Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
Questions for Further Thought:
- What practical steps can you take to advance the remembering of the poor with eagerness individually, with your family or close friends, with your small group and with the church as a whole?
- What does it mean if we fail to remember the poor with eagerness? What does it say about our belief in the gospel?
- How can you pray with the intention of remembering the poor?
- What do we learn about the heart of God in texts like Galatians 2:10 that encourage us to remember the poor (cf. also Leviticus 19:10, Deuteronomy 15:7, Zechariah 7:10, Matthew 19:21)?
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Seeing the Poor in East Africa
It has been a joy in my life to remember the poor, but it is also emotionally hard. For the past sixteen years, I have been serving as a Global Partner with our church to East Africa with “Mission: Moving Mountains” and now with Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya. My family has been so blessed to be sent by Bethlehem to Tanzania and Kenya. Tamara and I left for Africa in 1994 with our two sons, ages 1 and 4, and we lived in an impoverished community in rural Tanzania for eight years in the hope of Jesus. When I began in Africa, I really didn’t understand poverty, and I am still learning. But I have been changed by God to see the world differently. I have become a follower of Jesus eager to do this very thing in sharing the gospel—remember the poor.
I shared my birthday evening last month with good friends and we talked and prayed for the country of Ethiopia. A story has stayed with me. It is common in Ethiopia and many parts of East Africa to see a five-year-old girl with a 6-month-old little baby strapped on her back. The two make a cute picture, but where is the mother? The mother walked down into a ravine—a two-hour walk to collect sticks for firewood and a three hour walk back up with a very heavy load that has caused her back to be permanently bent so she now walks with a lean. After the five-hour exhausting walk with the load of sticks on her back, she tries to sell the wood to buy food for her two children waiting at home for their one meal today. If she is fortunate, she will sell the wood for twenty cents, all the income she will make in a day. This stick in front of me is here to help us; to help us do the very thing the Apostle Paul was eager to do—remember the poor. Let’s pray.
The Context of Galatians
As followers of Jesus, we are called to remember the poor, the very thing that the Apostle Paul was eager to do. There is great joy as we do this work together in faith, so let’s look deeper at what we see in God’s word in Galatians 2:1-10.
The tone of the book of Galatians is Paul urging the church to get back on track! “Embrace the gospel of Jesus and teach it faithfully!” After a nice greeting to begin the letter, Paul puts away the niceties in chapter 1, verse 6, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel!”
We see in Galatians 2 that two teams have formed to do gospel work: Team Israel and Team Gentiles. Using a sports metaphor, Peter is the quarterback of Team Israel to take the gospel to the Jews. Paul has become the quarterback of Team Gentiles to take the gospel to everyone else. Look at verse 7; Paul wrote, “They [the leaders of Team Israel] saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised.” Go teams, win for the gospel and glorify Jesus!
How did Peter and the other disciples feel about this new team, this “Team Gentiles?” Could they give their blessing to the formation of another team and work alongside of them doing the work of God? Look at what Paul writes in verse 9, “And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
Many cultures see the left hand as the unclean hand, even shaking hands in Tanzania meant that you would hide the hand especially when shaking hand with an older person in respect. Paul was given the green light, the right hand of fellowship to proceed to share the gospel with the very people who had been previously considered as unclean! This was a big change in the biblical story of God’s chosen people. For thousands of years, God’s people were set aside culturally and through the act of circumcision. Now the doors of God’s family were wide open, and the unclean were welcome. So, our two teams pursued the same prize: the long-awaited Savior for the world had come, Jesus Christ. It is time to get the story of the gospel out to all peoples.
It is very interesting, though, what was said to Paul by the leaders of Team Israel as they gave their blessing to Paul. See verse 10 of chapter 2, “Only they asked us to remember the poor.…” Just think of all the things that Team Israel could have told Paul, this upstart, new quarterback. They could have said, “Paul, only remember to not sacrifice to idols. Only remember it is not works that save us. Only remember the book of Isaiah.” There are so many more pieces of advice that are critical in telling others about the gospel of Jesus that could have been told to Paul, but they chose to tell him to remember the poor. This thing is key.
