Should I Help That Beggar?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s a discussion that goes on all the time and Facebook comments run rampant with the best solution on how to decide whether or not to help out that beggar or homeless person or man with the cardboard sign or the lady with the sad family story.

We’ve all heard it before.

Veteran with no money. Need job.

Single mom of 3 kids. No money. Please help.

Homeless and hungry.

Need money and food.

Will work for food.

Need cash for weed.

Hey, at least he was honest.

And maybe they all are. But how do you know? How can you be sure that they actually need help?

And then the discussion explodes.

We create the list. Here’s what you need to prove in order to get my help. As long as you’re legitimately needy, perfectly helpless, have lived a perfect life in destitution, haven’t taken advantage of anyone, aren’t doing anything illegal, and are totally down and out (and not of your own doing, of course), then…maybe then I can help.

As long as you have the most selfless intentions, then, then alone, will I give you help since now my sense of justice is fulfilled.

Because I’m the final judge of whether or not you deserve goodness. I mean, why in the world would anyone help someone who didn’t even deserve it? If I’m going to give you something for free then you must allow me to have the totally selfless satisfaction that I am a real do-gooder for the betterment of society.

Ok. Let’s stop.

Can we please remove the totally fake mask covering this whole discussion? And this is the very mask I’ve gone to grips with in my own life and heart. Why don’t we just verbalize what’s really going on in our heads? It’s then we realize how judgmental it can be.

The proof of love and pure goodness is how we do love and do good to the poor and destitute when they least deserve it. Because one day I have to realize that I am one of those least deserved. That what separates me from them is one series of unfortunate events, or perhaps a slow series of bad decisions. Just as I have the same potential to be in their state, so they have the potential to be in mine. And as the one with the stronger hold on life, it’s my responsibility to care for the poor.

It’s not Salvation Army’s responsibility.

It’s not the government’s.

It’s not the missionary church’s.

It’s yours. It’s mine. The future and health of our cities and neighborhoods are under our ownership. Do you believe this? Do I?

I know, there are so many hard questions around this topic.

I can’t help everybody. Who do I help?

I get this. I’m single, I’m a woman, I don’t have much money, I don’t have many resources. None of those, however, are limitations. It’s just how I have to think about my approach to helping. So for me, it’s simply been the choice to love the one in front of you. Be intentional about it and be prepared. Don’t drive to the homeless section of town when you haven’t reached out to your coworker who you know struggles as a single-mom and is constantly stressed about making ends meet. Start with that person. And walk into the opportunities that follow.

So you’re saying that every person that asks me for money, food, etc… I should give to them, just like that?

Great question. How about this: we instead initiate to ask the needy and poor how we can help them. Novel! You know what this does? It gives us a sense of purpose and intentionality. We can now plan. We can put it in our budget and focus. It also makes things clear so we can say no to certain things and yes to the ones we want to focus on. It’s ok to say no. But do it because you already know where your help is going, not because of pure judgement.

I feel guilty because I have this sense of compassion for everyone I see that needs help and it’s overwhelming! Maybe I should just stifle that feeling?

As a human, this should be natural and normal. Be so careful of squelching compassion because soon you will be totally empty. We are all built with an innate sense of compassion, some cultures nurturing it more than others. We also all have a sense of goodness when we give. Again, though, the more you live in selfishness, and some in real evil, the more this will be silenced altogether. So it’s ok to hurt for those you can’t do anything about. But what you can do, do well and with your whole heart.

For children of God and those in relationship with Jesus, it’s such a real, (super)natural reaction, because once we have chosen God and live in the reality of the wonderful life He has so graciously gifted us, we see and love others through His eyes of love. And He loves the world best and the most of all. He’s pretty awesome at love.

Giving isn’t my gift.

If you have the gift of life, you have the gift of giving. You have something to offer. It will look different from me and from the person next to you. But we all have the responsibility to help those that are weaker than us, for the vulnerable. Your gift might not be money, but it may be time, or an open house, or that extra bike, or homemade Pinterest caramel brownies. Not only is it God’s loving command (there’s so much happiness and joy in it!) but it takes us to a deeper level of relationship with him. His nature is giving to those that are most undeserving, like you and I. He chose us in our worst state! Does this not inspire to give and love others into the kingdom??

But I might be taken advantage of.

I’ve struggled through this on so many levels. I’ve heard this on blog posts, Facebook comments, Sunday school lessons, coffee conversations, and all from people with good intentions. This guy asked me for money for food and then I realized he was a druggie, so I said no. Whew, almost enabled someone!

