Need? What Need?


August 3rd’s The Wall Street Journal ran a philanthropy story on Doris Buffet, the sister of billionaire Warren Buffet. She has a homey charity called the Sunshine Lady Foundation from which she intercepts letters of need addressed to her brother and meets those needs with small gifts of cash averaging $4,800.

Here’s a snippet from that WSJ article:

Marie Delahoussaye, a widow in Texas, asked for money to replace an obsolete hearing aid that “whistles.” In neat, black cursive script on green-lined memo paper she wrote, “Please consider helping me. I live very frugally. I don’t waste anything.”

Ms. Buffett paid for two hearing aids that cost about $1,800 total. Ms. Delahoussaye—who says she never expected to receive a response—says the devices have helped her reconnect with friends and her community. Before getting the hearing aids, “I couldn’t hear the phone ring,” she says. “I would go to church and couldn’t hear the sermon.” She says the experience has reaffirmed her faith in strangers. “This has made me realize there are still good people in the world,” she says.

A story that makes the heartstrings sing, right?

But did anyone here catch the deeper issue? This elderly widow couldn’t hear the sermons at her church. She writes to Warren Buffett. Doris Buffett comes to her assistance. And this hearing-impaired widow gets her new hearing aids. She says it reaffirms her faith in strangers.

But at whose expense does that reaffirmation come?

You see it? I hope I’m not the only one asking, “Where was her church?” I hate to think that she mentioned this to people at her church and no one did anything. It seems that way, though, doesn’t it?

We sometimes fall into this “God helps those who help themselves” mentality that flies in the face of the Gospel. I mean, if we won’t help an increasingly deaf widow, who will we help?

It pains me to think that we still live lives that rarely consider our neighbors. I’ve been accused by other Christians of preaching some kind of new utopia in which the Church meets everyone’s needs. That’s not true. I do, though, believe that many needs, particularly for community, are going unmet by our churches. We are His hands...Monetary needs, too. I don’t see how anyone in a church can buy a second car when some people in that same church can’t even afford to buy one. We’re buying all sorts of disposable junk for ourselves while others in our churches are barely getting by. There’s one word for that: evil.

Now it may be that the elderly widow quoted never made an attempt to contact anyone in her church about her problem. But even then, how is it that her first thought for help went outside the church rather than within it?

Do you see the PR problem there?

If folks in the pews realize that they might as well not even trouble anyone in their church for help because they know they probably won’t get it, what does that say to people outside the church? If we won’t take care of our own, how are we any better than some bridge club or secular fraternal organization? Actually, scratch that. The bridge club and secular fraternal organization would’ve done something to help.

Why do I harp on this topic so much? Because we’re just not getting it. A few churches understand, but not enough. Some are still stuck on believing that they can’t do anything to meet a need lest they somehow trample on God’s sovereign turf. Who knows? Maybe God’s trying to teach that person something; if we help that will only foul up God’s discipline. That’s baloney, though. The Bible is clear: See the need, meet the need. As I’ve been learning, we’re to always lead with love. God won’t punish us if we step in to help someone because we take seriously His command to be servants. On the flip side, we will be chastised if we don’t help. (Sheep and goats—Matthew 25:31-46—anyone?)

If we don’t understand who we are in Christ, then of course we’ll let the need go unmet. If we don’t understand that we have been given the storehouse of heaven because we’re heirs to the Kingdom, then of course we’ll be stingy. If we haven’t died at the cross, then of course we’ll be looking out for our own self-interests at the expense of others. Of course we won’t want to go without something we don’t need so that someone else can have their pressing need met. Why would we give up any of our wants so we can help someone else?

Yet Christ gave up His very life for us so that we can have the riches of heaven! What ingrates we can be. That some old lady can’t hear her pastor’s sermons, yet no one in her church will help. What kind of sermon is that guy preaching anyway, that his listeners can’t see how much Christ has lavished on them so they can lavish His bounty on others in need?

If I don’t instill in my son that we go without certain things we want so we can use the money to help others in need, then it doesn’t matter how many Bible verses he’s memorized, he’s been deprived of the heart of God. I fear that too many Christian parents brainwash themselves and their kids into a sense of entitlement that stomps on the Gospel. God help us should the next generation be even more stingy than we’ve become.

