Lessons from Union Rescue Mission

Last Thursday we were blessed to be visited by Rev. Andy Bales and Steve Borja of the Union Rescue Mission. It was an honor to meet them, learn from their experiences, and have them share with us at our Annual Fundraising Dinner. Today, we’ll take a moment to reflect on what was shared at the event.

Rev. Andy Bales is the CEO of the Union Rescue Mission, a private Christian homeless shelter located on Skid Row in Los Angeles that shelters 1,300 guests every night. His love and care for those experiencing homelessness is inspiring, but he readily admitted that he isn’t perfect!

Andy shared a story of when he was a teacher and gave a sermon to his classes on Matthew 25, hoping to deter them from bullying a classmate. The main take away from this lesson was Matthew 25:40, And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: whatever you did for the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ Unfortunately, when a short time later he was presented an opportunity to live this out, Andy missed the chance.

He’s not alone, we’ve all missed moments when we were given the opportunity to live out our mandate “to care for the least of these.” Fortunately, those moments don’t define us or our ministry. We can learn from our mistakes and move forward, just as Andy has, continually renewing our heart and mind (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Steve Borja, the Vice President of Programs for the Union Rescue Mission also shared valuable stories and lessons for our community. Using valuable insights from the book of Nehemiah, he encouraged us in our efforts to work with government, city officials, businesses, churches, and others to accomplish our work in caring for those experiencing poverty. The wall of Jerusalem wouldn’t have been rebuilt in 52 days without partnership. It took the King of Persia to make sure Nehemiah had safe passage and was provided materials. Working on the wall there were priests, nobles, officials, goldsmiths, perfumers, guards, temple servants, and merchants each with different portions to work on.

It doesn’t matter our title or income when partnering to do the work of God. We are stronger together, but only when we remember whose power and authority we are under. When we collaborate, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of honoring ourselves, but the honor is due to our God. “The wall was completed in 52 days, on the twenty fifth day of the month of Elul. When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by God.” Nehemiah 6:15-16.

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Seek the Peace & Prosperity of our City: Jeremiah 29:4-7

Today is our Annual Fundraising Dinner and our theme for this year is, “seeking the peace and prosperity of our city.” To honor our theme, today’s post will be over this passage: Jeremiah 29:4-7.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

This passage was written to encourage the exiles to make the most of their situation instead of believing the false prophets telling them their exile would be a short time period. In verse 10, the Lord says that they will be in Babylon for 70 years, so they might as well make themselves at home there!

We’re not exiles, but we’re still in a temporary earthly home, waiting for the Kingdom to come. This can sometimes make us feel discontent, longing for a better life, not wanting to endure any current suffering. Since we weren’t made to stay in our earthly home forever, it can seem like we’re out of place and that we don’t belong. This may makes us want to shrink into our own bubble of fellow believers, trying to stay in our comfort zones until we make it through this life.

God calls us to a higher way of living though, to fully integrate into where we live now. We are to become a part of the fabric of where we live, praying and seeking what’s best for it, making the most of our time there. May our deepest hope be that those we live among will see how we live and ultimately accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, reconciling them to God.

How we are expected to live in this world is also reflected by Peter when he was writing to encourage persecuted believers in Asia Minor:

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority, whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:11-17

May we live this way today.

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What the Bible says about Poverty: Galatians 6:9-10

Welcome to the last blog post in our series “What the Bible says about Poverty.” We’ve journeyed through several passages, some easy and some more challenging, but today I want to leave you with some words of encouragement.

(9) So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. (10) Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10

Poverty is a very complex issue, yet our politics tend to oversimplify the root cause on one of two extreme ends of the spectrum: personal responsibility or unjust systems.  The reality is, it’s often both as well as the consequences of adversity like diseases or natural disasters. 

As there is no easy explanation of cause, there is also no simple solution. This is why working with someone experiencing material poverty can be so messy, exhausting, humbling and overwhelming, but it’s also mandated. People are broken. At some point when we work with someone in poverty, they may let us down and make mistakes, but so will we! Be encouraged, keep God in the middle, and keep working for the good of others.

