We're passionate about sharing the insights and stories of people alleviating poverty and spreading the gospel. And since the reflections of the Board of Directors of Jesus' Economy have blessed us, we decided to share them with you via periodical Q&As. Our first feature is Dr. Eric Costanzo, who has been on the Board of Jesus' Economy for nearly four years.
Eric Costanzo is the Senior Pastor of South Tulsa Baptist Church, where he regularly preaches to nearly 2,000 people. Prior to being called to South Tulsa, Eric was the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church (FBC) in Tulsa. Eric has a strong calling to the local and global church and it shows in how he lives his life.
As a mobilizer in global missions for more than 15 years, Eric has worked with communities on nearly every continent. Much of his efforts have focused on serving the impoverished and refugees. His studies have also been focused on similar topics. During his Ph.D. studies, for example, Eric examined church father John Chrysostom's approach to poverty; his book Harbor for the Poor is a result of that effort.
Q: Why did you want to be involved with Jesus’ Economy?
A: John and I became acquainted through publishing and became friends. Then we started sharing more about our passion for missions, ministry to the poor, and church planting movements—that result in measurable transformation and development of people and communities. As he and Kalene began sharing the vision of Jesus' Economy, I was honored to be involved in any way.
Q: What is your favorite part about working with Jesus’ Economy?
Q: How do you feel your work in your career has paralleled your work with Jesus’ Economy?
A: My focus as a pastor, teacher, and missions leader is to disciple and mobilize people to take the good news about Jesus to the ends of the earth. Jesus' Economy is an excellent model to share; from it, people can learn a great deal about being sent and sending.
Q: What motivated you to work with homeless, under-privileged individuals, and under-resourced families and what are some key things you’ve taken away from it?
A: God began moving me toward compassion and opening doors for me to serve the marginalized at the same time more than a decade ago. I have learned that real transformation takes a long term investment and includes many failures. I have also learned that the marginalized and downtrodden have so much to give. We should continually look for ways to involve them; as opposed to always having a top-down mentality or “West is best."
Q: In your work, you travel around the world equipping ministries and starting missions efforts. In light of this, can you offer some thoughts on the Jesus’ Economy church planting model?
A: Jesus' Economy focuses on so much more than humanitarian aid. Relief initiatives are a vehicle to break ground for true spiritual growth and Christian community. Equipping leaders who live among the people is also essential in the process, as well as a strategic education piece.
We cannot end extreme poverty without the church. The gospel is key to renewing our world. Here’s why.
The gospel demands action. Those actions can change entire communities. From Jesus’ very commission of the church forward, this is clear:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20 ESV).
This call to discipleship is a call to teach people to follow Jesus and his principles (compare James 1:27). Making disciples means teaching people what following Jesus really means. It means teaching integrity, honesty, and love of the hurting. It means showing them that salvation is not just a truth, but also an ideal that changes the very fabric of our world.
Jesus’ calls the Christian to represent truth and help others see the value of that truth. We are to be light in dark places (Matthew 5:15). And here’s what that has to do with poverty.
For the situation of extreme poverty to change, we need to create economic opportunities for the impoverished and fight corruption. This means real people taking real action. But it also means an ethical presence transforming communities and holding people accountable to truth.
In a single day corruption can overthrow years of good. This is why I believe that healthy churches are a core part of creating global equality. If we can provide an ethical framework through the church, there will be a stronghold against corruption. We will have people who will speak up for what’s right.
Churches can help hold people accountable to paying fair wages and not exploiting anyone. Churches can be the voice of truth. As an outside investor, I can even ask a local and healthy church to help with reporting about a business. (In fact, I personally do this now.)
We must create jobs and churches in the developing world. And we must also meet basic needs. A job doesn’t matter if I don’t have access to clean water. Where basic needs are not being met, we must give and meet them.
What happens in our world affects us all, whether we acknowledge it or not. A desperate community in the developing world is the problem of all of us.
Desperation has created desperate people. And desperate people do desperate things. Desperation gives extremism a foothold. If you lack access to water, healthcare, education, and job opportunities, an extremist leader can come along and claim “The Americans, with all those opportunities and all that wealth, have ignored you.” The extremist can then say, “I will care for your village, if you join our cause.” And when the extremist says these words, and you’re desperate, it’s tempting to listen.
