Peace in the Midst of Pressure

Dear Friend,

Many have convinced themselves that the only way they can experience inner peace and joy is to ignore the needs of the hurting and homeless around them. This directly violates the mandates of scripture where over and over we are told to help those in need. Yet if we do not apply Is. 26:3 as we fight for justice we will find ourselves becoming increasingly anxious with all the joy of living being choked out of us. Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon thee because he trusts in thee.”

Perfect peace can be ours even in the midst of battles for righteousness and justice as we keep our hearts and minds fixed on the love and power of Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. For that reason Phil. 4:4-5 declares, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

The fact the Lord is near changes everything. It means I am not alone when it comes to confronting injustice. God is in control as I Kings 21 points out. At first it appears that Ahab and Jezebel are the big winners when they take by eminent domain Naboth’s property and then have him killed. But if you read all of I Kings 21 you see that Ahab and Jezebel end up being the big losers.

Even knowing this we find ourselves asking why are developers awarded tax abatements and the right of eminent domain resulting in the poor and elderly being put on the street without assistance? I have to ask what is wrong with a free market that doesn’t create adequate affordable housing but yet promotes the conversion of apartments into condominiums and gentrifies neighborhoods by displacing low-income people. How can we as believers not take a stand for justice as neighborhoods are redlined by financial institutions so poor people and landlords providing low income housing can’t get loans to fix their buildings? How can local governments say they want to eliminate chronic homelessness as they allow poor neighborhoods to deteriorate, so these communities can become candidates for urban renewal resulting in rents being raised above the ability of the poor and elderly to pay?

As disturbing as these questions may be they must be asked as we confront the issues of injustice. As we ask these questions we must abide in the peace and love that Jesus promises. We are told in Amos 5:24, “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never – failing stream.” When you study Amos 5:21-24, you will see that the prophet Amos cries out that if our faith does not bring justice flowing like a river, then we should stop the noise we are making at our religious gatherings. The reason for this is because God gets tired of hearing it, unless what we call praise, is followed by acts of justice.

Homelessness is the end result of the Social Darwinism of the twenty first century. There is no book, which more precisely addresses both the cause and solutions for homelessness than the Bible. In the Bible we find over 2000 verses which relate to the poor. Although it points out how people can end up homeless as a result of wrong choices (see the story of the prodigal son) it also challenges those who claim to be the people of God to reach out to those in need. Individuals that say that they are followers of Jesus Christ need to reexamine His mission statement. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

In order to preach the good news to the poor, proclaim freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, we must confront the greed, self-centeredness, and fear in our own lives. This is possible as we accept the year of the Lord’s favor and the grace that has come through the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ provided through His death and resurrection. Liberated from this tyranny of sin that controls our personal lives, we are now free to seek God for viable solutions to pursue Jesus mission of proclaiming in word and deed good news to the poor and oppressed.

As we pursue this mission we are told in Phil.4:6. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” I have learned that I will never be able to grasp the plain truth of this verse as I try to figure the how, when and where of the needed miracle. At some point I must turn loose of all anxiety related to the need I am facing. Instead of worrying I am required by this mandate of Scripture to take the need to God with thanksgiving, knowing that He will meet not only this need but any I may face in the future.

Accepting the reality that the love of God, demonstrated through the resurrected Christ, extends to the issues of homelessness and social injustice I am now facing releases me from my anxiety and frees me to pray. This is not a form of escapism but a new understanding that through prayer I am able to cast all my anxiety and problems on the Lord as I renew my trust in His faithfulness to meet every need I am facing. (Matt.6:25-34) The end result of such trust is God’s peace which guards my heart and mind as I fellowship with Christ in a new and powerful way. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”(Phil.4:7)

Ps 82:3 says, “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.” As I read Scriptures like that in the Bible I have to ask myself how can I say I am desiring to do the will of God and then do nothing as justice is denied those in need? Whether it is the needy that are locked up daily without adequate legal defense or the poor and elderly who are having their homes taken from them through laws that benefit the greedy developers, I must seek God through prayer as to what decisive action I am to take. In each and every case I must in word and deed declare that there is hope because Christ is risen.

The only lasting antidote to the despair, which is an integral part of poverty and injustice, is the hope the living Christ can bring. This hope is reflected in the lives of those who answer the call to follow Jesus as He stands in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Answering this call may mean engaging in civil disobedience which results in being put in jail like I was earlier this year as I fought alongside other caring people for the homeless to have the right to have their own camp. It involves feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and letting the love of God flow thru us. Knowledge of the need is not enough. As I Cor. 8:1b says, “…Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

The Bible tells us that “Who so ever stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard” (Prov. 21:13). The Stewart B. Mc Kinney Homeless Assistance Act clearly states that priority should be given to the homeless when it comes to the use of federal surplus property. Even though the law clearly states this, less than 1% of this property is actually used in this way. For that reason when such property became available in St. Louis, Springfield and Cape Girardeau, MO. New Life Evangelistic Center activity pursued such for the use of the homeless. As a result the former social security building in Springfield is now used daily to help the homeless veterans and other homeless people. On each occasion the local governments involved have actively resisted such efforts. Such resistance has served to enlighten the communities involved to the tremendous need for services for the homeless.

