Dear Fellow Children of God,
A week or so ago my wife, Kathy, and I were driving to the store. When we reached a red light at one local 4-lane intersection, we noticed a man standing with a sign, looking into the windows of the cars. This man’s sign caught our attention; “Everybody Needs Some Help Sometime.” The light turned green and I was humming the old Dean Martin tune, “Everybody Needs Somebody Sometime” as we drove through the intersection and saw another man on the other side of the light. He too was carrying a sign. That sign said the same thing as that of the man on the other side of the light. I scratched my head. It looked like a group effort. In fact, we later saw people standing in all 4 directions of this intersection. What does a child of God do?
It made me think of our trip to Europe last fall. Especially in Austria and southern Germany, we saw people requesting money for themselves and their families. I asked one of our city guides about those requesting help. She had been a local legislator in Salzburg, and I figured she might understand this situation better than I did. This guide’s advise was, “Don’t give them anything. It is an organized effort. We have places for them to sleep and places for them to get food, and they won’t use them.” After her advice, as I walked around I noticed similarities among those asking for help, and similarities in the signs they used to request this help. Kathy and I did, however, share leftovers from a large meal with a man we had seen multiple times in Munich. Yet our guide had said, “Don’t help them.” What does a child of God do?
I also recently met a lady in a Home Depot parking lot. As I got out of the car she asked for help with food for herself and her 2 grandchildren. There was a Subway restaurant in the parking lot, so I took her in there and let her order what she wanted and I paid for it. But, after this lady got her food, she sat down and started eating. I never saw the grandchildren. That made me wonder. Of course, in the Mat-Su Valley we also have people in need. That is why agencies such as Family Promise and My House exist. But, what does a child of God do when we see another in need?
Let me say, this question does not have an easy answer! Therefore, it is good to listen to what our Lord says about life’s difficult questions. Perhaps the most well-known verse from Jesus’ mouth on this topic of helping others is found in His parable from Matthew 25. “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36) Jesus encourages us to help the needy. Then, my daily devotional readings on January 29 had me reading from Isaiah 58-59, where Isaiah chides the people of Judah because they worshiped God outwardly, but not with their hearts. Part of his declaration of their sinful spirits included these words, 6 "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? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7) However, helping others is not the only way, according to Isaiah 58, that God’s people would worship the Lord with contrite hearts. They would also “keep from breaking the Sabbath.” (Isaiah 58:13) Helping others is part of our bigger relationship with God!
Yet, as I said earlier, this question does not have an easy answer. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’" (2 Thessalonians 3:10) Also, the book of Proverbs is full of direction to be diligent in work. Proverbs 6:6-11, encourages the lazy man to consider the work of the lowly ant, and to follow that example. And, if you want to read more in Proverbs on this topic, just look up the word, “sluggard.” Helping people in need is not a cut and dried issue. In fact, I can remember times as a hospital chaplain when the social workers arranged for people without housing to have a warm bed and warm meals. But, the offer was sometimes refused. There were times that those in need preferred the freedom to do what they wanted while living in their car in the Alaskan winter, to the need to obey rules in a place that would provide shelter and food. What does a child of God do when we see another in need?
However, when life situations and the word of God seem confusing, God’ children are still called to act with faith in our Lord and Savior and to act in love for one another. Perhaps some principals I have come to believe to be true, through experience and study of God’s word, can help you as you consider, “What does a child of God do when helping those in need?”
First, God wants us to help those in need. How to help is not always clear. But, God does want us to help. Consider also the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)
Second, as in Salzburg, supporting agencies which help others might be the best way to help those in need. These agencies can and do work toward long-term solutions, not a momentary fix.
Third, helping someone does not always mean giving them what they want. Need and want are different. However, when helping an individual, giving the things they need, such as the meal I provided the lady in the Home Depot parking lot, is often better than giving money.
Finally, however, I try to be humble and consider how God has helped me. We don’t always know the difficulties a person faces that leads them to ask for help. Many on the streets fight mental illness. Those on the street can come from homes which are places of chaos, or danger. But, when I needed help with my rebellious pride, with my fleshly desires, and with my incorrigible sin, God sent Jesus. “ . . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) And, the night before Jesus died for our sin, after washing the feet of His disciples, he gave them these instructions, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) So, if Jesus, the Son of God, went to the depths of dying the agonizing death of a convicted criminal FOR ME, how should I love others? I do not always know how to help well. But, Jesus loved me, and I am called to love others.
What should we do the next time we see a person at a stop light with a sign asking for help? That’s a good question! As a child of God I want to act wisely, trusting in God’s love for me, and seeking to share that undeserved love with others.
A Child of God, Seeking Answers in Helping Those in Need,
P.S. Here is a picture from a family gathering on January 18. https://photos.app.goo.gl/w9tDVJsyTpBZ2jiM7
P.P.S. Here are some pictures from a fishing trip on the Suwannee River with my brother in law, Mark Reaves. https://photos.app.goo.gl/mJnA6o6ymc3T5oge8
ABOUT THIS DEVOTION - I am now retired as senior pastor of St. John Lutheran in Palmer, AK. This devotion was previously titled, "Thoughts from the Pastor." However, with life's changes I will now call it "Journeys Through Life as a Child of God." I am only sending this message to those who have asked o receive it. If you know someone else who desires to receive this message, have them e-mail me at email@example.com. You can also view this message on my Facebook page.