The desperation of the globally impoverished is a desperate situation for our world. When wars rage in our world, they also rage here. Peace for one person is peace for us all.
Yes, we must fight terror. But we’re also trying to change hearts and minds. We have to fight desperation by offering better opportunities to the impoverished and outsider.
I have met the voiceless of the developing world and spoken to them about their needs. I remember sitting in a circle with a group of women from extreme poverty situations in Northeast India. I remember one woman placing her hands in mine and saying, “I can now afford to keep my kids in school, but keeping food on their plates often feels impossible. I am constantly facing the decision of whether to eat or pay for school supplies or clothing for my children. Will you pray for me and my children?" She could pay for her kids to go to school through her sewing work, which she learned via a non-profit sewing school, but her business needed a boost.
Women like this are ready to work hard to offer their children a better life; they just need the opportunity. Together, we can offer them the opportunity they deserve. We can connect them to the global marketplace.
Let’s end desperation. Let’s make a better way for our world. Let’s be the truth and light God has called us to be. Explaining this principle, Jesus said:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house” (Matthew 5:13–15 ESV).
And is there much more to say than that?
No struggle a person faces is completely isolated. Each struggle is caused by deeper problems, and it can be very difficult to break the cycle. As we work together to alleviate global poverty, we must do more than address one issue.
In Bihar, India, a state with millions living in extreme poverty, fresh water is hard to come by. Women and children spend hours every day walking miles to collect safe drinking water in order to survive. This means those women can’t work and the children can’t go to school, because they don’t have time. And the cycle of poverty continues.
Jesus’ Economy is dedicated to restoring Bihar, India through several programs. We have a program to drill water wells so the women and children can save time and energy every day, a program to plant churches that will meet the spiritual needs of the communities, and a program to empower women—teaching women marketable skills in tailoring and business so they can sustainably support themselves and their families. These programs work together to create long-term solutions for deep-seated struggles.
The poverty in Bihar is intense, and caused by many factors. If we simply provided the water wells and stepped away, the poverty would still exist. Safe water would be more accessible, but women would remain unemployed and families could still not afford to send their children to school.
If we simply planted churches, but didn’t address the physical needs of the people of Bihar, we would be denying the message of the gospel, and people would continue the cycle of physical poverty. James urges believers to put faith into action; to be doers and not only hearers:
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27 ESV)
It is important that we meet the physical and spiritual needs of people in poverty. We can do these things, but we can take it even further by creating jobs to keep the cycle going. We don’t want to provide aid and then step away; we want to walk alongside our brothers and sisters around the world and teach them sustainable ways to provide for themselves.
This is a way we can show love to hurting people. This is the power of the gospel. We get to display the love of God in Bihar, India, and that’s pretty awesome.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV)
We are all part of a story. We’re living as part of a narrative. We’re telling our story, with each act of each day.
Like the legends of old, we have an opportunity to decide what kind of people we will be. When faced with the problems of our world, will we step up and offer renewal and hope? Or will we cower back, backing away from the fight?
I have seen the problems of our world firsthand. I have witnessed the pain of our world and decided to live a grand adventure to do something about it.
My wife and I sold our house, most of what we own, left a great job, and followed after Jesus—for the sake of empowering the impoverished and bringing the gospel to the unreached (compare Mark 10:17–27). God’s next step for us was to “go all in”—that was the only way for the movement we lead, Jesus’ Economy, to grow.
I made these decisions because of what I witnessed of global poverty—and the amount of people who have never had the opportunity to hear the name of Jesus. I couldn’t live in a world where solutions were available to global poverty and bringing the gospel to the unreached and continue with “business as usual.”
If we all lived a better story, we could reasonably end global poverty in our lifetimes. We could reasonably bring the gospel to those who do not have access to it. Here’s how.
When it comes to what type of story I want to live, I regularly think of what the prophet Jeremiah said:
“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been seized from the hand of the oppressor. And you must not oppress or treat violently the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow. And you must not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jeremiah 22:3 LEB).
