Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I May Have Given Beer to an Alcoholic...

"Sir, may I have money for the bus?"  "Sir, do you have any change I can use...I need to get some food?"  "Hey, buddy, spare some change so I can get some gas?"--There are so many other examples I of requests I have gotten over the last few years.  These quick occurrences are common interchanges among my days.  Gas stations, sidewalks, entering establishments, they happen.  I've heard many Christian people say a variety of things about how to respond.  There are even some great books out there for those who like to think deeply about how Christians should respond in mercy, such as: "When Helping Hurts", "Ministries of Mercy" & "Toxic Charity").  However, how does the individual Christian respond to the plea for spare change in the moment?

So often, many will deny aid thinking things like, "They need to get a job" or "They're just going to buy booze with this", or perhaps even more brazen: "I can't believe the level they would stoop to rip off people for money, it's shameless!"   In actuality, all of these things are true to a degree in various encounters.  It is not helping an addict to have more money if they are going to use it for a substance.  It is not helping an unemployed person find a job by giving them one excuse after another to not find meaningful work.  It is not helping the conman to further convince him that he is good at trickery.  However, what if in every instance, the person is telling the truth?  What if in every occurence, a true need is met with gospel charity?  We might say, "well that's possible, but you don't know which are genuine, and which are fake!"  I'd agree, and in past seasons of my life my conclusion would be that since I didn't know, I'd turn down the request.  Now, however, I am the opposite.  Since I don't know what needs are legitimate, and since I could be meeting a true need, and since I can part with loose change very easily, I give it.  However, there is another reason--

So often, what our hearts would reveal if our feelings and thoughts were articulated audibly is that we, a people of grace, who didn't deserve a helping hand, who were under the wrath of God, and were dead in sin....beggars in spirit if you will, often forget that God could have abandoned us in our needs and He would have been just to say things like: (although He wouldn't given His character), "Help yourself"..."earn your own way"..."you're just going to use my charity...my grace to sin more"...however, He didn't.  What if my encounter with the person just this morning asking for change was an opportunity for me to rejoice at how God has provided for me, not primarily materially, although He has abundantly, but spiritually in His grace?  I'm growing in my desire to give "in case" the need is real, vs. denying "in case" it's fake.  A helpful biblical text for me is Luke 6:30, "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."  Now this isn't to be taken as a rule in every case, for obviously there are other texts that speak to the importance of work (2 Thess 3:10), however I think we too infrequently honor the spirit of Jesus' teaching by assuming we know a person's need enough to say no.

Don't get me wrong, I believe we need to be wise, discerning and strategic in giving.  If I'm walking down the street, and I pass a bar or pub and a person outside that place asks for money, I may offer to cross the street with him and buy him a meal.  Or, if an inebriated person approaches and asks for money, I may need to say no, or perhaps more sacrificially, offer to buy him cab fare to a local Christian mission.  Perhaps if asked for gas money, instead of giving cash, I offer to put some gas in the car.  Perhaps if I pass by the same location multiple times, and the same person is there asking for money, the appropriate response would be not to give again.  And what if as often as I can, I try to give some gospel material, a contact card for church, or the like? 

It is possible that many of my quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies have made their way to the purchasing counter of an alcoholic distributor.  But, it's possible they've helped a single parent, with a legitimate need to get to the store by bus to buy formula for a mal-nourished child.  I don't know, and that's the point I'm learning.  I'll just seek to be wise, and yet with gospel-laced charity, give.  I was the beggar on the street, and He came and put my name on His checking account...

So, without meaning to, and not seeing every disguise, I may have unintentionally given an alcoholic beer.  Or....or, I may have given a beggar bread...