We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’re stuck at a red light. A homeless man shuffles his way down the row of cars before you. He’s holding a beat-up cardboard sign that reads, “Hungry. Please Help. God Bless.” His clothes are dirty, worn, and torn. He’s greasy and bedraggled. His hair is wild. His eyes are sunken and tinged with shame. As he starts to get close, your eyes anxiously dance between him and the light. “Come on green," you whisper under your breath. But the light doesn’t turn, and now you have a decision to make. What do you do? Some feign ignorance: their eyes lock straight ahead or suddenly they become engrossed by something on their phone. Others are kind enough to acknowledge the desperate stranger with a sympathetic smile and nod through a closed window, behind a locked door. Some finger through their wallet for a few loose bills or dredge up a handful of coins mixed with paperclips and gum wrappers from the depths of the center console to deposit in the man’s coffer, awkwardly stuttering, “Take care, friend.” But aren’t these choices less than satisfying?
What is the God-honoring thing to do in this situation? While there may be good reasons to withhold giving money to someone living on the street, James identified charity as living proof of saving faith: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). “Ah yes!” you might say, “but James was speaking of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ within the church, not the stranger on the street! Nice try, preacher.” Perhaps. But what say you to Jesus who instructed his disciples saying, “Give to everyone who begs from you” (Luke 6:30), or to Solomon the Wise, “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor” (Proverbs 14: 21), or the Apostle Paul who was eager to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10), or to the writer of the Hebrews who said, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”(Hebrews 13:2)? Have you forgotten the way in which benevolence was woven by heaven’s needle into the very fabric of the Israelite economy? Vineyards and grain fields weren’t to be stripped bare of their produce as leftovers were reserved, “for the poor and for the sojourner” (Leviticus 19:10, 23:22).
While compassion, altruism, and philanthropy are central tenets of Christian ethics, some go too far. One such ecclesiastical abuse is the Social Gospel of the 20th century, conceived in liberal protestant churches where it can be found to this day. Those involved hold that the greatest problem facing man is not a depraved soul and enmity with a Holy God, but rather impoverishment, inequality, and injustice. Therefore, man’s greatest need is not the cleansing blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, but higher wages, cleaner apartments, a stocked pantry, a robust education, and healthcare. The chief problem with the Social Gospel is clear: it’s no gospel at all! Friends, caring for the temporal needs of the body while neglecting the eternal needs of the soul is not true but tragically false religion!
Sadly, there are biblical conservatives, still bearing the spiritual scars inflicted by the lash of liberalism, who have learned to correlate Christian charity with false teaching. Thus, they view any and all philanthropic initiatives of the church under a raised brow of suspicion. Oh, how the devil delights in our over-corrections!
How then is the church to remain faithful to the Great Commission, clinging to the “words of life (John 6:68),” with a Christlike, Pauline, Solomonesque, Jamesian love for the poor? For years, our amazing deacons have been ministering to needy members and neighbors who come to Westminster looking for help. We are grateful for the faithful and exhaustive labors of Sam Oates, Kevin Helms, and the good men who have and continue to serve beside them. Under their leadership, a new and exciting initiative has been born, spearheaded by our beloved sister, Bette Jadwin. For months, Bette and her team have been praying, planning, stockpiling and stuffing benevolence bags to be handed out to Jacksonville’s homeless by YOU, the members of WPC. Each bag contains essential toiletries such as deodorant, hand sanitizer, and soap along with a bottle of water, food coupon, a Gospel tract and an invitation to Westminster. I am grateful to Bette for inspiring us to love our neighbors “not in word or talk but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18).”
So here’s what we need to do for this effort to bless our neighbors!
1. Donate. These bags won’t fill themselves! As you are able and as the Lord leads, won’t you consider picking up those items which will be used to fill future bags and bless those in need? Items can be dropped off in the steel locker in the back of the kitchen.
2. Participate. Grab a bag and keep it in your car. Next time you’re stuck at a red light, you won’t have to dread the man with the sign and the sad eyes. Instead, you can ask him his name and give him something wonderful; something that God might use to change his life and save his soul! Remember his name and share it with us at church so we can be praying for him. Once you’ve given one bag away, grab another!
3. Celebrate. Each bag has an invitation to Westminster. Toiletries get used up, water bottles get drained, and food coupons get spent, but a relationship with Jesus in the context of a covenant family has everlasting significance. And that’s what we’re after: the salvation of lost souls! So, if/when the Lord is pleased to bring one of the blessed recipients of a benevolence bag through the double doors of our little church, it is my prayer that they will be received like the prodigal son: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (Luke 15:20).” God grant that our needy neighbors would receive a similar welcome at Westminster as they are enveloped in a sea of open arms, smiling faces, and radiating love because those who have been forgiven much, love much.