Remember the Poor
“Remember” is the action verb here. I have this stick in front of me because I want us to remember the poor right now and all during this message. As you glance at this stick from time to time, remember the woman, and many like her, who has walked five hours to earn twenty cents to feed her children. Please, remember.
Remembering in the biblical sense leads to action. It is not good enough to remember by saying, “Yeah there are millions of impoverished people in the world.” That is recall, to recall data or statistics but with no love. And then we go on with our lives without helping, without blessing, really without remembering in love.
Remember what though? The direct object of “remember” is the poor. Remember the poor. So who are they and how do we know if someone is poor? At its core, life is not defined by money or possessions; it is defined by God. I have met unhappy, wealthy people and joyful people who had very little. I loved to visit my Tanzanian friend, Luponya. One day, I stopped by and he told me that his wife had a headache. He didn’t have money for two aspirin, but he was going to sell a papaya from his tree—“God would provide,” and he smiled. The greatest joy in life is God, and the worst form of poverty is separation from God. Still, we must not be blind to the needs and suffering of those who lack basic needs. Jesus loved and cared, and so should we.
Sixteen years ago, I told my parents that I was going to leave the USA with Tamara and their two grandchildren to live among the poor of Tanzania to hopefully bless them in Jesus. My mom asked me, “Todd, but can’t you live here in the USA and bless the poor that live here?” I knew that my mom wanted me to stay closer (and especially those little grandsons), and I heard the love in her voice. And she asked a good question, “Is poverty an issue in the USA too?” Yes, it is, and poverty trials are increasing in our country. The Star Tribune has had several articles lately about the growing number of Americans who are living below the poverty line. As a church, we are called to remember the poor. This command does not come with a geographical modifier, “the poor in your 10 mile radius.” We are called to remember the poor, to love our neighbor. So who is our neighbor?
Love Your Neighbor
The Great Commandment has expanded our neighborhood. We are called to make disciples of all nations. The Church has been given a global task. Some of our energy and resources are needed to bless the poor in the Twin Cities and the nations. I love it that we have a God of “And.” God is able to bless the poor in the USA and in the rest of the world, and He will! Let’s join Him.
We also know that poverty lines are drawn differently in different parts of the world. We don’t want to see any American going below the poverty of line of $30 a day, the 2009 poverty line that adds up to an annual income of about $10,800. Living on $30 a day or less brings hardships and challenges, and we are called to remember the poor among us.
However, the call of God goes beyond every person’s country to the nations where the gospel is not yet known. As followers of Jesus who live in America, this is still the wealthiest era in our history. When our Global Partners return for their home assignments, they will tell you, “We have been so blessed to live in America in so many ways.” However, here are a few statistics for the rest of the world:
Three billion people live on less than $2 per day (very different from $30). This is a huge number—three billion people live on less than $2 per day. I can’t even get my mind around it.
Here is a number I can understand better, but I really don’t like it:
Approximately 25,000 children die each day from preventable issues. Another way to breakdown that terrible statistic is that during this hour that we have our church service, another 1,000 children in the world will have died related to issues of poverty.
I attended a funeral for one of these children in Tanzania, a one-year-old son of my Tanzanian neighbor. I visited his home to pay my respects and to say that I was sorry or, in Swahili, “Pole sana.” I am very sorry. I walked up to the small, roughly-made pine casket to see the little boy lying still in the white cloth. Then the father asked me a question that I will never forget, “Would you please take a picture of him for me? We don’t have a camera and we don’t have any pictures of him. We would like to remember our son.”
Bethlehem, let’s remember that the poor are people—people to be loved, even if sometimes they are hard to love, even if they have made a mess of their lives and finances. Love them. The command from Jesus is not “love only the loveable, worthy neighbors who have not wasted their money.” The command is love your neighbor.
Paul agreed to remember the poor in his gospel work, and he told us about his attitude: “The very thing I was eager to do.” So here is a question to check our hearts, “Are we eager to remember the poor?” Let’s face it—it is hard to remember these stories and statistics. It is not pleasant to see suffering. We feel very blessed that the vast majority of us, if not all, will not go to sleep hungry tonight. But also, we feel somewhat guilty for having so much when so many have so little. Paul turned those emotions into action. The last word of his sentence is “do.” We are called to do something that accompanies our thoughts about the poor, “The very thing I was eager to do.” God wants us to engage our attitudes and our emotions into our ministry as we seek strategic, appropriate, sustainable, God-pointing, Jesus-treasuring ways to remember the poor.