Are you angry now? Truly righteously angry? I am.

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26 thoughts on “Need? What Need?

  1. Oh but don’t you see Dan? Churches simply cannot afford a huge expense like hearing aids for this lady. They need to fund more important things, like retreats to Hawaii, expanding the church “center” so it can include a Starbucks, a basketball court, and a built in movie theater so church goers can watch the Passion of the Christ amongst their holy brethren without mixing with the heathens.

    And let’s not forget funding those extremely important Broadway-level drama productions so crucial in keeping them in the pews, otherwise the church would simply flounder in its growth.

    Then there’s the weekend golf meetings, the trips for the kiddies to the zoo and the local carnivals, I mean, this all costs money you know.

    You just don’t get it Dan. There are more important matters for the church to be concerned with than some stupid old lady who can’t hear.

    • Lincoln,

      It’s hard not to be cynical about these things, isn’t it? I find the cynic in me ready to pounce, but I have to step back and listen to what the Lord is saying to me. He can use this to teach me how to see with His eyes and speak out what I see in a way that glorifies Him.

      Don’t let the cynic inside win! That’s a sure way to see our joy go out the window.

      • I prefer the less loaded term “critic.” 😀

        It is hard not to be cynical though, but I am fed up with the whole church “community” past the point of no return. I’ll stop here before I start resorting to vulgar profanity to describe just how cheesed off I am at the churches. 😛

  2. Wonderful challenge, brother.
    Thank you.

    This is one of the simplest, yet somehow easiest to ignore, truths of the scripture. My wife and I live semi-simply (out of necessity) and yet we have SO MUCH, and there’s so much need around us…

    Lord help!

    • Nathanael,

      I think the greatest lesson I have learned in the last ten years is that we must learn to do without “the gilding” on our lives so that others may be blessed as well. Too many people spend all their time trying to gild their lilies, instead of foregoing that gilding in order to use its cost to help others.

  3. I think that this story also illustrates the isolation that exists even with those sitting in the pews. She may not have asked for help, but who is she in community with that also didn’t recognize the need? I suspect that it nobody is in community with her. Tragic.

    • Don,

      We talk about community, but we have no idea what it means in this country. We are so highly disconnected and autonomous that we simply don’t see the need unless it’s our very own. America was founded by “bootstrappers” and bootstrappers we will continue to be unless the Spirit breaks down our wanton individuality and forms us into the Body of Christ, as we are meant to be.

      I still cannot get over Acts 2. The very first thing—the VERY FIRST—the new Church did was to pool their funds to ensure no one within their group went without. In other words, the indwelling Spirit turned their hearts away from self-centeredness and toward others-centeredness (to the Lord and to their fellow believers). We sometimes do okay with turning to the Lord, but we do a terrible job of turning to help each other.

      I read a story a few years ago about an old lady who taught Sunday School to the little children at her church for decades. One day the power company turned off her power in the middle of winter and she eventually froze to death. But weeks went by before her neighbors realized they hadn’t seen her. And during that entire time, no one at her church bothered to check to see why they had not seen this usually dedicated teacher. No one.

      I read a story about an assistant pastor of a huge megachurch in TX who died. His wife and children ended up on the streets homeless! How is that possible? It wasn’t until the wife finally wrote a letter to the denomination to explain her family’s fate that the horrified denomination president got her out of the homeless shelter and helped her. Sadly, I’ve heard of more than one instance where a pastor of a church died and his family was left to the whims of the world by the congregation he once pastored. That astonishes me!

      • David Riggins

        I think we make a mistake when we say our nation was founded by self-sufficient individuals. This country was founded by self-sufficient communities made up of highly motivated individuals. We may romantacize about the lone trapper or idealize the independant cowboy, but no one succeeds completely on their own. A man alone in the wilderness was often a man dead. The people on the frontiers depended on, and could rely on, a community of people who looked out for one another, even if that community was only three or four other people. Early settlements in the wilds of this (or any) land looked more like communal living than the most independant Kibbutz of today. It’s time to get a look at the true color of our roots, because it is nothing like our current perceptions.