Let‘s allow God’s word stir us to keep working our way through this complexity to help someone else, to think beyond just ourselves. Let’s care because God cares about the vulnerable and commands us to seek justice for those suffering and in poverty. In verse 10 we are told to care even more for those who belong to the same household of faith. We are each part of a biological family, and those ties run deep, but we also live among our adopted brothers and sisters in Christ, who we are all called to love and care for. 

In a culture of individualism and independence, it’s sometimes hard to feel like family with other Christians. Our current society looks quite different than the community of believers described in Acts 4:41-47, where believers were singing praises to God and breaking bread together, but let’s use it as an example and strive to have this type of love for our fellow believers.

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What the Bible says about Poverty: Psalm 9:9-10

Hello everyone! We’re nearing the end of our series on “What the Bible says about Poverty”. If you haven’t read the other posts in the series, make sure to catch up!

(9) The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. (10) Those who know Your Name trust in You because You have not abandoned those who seek You, Yahweh. Psalm 9:9-10 Whether you’re the one experiencing poverty or the one walking alongside someone in poverty, keep God at the center of this present crisis. It’s no secret that God cares for and delivers the poor, that He is our strength when we have none (Isaiah 25:4, 1 Samuel 2:8, Psalm 102:17, Hebrews 13:6).

Even though we may know His power, it’s easy to get caught up in the present crisis and forget to take time to give our problems to God. I read some really great advice recently, if you’re feeling discouraged or unsure about where God is in your life, put your trust in God’s character. God’s character is true and we know that God has proved that He is faithful and doesn’t abandon those who trust and seek him. Looking back at all He’s done, there’s ample evidence that He rescues those who are oppressed. (Daniel 6:27, Isaiah 43:14-19).

Prayer, seeking God, laying down our burdens at His feet; these are all things that should be part of any solution to material poverty. We’ve never been told we will have it perfect and easy in this life; we live in a fallen world. This doesn’t mean He isn’t present during our trials and that we can’t call on His name to move the mountains in our life. Strive to keep God in the middle of your crisis, when life feels like a whirlwind, let God be your anchor.

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What the Bible says about Poverty: 1 Timothy 5:16

Hello everyone! Today, we’re going to seek wisdom from Chapter 5 in Timothy, specifically verse 16.

If a believing woman has widows in her family, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows. 1 Timothy 5:16

We often spend time talking and debating about what the government is doing in taking care of the poor. We may debate over what type of programs they are funding, what policies they are trying to pass, which programs are getting budget cuts, the list goes on! What if we spent time instead discussing our role in poverty alleviation?

As stated in the second half of the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:39) — “Love your neighbor as yourself” — we are called to serve those closest to us, not to rely solely on outsiders. We each have the responsibility to care for family and friends directly connected to us before sending them to the Church or a social service agency. Paul is telling us, in this passage of Timothy, that Church assistance should be reserved for those with no family. This still rings true today.

Think about if or when you’ve been in a situation where you needed financial help. Who did you go to for assistance? Many of us have friends or family to ask and they will gladly help us out! However, many people in poverty, experience broken relationships; sometimes they don’t have any relationships to turn to.

First, we, as Christ-followers want to help people mend broken relationships to increase social support and have a safety net in place when they experience a crisis. Paul felt so strongly about this concept that he even states in 1 Timothy 5:8 “But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Second, the Church should care for people who don’t have any relationships to draw on in crisis. If we, as individuals, fulfill our personal responsibility, the Church can use its resources for those who don’t have a relational safety net.

It’s easy to feel that we’ve done our part by paying taxes or donating to an organization serving the poor, but we can’t forget about our individual responsibility. Let’s get involved if someone we know is struggling. We may not have all the answers and we may need to draw on the larger resource of the Church or other social service agencies, but let’s continue to walk alongside those in our lives that we know are struggling.

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What the Bible Says about Poverty: 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10

Hello every one! Today we’re jumping into our seventh post of ten exploring what the Bible tells us about poverty. Make sure to catch up on the other posts in this series, if you haven’t read them yet.

