When Charity Becomes Sin

I recently released Season 2 of my new TV show, Adventures With God, and in doing so, we made the first episode available for everyone to see. Part of this was to allow people to see what the show was like, but another part was to bring light to something that I've often run away from out of ignorance and fear. Now that Christmas is upon us and charity is in the air, I figured it was as good a time as any to deal with our tendency to want to throw money at a problem so we don't have to actually deal with it ourselves.

In the episode (which is actually Part 1 of 2), I traveled with some friends of mine to New York City, where I felt the Lord was leading me to try to find a homeless person and to attempt to completely change their entire life in one day. I knew this was going to be as much for me as it was whoever we would film, because I was acutely aware of my own heart in the past towards the homeless.

I lived in the Chicago area for nearly 20 years, so I was always surrounded by homeless people. You can't walk down Michigan Avenue without passing by someone holding a crudely made cardboard sign asking for money. My son, Stryder, who has a very tender heart was always distressed by this scene. Our solution was whenever we went downtown we'd give each kid a wad of dollar bills and told them to ask God who they should give them to. Stryder, of course, would give ALL of his dollars to the first person in need he saw, and then he'd become so heartbroken for the next person he encountered, he'd typically dig into his own wallet to give them even more money. In case you can't tell, he's a really good kid.

I, on the other hand, always had to deal with the same internal battle that I think a lot of people struggle with. It was like a little choreographed dance. A homeless person would approach me, get my attention, then ask for some money. I'd instinctively pat my pockets and tell them I didn't have any cash on me (which often was a lie), they'd thank me (for what, I don't know) and move on to the next person and I'd immediately feel a stab of guilt. Didn't Jesus say that what you do to the least of these you do unto me?  So did I just lie to Jesus? Occasionally, I would pull out my wallet and give them some money, and whenever I did, I would feel immensely proud of myself for my generous heart and Christian charity. Please, don't judge me too harshly...

The common denominator with all these interactions was that my natural reaction was to be uncomfortable when faced with someone in need. You justify not giving them money—they'll just spend it on booze or drugs; they probably make $300 a day from handouts and so on. But when I went to New York to film, I learned a valuable lesson that changed me forever.

You can watch the episode , but the gist of it is this. I met a kid named James who had been homeless for about three years. He was maybe 18 years old. We hung out with him for the evening, bought him a new wardrobe, fed him a great meal, gave him a private concert with the band Big Daddy Weave, gave him money and put him up in our hotel for the night with us. Along the way, there were some crazy twists and turns that we never expected, but the main thing we all learned was so simple you'd think I would have understood it a long time ago.

The breakthrough moment for me came after the first 20 minutes of meeting James. We were just walking around with him, and he was showing us where he sleeps and what his life was like. We hadn't gotten him anything yet, hadn't fed him yet or done anything special for him. But he turned to us and said, "This is the best day I've had since my mother died three years ago."  We looked at each other. All James ever wanted was for someone to acknowledge him as a human being, to maybe talk to him, to not treat him like a leper or an inanimate money bucket. The rest of the night would rock his world, but in his mind, he was beyond elated that a group of guys would be willing to just hang out and talk to him for 20 minutes.

Love isn't that complicated. Even though I would feel good about myself for giving someone a few bucks, I know my own heart, and I even though I gave money, I'm not sure it was entirely pleasing to the Lord. I didn't give money because I loved this person in front of me; I rather gave it to either get myself out of an awkward situation or to make myself feel better about myself. Sometimes things that seem Christian are actually sin.

This Christmas (and every day moving forward, really), I encourage you to examine your own heart when you are faced with those in need around you. Jesus said that the poor will be with us always, so it's not as though we're ever going to escape the needy. I wonder what would happen if, instead of averting our eyes and appearing busy, we instead looked them full in the face, stopped for a few minutes and asked if there was anything we could pray for with them. Let the Spirit lead you on whether or not to give them money, but basic love and human dignity doesn't require a word from the Lord. It should be our natural response.

Darren Wilson is the Founder and CEO of WP Films and the creator of various films, including Finger of God, Father of Lights, and Holy Ghost. His newest TV series, Adventures With God, can be seen on various Christian networks around the world and purchased at his website: wpfilm.com, as well as his newest book, God Adventures.

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