Posts Tagged ‘worthiness for help’

Deuteronomy 22:4

Helping Your Neighbor

How often do we walk right past homeless people as if they do not exist? How often do you look away when you get off the interstate and some homeless guy is panhandling at the end of the exit ramp? It is awkward in both of those cases. You look straight ahead and try NOT to make eye contact with person. Many times, we think that, at least around here where the economy is pretty stable and opportunities abound, the person is just lazy and is just trying to work our sympathy.


How often do we have people come to the church each week asking for financial assistance from our church? There is at least one person per week if not more. After having been involved in our community outreach ministries with my wife over the past 5 years and being on-staff and physically at the church two days a week as the finance director for the last year and a half, you kind of become jaded to these requests. Add to that the fact that I have been a hard worker all my life, sometimes I have not enough regard and too much cynicism when it comes to these requests.


I have been working since I was fourteen years old and have only been out of work three times in the forty years after that. Each time, I diligently sought work and was able to get back to work relatively quickly. During the economic downturn in 2000, I lost my job and was out of work for two months and underemployed for another two months after that. However, two months after I lost my job and jobs befitting my education and experience were hard to find at that time, I took a job, any job, to keep food on the table for my family. As a man and as a husband, I felt the obligation to do any kind of work to keep the lights on. I worked in the Bi-Lo (a regional grocery chain here in the South) warehouse for two months while I continued looking for a job as auditor or accountant.


That was most grueling work I had ever done in my life. I would go to job interviews when I could get them during the day and work in the warehouse in the evenings. I would go to those job interviews with muscles that were so sore it was sometimes painful to just walk. During the 10+ hour days at the Bi-Lo warehouse, you would be on-the-go all the time fulfilling orders from the Bi-Lo stores throughout that warehouse’s area of responsibility. It was intense. We had to get all the orders filled as quickly as you could. There were incentives for your pay the quicker you filled the orders. The more experienced workers would add pressure to you by beeping their horns if you took too long at any bin loading goods onto your pallet truck. Also, orders sometimes (a lot of times) from the freezer section where all the meats were all the way over to the other side of the warehouse where the produce was where it was 80 degrees. You could go from shivering to your body’s core to sweating profusely like a kid a two-a-day football practices in the height of August’s heat. It was grueling and constant and stressful. But, hey, I did what I had to do to keep money coming in. So, from the backdrop of always working and having the mentality that I will do whatever it takes to keep money coming in my house to meet my financial obligations, it has been hard for me to have sympathy for those that seem not to grasp the concept. I admit that my first reaction (and sometimes through conversation you realize that it is true) that a person is simply trying to work the system of charity (between governments and churches) so that they don’t have to work. I hate myself for having these feelings when I encounter someone who is “just working the system”. It jades me toward it all and one of my fears is that I will let my cynicism cause me to overlook a person who really does need my help or the help of the organization that is my church.


I admire my wife in this regard. She has been co-director of community outreach with me for the first 3 ½ years that we were in church leadership and she has been the solo director of those efforts for the last year and a half. She may have cynicism after these years in leadership of the outreach ministry (part of the responsibility of which is to handle all these assistance requests). However, she never shows it toward those who contact the church. She talks to them not with condescension but with respect. She directs them to agencies that can help them if the church is not in position to help them directly. She often prays with them (even over the phone). She has compassion for the lost puppies of the world. But, for certain, when we do help people directly at the church, we do not give them a check made out to them or give them cash. If they need help with their water bill or power bill or gas bill, we pay those vendors directly on their behalf. If they need groceries, we will buy them a gift card to Bi-Lo, Food Lion, or Ingles. If they need gas, we will go with them to a nearby gas station and fill their car up for them. That’s just responsible helping because of the cynicism that creeps in because of all those out there “working the system.” I admire her still having the willingness to listen with compassion to those she encounters in her ministry responsibilities.


