This bracelet is an up-market version of a bracelet worn by millions of Christians, Protestant and Catholic in the 90’s. The letters ‘W.W.J.D.?’ stand for ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ The bracelets were worn to remind the wearers to act in a ‘Christ-like’ way in all situations. The idea of living under the influence of this question has been promoted by books and a film. Charles Sheldon a congregational pastor wrote a novel on this theme, titled ‘In His Steps’. The book sold over 30 million copies making it one of the top 50 best-selling novels of all time.

I have never owned such a bracelet and if I did, I don’t think I would wear it. The slogan implies that it is easy to discern what Jesus would do in any given situation. I don’t believe this would be that simple.

As student pastor at the west Melbourne Baptist Church, I had a regular Sunday evening congregation of 60 to 80 homeless men. Most of these were alcoholics. I can still remember the acrid smell. My job was to preach the gospel – that is preach for conversion. The theory was they would be ‘born again’ which would enable them to give up the grog. What I found was that many of them had been born again on several occasions. Nor did they object to being ‘born again’ again if it would bring them some material benefit.

The reason they came was not because of my preaching, but because of ‘yesterday’s bread’. We had a ready supply of this bread, buns, and cakes which was supplemented with soup prepared each week by a few saintly older ladies.

Ours was not the only Christian group that served these men. As far as I know, we all worked on the same principle; preaching first then food. The result was that these men knew many scripture verses. Occasionally I was asked for my shirt or jacket. Just in case I had forgotten, the person with the request would quote to me Jesus’ words; ‘If someone wants your coat give them your shirt as well’ (Luke 6.29.). I never did part with any item of clothing.

In our time at Paeroa, I had many encounters with persons needing handouts. They were usually after money for petrol, at least that is what they said. They all had long and complicated stories. Usually, these involved sick, dying or dead relative who they had to visit ‘tonight’. The prime time for these requests was after the banks had closed and on weekends. As with the men at West Melbourne, many of them had Bible knowledge and would quote scripture. Some asked me to pray with them, or for them. When this happened, I knew they after more than $20 for fuel. However, I developed a routine. I would give them $20 fuel which I pumped myself and in some cases a service station snack. All of them would accept this but their grudging attitude suggested to me it was not what they were after.

Late one Friday afternoon a very pleasant Maori man came to the church to ask for money for fuel. He had to travel up north to bury his child in his family’s (tribe’s) cemetery. I was aware that being buried the designated tribal location was important to Maori. He said his dead child was in the boot (trunk) of his car and he asked me would I like to have a look at him. I declined. The journey was a long one and the fuel required would be substantial.

I suggested that he approach one of the Maraes in town. Maraes are focal locations for Maori tribes and some have welfare funds. He resolutely declined saying it would be a waste of time. In fact, I never had any success in referring Maori to either of the town’s two Maraes.

Considering the extraordinary circumstances, I arranged for $30 of fuel.

Much to my surprise, on the following Monday morning he was back again. He told me that because of a family feud he had been unable to bury his child in the family plot. “He is still in the boot,” he said. “Do you want to have a look?” Inwardly I shuddered and once again I declined.

Now he had to return to his home, way down south and once again he needed a lot of fuel. I hesitated. Then he began to tell me of his faith in God and began quoting Bible promises. “You go to church then?” I asked. “Every Sunday” was his reply. “Which church?” I asked. “Baptist,” he said. That was my way out!

On a piece of paper, I drew a map showing the location of the Baptist church and the minister’s residence. “He (the Baptist minister) will help you for sure, especially seeing you are a fellow Baptist. He probably knows your minister.” He looked doubtful but he knew I had played a winning card.  Reluctantly he departed.

A thin and bony hairy man approached me in the foyer of St Heliers church. His story of family tragedy was familiar but the added twist was three hungry children. I could see them in the car. I cut him short. “I can give you $20 fuel”. He looked disappointed but he sensed that was it. At the service station, the children looked longingly at me. I bought pies for them and their carer and a large bottle of soft drink.

On my return to our church, I noticed the car with the children pull into St Phillips car park. St Phillips is 50m down the hill from our church. I hurried down and stood on the steps of the church. The thin and bony man did not notice me until he was almost at the steps. Seeing me he immediately turned around and returned to his car. As the car pulled out of the car park the children shouted obscenities and gave me the finger.

These days when people seeking immediate, urgent assistance come to our Centre the staff ring me. I can pick the ones who are after money. Before they start on their tragic story, before they ask me to pray with them, before they start quoting Bible at me, I tell them, “I can give you $20 from our emergency fund”. Mostly this goes in fuel. Those desperate for cash walk or ride a bike to avoid pay-outs of this kind.

Actually, I have found that most people in terrible need never talk about it. It is only through careful listening and observation, and sometimes by accident, that I become aware of their pressing needs.

When it comes down to what would Jesus do I believe that Jesus was no softie. He was a tough realist. I take seriously this saying to his followers. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Matt 10.16

I note his commendation of the reasoning of the unjust steward and his words “the children of this world are wiser in their own generation that the children of light”. (see Luke 16.1-13)

There are times when confronted with abject misery, the giving of your coat and/or shirt is completely justified. It is a deliberate act of love. This is something quite different to reacting to insincere trickery or a scam.

What about a bracelet with M.I.C. on it – standing for ‘Make It Count’? That is, whatever you do, give, invest in, etc ‘M.I.C.’ – ‘Make It Count’. Living by this slogan in the spirit of Jesus would help me to maximise my limited time and my limited resources. Way to go!

Stan Stewart

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Sunday Service 12 November 2017