The Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College deals with the complex issues of poverty and how churches and local communities can best respond to the needs of the poor. They have an interesting definition of poverty. For the Chalmers Institute, poverty is the "lack of access." People who are poor, Chalmers says, don't know who to call when they need something. If they do call, no one will return their call. They have no way to engage the centers of power to get what they or their families need. Everything from healthcare to education or anything else any of us would need to build a successful life is simply beyond their reach.
When you think about it, their definition of poverty makes a lot of sense. Take my own life as an example. If I'm sick, I call my doctor. If I need money, I call my banker. Both of these individuals know me and will take appropriate action on my behalf. But what if I can't afford a doctor for annual check-ups and routine visits? What if my doctor doesn't know me? Does my doctor still call me back? Probably not.
What if I don't have a bank account? What if I'm like the millions of people who are unbanked? What if I live my life week to week, spending cash to take care of my needs? When my car breaks down, can I get a loan at the bank, or do I have to stand in line at one of the fast cash dispensers that charge gangster rates of interest for a payday loan? Does the banker get back with me?
Probably not. That's one of the reasons why poverty is so difficult to overcome. The poor can't open the doors that allow them to get out of their situation. They don't have access.
Which is one of the reasons the heart of gospel is about access. In Christ, we have access to God. We, the spiritually impoverished, can open the door that leads to the throne room of God, and He will receive us. There we have access to everything we need to make our lives better -- healing, forgiveness, meaning, hope, courage -- anything and everything.
Think about that. If you call, Jesus will answer. If we knock, He'll open the door. If we call to Him, He'll come to us. He will welcome us. He will grant us access to the most precious gift in the universe -- God's full attention.
When my sons were small -- well, let me be honest -- even now my sons can always reach me. When they were smaller, they were told they could always reach me. Nothing I was doing nor anyone I was talking to was more important than they. They could interrupt any meeting I was in and walk into my office without knocking. If they called, I would take their call, regardless of what I was doing at the time. They walked into the Finance Committee meetings, marriage counseling sessions, and all kinds of staff meetings. When they would get what they came for and leave, I would smile and explain to those in my office, "My sons are more important than you. They always get my full attention."
Now, to be sure, I got a lot of phone calls about how to unlock a video game, and could we play baseball when I got home from work. When my friends would ask me about my "always available" policy to my sons, I would tell them, "The problem is that I never know when their call is going to be 'that' call." I never know when it's going to be something serious, something that does need my full attention. And yes, as the father of twin sons, I got those calls.
Jesus told us that if we, in our limited way, know how to be good fathers, then how more does our Heavenly Father know how to be a good father? And good fathers are always available to their children.
This story came up the other day when a friend I was talking to said that this time, he thought, he had just gotten too far away from God. This time, Jesus wouldn't want him back. This time, after being forgiven for all the other times, my friend thought it was just too much to ask.
I told him about how much I loved my sons, and I didn't know of anything they could ever do that would make me shut the door in their face. I told him the story of the prodigal son and how salvation came to the young man when he realized that if he went home, his father would let him in. It's just the kind of father God is.
We live in a world that believes that its impoverished. They don't think they have anything of value. They don't think anyone will listen. The good news is and always has been that when Jesus returned to the Father, He left to the door open behind Him.
If we knock, He'll open the door. We have access, and we are rich beyond all comprehension.