Did you know there are people who actually get their vacation travel expenses paid for on their way to a vacation spot by going from church to church along their route to ask for gas money, hotels, food?

The story is often they are on the way to a family member’s funeral and need gas, food or lodging. Then, after their vacation at "this World" or "that Studio," they stop at various churches on their way home for more "assistance."

What are Christians "supposed" to do?

What are Christians supposed to do when it comes to pitiful looking people standing on the street corner holding signs that say, "Will work for food." Or "Homeless, please help." Or "Veteran. Please help."

What are Christians supposed to do when churches receive phone calls from people looking for assistance with their utility bills or rent? Church offices are inundated with such calls on a regular basis.

Are such requests for assistance legitimate? Truthfully, only that person and God know the answer for certain. The rest of us have to be discerning to try to determine if a request is legitimate or not.

I have learned the majority of people who make such requests have learned the art of tricking people out of their money. Their requests and stories are well rehearsed and designed to pull people’s heartstrings, or guilt them into giving money.

This can be very detrimental to those who have truly legitimate needs: those who through no fault of their own find themselves suddenly unemployed, or unable to work for other reasons; those who truly know poverty and do their utmost to make ends meet.

But once funds are used up by those looking for a handout, there is nothing left for those looking for a "hand up" to get out of their circumstances.

The Scriptures call us as Christians to help the poor and needy, care for the orphaned and the widowed, visit the sick and imprisoned, feed the hungry, offer a cup of water in the name of Jesus.

The challenge is to discern a real need from simply a request by someone who enjoys getting "free money."

Some will say, "Give them the money. What they do with it is between them and God." Others will say, "Give to organizations that help lift people out of their situation, not perpetuate it, and refer people in that direction."

What about you?

The Rev. Mark Broadhead is pastor at Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church of Crestview.