Philippians 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Psalm 37:25 I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
Coming across that first verse in my Bible reading this morning took my mind back to an experience I had this past Sunday night (and many other times prior to that). My wife and I stopped to do a little grocery shopping on the way home from church Sunday night. As we loaded my car, a man approached us with this story:
He just moved to the area from KY for his job, which is going very well. He doesn't have a place yet, but the VA is helping him move into an apartment this Tuesday (as he points to the letters "USMC" tattooed on his arm). He's not asking for any money. He has some money. But when he went to his church and asked for help all they gave him was some bread and some peanut butter (that's all), and his wife is pregnant and about to have a baby, and he's just asking for some help with some food for them.
There was more to it, but I can't remember all of it. May I point out a couple of loopholes?
1. The alcohol on his breath told me that he had enough money for food and that he really was asking for money.
2. I might not have noticed the alcohol on his breath as quickly had he not been clutching breath mints when he approached us.
3. What's wrong with peanut butter and bread (OK, maybe he was just asking for some jelly)?
4. If he has money, why not go in the store and buy some food.
5. A "USMC" tattoo on one's arm is not sufficient proof of military service and/or VA benefits.
6. So the VA can give you a place to stay but can't come up with anything to eat?
7. Not everybody is dumb enough to believe everything they hear from every bum that approaches them in the parking lot.
There are more, but I can't remember them all.
So, at the end of his speech, he asks, sheepishly, "Can you help?" I reply with a simple "No," and proceed to return my grocery cart (or buggy, depending on where you're from) when he comes out with, "Sir, are you a Christian?" No I wear a tie on Sunday nights just for fun and have scripture on my vehicle because it makes people think I'm cool. (I realize that doesn't make you a Christian, but you understand what he's asking.) His next brilliant question, "What does the Bible say?"
OK, the right answer would have been Romans 3:23 or 1 Timothy 1:15 or Amos 4:12 or Acts 16:31 or Acts 17:30 or John 3:16 or something. But instead I came back with a VERY gracious, "You tell me," and he gave me one of the 3 references he had memorized for such occasions – Matthew 22:36-37 – which I quoted as if to say, "And…" So he got in his truck and left, and I got in my car and left.
I used to feel really bad after these kind of conversations. In fact, I've been suckered 3 times into giving people gas (never given anybody money). I'm convinced one might have been legitimate; one was definitely a fraud; and the other was highly doubtful. But I'm a soft-hearted guy. OK, I was a soft-hearted guy. Now I just get mad. I think there are 2 main reasons I get mad. One, I get mad at myself for still kind of feeling bad about not helping the guy out. And two, I get mad because I think of all the things I should have said after the fact – as if one intelligent statement is going to cure a bum of his stupidity.
So why write all of this? One, I'm venting. Two, I need a good answer to give people. When people come to the church looking for handouts (sob-story in tow), I usually ask them what their church said when they went there and explain from 1 John 3:17 how we help those in our congregation who have needs from time to time but are not scripturally commanded to extend those privileges to those outside our fellowship. (Either that, or refer them to one of the larger churches in town.)
But I need to be ready (1 Peter 3:15) for these parking lot encounters. I'm purposing to somehow use the Bible in each situation. (When I did help with gas, at least I was able to give the gospel and invitations to church.) The verses at the top are a couple thoughts, but I'm also looking for your ideas. What I really ought to do/want to do is find a good way of turning these encounters into witnessing opportunities. Also, I'd like to figure out a good way to try to reason with these people without sounding smart or sarcastic. Help! And thanks.