The scene is familiar to anyone who has been on a mission trip.
Wherever you are, it resembles a shanty town. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a Prawn from District 9; “buildings” being more like “pre-evicted establishments” in the United States. There is graffiti on the walls. There are dirt floors, and habitants who fill in the rest of the description quite harmoniously. Motorized transportation seems to be a luxury for less of the populace than more, and the same goes with laptops, and cell phones, and in some places, electricity.
Many people come back from mission trips, and they tell stories of people with whom they got to make a small impact. Some tell stories about the missionaries they worked with, or maybe even a story about a chance they had to present the gospel message with another person (who half the time, does not understand English).
But what I hear most from people, the reaction that far exceeds the others, is a statement of how “blessed” they feel for the provision God gave them.
I don’t think there is a typology in the bible to merit a “prosperity gospel.” But not even an oblivious person would deny that there exists in the world people who seem “blessed” in some fashion or another. And though hard work, birthright, or geographical upbringings are all a factor concerning this, in the world, someone can always find another who is worse off than they are, and also, someone who is better off.
So everyone is blessed in one way or another.
But what is the point of being blessed? If there are not any grounds for a “prosperity gospel,” than being blessed is not a “gold star” given to the faithful from God. God does not give more to people who are more faithful, or have more faith, or whatever those “yuppies” say. But, I think the “gold star” goes to those who bless others (yeah, like that one, “Pay it Forward,” movie).
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” – James, leader of the church in Jerusalem during the first-century and brother of Jesus Christ
I remember reading as Shane Claiborne described a gift his homeless mission received from a local church. I now describe common scenarios by referring to this one – microwave popcorn to the homeless. A church donated microwave popcorn to homeless people. The church of America is so unaware of the world outside its walls that it gives homeless people – men and women and children who don’t even have electricity, let alone microwaves – microwave popcorn.
I, of course, am generalizing.
Giving to others is not just a suggestion that should be done at one’s convenience, but in the first-century it was seen as a requirement for those who considered themselves to be followers of Christ. James was not saying that it would just be nice if people would give. But he (and others) seemed to put it as a high ritual among believers of the faith. As Jesus said, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matt 5:42).
Are we so encapsulated in our upbringing within a Capitalistic America that we have taken its large-scale structure of economics and justified it to ourselves as individuals, even more so as Christians? When we feel the urge to give, are we just giving our hand-me-downs while simultaneously living out of our means? We need to start giving to others as though they are our family. We need to love and invest in those around us, because we, as mankind, are one.
We need to stop feeling so blessed and start being a blessing to others.