Charlie was arrested today. The news says he was making threats to people, but many other citizens are angered and hurt because they think he is a thief. It’s a sad, sad story, but the story behind the story is even sadder.

“How do you know his name is Charlie?” you might ask. Last fall, we bought a rotisserie chicken at Sam’s Club and my husband brought it over to him with some bottles of water. He didn’t want them. He wanted money, instead. My husband chatted with him for about 15 minutes and learned his name. It seemed he welcomed the company. I was surprised when my husband brought the chicken back to the car. But not regretful.

If any of you gave money (or tried to give food) to Charlie, please don’t feel duped. Don’t think that next time you better be more careful. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are urged to be generous. But God never states that those to whom we give should be “worthy”. We don’t need to be the judge in the situation and find everything legit. Good is good, and it’s done not just for the benefit of the receiver, but also for the benefit of the giver. John says, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I John 3:17)

You might counter that Charlie wasn’t really a brother in need. Charlie didn’t need food. He possibly didn’t even need money. Those conclusions may, in fact, be right, although I still counter that we assume innocence until he's proven guilty. But truly, he did need something else altogether, and it’s not to late to give it.

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us” (Luke 11:4). If Charlie sinned, he needs our forgiveness. If he stole money, he was certainly wrong to do it. But is he really any worse a person than you?

Haven’t you been discontent with what you have? Haven’t you coveted and desired things that are not yours? Haven’t you cheated? Did you always give back the extra change the cashier gave you? Have you always been perfectly generous? Have you ever hoarded more than your fair share? I know I have. The Bible says, “Whoever keeps the whole law, but stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking the whole law” (James 2:10). That means I am a thief.

But Jesus loves thieves. In fact, some of his last words while He was dying, were to a thief. He said to that thief, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). How was that even possible? How could a “bad guy” go to Heaven? “[Jesus] was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus’ death washes our sins away. It gives sweet peace. Peace for that thief on the cross. Peace for you and me. Peace for Charlie.

But Charlie doesn’t know it. Back last fall, when that rotisserie chicken was refused, my husband also tried to offer Charlie the Bread of Life and the Living Water. He told Charlie about his peace in Jesus. Charlie was angry at God. He blamed God for the hardships in his life, including the stress and trauma he still experiences from the Vietnam war and displacement from his family. Was he lying about that? I hope not. But surely a person who panhandles, refuses food, and tells stories like his has deep-seated pain. Pain that everyone, both Christians and non-Christians alike, experience.

But Christians have hope. We know our troubles are caused by the condition of sin in the world, and God is not the cause, but the solution. Followers of Jesus know that He is the antidote to that sin, and not only brings us peace in our souls, but the sure promise of the restoration of perfection in Heaven.

Right now, Charlie is in jail. I pray that jail will be an opportunity for him to think and reflect not just on his own actions, but more importantly on the actions of Jesus, who died and rose again, so Charlie can die to his own evil desires and rise to Heaven when he dies. I also pray that the same people who tried to help Charlie this past fall and spring by giving him food or money will continue to help him. From the bottom of my heart, I pray that we can all forgive him if he has in fact wronged us, just has Christ has forgiven us. I pray that we can continue to help him by sending him cards while he remains at the Blue Earth County Jail. I pray that some of us will be inspired to visit him in prison, because, ultimately, it isn’t Charlie that we’re loving. On that last day, we can ask “‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:37-40).

Next time someone asks you for money or food, please don’t second-guess yourself. It’s good to be generous, even to a fraud. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

Charlie Cook
Blue Earth County Jail
401 Carver Road
Mankato, MN 56001

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