I recently had a discussion on another part of the interweb lately and just wanted to repost part of it here since it is relevant to much of what I have been writing about on B2C’s lately as well:
The discussion began with the question of how relevant Isaiah 58 is for modern America and Europe. I’ll post bits and pieces of it…
Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers…
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help…
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
To this scripture I asked:
What have I done today for the poor and the oppressed? Not what have I posted to facebook. Not what have I written or complained about. What have I done? What conversation have I had? What have I given or sacrificed? What time have I invested towards what cause? If the answer to these questions is “nothing” then do I really dare call myself a Christian? Can I really believe that I am in good standing with God if I am not loving my neighbor? Have I created for myself a lifestyle of shelter and seclusion so that I will not even come into contact with the poor and oppressed? Has this shelter and seclusion bred apathy in my life? God forgive me.
One well meaning commenter responded:
I would encourage you to believe that this alone is an act that lifts a great spiritual weight from the shoulders of the oppressed. Yes, the face-to-face encounter is immediate and vivid, but just reflecting on individuals in need that we know is to lend them the power of the Holy Spirit that stands at our shoulders. Bless you for your concern.
I might have sounded too harsh in my response, but I said:
I disagree. The world is full of people who feel sympathy but all too empty of people who act in compassion. James makes it clear faith without action is worthless and John using the same example says that love without action is a lie.
I received in reply:
I understand the Biblical basis for your post, and I am not discounting the need for direct material support to the needy. What I am offering is that prayer is a form of action that brings the Holy Spirit into relation with those that need his support, empowering them to do for themselves.
Part of my next reply is what I really want to share here…
While prayer most definitely is the single greatest thing we can be doing, it is certainly not the only thing. Understanding two things: “He who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” and “the fervent prayer of the righteousness avails much”. If we are not putting feet to our prayers we are in sin and therefore, our prayers are ineffective. I would even go so far as to say that “I will pray for them” is a copout. Anyone who truly is praying will also, soon start going. If they aren’t, yet say they are praying, I call them a liar.
The second thing is the garbage of “empowering them to do for themselves.” This all too often sounds to me like the same nonsense that brings us “It is their own fault they are poor.” Let me give you a very true example. I know a man who was a Christian living in Iran. Because of his faith, he was not able to financially support his family. So he moved to Turkey. This happened back in the late nineties. Although he speaks the language well, a bias against Persians and another against Christians prevents him from getting the jobs his masters in business management qualifies him for. Even still, for a long time, even lesser jobs enabled him to earn far more than he was in Iran. Then Syria imploded, ISIS invaded, and refugees ran. These refugees, again, are usually the best and the brightest Syria has to offer. The poor, the uneducated, the slackers all got swept up by the Syrian government, one of the rebel groups, or ISIS. Those that were smart enough to avoid this ran. So now Turkey (and Jordan and Lebanon) has been flooded with intelligent and hard working refugees. None of these economies can support this influx and all three already had more willing workers than they had available jobs. So now what my Iranian friend is being forced to compete with a huge influx of potential employees while wages drop and jobs disappear. Financially he is no better off today in Turkey than he was two decades ago in Iran. Is this his fault? He is already a highly educated, hard working, morally exemplary man. What he needs is for the church in the west to be the church.
America prides itself on being a government by the people for the people. If the church spoke out with the voice God has given them, there is no way on earth any politician would not be bending over backward to get as many refugees in as quickly as possible. Unfortunately it is the conservative so called “Christians” who are usually most vocal about keeping our borders secure and closed. This is sin. The government turns around and says their constituents want lower taxes and less social programs and that we want private volunteer (church) groups to carry the load. But such groups aren’t even handling the social needs already there so why should we let in more refugees? They have a legitimate point. The fact that local churches are not doing more to meet the currently existing social needs in their neighborhoods… this is sin. But the church is made up of individuals. They will complain that they have tried to do such things and nobody shows up. Again, legitimate. That more individuals are not investing more of their time, talents, and treasure to meet the needs… is sin. Individuals includes me. Individuals include you. So again… what are we doing?
Yes, we should pray. Then when we get up off our knees, lets find the local food bank, homeless shelter, or refugee organization, etc and say, “how can I help?” Once we have committed to regularly doing this, lets meet with our church pastors, boards, and elders and ask “what more can we, as a church be doing?” Then lets contact our political leaders, at every level, and put them on notice that your vote, in large measure, will be determined based on what they can do for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. When we as individuals and as a corporate body begin doing this, those of the church in other parts of the world, like my friend, will be empowered. It is time for the church of the West to get off our religious high horse and start being the Church. This is what Isaiah was demanding to the “religious” people of his day and its message is just as relevant for us now.
What do you think? More importantly, in what ways are you currently reaching out? What more can you be doing?