So if Paul was eager to remember the poor, how did he do? Did he help them and how? Paul used the two words “the poor” three times in his epistles. Let’s look at those texts for ways he may be teaching us to remember the poor.
In Romans 15:26, Paul writes:
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you.
You can see that Team Gentiles has been encouraged by their quarterback, Paul, to give to the poor among Team Israel. At the end of the book of Galatians, Paul gives a strong call to not become weary in doing good, “Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10). The team metaphor is even closer in relationship; we are family with whoever believes in Jesus. So do we only give to the poor who are believers? No. Although Paul does encourage us to care especially for our family in Jesus, he said, “Do good to all people.” So wherever in the world the poor may live, let’s be generous.
The Foundation of Generosity
Why should we be generous? Because people will see us and praise us? If that is all we pursue, the praise of others will be our only reward. But there is a reward so much deeper and I have to admit, one of the many wonderful mysteries I see in Scripture. Listen to this amazing statement in Proverbs 19:17, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” What!? When we give to the poor, we lend to God? But we know that God does not need anything from human hands. He is the Creator of the universe, and he owns it all.
A beautiful attribute of God is his incredible generosity to people who don’t deserve it, people like me and you. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. So when we give to God, it is not to help meet a need of his. However, here’s the beauty of God’s love, he will reward us for our generosity to the poor. Sometimes that truth feels awkward to me. I want to remember the poor just because it is right. However, I need to remember that God loves it when his children are generous. When we left Tanzania, I watched my children give some of their special toys away to Tanzanian friends who would never have a chance to buy Legos and Hot Wheels. I hugged my sons, sharing in their joy, pleased to speak words of praise. I rewarded them, and it was good.
What are God’s rewards like? Some of those rewards are good feelings when we see people in poverty get fed, healed, and receive an education. But I believe the words of Matthew 6:20 point us to the bigger rewards when we give under the radar of public praise. We will lay up treasures in Heaven where rust and moth do not destroy and thieves will not break in and steal. Maybe the best rewards of all will be a hug from Jesus and the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I look forward to that possibility. There is a great celebration with treasures in Heaven awaiting those who remember the poor with generosity for the glory of God.
In another place in Paul’s writings where he speaks of “the poor,” he expresses surprise. In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul reports on how the churches of Macedonia have remembered the poor—get this—out of their poverty! They too were poor, but they gave anyway out of joy. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, Paul tells the Corinthians about these givers,
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.
The churches of Macedonia were eager and they remembered the poor even though they too were considered poor. And they loved doing it.
One take-away point from their example is that people in poverty can be partners in generosity and partners in the gospel. Too often, we in the West believe we have to do it all, give it all, and just keep spreading money around the world whenever there is a need. When we do that, we rob impoverished peoples the chance to partner, to grow in their faith, to lay up treasures in Heaven, and to bless others. Also, we in the West can leave an ugly trail behind of people dependent on outside giving with a pile of failed projects. In my years in Africa, I saw many rusting, unused tractors, broken wells, and decaying bridges built with Western money and with no strategic look into the future.
An Example of Our Remembering
So how is our church doing in remembering the poor? Are we being generous? Are we being strategic? Can we do more? Yes on that last question, but we are taking some encouraging steps forward. By God’s grace, we are giving, praying and going. Our church has the Global Diaconate Task Force consisting of a group of ten Bethlehem members. “Diaconate” is a word that refers to the work of deacons, those in the church who bless others in practical ways to meet basic needs and to show the love of Jesus. The mission of the Global Diaconate is to bless the poorest of the poor in the name of Jesus. We are global deacons to help our church research options, serve with trusted partners, and give strategically while raising awareness in our church about issues affecting the world’s poor—issues such as human trafficking, disaster relief, community development, and orphan care. Our efforts are done in the name of Jesus.
Here’s one example, but I’ll warn you, it is a difficult issue to think about. In many countries of the world, twelve-year old girls are captured and forced to have many boyfriends each night. Their parents believe that their young daughters moved to the city to be house cleaners in order to send money back to help their families struggling to put food on the table. The money paid by customers raping these girls will never go back to the impoverished families. Families stay hungry and daughters become trapped into slavery.
