Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bottom Feeders?

Several years ago at the church where I was one of several pastors, a senior staff member referred to people who participated in our 12-step recovery ministry as "bottom feeders." Our church was facing difficult financial challenges and she saw "twelve-steppers" as "non-contributors" and a drain on valuable pastoral staff time.

Jesus told a parable about a rich man and a bottom feeder:

"There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores." (Luke 16:19-21)

In a society where just about everyone "fares sumptuously" every day and the “almighty dollar” is the unit of measure for everything's valuation, it is easy to forget that the Almighty doesn't assign worth in dollars and cents. The Bible has something to say about rich and poor.

Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love him? (James 2:5)

God the Father has extended a special invitation to bottom feeders (i.e. the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner) to feast with Him:

Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many … Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. (Luke 14:16, 21)

Prosperous societies like to locate bottom feeders at a safe distance, especially from our consciences. Occasionally we will stumble over one, but for the most part they have been removed to inner city missions, halfway houses, and rehabilitation centers. We won't even know they are there unless we allow God to remove the dollar signs from our eyes.

Jesus takes special note of how we treat bottom feeders; the way we treat them will weigh heavily in our eternal destiny. A life lived in careless disregard toward the needy will not be worthy to join Lazarus the beggar in Abraham’s bosom.

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. … Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (Matthew 25:40, 45)

Paul said that God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). The temptation to confuse temporal prosperity with God’s approval is real. Speaking to the church at Laodicea, Jesus said,

Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:17)

The rich young ruler, a Bill Gates in that day, thought his wealth would garner Jesus' favor, just as it had everyone else. Jesus didn't see him as an endowment; on the contrary, demonstrating that temporal wealth was of little consequence for the advance of His Kingdom, Jesus directed him to sell everything and give the proceeds away to bottom feeders:

Jesus looked at him and loved him. One thing you lack, He said. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Mark 10:21)

I can picture Judas Iscariot grimacing as Jesus cavalierly dismissed enough wealth to bankroll their ministry for the foreseeable future.

What about you? What about me? Truth be known, I have stepped over many a Lazarus in my day. Do I have ears capable of hearing Jesus say, sell it all and give to the poor? Or, have I “dispensationalized” Jesus’ teaching that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)

So how do we get our personal camel through the eye of Heaven’s needle? Like the rich young ruler, we first need to ask Jesus what, if anything, He wants us to take on our journey. After that it is all about our GPA, Generosity, Perspective and Attitude:

Generosity: Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share … (1 Timothy 6:18)

Perspective: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. … storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Timothy 6:6-7, 19)

Attitude: Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6:17)

What is your GPA?

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