This is what we are called to do, to deliver the oppressed—to be people who act with justice, who embody it. For the marginalized, immigrant, impoverished, and outsider, we are to rise up and care. We are to stand alongside the hurting and live as people whose lives are marked by these values.
Ending global poverty starts with your everyday decisions—how you use your finances and time. Likewise, bringing the gospel to the unreached is within our grasp—if we all just lived a little more sacrificially. If only we embodied what the Bible actually says, everything would be different.
The situation we have in America of easy access to food, water, and medical care is not the case elsewhere in the world. To give you an idea of the situation around the world, here are a few significant facts.
In a Millennium Development Goals Report from 2015 by the United Nations, there is one line in particular that is incredibly shocking:
“Projections indicate that in 2015 more than 600 million people worldwide will still be using unimproved water sources, almost one billion will be living on an income of less than $1.25 per day, mothers will continue to die needlessly in childbirth, and children will suffer and die from preventable diseases” (MDGR, pg. 3 of the Foreword by Ban Ki-Moon).
This is the story people in developing countries live with. This term, ‘developing,’ refers to the situation of general economic poverty. America, on the other hand, would be called a ‘developed’ nation. And yet, our resources for the most part stay with us. We as individuals and as a nation are by and large ignoring the real problems facing our world.
The people in developing countries experiencing issues of extreme poverty need our assistance. They need us to come alongside them to empower them.
But they need more than mere meeting of basic needs. That’s a start. We need to help create sustainable jobs for those living in poverty, so they can lift themselves out of poverty.
We also need to meet spiritual needs. Throughout our world, oppressive religions and corruption are plaguing societies. We need a Christian presence in every corner of the world, offering liberty and freedom.
I believe it is our time and it is our hour. I believe that Christ will transform lives through the work of our hands. That power is in your hands.
And lest someone tell you that you can’t do something about it, let me remind you of Paul’s words to his young apprentice Timothy:
“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in life, in faith, in truth, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Young or old, we can live by example. We can live a better story, for the sake of the impoverished and unreached.
This principle guided me throughout my young years. And it guides me today to continue living this story, despite how hard and painful it is.
What type of story are you going to live?
I know sacrifice. I sold my house and nearly everything I own to follow God’s call on my life. I saw that it wasn’t enough to simply spread a message; I had to live it.
Through pain and trial, Jesus taught me how to follow him—and continues to do so.
But the world doesn’t work like an iPhone; it’s not instantly gratifying. Rather than receiving the instant gratification of people joining our movement, I saw many people distance themselves. My choices either made them uncomfortable, or in giving up my former job—which gave me influence and the ability to make the publishing dreams of others come true—I no longer had something they desired.
This situation revealed to me a larger issue about our culture—apathy.
Our generation likes the idea of alleviating poverty far more than the actual act of alleviating poverty. We’re comfortable liking and sharing posts on Facebook, but ask us to take real action and little to nothing will happen. Likewise, we like to talk about the need to bring the gospel to the unreached far more than we are willing to do the work.
It’s inconvenient to make sacrifices. It’s far from being instantly gratifying. It’s an act of faith.
We need a solution to the apathy of our generation. We need to teach people what following Jesus really means—and demonstrate it by example. Writing to his young apprentice Timothy, Paul puts it this way:
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:5–7 ESV).
In America, we have a more educated generation than ever before. But from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t seem that we’re teaching people to lead by example. At the college and university level, we are really good at teaching people to think critically and to critique. But it’s easy to critique; it’s hard to create. There is a time and place for critique—for discussion of the law, using Paul’s analogy. But we need to be better at teaching people to take action, getting them to do the work.
You could sit all day and nitpick about a model for alleviating poverty or how we should (and should not) be doing missions—and these are important discussions. But meanwhile, there are people out there dying, physically and spiritually. The world isn’t changed by mere theory; it’s changed by theory in action.
In our top universities, we have Christians pursuing noble training and occupations—lawyers, doctors, executives, scholars, and teachers. While these indeed are noble and important pursuits, many will quickly lose sight of the real purpose of life as a Christian. Consumerism will consume them. They will be wrapped into businesses and striving after promotions; they will become consumed with possessions and money, if they haven’t already.