Do you have any idea what just happened? Someone who clearly has major problems asks you for something superficial, and based off the knowledge of deeper problems he has, you choose to reject helping him with the surface issue while totally ignoring the huge, major issue that you’ve already discovered! Perhaps he needs someone to ask him if he would like someone to walk with him to a local rehab center. Perhaps she needs someone to speak truth into her life of what she was created to be, of how much she is loved, by you and God. Perhaps he needs a weekly friend to stop by and talk for 15 minutes, and when he’s ready to give up his life for a better one, you will be he one he goes to.

Maybe we need to apply our intelligence and knowledge and lead them to a path of what they truly need. It creates purpose and hope. Walking away is easy, but it never gives hope. And giving hope is often really awkward and super uncomfortable. But it’s the path to freedom.

We settle with way too little. We desperately cling to our sense of justice and fear of being taken advantage of.

How big is your love? How much can it take? Often, the point here is not necessarily the helping itself; it’s the times when you are betrayed and lied to and taken advantage of, and then…you could walk away totally justified. Or, you have the chance to look them in the eye and say, “I still choose to love you and forgive you and offer the best help for you.” That is when pure love and goodness is on display for the world.

And it takes radical love to change the world, your city, your neighborhood.

And I am not saying this from a narrow positive opportunist viewpoint, totally naive to the realities of misuse. I’ve been the recipient of lies and betrayal in very deep ways. In life, family, friendships, work, dating relationships. And this isn’t just “the past.” Recently I lived under the lies and manipulation of a guy I was in a relationship with, and lived with the subsequent emotional trauma of betrayal.

I get it. It doesn’t feel good. The natural response is to run, to protect yourself from any other hurt in the future, to assume the worst of people.

This is when your love shows up. Was it all about what you could get out of it? Or was it about you choosing to live love without expectations and demands? It’s hard. You’ll mess up, get messy, be exposed to really uncomfortable situations, and have to face your own fears. It’s awkward and confusing. You yourself will have to be needy on wisdom, on God, on others to help you.

But at the end of the day you will know that you chose love. And whether it looks like a giftcard or money or buying groceries or opening up your guest room or throwing dinner parties to the least of these or offering your business expertise or even just a word of encouragement and a prayer, it is all never in vain.

Watch not just your life open up, but your heart. Watch your neighborhood change, your city catch the fever. As William Wilborforce, leader of societal reform in England and the end of international slave trade, said,

Let’s make goodness fashionable.

Love the one in front of you

How do you change the world?

Heidi Baker said it well:

Love the one in front of you.

Change does not happen through programs and speeches and books and status’s and tweets and music and community groups and fundraisers and blog posts.

One day we have to realize that the only person responsible for making change happen in our community and city and country and world is ourselves.

I cannot control my circumstances or the people who appear in my day. But I do have everything to say about my choices in response to each and every person in front of me every day.

I used to search out change, dream about changing the world, create plans of action to really impact the world.

And then about a year ago a subtle change happened and I really didn’t realize it until others called it out. I think it’s because I was just living who I was in my natural environment but my perspective on people had shifted somehow.

Just over a year ago my vision for Greenville unexpectedly became This is my city“, and when you own something you naturally act differently towards it.

Suddenly the homeless person walking by my company to buy alcohol and drugs across the street to feed his addiction was my problem. When Michael’s trailer became condemned and he had nowhere to live that was my problem. When a friend came to my house after being abused for months that was my problem. When a couple driving through Greenville needed their laundry done that was my problem. When a new friend quit a strip club job because of her choice to follow Jesus and had no place to live that was my problem.

It was pretty difficult. And often awkward. I mean, seriously. Whenever someone admits need and you give them something, it’s pretty awkward. It would’ve been so much easier to complain. “I can’t believe there was an open drug deal outside our office. We work in such a bad neighborhood.” “Why doesn’t Salvation Army take care of Michael? That’s what they’re there for.” “Man, people always have an agenda when they ask for something. They’re such manipulators.” “Wow, some men are just abusive pigs and some poor girls just fall for it. Let’s pray about it.”

I would say the past year I’ve been stretched financially more than I ever could have imagined. My heart was split open over life stories. I had several emotional breakdowns. I had to deal with using my last dollar to provide for someone and then watch them use money they were given to buy dress shoes and eat out. I had to learn to be rejected, and then to forgive, and then to keep giving when my ability and desire was completely wasted away. I had to deal with other people (Christians) upset about my generosity because it interfered with their lives. I often felt alone and unable to know how to make decisions.

