Saturday, March 07, 2015

Helping the Homeless

Last week I had to renew and pay the registration and other fees for my business equipment: my truck and chipper and other two trailers.  Once again the State of Kansas changed the rules, costing me a couple of days in contacting the right sources and changing my registrations and tags.  Naturally, the cost also has increased on account of this new and improved method of taxation.

After finalizing the process, with my notebooks and files and information and new tags in hand, a fellow called out to me from the parking lot.  I forget his exact words, but I think that they were, “Hey fella!  Can you do me a favor?”

He wanted $1.50 for bus fare on account of the cold weather and snow and ice.  All I had was a ten dollar bill, and I needed that for my daily supplies.  So with a certain degree of guilty feeling I told him that I could not help.  It was the truth, but it still felt wrong, because my heart naturally wants to help those in need, even when I know that they could be trying to trick me, and are asking for what I do not have to give.

He was clearly homeless, as he claimed.  He also smelled of alcohol, which he promised he was not going to purchase with my money.  His pants were wet down the inside of the legs, which indicated that he may not even have been aware that he had wet himself.  But in cold weather that can happen even without the influence of alcohol.

As I walked away, it occurred to me that perhaps I could give him a ride to where he needed to go.  So I turned back to him and asked how far he needed to go.  He paused, and then said that he wanted to go to Pastor Dan’s church, where he helps homeless people.  So I offered to take him there.  According to his directions, it was not significantly out of my way.

As I drove I conversed with him, asking about his situation.  I asked whether he was homeless by circumstance or by choice.  I know of people who do choose to be “homeless,” to live without the obligations of rent or a mortgage and property taxes and the like.  But he responded that he was homeless because he had lost his job.  He had been working at Evergreen Pallet LLC, recycling used pallets.

As we continued talking he shared that he was trying to gather enough money for bus fare to go visit his sister who had liver disease.  As I queried further, I asked about him being able to find a job, to which he responded, “Oh, I can get my job back where I was, but I don’t have any transportation.”  He said that it was too cold to ride a bike or to walk, with which I can sympathize.  Yet it also informed me that he was indeed homeless and without income by choice, even though he did not perceive this.

I do deeply sympathize with this man and the many others like him.  I am glad for the fact that the Lord’s Diner and Pastor Dan and other places are established to help them at least to have a meal when they are down.  Moreover, I also do help in small ways when I am able.

Yet I am not responsible for his circumstances and it is wrong for me to take that upon myself.  Certainly his situation is sad.  In a certain sense, because of his mindset, he is unable to escape this or to improve his circumstances.  But this is on him, not me.  I have my own failings with which to deal.  I can help in small ways and I can speak the Truth to him in love, but I do not have the power of mine own to set him free.  Only the Gospel can do that.  I can proclaim it, but only the Holy Spirit can work the regeneration that this man needs.

I recall another situation, where a lawn maintenance company owner encountered a man on a corner with a sign asking for assistance, claiming to be homeless and in need of food.  This businessman was moved to compassion, and when he went to McDonalds to get breakfast for himself and his crew, he also bought a meal for this man and drove by and handed it to him through the truck window.  The man threw it on the ground, declaring, “I don’t want food!  I want money!”

A person has to discriminate between those in genuine need and those who are not.  Otherwise one is not being a faithful steward of the resources received from the Lord.  One can actually find oneself contributing to evil unaware.  As a friend and neighbor said today on this issue, “I want to help people, but I am not willing to pay for someone’s next drunk.”  He also said, “It’s getting harder and harder to be a Christian in the world.”

So it seems.  Yet nothing is easier than being a Christian.  What is actually hard is being a sinner.  The Old Adam is ever taxing the fleshly nature, urging it to fight against the spirit.  The devil uses the worldly influences, the fleshly desires, and hard circumstances, to challenge the spirit and to embolden the Old Adam.

The Christian is in the world but not of the world, and so the Christian is very much like a homeless person in the world.  This can seem hard when a person looks to this rather than to the grace of God in Christ.  When the daily frustrations are given priority rather than rejoicing in the means of grace provided in the divine service and in regular time in the communion of God through hearing the Word, then being a Christian seems hard.  But the Lord has provided His means of grace through which He renews us and strengthens us continually so long as we do not neglect our partaking of them.

A wonderful hymn reflecting this is:

                    "If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee"
                          by Georg Neumark, 1621-1681
                 Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878
                                  Text From:
                              THE LUTHERAN HYMNAL
                 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941)

    1. If thou but suffer God to guide thee
    And hope in Him through all thy ways,
    He'll give thee strength, whate'er betide thee,
    And bear thee through the evil days.
    Who trusts in God's unchanging love
    Builds on the Rock that naught can move.
    2. What can these anxious cares avail thee,
    These never-ceasing moans and sighs?
    What can it help if thou bewail thee
    O'er each dark moment as it flies?
    Our cross and trials do but press
    The heavier for our bitterness.
    3. Be patient and await His leisure
    In cheerful hope, with heart content
    To take whate'er thy Father's pleasure
    And His discerning love hath sent,
    Nor doubt our inmost wants are known
    To Him who chose us for His own.
    4. God knows full well when times of gladness
    Shall be the needful thing for thee.
    When He has tried thy soul with sadness
    And from all guile has found thee free,
    He comes to thee all unaware
    And makes thee own His loving care.
    5. Nor think amid the fiery trial
    That God hath cast thee off unheard,
    That he whose hopes meet no denial
    Must surely be of God preferred.
    Time passes and much change doth bring
    And sets a bound to everything.
    6. All are alike before the Highest;
    'Tis easy to our God, we know,
    To raise thee up, though low thou liest,
    To make the rich man poor and low.
    True wonders still by Him are wrought
    Who setteth up and brings to naught.
    7. Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving,
    Perform thy duties faithfully,
    And trust His Word, though undeserving,
    Thou yet shalt find it true for thee.
    God never yet forsook in need
    The soul that trusted Him indeed.

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