We have Christians learning to be teachers of the law—with knowledge of the core ideas of the Bible taught by campus ministries and churches. But most people are living without true understanding. This understanding can only be gained through self-sacrifice. It can only be gained through doing what Jesus has called us to do—to give of ourselves for the impoverished, marginalized, and outsider; and dedicate our lives to bringing the freedom of the gospel to those who have not heard it.
It’s going to be difficult to reverse the trend of the Facebook generation of Christians—who seem interested in alleviating poverty and spreading the gospel, but are largely apathetic. Here are a few ideas.
We can start by exposing people to the truth of what’s going on around the world—that there are plenty of resources to go around but that we’re not getting those resources to the impoverished. We can then show people how God can use their skills to not just fiscally assist in these areas but to also transform lives, with their own two hands.
Jesus’ Economy, for example, has an entirely remote all-volunteer team. We have volunteers around the nation who are part of our staff—they are plugging directly into the work of alleviating poverty from right behind their computer. They are working on partnerships, content, and technology projects. They are putting their hard skills to work helping alleviate poverty and spread the gospel.
We can also expose people to the fact that there are over 3,000 people groups without missionaries. It’s estimated that 99.7% of the church’s resources—its missional activities and financial support—are dedicated to areas where the church is already present. Only 0.3% of resources are dedicated to where the church is not present. Let that number sink in.
To deal with this, we need to be thinking about how we can work together to pool our resources—to empower the work of the global church.
I’ve been to one of these places, in Bihar, India. In Bihar, there are over 101 Million people who have never heard the name of Jesus. There is a completely unreached people group.
In Bihar, I met a man who had lived his entire life as a gang leader. An indigenous church planter had a chance encounter with him and shared about the freedom and love of Jesus. The man was intrigued because his life felt so dark and empty—and local religion couldn’t offer any hope for what he was feeling and experiencing. Before long, he decided to believe in Jesus and it changed his entire life. He went out into a field and buried his gun and knife. He then dedicated his life to co-laboring for Jesus—working manual labor and spreading the word about Jesus whenever possible. This reminds me of Isaiah 2:4:
“God shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (ESV).
This is the power and liberty of the gospel that is going forth around the world—but this effort needs more advocacy and funding.
In Bihar, Jesus’ Economy has four indigenous church planters reaching those who have never heard Jesus’ name before. Simple decisions by normal people funded this effort. Online people started birthday campaigns to raise support for church planters, and dedicated events to the cause of church planting. In these simple, yet innovative actions, they have moved past apathy and into action. These ideas are about embodying the values of the Bible, while embracing technology. People are overcoming apathy for the sake of the poor and unreached.
And this is just the start of the potential of what could be happening in our world. Imagine what could occur if we embodied Paul’s teachings to Timothy. Near the end of 1 Timothy, Paul says:
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. … Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have .... Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:11–16 ESV).
Paul instructs Timothy to continue to embrace his gifts. He tells him to devote himself to the work of the gospel and to do so with self-discipline. Paul calls Timothy to bring the saving work of Jesus to others, despite all obstacles. And Paul can say these words because he has led by example.
But the type of change I’m envisioning is almost like a reformation. It means a complete shift of Christian culture in the U.S. It will be a long-long race. And we—each of us who have heard this message—have to run it first. We have to lead by example.
Reflecting back upon his many efforts to spread the gospel and alleviate poverty, an older Paul says to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6 NIV).
Paul is not just stating the reality of his life; he is calling Timothy to run the same race. He has shown Timothy in word and deed how to run the race; stated that he has done so; and is now asking Timothy to do the same.
We should never ask someone to do something, or to live a message, that we are not at least trying to live ourselves. And ideally, we should already be living it ourselves. We need to say, “I’ll go first.” And then invite people to run alongside with us.
This is part of why I have made the moves I have in my own life—to show that it is possible to be a missionary while having a full-time job. And then to further show, with the recent moves in my life, that it is possible to self-finance the work God has called you to. And furthermore, that it is possible to follow God’s call—no matter how difficult it may be. It just takes the right partnerships and sacrifice.
The book of James talks at length about how faith without works is dead. We cannot simply critique and talk—because that’s not faith. Christianity is not about mere intellectual ascent; it’s about action. Faith without works is dead.
