GUEST POST by Jonathan McKee has become a regular guest blogger on this site! He is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.

We’ve all heard the sermons. We’re supposed to have compassion for those who are “less fortunate.” Maybe the words from Jesus’ powerful parable of the sheep and the goats echo in our minds; “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

But what does this really look like?

Think about it. A guy is standing at the freeway exit every day holding a sign that says, “HUNGRY! PLEASE HELP.” What are we supposed to do with that? A lady hovers around the grocery store exit and asks for a dollar. Is she gonna use it for food, or drugs? Are we hurting her or helping her if we give her a dollar?

Is that Jesus outside the grocery store?

Earlier this week Doug featured a powerful post from Megan Hutchinson about her experience feeding a 14-year-old runaway. Her approach was stellar. He asked for money… she asked for his name. She changed an archetypal panhandling moment into a door-opening conversation.

Some people, like Megan, have this gift. Others of us might struggle thinking on our toes when we meet people on the streets. Those of us in this latter group could use a few tips.

I’m definitely in the latter group, and I’ve been collecting good ideas from other people for the last few decades. That’s right… I’m a thief. So here’s 7 stolen ideas of how to care for the “least of these” who we encounter day to day:

1.An extra lunch: My friend Eric packs two lunches every day for work. He got tired of being empty handed every time he saw someone at the freeway exit by his house. And guaranteed… there’s always someone at that exit. So now Eric pulls up to the exit each day, rolls down the window and asks, “Are you hungry?” He’s never had someone deny the meal. My wife was inspired by Eric. She doesn’t have a commute, and doesn’t see homeless people at a regular location, but she now packs granola bars and bottles of water in the car to giveaway at any moment.

2.Lunch Conversations: Panhandlers are used to being given money or even food. But how often does someone take them to lunch? Next time you encounter “the least of these,” consider asking, “Are you hungry?” 99 out of 100 times that will get a “yes.” Then ask, “Can I take you to lunch?” This will always get you a bizarre reaction. They don’t hear this every day. If they accept, just ask them to share their story. Most likely, it will have been a long time since someone sat and listened to them.

3.McDonalds Gift Certificates: McDonalds still offers their little gift certificates, and McDonalds are everywhere. If someone asks you for money and you’re afraid that it might go towards alcohol or drugs? Ask them if they want some McDonalds gift certificates. We keep a bunch in our glove box in our car (funny… we never keep gloves in there). I just gave some to a guy yesterday.

4.Eye contact: It’s a small gesture, but powerful. Most homeless people are used to being ignored. Why? That’s what people do—they pretend the problem isn’t there. If you really want to surprise someone homeless, walk up to them with a smile on your face, look them in the eyes and ask, “What’s your name?”

5.The Union Gospel Mission: Let’s face it, most of us don’t know much about the lives of the homeless. But chances are good there is a Union Gospel Mission or Salvation Army near you who are experts at responsibly helping those in need. If you feel like you can’t make a difference personally, then help fund someone who can. Put a dollar a day in a can and send $30 a month to your local shelter. Better yet, visit the shelter personally and ask how you can serve. After you serve, ask about their financial needs.

6.Be a church that helps the homeless and the hungry: If your church doesn’t have an existing ministry… start one. My own church did this a few years ago. They have a ministry called “Second Fridays.” Every second Friday they open the gym for needy families, feeding them and even letting them use the church showers. It’s not uncommon to have a couple hundred needy people from the community show up. You could start a ministry like this. Just visit some other local ministries that help the needy, observe what they do, pick their brain, and ask them what they’ve learned.

7.Food first, then conversation: I always find it interesting studying the Gospels and specifically observing what is written about Jesus’ encounters with the sick and the needy. I actually did this study, noting my findings in my book, CONNECT . People love to argue about whether Jesus just helped people or whether he just shared the Gospel truth. Funny enough… he typically did both. Usually he met their physical needs, then shared truth with them. Why not do the same? If someone’s hungry, feed them first, then give them a bible too (I buy 30-packs of affordable pocket New Testaments for my ministry to teenagers and to the needy). The needy are much more inclined to have a conversation with someone who just fed them.

Question: What about you? What are some ways that you are proactive about helping the needy? Share your thoughs here.

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