Years ago, I was the pastor that usually got called to benevolence situations. I would talked to the person asking for help. I would try to understand some of the layers of need. I would try to figure out how to help in meaningful ways, though often we simply ended up buying a tank of gas or paying for the electric reconnect or paying for a couple nights in the hotel room.
Sometimes we helped the same person more than once. Sometimes this was fine, because needs persist. But one guy sticks in my head.
We helped him. He came back a few months later. We helped him again. He came back a few months later. In the meantime, I learned that he had been to a couple other churches. I learned that he had a circuit.
The third time, or the fourth, when he came, I talked with him about our limits. I talked about the conversations we had in the past. I told him we couldn’t help him in the way he wanted.
“And you call yourself a Christian,” he said.
“I do,” I said. And I explained our choices of helping with some constraints. I’m not sure what I said. I’m not sure he, or I, understood my explanation. I did understand that, perhaps, his definition of what it meant to be a Christian had to do with what he wanted to get. And with trying to shake me up.
But his words were a reminder to regular examine my following.
There are lots of definitions of what it means to follow Jesus. “If you follow Jesus, you will do this and you will support that and you will be happy (or mortified) when a picture of a Bible is offered as evidence of following Jesus.” I struggle all the time with those expectations. As Ed Stetzer writes, “The Bible is Not a Prop.” Simply calling Jesus “Lord” isn’t a guarantee that our hearts are doing the same.
I’m pretty sure that the ways that we helped people weren’t always helpful. I think I would do things differently. I think those who follow Jesus can do many things differently.
Because we have to be honest. As Nehemiah said, “Our people have sinned, my tribe has sinned, I have sinned.”