        “Bootstrapping” is a myth. It needs to be recognized as such. Perhaps if we lauded the strength our forefathers had because of their reliance on one another, this stupid “I can do it myself” mentality will finally be relegated to the rubbish bin, along with Betamax, 78RPM records and Brylcreem.

        • francisco

          Ironically, the Great Awakening with its emphasis in personal conversion (nothing wrong per se!) -rather than the covenantal Puritan (simple life style) communities- was the seed upon which this nation flourished. And add to that the leaven of the Enlightnment -leaving off Scripture- and you have one of the reasons why we may be into all this mess…my two cents.

  4. David Riggins

    The topic of last week (or was it the week before?) about how the church minimizes the OT promise of physical blessing is very relevant to this issue…We are often willing to pray that needs are met, but aren’t willing to be the conduit to meet those needs. How trusting can we call ourselves if we are not willing to physically lean on God to meet the needs of others?

    • David,

      I wrote a few weeks ago about the Church needing to do the work because God turned the work over to us and equipped us to do it. We just don’t seem to understand that. Yes, God may step in to correct a problem, but He’s given US that task. He wants us to do it. We’re not supposed to toss it all back to Him to do. That’s what the priest and Levite did who walked past the robbery victim in The Good Samaritan parable. The Samaritan proved he was the true neighbor because he saw the need and met the need with what God had given him.

  5. M.E. Huffmaster

    Lucky 13……….

    Ouch, ouch, ouch!

    Wow, Dan! You really hit a vein with this one, as have some of the replies to your post. A pastor could likely do an entire series of sermons on this topic and never cover the same ground twice.

    Sad, isn’t it, this lack of love in the church? Any wonder why the church in America is becoming so anemic and powerless and dare I say it, apostate? Any wonder why non-Christians look at the church as a whole and see only hyprocrisy?

    God have mercy on us…….


  6. Diane Roberts

    Good post as usual Dan. I am hearing the emergents and even the seeker-sensitives talk alot about helping the poor now and that is good. However, I want to see how they take care of their own. Many times I’ve seen this type take care of everybody else in town but not their own members. And I think that might be in the mentality you brought up–“Christians should help themselves.”

  7. Dave Block

    Dan, thanks for another good post. Often the problem isn’t that we Christians are unwilling to help those in need within our church, but that we don’t have close relationships with each other and therefore don’t know about the needs. At our church’s last congregational meeting, one of the issues we discussed is why such little money was spent from our benevolence fund. Some would say it’s because people don’t ask for help. That may be a factor, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, we ought to share such intimacy that asking isn’t even necessary.

    By the way, your blog got a kind mention here:

  8. In Mark 10:14, we are instructed to come to God as little children and that heaven is made up as such. We instruct our children to trust in God, that He exists, and that He provides for our needs. But the bone-crushing weight of American consumerism falls upon us near adulthood, and as such we cease trusting God for the fundamental things in life anymore. Here in America, we’re taught that if you cannot do it yourself, then you just aren’t good enough, for God or anybody. I mean, God helps those who help themselves, right? That’s somewhere in the Book, I’m sure…

    Dan, you are so right when you say the church uses “tramping on God’s sovereignty” as its cop-out to avoid helping anyone in need, much less something legitimate like hearing aids. As a pastor I have heard that excuse so many times; “Well, God may be teaching Brother So-and-so a hard lesson, and we might need to help him learn it.”

    It reminds me of one of my favorite movie lines, from Batman Forever when Two-Face is ready to plug an unconscious Batman and the Riddler staves him off: “Don’t kill him! If you kill him, he won’t learn nuthin’!” Does God really need our help to teach His people His lessons?

  9. rebecca brownfield

    i seen your tv show on toledo 11 news i am very interested in getting my life together i live in the road a light way to my path a recovery house for women who have destroyed their lives in many addictions .i recentley senoir resindent i have turned my life over to god do his will and not my own it is a working process for me everyday i dont remember much of my childhood my mother gave me away at age 7 i recided with my father and step mother father was an alochic and lived in a lot of volince.i am going thrugh trying to get over certain things in life that has harmed me .i live in fear and shame and guilt and i am in cousling for certain areas of my life.i am in a celebrate recovery group which is where i can be opening up and be completley honest with-in myself .i take other women to meetings .try to help them with their needs .doctor appts.i believe in giving what i learn will help others to achive their goals if they have a desire i recentley have had knee surgey so it is hard to get around with no vechile.i truley belive that am i here for a reason.all i need is help getting others is okay either way .cause god will place in our lifes what we need thank you for reading my letter.and have a merry x-mas and happy new year . and may god bless you doris.stories are amazing i will continue to kep reading and working every day with what i have. thank you. rebecca brownfield 1106 willow st. tecumeh mich 49286. 1-517-423-6912.

