoming a giver, godly faithfulness and obedience leads to a changed person. Are you struggling with anxiety? Read the whole section of Matthew 6:25-34, it hits this to the core.

When the church influences the sectors of society[1] it is acting like Jesus, as the Body of Christ, positioning for discipleship, reclaiming it’s role and purpose in society.  Jesus gave the church the example to live by.  Let us recognize that while Jesus performed many miracles of physical transformation, he more often spoke of the Kingdom[2] one day.  Jesus’ primary purpose in performing miracles was to show or announce that he was the Messiah.  The church must reflect the same method and teaching about the Kingdom as we partner with God in what he has already been doing at least since Pentecost – performing miracles, calling mankind unto Himself, making disciples of Jesus.  Let us not make the same original mistake of Jesus’ disciples and hope in the kingdom of today and now, a material, earthly kingdom.  This would be nothing short of preaching a prosperity gospel.  It took the death and resurrection of Christ for the disciples to finally understand Jesus’ mission.  In the very same way, the church’s mission today is defined by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.

- Any program that seeks to eradicate poverty, has an immature Kingdom perspective.

Therefore, it is helpful for us, the church, to know and define our own place in the process of transformation.  The secular relief agenda has taught the world, including Christianity, that we need to define poverty and create programs to solve and eradicate the problem.   Any program that seeks to eradicate poverty, has an immature Kingdom perspective.  Global programs, organizations and governments are constantly jockeying to lead in the crisis but the majority neglect the role of a faith approach and the church.

What many organizations refuse to recognize is that social change is neither linear nor logical.   Logical framework that generally gets introduced as the remedy is weak.

The life of the godly is not a straight line to glory, but they do get there – God sees to it.  God is at work in the darkest of times – for our good and Christ’s glory. – John Piper

The underlying assumption is that the problem of poverty is mechanical in nature, as a consequence, that the solution to poverty can be provided by a linear, logical, rational, problem-solving approach that can be fixed by adding skills, technology and money.[3]

The world is deceived by mechanical and social systems and is not able to recognize the fact that the fundamental struggle of poverty for everyone is spiritual.  Ironically social systems, such as a community of poor people, do not work the same way mechanical systems do.

At best, most development workers and practitioners may allude to the spiritual dimension of life and poverty but they don’t develop it.  An atheist, Matthew Parris alluded to this in his article in the London Times: "I truly believe Africa needs God." He goes on to say: "Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset."

This is the very reason why the church, the local church, can and should be the most effective agent in transformation. I mention the local church, because this is who we aim to envision and empower to do the work.  It doesn't take missionaries to do the work of the church but as missionaries we can help by partnering, clarifying the mission of the local church.  The church is fundamentally shaped to thrive on things that are not so measurable: love, faith, grace, hope and dependence on God. The church is positioned to develop and address the spiritual dimension.  The church has the theology of “principalities and powers.” In Jesus, we have the power to fight against the enemy who seeks to kill and destroy everything.  The enemy, Satan, hates anything that pertains to transformation and the kingdom.

Most secular organizations find faith to be an intangible solution primarily because it is hard to sell faith, cast a vision and receive funding without a tangible target and plan on paper. Read "Mission Drift - the unspoken crisis facing leaders, charities, and churches." - Greer/Horst

This Easter, we will celebrate that Jesus is risen.  He is alive!  He continues today to work out and bring in his kingdom.  How do we respond to that?   He has invited you and I in a relationship with him.  He has already invited you to participate in his broad kingdom mission of reconciliation.  In your own transformation story, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will guide you in your response and in what you ought to do daily to reach out to others.  Don't dismiss the ongoing work of Jesus in you this Easter season.  Transformation is for all of us.

[1] Formal areas of society in which the church can have influence.
[2] Matthew 3 – The Kingdom of God is at hand – prepare the way.  Matthew 5:3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom. Mt 6:33 - Seek first the kingdom of God: Gentiles seek – do not be anxious about tomorrow.  Luke 12 Nations seek – treasure is where your heart is.
Isa 9:6-8 Increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.  Kingdom-  to establish it and uphold it with justice and with righteousness.
[3] “Walking With The Poor” – Bryant Myers (243-244)