Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Panoramic View

Proverbs 3:5-12

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20

Sitting in my office the other day, a young man came in with the usual litany of things wrong with his car, the same litany that seems to be customary to those who move from church to church and place to place seeking financial help, only this one didn’t say he was on his way to a job interview in Portland OR. Sometimes these requests are legitimate and sometimes not. Sad to say, it is impossible to tell though I would suspect many would claim they can tell “just by looking”. The truth is, however, that we cannot always be sure that we are seeing everything we need to see in order to make a sound judgment.

It has long been a dilemma for many Christians to deal with those enterprising people who sit on street corners holding signs that say, “Will work for food”. Oh, and they always add, “God bless you.” Ever wonder what they’re thinking as so many drive by without even a glance? I wonder if they wish God’s blessings on them. I’ve only heard of one man who claimed to have offered some fellows just such a job cleaning his yard. According to this man, they had to turn down his generous offer because of a bad back. Darn the luck!

If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. Often I’ve wondered if my heart is so hardened to certain realities that it is impossible for me to empathize with these people. Part of me reasons that there are better ways to go about getting money, ways that will defend one’s integrity and sustain one’s dignity. Another part of me wonders if the reason I cannot empathize is because I’ve never known a day of hunger, not really. Even after a job loss, which is traumatic enough, I didn’t worry so much about where my next meal was coming from. There is, of course, extended family that will never allow a loved one to go hungry, and there are also family connections to help find jobs. With all this surrounding me, I cannot see myself being reduced to such a state in which I would sit on a freeway exit ramp with a coffee can asking for money.

There are several proverbs that speak to the way of a lazy person who will truly reap what he chooses to sow and if the lazy is unwilling to work, they should not expect pay. And if you don’t get paid, you don’t eat! But are we called to make a distinction between those who are just lazy and those who really are down on their luck? It’s not easy to think that someone could be playing us for fools, but are we left then to determine whether or not someone is just taking us for a ride? The bottom line is: if we have it to give and we choose not to give, what else would we do with our excess?

Some would say, “Well, I could give it to the church or some other charity.” Indeed we could, but would we? And if our conscience bothers us and we don’t drop some money in the coffee can and we don’t give it over to charity or to the church, then what is our conscience trying to tell us? That maybe we should have dropped some money in the coffee can or written a check to the church? Or is our conscience that inner voice that suddenly recalls Jesus’ words: I was hungry and you did not feed Me; I was naked and you did not clothe me. I was in prison and you did not come see Me.

It hardly seems fair that Christians should be made to feel guilty so much of the time. There is that part of us that would never dream of turning our backs on those who need, but soon we become overwhelmed at the reality out there that there are MANY who desperately need. How can we, with our limited resources, possibly see to all the need which exists? When is it ok to free ourselves from these pangs of guilt that should bother anyone with a conscience? After all, we cannot see by looking if we are dealing with a lazy bum who needs a swift kick more than he needs a dollar, or a con man who should be sitting in prison instead of on the side of the interstate exit ramp, or if we are looking at a desperate soul who is at the end of his rope and honestly does not know which way to turn.

I wish there could be one pat answer that would cover each scenario on an equal basis, but the truth is there is not one. All we can do is try to be faithful with what we have. If we have a lot, then we should be giving a lot. If we have a little, we should be giving a little but ALWAYS we should be willing to give because no matter how little we think we have, we always have something someone else could use. This is especially true for the Christian who has Christ in his or her heart.

You and I know that money has NEVER, EVER solved a problem – not a real one. Money comes in handy and money will buy extra soup for hungry mouths, but we also know – or should know – that there is not enough money in the entire world that can fill a hungry soul. We cannot buy enough to redeem those who are truly lost.

Sometimes a cash gift can go a long way for those who do truly need. More importantly, however, it is important for us to remember John Wesley’s admonition and encouragement to always “offer them Christ”. Money fulfills man-made needs and desires; Christ the Lord fulfills the real need always and forever. AMEN.

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