We need faith that is put directly into action. We need faith that is about doing the difficult. We need faith that is inspiring.
We all struggle with vocation, calling, and purpose. Life is confusing and often dissatisfying. Clarity is our desire. But what if we’re making all this far too complicated?
Overthinking can unnecessarily complicate life. But a lack of focus on our inner life can also oversimplify life.
We should be serious about questioning the meaning of our existence. It’s only in being so that the great innovators and philosophers have had significant breakthroughs. We must look inside ourselves to examine what’s lacking, what’s working, and where we’re failing. We should desire more out of life and ourselves—always.
Yet, if we spend too long staring inward we will lose sight of what is right outside our door. There is beauty and truth in nature itself (compare Romans 1:20). By staring inward, we can miss that entirely. And many epiphanies come through conversation, so we also cannot sell short the value of other people in our lives.
This reminds me of the psalmist who says, “Behold, you [God] delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:1 ESV). Yet, there is a Proverb that says, “Reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge” (Proverbs 19:25). The Bible envisions us learning from others, but also having a diligent and serious inner, spiritual life. God teaches us in secret and in public.
We cannot change the world without first being changed ourselves. As someone who spends a great deal of my time trying to alleviate extreme poverty —a huge problem to tackle—the scope of the work often overwhelms me. The problem is so big that I often lose perspective and begin to despair.
But prayer has a powerful way of keeping everything in check. I find that if my prayer life is in check—meaning it is consistent and driving my daily decisions—that everything else falls into place.
When we look up to God, and then look back down here at what he is doing, we remember. We remember what everything is about—why we do what we do, and who we really are. We can then lean on Jesus. This is why the Apostle Paul told us to pray—in all things, all the time (Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18).
The South African pastor Andrew Murray (1828–1917) once profoundly said:
“It is a duty, for the glory of God, to live and pray so that our prayer can be answered. For the sake of God’s glory, let us learn to pray well” (With Christ in the School of Prayer, page 126).
It is for God’s glory that we are to live and pray. And it glorifies God when we have much to pray about. The answer isn’t to run away from the problems of the world. We should care for the hurting around us—deeply—but do so through prayer. We should tackle the problems of poverty, but to do so through much prayer.
God’s glory is manifest in the answering of our prayers, for the sake of our world.
I think we overcomplicate purpose, calling, and vocation. When it comes down to it, the glory of God is what everything is about.
I regularly have to remind myself of several things. God’s glory is what alleviating poverty is about. God’s glory is what bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth is about. God’s glory is seen in the slice of bread given to the poor beggar and the cup of clean water given to the impoverished child (Matthew 25:31–46). God’s glory is what we’re aiming to show to others—all the time.
God’s glory is seen when we live our lives like we actually believe God’s promises. God’s glory brings perspective to our vocations, callings, and purposes. What are they if they do not glorify him? So question—please. Think—please. Look inwardly—please. But don’t forget the reason. May our prayer today be, “O, my soul, please never forget the reason—for all of it, for everything! God’s glory!”
Our chief aim in life should be the glory of God. Period. Full stop.
What does it mean to be Jesus to others? How can we use our skills to empower people in need? In this video, CEO John D. Barry talks about how we can be like Jesus and use our gifts to receive those around us who are hungry, thirsty, and needy.
Share this video with your friends. Use hashtag #EmpoweringWomen and tag @JesusEconomy (or @Jesus' Economy on Facebook).
Never miss a blog post! Subscribe to our blog via email.
It was a hot Saturday morning. My family had driven two-and-a-half hours from our home in Lae, Papua New Guinea to worship with a growing village church in the Markham Valley. We sat under a shady tree on a woven mat just meters from the over packed church listening to the pastor’s sermon. Seated beside us were a young woman and her 12-month old son. My husband had given the baby our keys to play with—I couldn’t help but notice that the little fellow had one significantly crossed eye and had difficulty focusing on objects he was trying to see.
With the mother’s permission, I took some photos of the baby playing. After the service had concluded I introduced myself to the mother, taking mental note of the names of her and her baby so that I could locate them again after I talked to an ophthalmologist friend of mine.
