You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Revelation 3:1

My wife and I just spent an interesting day with Jenny from CrossPurpose. First, some background.

CrossPurpose is a local Denver area ministry that is seeking to eradicate poverty, one life at a time, through extravagant investment in individuals. From their web site,

CrossPurpose equips unemployed or underemployed adults to become self-sufficient through job training and personal development. In six months, program graduates will be earning $15/hour or more in a meaningful career.

I first became aware of the ministry when I heard a BreakPoint podcast about them. So much of this ministry is different from the traditional ways Christians have dealt with the poor. The vision and the results of this organization have touched me; being in my back yard, I was convicted to partner with them.

The follow-up e-mail was unusual, but not too surprising; a small ministry tends to be closer to their donors than bigger ones. It was the phone call that caught my attention. The thing I remember about our conversation was that she said, “I really just want to get to know you and your wife and understand where you are coming from.” She wanted to schedule a time to meet us (that’s never happened before). It wasn’t a particularly good time; I was in a hotel on a business trip, we were coming up on the holidays, so we agreed to try to get together after the new year.

Time went by, and I had let it all dribble out of my brain, when one day my phone rang. I was sitting in the airport, waiting to board a flight (I see a trend!); I didn’t recognize the number but my phone helpfully offered “may be Jenny”. As soon as I answered, I remembered why that name looked familiar. Again, it wasn’t a good time, but I put her in touch with my social director and they scheduled today for us to meet and tour the facility.

Jenny said something as we walked, which is really the point of this blog. She said, “Everyone comes through these doors with their own poverty, whether it be financial, relational, or spiritual.” That thought has been sticking with me.

Financial poverty is the easiest to recognize. You know when you have more month than money; when life is a constant struggle to juggle the unpaid bills; when you have to prioritize heat over food and clothes will just have to wait. It is cruel, demeaning, demoralizing, stripping people of dignity and leading to hopelessness and despair because of the inability to provide for oneself and one’s family.

Relational poverty is just as rampant, although there are no statistics gathered, no government programs, very little acknowledgement of its existence. It is rampant in white-collar communities where people live isolated lives, leaving their safe little boxes only by means of their boxes on wheels that take them to other boxes where they work in isolating cubicles. It is possible to have all the trappings of wealth and be impoverished inside, for the lack of meaningful human interaction. Relational poverty is also demeaning, as the loneliness eats at your soul, until you wonder if anyone actually cares that you are alive.

Spiritual poverty is the most prevalent of all, since we are all born into this condition. We are born with nothing in our spiritual bank, nothing to offer to a holy God. Perhaps because we are born this way, most people are at best numb to their poverty. The need does not feel as pressing as physical poverty; the pain is not quite as poignant as relational poverty. But I assure you, it is the most desperate of all poverties.

In financial terms, income is the input to your (financial, relational, spiritual) system and expenditures are the output. When income is insufficient for your necessary expenditures, poverty exists. When output is greater than input, this creates debt (financial, relational, spiritual). While deficit spending is possible for a while, eventually the debt becomes crushing.

Fortunately, spiritual poverty is the easiest to solve. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Why? Because the first key to spiritual riches is a humble acknowledgement of your utter spiritual destitution. Only when you give up being good and declare spiritual bankruptcy can you find the solution to your problems. Jesus said,

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
John 3:14-15

In classic Christian buzz-words, “He paid a price I could not pay to satisfy a debt he did not owe.” But just as financial poverty can’t be eliminated by a lump sum payment, and a party won’t heal your relational poverty, simply having your sins forgiven isn’t enough to end your spiritual poverty.

No, the solution to poverty lies in eliminating the underlying causes. At its simplest, it requires increasing input to the (financial, relational, spiritual) system in excess of any increase in output. When income exceeds expenses, there is a surplus, which is the seed of prosperity.

God has provided the ultimate increase in your spiritual input: his own spirit living in the hearts of his people.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
  after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
  and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
  and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
  or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
  from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
  and will remember their sins no more.”
Jeremiah 31:33-34

My friends at CrossPurpose have a pretty good strategy for addressing financial poverty. And, as it turns out, the real key to success is to work on relational and spiritual poverty at the same time. Because, as it turns out, Jesus really is the answer to every question.