The church which wants to help the needy has its work cut out for it.

“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.”

“No. Sorry.”

“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?”

“Fifty-four dollars.”

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?”

“No.”

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.”

“Jim!”

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.”

When?

“Tonight.”

“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.”

“Click.”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “The church which wants to help the needy has its work cut out for it.

  1. Years ago I was pastor of a country church a mile from a main north-south highway between “up north” and Florida. We would constantly have travelers who needed “just a meal and a tank of gas and a motel room” to get them to their ’emergency’ in Florida or points north. Some of them may have even been genuine, but we found that many churches in our county were being approached by people in similar cars with similar stories (but not always the same names.) Our interdenominational pastors’ group had an idea…we pooled our money, and it was distributed by the Sheriff’s office at the county seat. Strange how much this cut down on the amount that was being given out. The folks in genuine need would go by the office and get their help (we called ahead to tell the office they were coming.) The (presumed) con artists would somehow never show up at the sheriff’s office to receive their help.

  2. smh…..well I’ve got to say, this is a typical “First Baptist Church” article. I’ve worked in church office settings myself, but your response to “Jim” was way out of line. So you obviously have the inside track on when exactly God lays on someone’s heart to give. Don’t you know that wasn’t about the con man at all but about showing the love of Christ to that man as putting action behind the words and money? That was between God and Jim. Typical condescending attitude of some Baptist pastors. I worship in a Baptist church but refuse to call myself a baptist. Our pastor is without blame in this area and I’m so thankful.

    • If Jim knew the man was lying to get money, he would have never been compelled to give! Wise counsel was given. The man was a crook and should have been in jail!

    • Kathy, My husband is a senior pastor of a First Baptist Church. In our 30+ years ministry, we have encountered many con persons. Would you be willing to send me your phone number? I will forward some of these folks your way so that you may put some action behind your words and money?
      It is very easy to sit at your keyboard and criticize God’s servants. My husband is called to be a responsible steward of the money given by our members for ministry. If he gives out money that will be used for drugs, gambling, alcohol, etc., he is accountable.
      Until you have walked in a pastor’s shoes, you have no idea the burdens he bears.

      • I beg your pardon. I’ve been in the ministry 38 yrs and put plenty of action behind my words ma’am. God has given me the wisdom and discernment to know when to give and when it would be better to pass by. I’ve been on two mission trips to Brazil and have seen true poverty first hand. There are con artists there as well. If you would’ve taken the time to read my comment I stated that I have worked in church office settings myself and understand the need for wisdom in benevolence and withholding such. My point is this. For that pastor to get after or humiliate the man for giving that money was out of line. How in the world did he not know that maybe God had laid on his heart to stop what he was doing and give the man a ride and some money? You’re making it all about the money and the dishonest man when in fact I believe it could very well have had nothing to do with either but was a test for the man. Between him and God. We aren’t talking about a thousand dollars here. You and your
        ” First Baptist Church” mindset and attitude is exactly my point. It’s not about Jesus anymore in the church it’s the “Senior Pastor” and staff making sure it’s all done to perfection. Ugh.

        • God puts pastors in leadership for a reason. Among other many other things, he is over monitoring and teaching other ministerial staff. Pastors are held accountable for everyone from custodians to church office workers. Most people can recognize the value of his experience, calling and training. But SMH there are always a who think they know more than God’ chosen men.

          • I want to respond to Kathy, but the Spirit within me is not allowing it. So, we will leave this matter where it lays. Thanks to Tina and Heather.

  3. Wow! KM I always thought if you were aiding and abetting someone in their sin(s) that you were equally responsible for that milestone around their neck…

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