“The child has esotropia,” my doctor friend said. He gave me a run-down on how it would affect the child and how it would best be managed. With difficulty we located the child’s mother through a pastor from a nearby village and made arrangements for her to bring her baby to Lae to visit an optometrist with me. The optometrist was to assess the baby and decide whether glasses would correct his conditio or whether he would require surgery.
In Papua New Guinea, gaining an education and obtaining a good job seems to be the best way out of poverty. And since parents depend on their offspring to care from them in their old age, parents have a vested interest in ensuring their children overcome poverty. It appeared to me that the small amount of money I might spend on the child’s eye treatment could have lasting dividends for his family.
But on Mary’s two visits to the optometrist in Lae, she appeared to begrudge the time spent in both travel and consultation, commenting that she didn’t think it was necessary: her baby would only pull glasses off anyway and she had relatives with crossed eyes that corrected as they grew older.
I paid for the consultations and both times gave Mary enough money to cover the cost of her travel. However, before leaving Mary asked if I could meet two immediate needs (or at least perceived needs): a mobile phone and accommodation when she visited Lae. It appeared that she would prefer I spend my money on these things, rather than on her son’s eye condition. Perhaps we might question Mary’s wisdom in this regard, but it did change the way I think about poverty.
Throughout the Bible, there are references to assisting the impoverished with their needs:
“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17).
“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:1).
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of our Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
These are just a few of the biblical passages about the impoverished; so there is no doubt in my mind that we who love the Lord are called to bless those in need around us. We are meant to use the blessings that we have graciously been given from above to offer hope to others. But my experience with Mary raises an issue with that in my mind: How often do we in our approach to the impoverished decide for ourselves what they surely must want and need, instead of asking them?
I think Jesus has an answer to this dilemma. When responding to the cries of the two blind men in Matthew 20:29–34 and Bartimeus in Mark 10:46–52, Jesus both times asks “What do you want me to do for you?” He does this before taking action.
Before moving to Papua New Guinea, I lived in a remote country town in Australia with a large aboriginal population. I had heard that many aboriginal people slept on mattresses under the bridges around the town and many other places that did not seem at all appropriate to those of my cultural background. I had even heard of the aboriginal people in the town breaking apart their government-funded housing as quickly as new housing was being built. This all disturbed me, until I read an article that explained everything. In a local newspaper, an aboriginal person stated that the government need not spend its money on things that the aboriginal people, with their unique cultural background, did not need or want. The author believed that the aboriginals did not need or want housing. They merely wanted some land, with some shady trees and a washing/bathing block.
It is profound that countless dollars are probably spent on aid work meeting needs that are perceived by westerners, but not felt by the recipients. Naturally when something is not wanted it is hardly going to be appreciated, preserved or respected in the way that donors might expect.
It would appear that the best approach to meeting the needs of the impoverished would be to follow Jesus’ example: Ask the question, “what do you want me to do for you?” The answers of the impoverished might surprise us.
If my life was a movie, it would open with a narration by the lead actor—who would be Matt Damon, of course. Matt would say something like this:
I am named after a man who ate locusts and honey. And this man, named John the Baptist—because he baptized people to make way for Jesus’ ministry—continues to perplex me. Who wears a camel’s hair cloak with a leather belt?
I have spent countless hours studying the few enigmatic passages about the Baptist, and each time I am left asking, “Why would God name me after this odd character? What does being like the Baptist look like?” I think I may finally have an answer. And here’s the quizzical thing: It turns out it’s not just an answer for me, but also the answer to a question you may not even know you’re asking.
(Cue the dramatic music—me, I mean Matt Damon, riding on a bicycle at sunrise. It’s a coming of age film, so Matt may be a little old on second thought.)
When I was in the womb, my mother was very close to losing me. Her, my father, and several people in our church began praying. One day when my father was praying, he heard from God. God told him, my name isn’t going to be Kenneth, but John. And I was to be named after the Baptist, because I would make a way for Jesus as John did.
But as great as all this is, it’s really not special. After all, aren’t we all supposed to be like John the Baptist?
“The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:2–3 ESV).
