Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Begging In the Walmart Parking Lot...

I'm still processing through my encounter with a woman in the Walmart parking lot. Maybe you've had these encounters too... We've had people at rest stops who say they lost their credit card and can't get home, men at gas stations asking us to fill their tanks, teens in parking lots asking for donations (and offering a "gift" out of their trunk) to teach at risk kids about drug abuse, and, most often, women (sometimes with a child) crying and telling us how mean everyone has been as they ask for $4 to catch a bus home. It happens a lot. Definitely once a month, sometimes several times in one week.

My thoughts are not about whether the stories are true or not. I don't know the motivation, but I'm usually guessing it's a "scam" (though I hate that word). It's where my heart goes that bothers me... and I believe God continues to allow these encounters to lovingly draw out my own pride and sense of entitlement. I usually give money, but I leave sickened at how much better I seem to think I am. I think way too highly of myself. I'm no better or different. I've been given much. So much. And I want to give with a pure heart of selflessness without needing any assurance that anything I give will be used for good. Why should that matter to me? Who am I that anyone has to prove their motive to me? Ouch.

Here's where I landed as I prayed through this encounter:

"Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him." -Acts 3:1-11 ESV

Begging isn't new. And, praise God, here's an example of how strong followers of Jesus handled it in the Bible! Here Peter and John don't actually give the beggar what he thinks he needs right then, but heal him instead. And he praises God for it. And other people noticed and wondered. Which provided an opportunity for Peter to then challenge the large crowd to repent of their sin and receive salvation through Jesus that day. And look what happens: "many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand (Acts 4:4). Thousands of people repented of their sin and received eternal life all because of an encounter with a beggar and two followers of Christ. Wow. I would LOVE to see that impact from my daily life encounters. I'd love to see even just one person see and know Jesus because of it.

Truthfully, I know I've been given everything from God: from THE gift of my salvation to all "our" money and possessions. And I know me. I know I didn't deserve any of it. Jesus would not be fooled by a "Saint Ginny" act, He knows me. He knows my heart and always has. Even of the good I have done, His Word says all my righteous deeds are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). AND YET- He gave. He gave His life to pay for my sin. And then He beat death and rose again and gave me His righteous standing with God. He loves me knowing my sin and He gives generously to me always(Romans 3:23-26). What if my encounter with "parking lot beggars" is to share with them that they too can have that generous a love give to them? What if I get these encounters so when I give them the money they asked for I can tell them how Jesus knew me, loved me anyway, and gave to me and Jesus knows them, loves them anyway, and is the only way to meet their real need?

Begging isn't a new thing. As a family, we love to give when we see genuine needs. And now we're learning to give even when we're pretty sure it isn't genuine. But not just give cash and walk away quickly and awkwardly with our heads down. We want to give intentionally and purposefully, because in that giving is a chance to share Jesus. Thankful for God teaching me through this and praying I will live this out to His glory alone.


Mary said...

Living just outside (and most weekends traveling into) New York City ages ago, I dealt with this type of people a lot. Some pobably were truthfully in need, most probably weren't. But stepping over bums, saying "no" or trying to avoid eye contact felt wrong.

One thing I would do often was pass along info. At the time, I knew of a wonderful women's shelter system in the city (APO volunteered at the office). Anyone who stopped me asking for money with a down on their luck story, I'd hand them the card with directions to get there. Once I paid cab fare ahead of time to send a woman there.

I often bought burgers for the homeless outside of McDonalds. Those really showed me who was closer to telling the truth. Some were grateful; others sneered. Either way, I felt like I'd done something more humane than stepping over them and mumbling "no change, sorry".

Is there a local shelter you could send them to? A local pastor or church, I'd bet would also have such a program or knowlegde of one. Send them there; maybe with a Four Laws booklet or some similar literature.

Ginny said...

I thought of you when i typed that Jesus wouldn't be fooled by a "Saint Ginny" act- knowing you've never been very impressed by me:) ha ha! Love you, sis and your heart for others. Mom and i were just talking about how you are a generous giver to ppl you love. I'm not surprised by how practically you met their needs. Thanks for the mcdonald's tip!