The preacher was a gifted speaker whose heart was clearly loving and open to the most difficult problems. He had great affection for not only that congregation but the community in which they lived. One Sunday he spoke from his heart about a dilemma he felt with great sorrow. With candor he asked the question, “Why are we here?” Were they here just because that was their family’s tradition? Was their connection only to last until something better came along? Christianity was supposed to spring from a deep conviction of spiritual need and a face-to-face connection with a just and loving God. Had they bypassed a true conversation for a cheap faith, which offered only comfort to those already comfortable? Were they no more than a big, proud club?

The sermon was heard in stunned silence. It was clear. It was honest. It asked questions that few had had the nerve to express. The message pierced the congregation’s very soul… so, the next week the church leaders fired the preacher. – What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty

Why are we here? Family tradition? Temporary connection? Are we truly a church serving God wherever that leads or no more than a big proud club? Dangerous questions!

Weeks ago, I described a missed opportunity to help a mother buy $7.43 worth of baby food. I blew it. But getting involved with helping those in poverty is not easy. Improving financial resources alone can actually complicate matters. Breaking the bonds of poverty is complicated. Becoming more proactive in helping those struggling with poverty is never easy but critically important! But how?

Jesus tells a story of, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector The Pharisee, standing by himself, saying: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven but was beating his breast saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” — Luke 18:10-14

How do we avoid the arrogance of the Pharisee and become more like the humble tax collector? How does our church avoid the arrogance of a big proud club and express our deep conviction of spiritual need and face to face connection with a just and loving God? By becoming more involved in helping those who are least likely to be able to help themselves.

So, how do individuals or churches become more proactive helping those struggling with poverty?

• Carry Food Gift Cards – Handy for helping someone quickly.
• Donate out of prescription eyeglasses
• Micro Loans for entrepreneurs – several information websites available

Serve a hot meal: Lynchburg Daily Bread served thousands of nutritious lunches to the hungry in our community last year, using volunteer cooks and servers. Daily Bread’s greatest need for volunteers is during the week, Monday through Friday, but meals are served seven days a week. “We have many teenager volunteers at Daily Bread,” Lara Jesser, Volunteer Services coordinator, said. “We find this relationship works out well for Daily Bread and for teens. Teens become aware of poverty issues in our area. It’s also a fun way to meet new people and make new friends.”

• Fix up and donate used bicycles or automobiles
• Be a tutor in an adult literacy program
• Make baby supply kits for newborns

Park View Community Mission provides food for over 700 families every month. But God is clearly moving Park View to be involved in helping the community more. Churches, counselors, businesses, banks, hospitals, Social Services, colleges and universities are all working together to become part of a larger effort to offer more than just a hand out but rather to provide a hand up.

• Collect suitcases for foster care children
• Donate school supplies to a classroom in a poorer area
• Help your local food bank

Another benefit of Park View Community Mission is to offer training and experience for pastors and leaders who have little experience talking to people in need. Pastoral Care volunteers will receive classes to help them relate without become either judgmental or enabling. There will be frequent role-playing situations set up by counselors who work regularly with people trapped in poverty.

Ray Buchanan, founder of ‘Stop Hunger Now’ wrote: “It is a well-known fact that congregations actively involved in mission outreach are more viable than those that are not so engaged. If a congregation is not reaching out to others in the Name of Christ, it becomes anemic and suffers a significant and noticeable loss of spiritual vitality. And who in the community will be attracted to a sickly and spiritually anemic congregation?” – From “Getting Off Our Buts” by Ray Buchanan

Next Week: Joan Foster, former mayor of Lynchburg describes a scholarship program, “Beacon of Hope” designed to remove social, academic and financial barriers that prevent students from pursuing a college education.