“Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30).
Everyone who works around the church office will identify with this.
From my journal of Tuesday, August 12, 1997…
In the afternoon, I took a phone call from a Don Peterson. “Remember me?” he said.
I said, “Refresh my memory.”
“My fiancée and I were in your services three Sundays ago.”
“Well, my father has died. In Ann Arbor, Michigan. I need some money for a plane ticket. I need to borrow it until Sunday.”
I said, “How much?”
I said, “How can I verify this?”
He said, “Huh? What do you mean?”
“We get lots of phone calls with lots of requests and lots of stories. We’re not giving money to anybody without verifying your story.”
Pause. Then “click.”
He hung up.
I stepped into the next office and told Janie, my administrative assistant. She said, “That’s the same man who called Brother Jim (assistant pastor) yesterday. Jim gave him $70.”
I said, “He did what?”
“I think so.” Faye, the other secretary, confirmed it.
We got Jim on the phone at the hospital where he was making the rounds. “Yes.” He said, “I picked him up and brought him to the airport. I only had $70, so gave him that.”
I said, “Jim, did you fill out the office form?”
I said, “Jim! We never give anything to anyone without filling out the information for our records. Did you get his name?”
“I think it was Dan. That’s all I know.”
He said, “I know. I guess I’m a sucker for a good story. I’ll pay the $70 out of my pocket.”
I said, “No. We’re not going to let you do that. You were acting on good faith for the church. We’ll reimburse you.”
I called all the secretaries into my office, along with the student minister, and told them two things: a) No one gets anything without the form being filled out, and b) there is one person I want us to go out of our way to assist. Give Patricia something everytime she comes.” (Patricia is not her real name.)
Then, I started calling the other churches in the area. They had all talked to the same man, and all had denied him. Two churches said he had been calling repeatedly demanding to talk with the pastors.
(End of the journal entry for that day. But don’t go away.)
The next night, Wednesday, August 12, 1997…
In prayer meeting, after our business session, I did a second session on “Christian prayerlessness,” focusing this time on “Fatigue.”
Some excerpts from my notes, followed by one of those God-things I still shake my head over.
“Everybody I know is tired. In John 4:6, Jesus was also.” I asked the congregation, “How many of you are tired tonight?” Ninety percent raised their hands.
“Jesus invites the tired to Him–to rest in Him (Matthew 11:28), work in Him (John 4:34ff), to be renewed in Him (Colossians 1:29).
I ended the session with this: “Some of your best work is done when you are tired.”
Don’t miss that: Some of your best work is done when you are tired.
Then, here’s what happened.
Patricia came up with her two small sons.
“Pastor, can you help me move? I need to move from my apartment.”
“If I don’t move before midnight tonight, I lose my deposit on the apartment.”
I’m scarcely believing this.
It’s now 8 pm. The day has been long. (My journal says it started before sunrise with my prayer-walk in the neighborhood. I was in the office by 8 am.)
Suddenly something occurred to me. The Lord was sending me a little test. Do I really mean what I just said about serving Him when we are tired? It’s time to put up or shut up.
Quickly, before the prayer meeting crowd scattered, I called out some names. “Jim Parrie. Jim Smith. Marcus and Wesley Bouler. Mike Dupont. Johnny Barlow. Jim Lancaster. I need to see you now, please.”
I said, “Guys, Patricia here needs to move tonight, from her apartment in River Ridge to another apartment in Metairie. I need each of you to be back here in 45 minutes with your pickup trucks or vans or whatever you have.”
Give them credit; they responded.
They quickly ran to get their families home. Then, they enlisted others. According to my notes, Jim got Russell Wright. Marcus and Wesley got Rachel Wright and Jenny Moore.
We ended up with a dozen volunteers, three pickup trucks, and two vans, and headed to Patricia’s apartment.
When we arrived, we discovered she had done nothing–nada, zip–about packing to move.
I’d been preaching for 30 years and knew this. But it was confirmed all over again. When you start to help the needy, sometimes they don’t even lend you a hand.
We moved her and the children in 90 minutes.
We discovered the electricity had not been turned on in the new apartment. So, our wonderful team kicked in with enough money for Patricia and her kids to go to a hotel for two nights. They even gave her money for food.
All of this was hand-written in my journal at 11 pm. Obviously, it was one of those evenings I would not forget.
An observation or two, then Don Peterson shows up again…
I worry about churches that refuse to help the needy. I imagine that some of those that turned down the request from “Don Peterson” probably don’t help anyone, whether the need is genuine or not. I know churches like that. And frankly, I have a problem with this. God’s people are commanded to be generous and gracious. We’re not to be foolish or to give unwisely, but when we know the need is genuine we should knock ourselves out to help.
And when we don’t know or cannot find out, we should err on the side of generosity. After all, Jesus said, “For (the Father) Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35).
We are not commanded–it’s important to emphasize–to meet all the needs of the world. Sometimes people will say unthinkingly, “If the churches did their jobs, there would be no need for the government to help anyone in need.” That is ridiculous. In the first place, nowhere does Scripture command the church to take care of all the needy in society. “As much as we have opportunity,” we’re told, “let us do good to all people, but especially to the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). The Old Testament does command the Israelites to take care of the poor in their country, but this should not be interpreted as a blanket command for God’s people today to divert all the offerings to this purpose.
You may want to know that after we moved Patricia and her children into the new apartment, we helped her find a better job. We led her and the children to the Lord and baptized them all. They still belong to that church, all these years later.
And then Don Peterson reappeared.
Wednesday, September 3, I was in the church office at 6:30 pm. The phone call–again, verbatim from my journal–went like this.
I answered the phone: “First Baptist Church.”
Voice: “Speak up. I can’t hear you.”
Me: “I said First Baptist Church.”
Voice: “Who is this?”
Me: “The pastor. Who is this?”
Voice: “Don Peterson.”
Me: “Don Peterson! Man, I’ve been looking for you!”
He: “For me? Why have you been looking for me?”
Me: “Is your father still dead? Do you still need to get to Lansing, Michigan?” (Lansing, Ann Arbor–all the same to me.)
He: “No….” (pause) “Why do you want to see me?”
Me: “Because you are the biggest con in town. Going around lying about your father dying and lying to every church in town. I want to find you so I can turn you over to the cops.”
In addition to being a con man, this guy keeps poor records. Otherwise he would have seen that he’d already fleeced one of our ministers and the other minister did not fall for his little scam.
I admit that chewing him out felt good.
Churches do well to a) keep good records on everyone they help, b) give no cash ever, and c) work with other churches in a coordinated effort to minister to the needy without letting themselves become victimized by the wicked.