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Poverty usually involves all 3 factors: oppression, calamity, and sin.  Being poor is different from being "broke", and dealing with poverty is a lot more complex than helping someone who is broke.

A person who is "broke" has usually been  brought to that situation by calamity or sin, or perhaps oppression.   A response is relatively simple.   But a person who is "poor" has usually been brought to that condition by an interlocking grid of oppression, calamity, and sin.  Helping appropriately takes more time, more wisdom, and more effort.

This and lots of other good points are made by Tim Keller in Ministries of Mercy.  Grace, says Keller, is not deserved, but it is conditional.  Grace demands change; it holds us accountable.   How do we do that with fellow humans -- hold this balance between undeserved but conditional?  "Grace is undeserved caring that intercepts destructive behavior".  (p. 227)  Justification moves into sanctification.  Our ministry must help people freely, yet aim to bring their whole lives under the healing Lordship of Christ. (p. 227)  

Keller suggests that long term help that deals with long-standing patterns must always develop into a willingness to allow access into all of life.  The deacon says, in effect, "If we are going to  continue to help, you must be willing to let us into your life."   What kind of relationship-building leads most likely to this kind help?

A second intriguing idea is "Let mercy limit mercy".  When do you stop helping?  Keller says there is only one legitimate rationale for stopping: when continued help would shield the person from the consequences of his or her own irresponsible behavior.  This takes great discernment, and obviously there are many factors to consider, including HOW the message is given.  

This book is not so new - its second edition came out in '97.  But it's Keller, and he's worth studying.  Its 14 chapters would make a high quality study series for a council, for deacons, or for any group of interested members of your church.


Karl Westerhof on November 22, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ken, I would think that physical and mental hardships would be classified usually under the heading "calamity" - for the purposes of Keller's analysis.   Along the same lines, I think Keller would see family history, education and social environmental factors as EITHER oppression, OR calamity, or both.  Of course, human (irr)responsibility could be involved as well, depending on the  circumstances, for example in fetal alcohol syndrome, surely we'd say it's a calamity, and also the result of irresponsible behavior / decisions by the mother.

Karl Westerhof on November 23, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks, Ken You have a perspective I don't have.   Your comment that your experience actually opened up a whole new realm of blessings shows a "kingdom perspective" I think.  The life of a disciple may be very difficult, and yet the way God works with us is to show us who he is in and through trials and suffering.   No one "chooses" to suffer, yet we "choose" to trust God no matter what.  We "choose" his will for us.  Do I dare to say that suffering enriches us?  Yes, because that is such a clear teaching in Scripture.  Yet I think it is actually God's presence in the suffering, and the work of the Spirit in and through it is what enriches us.  It's a kind of mystery.  We don't ask for it, but we rejoice in it.   and He uses it to bless us.

I'm trying to reflect on my own experience here, in the light of your testimony.   I'm still a child at this, but I think that understanding this is a part of what it means to bear one another's burdens, and a part of what it means to be a true servant with and for those who suffer.   Compassion... to suffer WITH.  

What do you think?  

Karl Westerhof on November 30, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks, I needed that blessing!  This has been a hard year for us and Thanksgiving Day was a day for BOTH thanking our faithful God AND grieving a lot.   God bless you too, my friend!

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