  10. Arthur Nickerson

    I just read through the comments and I have a few things to say. First I noticed that you did not say in the story what part of the country the Elderly Lady was from. I am a Deacon in a church in a VERY small town in northern New England. The Deacon board that I sit on also has the Job of Benevolance to our community. We do all that we can. But in these days of $3.49 a gallon gas and $3.60 a gallon heating oil. We can do only so much. Remember the Bible even says families are to help their widows first, then the Church is to help if no family is, or can help.
    Second, A pair of hearing aids costing $1800.00 would be pricey for almost any church. Remember this anyone can use the word “church” in America. This does not always mean that it is a Christ following body. Americans use the word “church” to mean anything from a Catholic Chapel to a Kingdom Hall to a GOD believing, Christ preaching, soul saving Church that takes its role in the community it serves VERY seriously. So PLEASE do not lump all churches together.

    • Arthur,

      I go to a church of about 280 people in a semi-rural area. Most of the people in that church work blue-collar jobs. A missionary came to our church a couple months ago and spoke. He left with $13,000 in support from the folks in our church.

      Is our church generous? Yes. Every church should be generous. Is our church rich? Not monetarily. Still, what that missionary received was typical. And at least three or four missionaries come through our church every year.

      So $1800 isn’t pricey to me. It’s the cost of doing without a few movie rentals or pay-per-view a year for a just a few families. It comes down to what’s important. And people are always more important than property, personal entertainment, and all the trappings of the world.

      • Jimmie Lee King

        It’s amazing how many small Ministries and Missionaries there really are out there and how many are spending most of their time going to Church Buildings collecting in funds they use to live on even when at Home.

        We just had friends, a Missionary Minister and his wife stay with us a couple of weeks. And we have a couple friend in the Music Missionary Minister BUSINESS. I know their life styles, what they have, what they do, what they receive from Tax Payers, and what some have in CD’s in Savings. I myself have been in Street Ministry since 1983 and have received less than $700.00 in gifts and/or doenations which we also handed out to the needy, we went over $40,000.00 in the red out of our own pockets in TWO years, but God handled that also as always.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting down Missionaries and Ministries, But I find a great need of Missionaries and Ministry work needing to be done in most Saints little World around their own Homes and Neighborhoods. I find to many Missionaries and Ministries are on a most-of-the-time PAID TAX-FREE Vacation running around this Country and the World on FREE HAND-OUTS.

        Being Missionaries and Ministers does not mean one can not get and hold down a steady job as Paul and others did and do. To to hold a place in a Welfare Line for FREE-BEES, is not giving God to good of a showing in ones Ministry.

        ALL big Denominational have their Missionaries they sponsor over seas, small and independant Churches should maybe spend their time and money around their own neighborhoods, county country-sides, towns, cities. It’s not a come to my Church thing, it a come to Jesus and let me help you in anyway I can matter. Now that is my opinion as we all have our own opinions, right or wrong in whoever’s opinion. God Bless all.

  11. Jimmie Lee King

    Praise God for all of you and Miss. Doris Buffett. If you seen what I live in, you would not only think it was insane to give when I could live better in a cardboard box. But the Lord keeps my Electric Bill down, my water comes from a Spring He opened up for me, and I’m Blessed when I look out my window and see the beautiful hills, trees and running creek. But my giving after much over many years to Churches and TV Ministries has came to a hold this past year or so. I give hand to hand and person to person to those in need, without them ever knowing my name, but understanding that it comes from the Lord, not me. It’s not about me, where I live or what I have or give away. It is all about Jesus, it all belongs to Him, so it is all in His name we give and give it no thought. Again, thank you all and God Bless each and everyone of you who are just passing through this life, heading for a far better Land. Amen.

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