It was this idea that I struggle with about those who seek assistance from governments and churches that came to mind when I read this one-verse passage, Deuteronomy 22:4. Let’s read it together now:


4 If you see your fellow Israelite’s donkey or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help the owner get it to its feet.


Here, the Israelites are commanded to help their fellow citizens when their beasts of burden have fallen. It is a specific case, yes. But the idea behind can be expanded to all areas of life. The Israelites were to help each other when they were found to be in need. They were not to look the other way, like we do with homeless people at street intersections. They were to dive into the situation and help their brother Israelite. It does not matter what the situation is. The implication of this law in this verse is wide-ranging in its application. Help those who need help.


Jesus expanded the requirement of the law when he told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). In that parable, it was the Israelites, God’s chosen people, that were ignoring the neighbor in need of assistance. It took a hated Samaritan to help the man who had been attacked. He even when above and beyond by putting the hurt man up at a lodge and paying for all his medical needs. Jesus is drawing upon the law here and saying that ignoring the call of the law is not keeping the law. Jesus was pretty clear throughout his ministry that the law was our minimum baseline of behavior and that because we love Him that we should go above and beyond that. The Samaritan did not check to see if the person was worthy of being helped. He just helped. He saw the person as a person who had needs just as important as his. He did not know the back story of the fallen man. He didn’t care about the back story. He just loved. He just helped. the lessons of the Parable of the Good Samaritan are three-fold:


  • we are to set aside our prejudice and show love and compassion for others.
  • Our neighbor is anyone we encounter; we are all creatures of the creator and we are to love all of mankind as Jesus has taught.
  • Keeping the law in its entirety with the intent to save ourselves is an impossible task; we need a savior, and this is Jesus.


Yes, so we might think this passage is so specific that it cannot apply to us in our urban and suburban lifestyles or even now in high-tech farming equipment in rural societies, but it is an idea that we can expand to all walks of life. We are not to judge whether a person needs our help or not. We are not to judge whether they deserve our help or not. We are jaded by those who rip us off under the guise of being homeless or down and out. However, we should pray before we help someone that God will take care of the judging of the motives of the person. Let Him handle that. We must pray to Him that we will not let our own ideas about how hard a person is looking to get back on his feet or not effect our willingness to help. I reflect back on my wife again. Right after she accepted Christ as her Savior, we were then living in Livermore, CA. The first Thanksgiving there we could not afford to go back home to South Carolina with Christmas following the next month when we HAD to be there. So, Elena in her joyous fervor of her newfound salvation, made extra food for our little Thanksgiving meal together and we took the excess over to a park near our apartment complex and we gave the meals to the five or six homeless men we encountered there. Elena did not check to see if they deserved our help. She just helped. She did care about their backstories. She just helped. We engaged them in conversations and just showed them love and concern instead of looking the other way. Who knows what that chance encounter brought to those six men. Maybe it was just a warm meal but maybe it was the start of realizing that people do care and maybe it was the start of them getting back on their feet.


I often think of a video that I want to do where I am walking past a homeless man and I do my best to ignore him. After I pass, the homeless turns into Jesus and looks toward me after I have passed and a tear comes to his eye. How often do we miss our divine opportunities to help others because we are too busy, don’t want to get involved, or think the person is unworthy of help.


We are called to be uncommon as Christians. We have to fight our flesh. We must love people to the cross. We must care for the lost puppies. We must go against our selfish nature often times as Christians. Help your neighbor when he needs help. Take the time. Get messy. Don’t look the other way. We are called to love others not just ourselves. We are not to judge whether a person is worthy of love. Maybe the seed your plant today in a life of a person (who your gut cries out not to help) by helping them is what brings them to Christ and changes their life forever. One little help. A changed life. Why is that the hardest thing to do for us? For me? For you? Sometimes, we are the only Christlikeness that some people will ever meet. What will be our testimony on behalf of our Savior?


Amen and Amen.