If you think this issue is not impacting the entire world, you may be surprised to hear that some of these trapped girls are trafficked to the United States, even within a short distance from our Downtown Campus here in Minneapolis! In a partnership with Freedom Firm, our church is coming along side local churches in India to prevent children from being enslaved, rescuing girls out of prostitution, and providing a time of healing and love in Jesus at retreat camps. Our church has given financially, held concerts of prayer on this issue, and sent short-term teams to help at these camps. Bethlehem, you are making a difference in the context of strategic partnerships to give hope to many. Thank you for remembering the poor.
Keep on Remembering
Remember the poor—the very thing that Paul was eager to do.
During the next thirty months, our church will be raising funds, as the Lord leads, in the Building One People campaign to treasure Christ together. Our church is growing, our South congregation needs a facility, and we want to reduce our debt to free up more money for ministry. If the needed $18 million is raised, we will have a tithe of $900,000 to share with the poorest of the poor in the name of Jesus. This is a generous tithe when we consider that during the past six years, we have shared a total of $800,000 in remembering the poor. I love being part of a church that gives and cares. God is honored.
We are asking for your input. One opportunity is to join us for a town hall conversation on Sunday, October 24 after our All-Church Strategy meeting which will be held at the Downtown Campus. We will have prayer stations representing many places in the world and we are open to develop new areas as the Lord leads. We want you to dream with us, pray with us, give input and ideas, and help us remember the poor with eagerness.
I started my message with a stick. I want to end my message by referring to another form of wood, a bookmark. On your way out from the service, please receive a bookmark, a tool to remember a page and to remember the poor. This bookmark has a picture of a child from the country of Haiti. Two weeks ago, four members of our church went to Haiti to make ministry connections for our church. I asked them to bring back a story to conclude my message. Here is what they brought back to us.
The earthquake in Haiti last year has brought tragedy upon tragedy. The country has struggled with poverty for years and then the ground shook. Our team of four from Bethlehem saw a collapsed four-story building, one floor flattened on top of another. Inside, 2000 nurses-in-training died.
The number of orphans has grown dramatically, and the local church of Haiti is trying to reach out in love. One of those churches in called “New Jerusalem.” Through the organization “World Orphans,” we are partnering to help twenty orphaned children with basic needs in the love of Jesus. One of those children I will call “Jessica.” Jessica is eight years old, and she has a five-year-old sister. When their parents died, an aunt who loves Jesus took them in to help care for them along with her own three children. However, her husband had died too. So, now a single woman without work was trying to care for five children. Her simple, concrete home had wiring for lights, but she didn’t have money for a light bulb.
Only 40% of Haitian children get an education and many nights, too many kids go to bed hungry. Because of your giving, Jessica will go to school, eat at least one hot meal per day, get medical care, and receive trauma care. These practical expressions of love are given to Jessica in the context of a local church where Jesus is loved and treasured.
That feels good and right. But we don’t have to look far to find more to do. Once the people in New Jerusalem Church start cooking a hot meal for Jessica and the other orphaned children, other hungry children will smell the food and come to the door of the church, not just a few, but hundreds of children. And they will ask, “Please may we have some food too?”
New Jerusalem has been trying to help keep Jessica and her sister together with their aunt who is a member of the church. Your support of $45 a month is helping to make it possible. Because of your past generosity, our church has already given support to Jessica and to nineteen other Haitian children. We are not raising funds for these children today, and the bookmarks we printed are not for fundraising. I am asking you to remember them in prayer. Bethlehem, please pray for them; remember them with eagerness.
I am very thankful that God is at work among us, and by his grace, we are a growing church and a giving church. We are growing as a church and raising funds in a 30-month campaign that we call “Building One People.” As we give to help our church grow, we will remember the poor with a 5% tithe to bless the world’s poor. That means that, Lord willing, people in poverty around the world will be blessed in Jesus—not only in Haiti, but also many places throughout the world.
When our Bethlehem team visited Jessica, she danced around the room in her shiny dress, smiled shyly, and was hugged by her littler sister. They were together, and their local church’s leadership was blessing the family, with our help, to take the next steps forward. May God bless us and work through us to remember the poor with eagerness. Am