I hope that all of us who believe in Jesus are running towards him—to receive his word. I pray that we journey to the wilderness to hear the very voice of God. And I hope that we seek him even more in this age than ever before, because like John the Baptist's generation, our generation is full of political turmoil and warfare. It is in these times—especially these times—that we should show what it means to love Jesus.
Jesus has called all of us to proclaim a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He has called each of us to lead others to Jesus, to experience his overwhelming grace and love—and to make a life change as a result of encountering the living God.
Today, I had an opportunity to get nostalgic for a moment, as my wife Kalene stumbled upon one of my first campaigns to help the impoverished—written in the simple form of a paper church newsletter. In that moment of nostalgia, I was reminded of who I used to be and also who I am. I was reminded that even that young man back then was redeemed by the Jesus who has a marvelous and boundless love—a wonderful and sacrificial love, as the band Rend Collective Experiment says.
I am grateful for that young man's deep-rooted passion, but I also hope he has grown since then—that he has learned what it means to be even more like Jesus. I hope his coming of age film, that is his faith journey, has at least reached its midpoint by now. I ask God, "Have the difficulties taught young John what it means to love you more?" And then suddenly my mood changes: I hope my life film hasn't reached its midpoint, because I want to know God much more than this and need more time to do so.
In the same song, Rend Collective Experiment goes on to say, “True love is not afraid to bleed. ... Yes, Jesus loves me. This is love [that] you gave yourself.” When I think upon that younger me, I realize that he may have been afraid to bleed—that he would not have been ready to give himself. And I pray that I am ready to do so now.
Am I actually ready to live like John the Baptist—for I know John’s message is not easy?
John’s message was difficult to accept. John proclaimed that salvation is coming, inheritance cannot save you, and repentance means actually living your faith (Luke 3:4–9). These words were so hard for people to hear that they were left asking John: “What then shall we do?” In reply, John says:
“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (John 3:11 ESV).
If you have more than you need, assist someone else—simple yet profound. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to live sacrificially for Jesus?
I think we’re all asking, “What then shall we do?” It’s sitting at the core of all of us. It's somewhere deep in the pit of our already full stomachs. And we know the answer is that we need less of nearly everything than we're consuming. We’re struggling with the reality that we know we can be more, do more, and renew more lives.
You may not know it yet, but if you really look inward, I think you will find that you are asking the same question as the crowd that was dialoguing with John. I believe this to be the case because both tax collectors and soldiers asked the same question, “What then shall we do?” To tax collectors, John says:
“Collect no more than you are authorized to do” (Luke 3:13 ESV).
To the soldiers, he says:
“Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14 ESV).
We can minimize our negative affect on others, while emphasizing the positive affect we can have. We can fully serve others, in Jesus’ name—empowering the impoverished and fully loving each person Jesus places in front of us. We can show them in word and deed how much Jesus cares for them.
Be Content—Don’t Take More than You Need
We all struggle with contentment. Being satisfied with what we have—and above that, being content with the sufficiency of Jesus and the salvation he offers—can be painful; it can require us to bleed for him. It takes time, discipline, and diligence.
But there is hope for all of us in John's message:
“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I [being Jesus] is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:16–17 ESV).
Jesus wants us to act now—to serve him now. That is his calling upon our lives. And there is hope in this, for he offers us salvation freely. But is not just salvation he offers; he calls us to live like we are actually saved. The Holy Spirit is here to help us do so. The Spirit will guide us as we act on Jesus' behalf, as we act as John the Baptist. It is in our power to call people to repentance, love, contentment in Christ, and self-sacrifice.
When it comes time for your life to be narrated—for your movie script to be written—how will your opening scene go?
Like this blog post? Never miss a post: Subscribe via email.
When we engage the Bible, we engage the world. When we engage the world, we engage poverty, both spiritual and physical poverty.
Using Scripture and stories from my life, including one from Bihar, India, in this message I explain why Bible engagement is a critical part of transforming our world and what that engagement really means for each of us.
This message was recorded at Biblica's chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Biblica is committed to making God's Word accessible to people around the world and helping them engage it. They translate and distribute Bibles. It is a beautiful vision. I am proud to be a friend of Biblica's. I pray that their example may inspire all of us to do more to engage the Bible and our world.
Engage the Bible. Engage poverty by alleviating it. Be empowered today.