This post today will take a slightly different look at poverty than  previous verses we’ve delved into. This passage will instead speak to our personal responsibility to work.

(8) We did not eat anyone’s food free of charge; instead, we labored and struggled, working night and day, so that we would not be a burden to any of you. (9) It is not that we don’t have the right to support, but we did it to make ourselves and example to you so that you would imitate us. (10) In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.”  2 Thessalonians 3:8-10.

Since God created the world, we’ve been commanded to workThe LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). God intended for us to work and be stewards of the world he created, while doing it all to glorify Him (Colossians 3:17, Colossians 3:22-24, 1 Corinthians 10:31).

When we carry out our individual responsibility to work, we feel fulfilled because we are living how God intended and completing His purpose for us. In 1 Corinthians 12 we see how everyone has been given unique gifts and skills to make the body of Christ work. God intended for us to use these gifts to glorify Him and fulfill his purposes.

Not only do we sense our inherent dignity and purpose when we fulfill the cultural mandate, but we are likely able to earn income to support our family and contribute to the larger economy. If we have jobs, we are more likely to have family-sustaining income and thus decrease our chances of living in poverty. While material poverty is complex with many contributing factors, we cannot expect anyone to come out of poverty without working.

In fact, if we don’t fulfill our call to work, we won’t experience a true sense of fulfillment or worth because we would be disobeying what God has commanded us to do. Paul continued his letter with this encouragement though, Brothers, do not weary of doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13). 

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What the Bible says about Poverty: Leviticus 19:9-10

Hello everyone, we’re here in the sixth post of a series called “What the Bible says about Poverty.” Today we’re diving into the book of Leviticus and the practice of “gleaning.”

(9) When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. (10) You must not strip your vineyard bare or gather its fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident; I am Yahweh your God. Leviticus 19:9-10

The practice of gleaning was God’s commandment for his people to make sure the poor were being provided for. Gleaning is also instructed in Deuteronomy 24:19-21 which specifies that this practice is to benefit the widow, orphan, and foreigner; or those who had no land allotted to them and no means to provide for themselves. An example of gleaning is in the Book of Ruth where Ruth goes to the property of Boaz to glean the edges of his wheat field (Ruth 2).

In chapter 2 of Ruth we read this: So Ruth gathered grain in the field until evening (2:17(a)). Those who benefited from gleaning also had a role to play in this process, they were expected to go to the field to gather the leftover grain. God doesn’t command the wealthy to take anything fallen or left behind directly to the poor, those in poverty are expected to go to the field or vineyard and gather up the remaining food. If the poor wanted to benefit from what was left behind, they had to actively go and gather the grain or grapes.

We can be prone to the myth that because someone doesn’t have an abundance of material wealth, that they don’t have any assets and thus cannot be a part of the solution to their material poverty. The truth is, someone may be materially poor, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any skills, knowledge, or resources. If we don’t seek their participation, then we slowly chip away at their dignity and worth by not acknowledging the resources God has given them.

All of 1 Corinthians 12 addresses the diversity of spiritual gifts God has given His people and how we’re all different parts of the same body, working together – But now God has placed the parts, each one of them, in the body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts yet one body. So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Nor again the head to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, all the more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary. (1 Corinthians 12:18-22, emphasis added). 

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What the Bible says about Poverty: Proverbs 14:31

Hello everyone! Thank you for taking a little time out of your day to join us in discovering what’s God word says about poverty. This is our fifth post in a series of ten. Make sure to catch up on our previous posts if you missed them.

Today let’s look at Proverbs 14:31:

The one who oppresses the poor person insults his Maker, but one who is kind to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31

It’s odd isn’t it? We have this huge God, so powerful and holy that we’re called to fear Him. It seems He’d relate to those who are powerful on earth, yet he doesn’t. God sends his son Jesus down to earth not as a worldly King, but as a baby whose parents place him in a lowly feeding trough in the barn where they’re spending the night. Born not to royalty, but to simple ordinary people… from a line of broken and unlikely people who were used for great purposes by God.