So, yes, from that perspective it was hard. Loving was challenging. Giving was an obstacle.

And yet…

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Look, you could offer to totally pay off my school debt (which is a lot) in return for the past year and I would laugh and say to you…

I told you the struggle, but now let me tell you the joy.

The joy of inviting that laundry couple over for dinner and hearing them tell me how they met Jesus radically a few days earlier, having the husband drill me about why I live the way I live, and then laughing at their ridiculous story of “rafting” down a river in Louisiana on an air mattress. The joy of driving Michael to church a year after we met him, watching him get baptized while I am wrecked into tears about his crazy story and our experiences. The joy of standing next to my friend during worship as she raises her hands in tears in praise to God for freeing her soul and I have to stop singing because I realize that only a month ago she had been in a strip club, broke, lonely, and had no hope to cling to. The joy of realizing that all the promises of Isaiah 58 are mine to claim and then watch them unfold in my life.

I didn’t search for these joys. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to find someone and impact their life. I think I realized who I was, which is a chosen child of God, which means the Spirit lives in me, so I naturally think and act like Jesus, so when a person in need is in front of me, I simply act like Jesus did.

Sometimes that was surprising. Sometimes it was celebrated. Sometimes it was impressive. Sometimes it seemed like I became a celebrity.

Can I just say that when we know who we are that acts of love and kindness and generosity and healing are completely normal? Why is it not normal that we have the homeless living with us? That we feed the hungry out of our paycheck? That we personally give our good clothing to those in need?

Isaiah 58 became my rallying cry and my source of promise when things got in deep and dark. And FYI, it’s for all of us. And it’s not figurative. It’s literal.

We are all world changers. The question is will we live up to our potential? And I believe that potential is very simple: Love the one in front of you.

One. just one.

And it’s funny. After you love one, suddenly it becomes two. And then three. And pretty soon people start thinking you’re this courageous, impressive person and you’re like, “Um, I’m just living. like a normal person. that knows Jesus. Hey, you can too! We’re really not that different.”

Stop the meetings. Stop the bullet points. Stop the noise. And let’s live our normal day with Kingdom eyes and watch some pretty freakn’ amazing things start happening.

Use Your Dishwasher

I’ve now lived in my cozy little townhouse for a year and a half now. And for that first year I was very proud of one fact.

I never used my dishwasher.

Yep, it was the old-fashioned scrub-with-your-bare-hands, drip-and-dry-in-the-dish-rack method.

You see, when you start living on your own, your living expenses coming into stark reality as you realize that you have very little money to cover all these ridiculous expenses you have now to pay. And when it came to my house and utility bills, I eyed every little detail like a hawk. It became like this sick version of a Price Is Right game.

The bathroom light. the bathroom fan. the bedside lamp. the heat. the air. the shower water. the sink water. the outside light. the oven.

and then the dishwasher. It didn’t even stand a chance. If I could hand-wash my dishes for free, why would I PAY to use the dishwasher??!!

Unfortunately, I had overlooked one really important detail. In reality, it was easy to toss out the dishwasher because I never really needed to use my dishwasher. All my meals could easily be cleaned up with a quick, 3 minute hand-wash. Because all my meals were made for 1 person.

Which means that I never made meals for more than 1 person. which means no one ever ate at my house. which means I probably prized my low water bill above my community.

ouch.

6-7 months ago I clearly remember telling someone that I never used my dishwasher. And then the Spirit of God was like, “Hey, you really need to start using your dishwasher.”

And then he continued to clarify.

Open your door. Turn on the lights. Crank up the air conditioning. Buy some good food. Make a great meal. Get a lot of dishes dirty. Let dirty shoes walk over your clean floors. Stay up past your bedtime for a good conversation.

and then when it’s all said and done, when the party’s over, when the last guest has left,

use your dishwasher.

You see, it took some time for me to realize that while everything I have is to be managed well, part of that also means what I have is to be given away. These words from 2 Corinthians 9 have rocked my world again and again in the past few months:

A giving man throws caution to the wind, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. And so God gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way.

So opening my home and allowing my food bill, water bill, utility bill and who-knows-what-else bill to increase can actually be this amazing act of trust and worship, that I’m going to recklessly give trusting that God’s going to take care of me and keep giving me enough so that I can provide for myself and others.

And you know what? It’s pretty cool when you see God increase your standard of living as you have already increased your level of giving. He just likes to bless his kids like that.

So manage your house well. But remember that your dishwasher’s purpose may not simply be to quickly clean up your life, but may also be an tool to help you love and give well to your community.

dishwasher