Focus Scripture: James 2:14-16
He was calling again. I recognized the voice. He didn't always give the same name but the voice was quite distinctive, unmistakable really. And the story always had certain similar features. He was always desperate. He always needed some medical something, medication, equipment, etc. and without it he WOULD DIE. Oh, and he needed cash to get the medication or equipment before 8 a.m. the next morning (it was always evening when he called). Some of the details might change but the bones of the story always seemed to be the same. Oh, and he had already contacted "them" and "they" couldn't help him. The "they" being any and all agencies I might suggest who could assist him. He didn't even usually wait for me to finish the name of the agency. And don't forget, if I didn't give him cash before morning, HE WOULD DIE!
When I first encountered this caller (to my knowledge I have never met this man in person), I had no pastor's discretionary fund. I had no help to offer him. Sometimes he gets nasty, accusing me of not being Christian if I won't help him. After all, HE IS GOING TO DIE if I don't help him. When I offer to pray with him, he hangs up on me.
Over the years, he has called me about a dozen times. I know other pastors have received similar calls from him too. The consensus is that he had mental health issues and a serious addiction, likely an attempt at self-medicating, which is why he is only interested in immediate cash. Giving him the cash he is seeking would not help him.
But today's passage from James makes me think: "If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"
What good is my offer to pray with this man? What about other callers who ask for money, food, rent, or shelter? What about the person begging on the street?
This can be a difficult issue. Wishing someone well is not enough. We are called to actually help people in need. How can we best do that? How do we know who truly needs help and who, like the man who only calls at night and only wants cash immediately, is really only seeking money to feed an addiction?
What can we do to help meet physical needs without feeding into or exacerbating a problem?