Our God isn’t a God of perfect people. He’s a God of the hurt, disenfranchised, sinners, broken, and those who aren’t rich in this world. How often do we think about the fact that God not only made all people in his image, but that he identifies with the poor?

We see this played out again in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus is teaching on who will be inheritors of the Kingdom. At a pivotal moment in this story, when people are questioning when they ever fed Jesus when He was hungry or gave Him something to drink when He was thirsty, Jesus says this, “I assure you: whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

God, the highest of the most high, sent his beloved Son down to earth to live among a sinful world as a lowly baby and to minister to broken people. As imitators of Christ, let’s live by His example. (Ephesians 5:1-2)

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What the Bible says about Poverty: Deuteronomy 15:10-11

Hello! Thanks for stopping by to read today’s post. This is the fourth post in the series called “What the Bible says about Poverty.” Make sure to take time to read previous posts from the series, if you missed them. Today, we’ll look at the passage in Deuteronomy that follows last weekscripture reference.

The passage begins by warning people not to be hard-hearted and less generous to their brothers in poverty as the seventh year approached, the year when debts were cancelled, because the Lord would find them guilty (Deuteronomy 15:7-9)The passage ends like this:

(10) Give to him, and don’t have a stingy heart when you give, and because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do. (11) For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, “You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:10-11.

This passage again emphasizes, that God is concerned about our hearts and attitudes when it comes to caring for the poor. It’s not enough to grudgingly give out of obligation or only when it’s convenient or easy. First, our heart for the oppressed grows because we understand how God views the poor. Second, we go out of our way to stand up for those treated unjustly rather than doing the bare minimum in  order to look like we’re doing a good thing. We give generously and willingly. 

Generosity will look different for everyone because we all have different capacities, skills, and gifts. Like the widow who gave her two coins (Luke 21:1-4), God isn’t interested in the biggest amount. He’s interested in the biggest heart; a heart interested in pursuing him and reflecting His goodness.

It’s hard to part with anything you feel you’ve earned, to spend yourself, to give sacrificially. However, God gave each of us blessings and gifts to be used to glorify Him and serve others (1 Peter 4:10-11). When you give, you’re showing God’s goodness and through you others  “will glorify God for your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-14)

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What the Bible says about Poverty: Deuteronomy 15:4-6

Good day! Today we’re on our third post in the series “What the Bible says about Poverty.” This post will look at a passage in Deuteronomy that tells us how God intended life to be.

(4) There will be no poor among you, however, because the Lord is certain to bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance – (5) if only you obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow every one of the commands I am giving you today. (6) When the Lord your God blesses you as he promised you, you will lend to many nations but not borrow; you will rule over many nations, but they will not rule over you. Deuteronomy 15:4-6

Doesn’t this paint a beautiful picture? God brought His people out of their pain and suffering as slaves in Egypt and to this new promised land where they would be blessed beyond measure. This passage says there will be no poor, yet this doesn’t seem to be accurate. There are clearly people experiencing poverty now and throughout history. So, why is God saying His blessing will result in the abundance of blessing and the absence of poverty?

See that phrase snuck right in the middle of the passage? “If only you obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow every one of the commands I am giving you today.” God gives many instructions, that when followed, result in a beautiful, flourishing life. However, because of the fall and the brokenness of humans, we don’t follow all the commands God gave us. This is the reason we have poverty in our world. Humans, by our own means, are incapable of living up to God’s standards that would result in that picture of a thriving, bountiful community painted above.

Thankfully, God sent his holy and perfect son Jesus Christ to be the ultimate sacrifice for our shortcomings. Through our reconciliation with Christ, we can have a piece of this promised, flourishing life here and now (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). While we won’t experience full flourishing until the Kingdom comes, we have been mandated to care for the poor in the now. We can read the Bible and learn what God’s commands are. How does he tell us to treat the poor and what systems should we set up to prevent or overcome poverty?

Later in this series, we will read some of these commands — there are many more than ten! God gave us the blueprint for poverty alleviation; we just need to study and implement it.

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