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Below the Line

A Bible Study Guide

The United States is not immune to the issue of poverty: more than one in five children in the U.S. live in homes that are considered poor. Whats even more shocking is that, among 34 of the worlds most developed nations, child poverty is worse only in Turkey, Mexico, and Poland. This Bible study will help you learn more about this tragedyand channel your passion to make a difference. As you work through this study, we wish you Gods insights and blessings. We know that God is calling the American church to join in the fight against poverty in our own land. It is World Visions privilege to partner with you in this essential work.


Who Is (Really) My Neighbor?

As Americans, when we think of the poor, we often think of our brothers and sisters in the developing world. We are right to do so. After all, we still live on a planet where more than 22,000 children die every daymost of them from poverty-related causesand 925 million people suffer daily from hunger. But we dont have to look that far to see a staggering disparity in how people live. We may only need to look across the street or a few city blocks away. It is very likely that the poverty we see in the United States will never look as cruel and uncompromising to us as what we

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glimpse in the developing world. But the hardships and barriers that exist for the poor in the United States are all too realespecially for children.

IS A IA H 5 8 :6 -1 1
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelterwhen you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.


In this passage, Isaiah is passing on a stirring challenge from God to His people. He doesnt mince words. If ever we wondered what God expects from us, it is clearly set out here. The passages that precede it (we suggest reading them, too!) outline some of what Gods people have been doing wrong. Theyve been hypocritical in their worshippraising God one day and mistreating their workers the next. Central to the message of Isaiah (who is sometimes known as the eagle among the prophets) is a declaration of Gods holiness and a corresponding call to right living, which is outlined here as an essential part of genuine worship. In the U.S. it is possible, if we carefully avert our eyes, to avoid looking directly into the face of poverty. We may live in a wonderful area with neighbors who appear to live just like we do. We may think we dont know anyone who struggles just to get by, or who doesnt make it at all. But whether or not we ever see big-city poverty, such as crumpled sleeping bags in ramshackle doorways, real poverty does exist in the U.S. Verse 7 of this passage in particular calls us to recognize itand do something about it.


When you hear the term child poverty, what do you think about? What facts, images, and ideas come to mind?

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Isaiah 58:6 talks about loosening the chains of injustice, setting the oppressed free, and sharing our food with the poor, hungry wanderer. Who do you think fits these catego ries in the United States? Who are the poor, hungry wanderers among us? Remember the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan? Jesus listeners were forced to consider what constituted being a good neighbor. What is your definition of a good neighbor? Who is your own flesh and blood (Isaiah 58:7)? If we are completely honest with ourselves, it can sometimes seem easier to respond to the needs of the poor in the developing world than to help the poor in the U.S. Do you agree? Why do you think this is? In the Isaiah passage we read about great blessings to those who are good neighbors and who care for the poor. What are some of these blessings?


What Does God Think About Poverty?

Its easy to live our liveseven our faith liveswithin the safe walls of a comfortable cocoon. We can surround ourselves with people who look like us, live like us, and believe like us, and we can convince each other that we are doing enough, caring enough, giving enough. But God is not satisfied with this. And deep inside, we too know there must be more to the life of faith, and to the life of a caring American. There are hundreds of verses in the Bible that demonstrate Gods love and concern for the poor. Jesus Himself, when he began to unveil His true purpose on Earth, said that He was there to preach good news to the poor to proclaim freedom for the prisoners to release the oppressed (Luke 4:14-30). According to Scripture, one of the things that bothers God the most about the mistreatment of the poor is when they are taken advantage of. The poor often have no way of defending themselves against injustice. Again and again Gods people are warned not to trample on the rights of the poor, but rather to stand up for them.

ISAIAH 65:19-25
I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No
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longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpents food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.


Gods ideal, seen in this passage and in countless other places in Scripture, does not include poverty and injustice. God calls the Church to more than a right attitude about the poorHe calls us to right action. Our faith does not tolerate injustice, oppression, or turning a blind eye to the needs of others. This is not always an easy call to live up to. We have all turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the needs of others at some point. But we are called to so much more. This passage is not only inspirational, it is also a concrete vision of the way that the Creator of the world expects His creation to be. It is full of hope and promise. The world, including the U.S., can be a better placeand we can be part of that transformation.


Why should the Church care about poverty? Have you ever heard (or even used) the expression God helps those who help the selves? You probably know that it is not found in the Bible; its a quote from Benjamin Franklin that first appeared in print in 1757. God is, in fact, a tireless helper of those who are helpless. But is there a part of you that resonates with this statement? Some refer to poverty as a crime of failure. What do you think this means? What challenges and barriers do you think the disadvantaged in the United States face as they work to make a better life for their children? What is Gods ideal for the world and for His people? Have you ever toiled in vain? What does it feel like? Which American children could be doomed to misfortune? What hope does this passage offer to them and those who toil in vain?

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What Can One Person Do?

Its easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of poverty. The statistics are staggering. The problem is complex. The answers arent simple. It would be easier to walk away and go back to focusing on our own lives. Except for that still, small voice within that whispers that we can do something; that we should do something. This kind of knowledge changes us and the way we view the world. History is filled with stirring stories of individuals who have changed the world. One person can do something. And that something may be just what was needed.