“He that oppresseth the poor reproaches His Maker; but He that honoureth Him hath mercy on the poor” (Prov.14:31). When one is homeless nearly everything they do to rest after 10 PM is illegal. All night city police and park rangers are patrolling the area to be sure no one sleeps in city parks. The non-existence of public restrooms subjects the homeless to fines of $100 if they relieve themselves in public. With rest areas existing up and down the highways for travelers the question is, shouldn’t our homeless travelers in the downtown areas have the same rights to rest and use the toilets?

Some religious folks will say it’s not the job of the government to take care of the homeless it is the job of the church. Well then show me the churches that will let the homeless use their bathrooms and sleep on their pews. After all didn’t Jesus say as often as you have done it to the least of these even so you have done it unto me” (Matt.25). When are we going to let Jesus come back into our churches? This will happen as we hear Him tell us to rise up and walk and be healed of the paralysis of fear. Then not only will we start asking the hard questions about justice for the homeless but we will begin demonstrating the courage necessary to let God use us to be the answer to these questions.

Demonstrating such courage is not easy. As I stand steadfast and absorb the reality of God’s presence manifested through the wonders of His works of creation, the inspired words of Scripture, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, God’s peace begins to flood my troubled heart. This peace gives the firm assurance that Christ is present and God’s love will prevail. (Romans 8:28; Is.26:3) The peace this provides puts a guard at the door of my heart which keeps the anxiety and the uncertainty of the future from wiping me out. My hope and the shield of faith it provides enables me to fight off the fiery darts of doubt the enemy would shoot at me. (Eph.6:16) The end result is the peace of God resulting from being united with Christ in active faith.

The peace of God is not the absence of stress. It involves first accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior and then living a life of obedience unto Him. Such a walk of faith puts us in direct conflict with the power brokers of this world. The prophets of the Scriptures boldly proclaimed that there is no peace for the wicked (Is.57:21; 59:8; Jer. 6:14; 8:11; Ez.13:10, 16). Yet even in the midst of the conflict, Isaiah would proclaim, “You (God) will keep in perfect peace him (and her) whose mind is steadfast because he (and she) trusts in you.” (Is.26:3)

As the wolves in sheep’s clothing try to fight all attempts to raise the minimum wage and criminalizes the poor immigrants trying to survive in the USA, we must stand steadfast in behalf of those in need. As we fight the good fight of faith in behalf of the downtrodden, we can remain in the peace of God as we heed Paul’s instructions found in Phil 4:8. “Finally whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.” The noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable things I must think about, as I take a stand for justice, must be those poor, homeless, hurting and elderly people that Jesus said as “often as you have done it to the least even so you have done it unto Me.”(Matt 25:40)

Being on the front lines in service unto the Lord often means going without a lot of the “creature comforts” that those who are not serving Him have. That is why experiencing the freedom Paul speaks of in Phil 4:11-13 is so essential. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” This key to contentment is the absolute assurance that Jesus has given us everything needed to be victorious. (1 Cor.15:57, 1 John 5:4) As Phil 4:13 indicates this ability to live triumphantly in spite of the circumstances comes from Christ’s power flowing in us and through us. In spite of the powers of the system, we can victoriously declare in word and deed, “I can do everything through Him (Jesus) who gives me strength.”(Phil 4:13)

Jesus shows us from personal example how to exercise such strength and peace as He was forever associating with those in need (Luke 5:1-11), eating with them (Luke 5:27-32), comforting them (Luke 12:22—34), feeding them (Luke 9:10-17), restoring them to health (Luke 5:12-16) and ministering to them (Luke 7:18-23). Paul was deeply committed to “remembering the poor” (Gal. 2:7-10). As Christians, we must live in the light of the saving grace of Christ to the extent we will let justice flow as a mighty river, as Amos declared, and not be afraid to ask the hard questions concerning the homeless.

Mother Theresa once said, “in the faces of the poor and hungry we will see the face of Christ.” For as He said, “I assure you that whatever you did for the least of these my brothers (and sisters) you did for me. “Isn’t it time we responded by saying yes Lord here I am. Now use me for your glory to help those in need. Help me Lord to experience your inner peace as I ask the hard questions of myself, my church, and my community. Questions will bring about the changes that are so desperately needed in the middle of this epidemic of homelessness.
Now we are left with the decision—are we going to give into the doubt anxiety and hopelessness that the circumstances of the moment are trying to thrust upon us, or are we going to believe the Scriptures and put our faith in the Living God? The promise remains, “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”(Phil.4:7) We each know how some during the past few weeks have refused to accept this peace and have given up and left the work of the Lord. What about you? Are you going to cast all your anxiety on Him knowing He cares for you? Will you let the peace of God that passes all understanding fill your heart and mind today as you faithfully serve Him?

Remember we are told, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your requests to God” (Phil.4:6). As we do this we are promised that the “peace of God will guard your hearts and minds” from all worry, doubt and unbelief.

Yours in Christ,
Larry Rice