Lessons from Dateline: Jesus Wants You To Be Poor!

We’ll get to the title of the post.

Now, the background for this post:
In case you care, I used to have an obsession with Dateline NBC and 20/20.  It goes all the way back to middle school, back to when I would intentionally not go to sleep-overs at friends’ houses on a Friday night I thought one of these news shows was going to have a very interesting story I just couldn’t miss. That, or I’d beggg my friends to watch it with me. They never would, much to my dismay. I know. I was a geek. I also was in love with Stone Phillips, but that’s an entirely different story…

In any case, my love for Dateline, and shows like it, hasn’t really ceased. I just don’t have the time to devote to it like I did in the past. Occasionally, though, my husband will give in to my pleas and watch Dateline with me. There’s something about the murder mysteries that intrigue me and leave me wanting to solve the crime. There’s also something about Keith Morrison’s voice. I can’t explain it.  Furthermore, Chris Hanson’s To Catch a Predator reports on men looking on the Internet for someone willing, and just 18 (or so they think) to meet for a sexual affair outrage me, yet keep me watching, as well. When those reports were most popular, I went as far to say that I’d be willing to play one of the victims, since I look younger than my age, absolutely love Dateline, and loathe sexual crime. Yes, I know I’m crazy.

In any case, there’s a point to this post. Why do I tell you about my love for Dateline, you ask? Well, because this past Sunday’s America Now: Friends and Neighbors report really hit me – hard. I had been anticipating it all week (just ask my husband), from the first time I saw it advertised. John wasn’t as enthralled, so while it was on he talked to his mom and started our “big dish” for the week (this week: pasta bake – yum!). I, though, could not pull myself away from the screen.

Long story short, Ann Curry traveled to SE Ohio and followed for 9 months a group of people who are in extreme poverty right here in my own state. What was the hardest to watch were the children affected, either by their parents’ source of income continually going under (one guy had worked for 10 companies that had gone under – 10!), their parents’  or caregivers’ poor choices or a combination of both. A local food bank struggling to stay afloat was also featured.

I saw people who weren’t looking for a hand-out, who just wanted to work and provide for their children yet lived in an area where jobs were few and far between and education wasn’t necessarily a top priority — just getting by, however, very much was. No, it wasn’t in my “back yard”, per se, but I think seeing such utter devastation not only here in America, but in the state I call home, really helped me once again get my priorities straight and be thankful for what I have materialistically and educationally-speaking.

I do not agree with most of what our governor says or does, but I do appreciate that he has a heart for the poor (albeit horrible budgeting skills) because he’s been poor. He said that his family didn’t have indoor plumbing until he was in high school, and our governor’s not in his 70s, hardly so. He didn’t let that stop him, though, from getting out of the cycle and making his life better. He values education and sees the importance in it, especially for those who come from a poor social-economic background.  He also is aware of the “prejudice”, as he calls it, toward poor people and how detrimental and wrong it can be. For all of that, despite our difference in philosophy on many, many things, I applaud him.

I think a prejudice that the church never, or rarely, talks about is social-economic.

It may not be an issue of “white or black”, as it shouldn’t, but it also shouldn’t be an issue of “poor-vs-rich”, either. Sure, we ask our congregants to donate or volunteer at the local food pantry, but how often do we get “up close and personal” with a part of society that makes us extremely uncomfortable, me included? How often are we willing to be like Jesus and give our shirt, if asked, or on a smaller scale, think of our neighbor as ourselves, even if they don’t fit into the same tax bracket as us.

On the other hand, how often is there a prejudice against those God has blessed financially-speaking?  How often do we get jealous and covet the earthly possessions of those that may have more “stuff” than us, stuff we want but don’t really need or stuff we think we need but in reality don’t at all. How often do we say things like “I’m sure they couldn’t affor that”, when in reality, they could; we’re simply just jealous and bitter we don’t have the same.

Bottom line: social-economic prejudice can go both ways.

In addition, I was reminded of a Biblical principle through my one-hour viewing of Dateline. Yes, it is possible.

The Principle: Jesus asks us all to be poor.

Before you get all defensive and claim I’m “preaching” some warped “Prosperity Theology/Social Gospel” all wrapped into one, which I’m not, let me explain.

Jesus does asks us to be poor..in spirit, as it says in Matthew 5:3.

“Being poor in Spirit”, according to Charles Finney, means:
To have a realizing sense of our spiritual state. In this it is implied that we understand our own guilt and helplessness, and realize as a practical fact our own utter emptiness by nature of every thing good, and of any tendency to that which is good. It is one thing to hold this in theory, and another thing to be heartily sensible of the humbling fact. Most professing Christians admit in words that they are in themselves wholly helpless and destitute, but to know and feel as an abiding practical conviction that this is their true spiritual condition how few are able!

The verse goes on to say “for theirs [the poor in spirit] is the Kingdom of heaven”

For you see, those that are “poor in spirit” are blessed, i.e. “rich” according to Kingdom standards. They are rich, because of their faith and acknowledgment of what eternally matters, and it’s not how much your house costs or how “great” you are because of how much money you saved from cutting coupons and not running the air conditioning (that one was for me).

When speaking about the reasoning behind this blessedness that comes from being poor in spirit, in part Finney says:

Because the kingdom of God is within them. The text says, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” They have already the first elements of the kingdom of God within them.Because flesh and blood has never revealed this to them. Christ is all they need, and they need nothing in themselves. They have them all in Christ, and they are willing and glad to have them in him.Because they have learned how to be composed in the midst of all kinds of trials... They have no reputation to build up, they have no appetite that must be gratified, no passion that must be catered for, none of these to contend for or hold on to. They are emptied out, and every particle of self value is gone entirely. They labor not for themselves, but for Christ.  Because to be poor in spirit is to be rich in faith. Then poor in the proper sense, emptied of dependence upon themselves, then they are rich in faith.

So, tonight, wherever you find yourself on the social-economic scale:

  • Thank Him for His provision (however large or small),
  • Ask Him to help you see your neighbor as yourself.
  • Know that Jesus desires all of us to be poor (in spirit), so that we can be rich in Him.

Amen.

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