1 SAMUEL 25:1-34
Now Samuel died, and all Israel assembled and mourned for him; and they buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David moved down into the Desert of Maon. A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. His name was Nabal and his wifes name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband, a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings. While David was in the desert, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. So he sent ten young men and said to them, Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. Say to him: Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours! Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my young men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them. When Davids men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in Davids name. Then they waited. Nabal answered Davids servants, Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where? Davids men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. David said to his men, Put on your swords! So they put on their swords, and David put

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on his. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies. One of the servants told Nabals wife Abigail: David sent messengers from the desert to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us all the time we were herding our sheep near them. Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him. Abigail lost no time. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, Go on ahead; Ill follow you. But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, Its been uselessall my watching over this fellows property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him! When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground. She fell at his feet and said: My lord, let the blame be on me alone. Please let your servant speak to you; hear what your servant has to say. May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his namehis name is Fool, and folly goes with him. But as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my master sent. Now since the LORD has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, may your enemies and all who intend to harm my master be like Nabal. And let this gift, which your servant has brought to my master, be given to the men who follow you. Please forgive your servants offense, for the LORD will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master, because he fights the LORDs battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the LORD your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. When the LORD has done for my master every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel, my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the LORD has brought my master success, remember your servant. David said to Abigail, Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my

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own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.


The story of Abigail is full of intrigue, passion, faith, and daring. But at its bedrock is one womans conviction, buoyed up by courage, to right a wrong. Abigail risked her life. She did not tell her husband (even though she was technically his property) what she had determined to do. Abigail could have lost everything: her standing as a woman in a household of great wealth, even her own life. But she took the risk of going to meet David, riding through a ravine directly into the path of an angry mob of 400 armed men. What was Abigails motivation? To plead for the lives of others. In doing so, she spoke prophetic words to David, calling him onto higher moral ground. One person can change things. And a group of people working together can change even more. It takes courage and sacrifice to do and say the right thing when not doing or saying anything is a very real option. But its worth the risk.


Have you ever known someone who took a risky, courageous action on behalf of someone else? Share your story. Have you ever acted alone, with courage, to right a wrong? What happened? What did Abigail exemplify that encourages you? Why? If you have been involved in justice issues (either here in the U.S. or overseas), what has enabled and empowered you to stay the course? What is one thing you think you could dotodayto help combat poverty in the U.S., either for a specific individual or at a higher level? What is the connection between your involvement as an individual and your relationship with your home church?

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What Can One Church Do?

There is no doubt that the Church is designed to have an impact in the world. We are not a private club that exists to satisfy its members desire for a place to go on Sunday mornings. You may have heard the quote from Archbishop William Temple that a church is the only organization that exists primarily for the benefit of non-members. This is a powerful and profound statement. Rooted in faith and secure in the knowledge that we are loved and redeemed by God, the Church moves out into the world to go about Gods business. And Gods business, as we have seen time and again in Scripture, is about righting what is wrong, making mercy and justice flow, and communicating Gods message of love and wholeness to a hurting world.

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, wenot to say anything about youwould be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of Gods people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with

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everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!


Would your church want to receive a letter like this from a writer like Paul? This section of 2 Corinthians is dealing head-on with an unpleasant issue tainting the young church body in Corinth. It appears that the church had pledged to give a certain amount of financial aid, but had not yet lived up to its commitment. Paul gently, yet directly, reminds and directs the church to fulfill its obligation, and then offers an explanation of Christian giving and service that roots both firmly in the soil of gratitude to God for all that He has provided. We also see hints here of the Church as a larger body extended and connected over time and place. There are connections between different groups of believers, with a common goal of obedience and service to God, each other, and the world around them. The church in the U.S. has historically been a provider of care and hope to the poor among us. This is not a new call, but it is a call that can be answered even more fully than it is at present.


What is the relationship between worship and our care of the poor? How can giving be an expression of thanks, both individually and corporately? Were you ever part of a church body that cared for the local poor in concrete ways? Share some examples. What needs do you see in your community that your church could respond to? If you dont know what they are, how could you find out? What does it mean to be a cheerful giver of yourself, your resources, your time, and maybe even your church? What message does it send to the world when the Church is fully engaged in the fight against poverty? Are you able to identify any of your neighbors needs that might become part of the mission of your local church? Take some time to brainstorm possibilities.

Copyright 2011 World Vision, Inc., Mail Stop 321, P.O. Box 9716, Federal Way, WA 98063-9716, All rights reserved.
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About World Vision

W O R L D V IS IO N is a Christian humanitarian organization

dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ, World Vision serves alongside the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of Gods unconditional love for all people. We envision a world in which each child experiences fullness of life as described in John 10:10, and we know this can be achieved only by addressing the problems of poverty and injustice in a holistic way. Thats how World Vision is unique. We bring more than 60 years of experience in three key areas needed to help children and families thrive: emergency relief, long-term development, and advocacy. And we bring all of our skills across many areas of expertise to each community we work in, enabling us to care for childrens physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Partnering with World Vision provides tangible ways to honor God and put faith into action. By working together, we can make a lasting difference in the lives of children and families who are struggling to overcome poverty. To learn more about how you can help, visit

About World Vision Resources

E NDING GL O BA L PO V ERT Y and injustice begins with education:

understanding the magnitude and causes of poverty, its impact on human dignity, and our connection to those in need around the world. World Vision Resources is the publishing ministry of World Vision, which educates Christians about global poverty, inspires them to respond, and equips them with innovative resources to make a difference in the world.

For more information, contact: World Vision Resources Mail Stop 321 P.O. Box 9716 Federal Way, WA 98063-9716 Fax: 253.815.3340
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