Benevolent?

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There recently came a knock on the church door. This was odd because everyone in the church seems to have a key.

I answered the door and there was a young couple at the door. They didn’t want to trouble me or even come inside, but they needed help with making their rent payment.

This happens fairly often—probably once a month, or so. We try to help, though sometimes we don’t have the funds.

Yes, I know: what I’ve just written could be written by every church in this town. As I write it—and maybe as you read it—several thoughts come to our collective minds. Thoughts about creating a central repository in town for helping the needy (in the works!!), and thoughts of wondering whether the people we’re helping really need the help or whether they’re just scamming us.

Believe me, that thought occurs to me every time. It irritates me, because I know there are genuinely needy people around us so I am irritated by the scammers who make me suspicious of everyone. Still, we try to help as many as we can on the firm belief that God wants us to take care of the needy and He’ll take care of the scammers.

There’s another thought that comes to my mind every time I help someone who has just shown up on our doorstep this way. Actually, it’s kind of a twin thought. The first of the twins is, “Why did they pick a church?” I know that churches are supposed to be benevolent (it’s written throughout the Bible), but how did they know that? Obviously, they don’t go to church anywhere.

How do I know that?

That’s the twin to the last thought: if they were members—or even regular attenders—of a church, they wouldn’t be on my doorstep. I know the churches of this town (and, really, the churches of every town) and I know that every church in this town does a great job of taking care of its own. If we have a person in our church who needs clothing, they’ll get more clothing than they can wear in a year. Food? We’ll give them food enough for a month. Rent? We’ll see that it gets paid. Need a job? We’ll try to help the person(s) find one.

What I’m saying here—for anyone who’s reading this but doesn’t have a church home—you’re really missing out.

Maybe the people who come to churches looking for help but don’t take the time to become a part of a congregation know this. They know they could be helped, but they also know a couple other things. They know they will hear the gospel message. Those of us who are Christians think of that as a good thing, but even our book of Hebrews tells us that the message is like a double-edged sword, cutting bone from marrow. Maybe the people who are coming by know this and don’t want to be convicted about the difficult things in their life.

Which brings up the second truth I’m thinking they might know: becoming part of a family entails a certain level of accountability. For instance, if one of our people here at North Plains Christian Church came to us needing money to help with rent, we’d help them. If it happens a second time, though, we’re going to—for their benefit and the stability of our own bankbook—try to do some financial counseling. Why is the money not lasting? Is a smaller apartment needed? Is a higher-paying (or second) job needed? Is the money that should go to rent and food being squandered on something else?

Such questions might seem intrusive, but remember what the goal of the church is: to lift people closer to God. Of all the distractions in this life that pull us away from God, almost none are as powerful as money. When we don’t have it, it’s awfully hard to trust in God to provide … and sometimes when we have it, it’s hard to remember where it came from. It’s why the apostle Paul tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil.

As a church, if we really want to help each other, we’ll tackle the “big” things, like teaching each other how to pray, how to study Scripture, and how to help the needy; but, if we’re holding to our mandate, we’re also going to lovingly help each other tackle those problems like fiscal responsibility, relationships, and even problems at work. Being a Christian—and being a part of a church—is a holistic thing.

Maybe people do know that, and that’s why they keep church at an arm’s length. I feel bad for them because they’re missing out on so much: friendship, love, accountability, fun and—ultimately—heaven.