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The Lost Art of Humility 

It seems our society as a whole has lost the ability to think critically. Instead of spending time in deep thought, we have become a society of reactors. When we see situation, we respond. We no longer take the time to process our decisions. Our actions are decisive and often made in a moment wrought with emotion. We no longer weigh the balance of our immediate feelings against the values we profess to hold. We seem to care less about relationships than we do about our political opinions. We have dumbed down our responses to online posts on a social media platform. Here’s a news flash…we will never change a person’s mind through an impersonal mode of communication. 

Our political system, at its core, was created to take care of the needs of the people and uphold the freedoms we all possess. Our freedoms seem to have become so top heavy that they are toppling over themselves like a basket of laundry that has been stacked too high. We have folded and caved to appetites that will devour us. That which held our nation together two hundred years ago was our Judeo-Christian values. Our nation’s morality, our understanding of right and wrong, was the cream skimmed from the top of the example we witnessed in the life and ministry of Jesus. 

Jesus doesn’t crave our patriotic devotion. What Jesus wants from us is a life lived out in service to our neighbor. Jesus desires for us to build His kingdom through acts of love and expression of grace. Matthew 10:42 says, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because they are my disciple, I tell you the truth, they will certainly not lose their reward.” Jesus rewards even the smallest act of kindness done in His name. Offering a popsicle to a child on a hot day, passing out a cold bottle of water to a homeless person, or speaking an unexpected word of blessing into a person’s life can make a difference. 

As Christians, we must do what my grandma always encouraged me to do when she said, “Use your head for someone other than a hat rack.” Before we react, we must think. We must consider our values while processing our emotions. Before we react to other people’s opinions, political propaganda, or unwanted commentary from others, LET US PAUSE! Our witness can be at stake when we comment, even if we don’t mean for our comments to be taken in a negative way. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to keep our mouths closed and to keep our fingers off the keyboard. 

There are times when the greatest expression of grace is a word left unspoken. Social media and the political arena aren’t the only places a Christian person must be wary. It can be easy for a Christian to take on a critical spirit. This critical spirit often goes ahead of us into every situation we enter. Instead of using our witness to bring people closer to Christ, we may spend our time assessing the “rightness” and the “wrongness” of every conversation and of every person we meet. Instead of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, we may pass our unsolicited opinions on to someone who may need hands of grace instead. If we spread criticism everywhere we go, we prove that we don’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to truly change people’s lives. Spiritual arrogance is a dangerous and often undetected condition of the heart. To assume that we know the mind of God and how God intends for things to be shows our pridefulness. Our view cannot be God’s perfect view; and therefore our beliefs, no matter how well formulated we think they are, are not based in perfection. 

Let us humble ourselves before God our Creator. Let us “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)


In 1982, the Bounty brand of paper towels achieved skyrocketing levels of sales with their new advertising campaign. The campaign centered around the tag line, “the quicker picker upper.” The first commercial of the series features a gentleman at a restaurant counter who spills his soup. Rosie, the waitress, chastises the patron saying, “Surprise me, Joe, get a little in your mouth. How can your wife keep up with ya?” Joe responds, “With a rag.” Rosie pops a bundle of Bounty paper towels on the counter and say, “What she needs is Bounty. It’s the quicker picker upper.” Then Rosie pulls two small glasses of liquid from behind the counter. She takes the “other brand” of paper towel and the Bounty brand and sticks one of each in a glass. Bounty absorbs all of the liquid, and when the glass is turned over no liquid leaks out. The “other brand” soaks up some of the liquid and when the glass is turned over some of the liquid leaks onto the counter. The result is clear: Bounty absorbs faster and is stronger than the other brand. 

I believe that it is easy for us, as Christians, to be absorbed by the things of this world. The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:31 says, “those who use the things of the world should do so as if not being engrossed in them” (emphasis added). What we take in with our eyes, what we hear with our ears, and what we take into our bodies becomes a part of who we are. Being engrossed is having our attention and interest being absorbed by someone or something. 

There is a continual struggle in the Christian’s heart to avoid becoming enamored by the things of this world. Some items that catch our attention are obvious, like material possessions. What kind of house we live in, what kind of car we drive, what kinds of clothes we wear, what kinds of items we possess, and how they possess us are easily identified subjects of interest. It is my hypothesis that disentangling ourselves from the philosophies and ideas that engross us proves much more difficult. 

If we spend any time in God’s Word, we must admit that not all of the philosophies and ideas of this world are in alignment with God’s best for our lives. In fact, some of the worldly philosophies are so seductive and enticing that without critically thinking about them we may never know they have entrapped us. We become more absorbed by these ideas and philosophies than we ever do in material things. These philosophies are what undergirds our materialistic appetites. 

One of the most dangerous philosophies we can choose to embody states, “This world is created for our happiness.” This idea seems to be undergirded by America’s Declaration of Independence when it says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” From these words we can gather the idea that our pursuit of happiness is among life’s most important goals. 

If we organize our lives around our pursuit of happiness, we will be on the opposite side of the spectrum from where God desires us to be. God’s greatest desire is not our temporary happiness. God’s greatest desire is our worship. God desires that every act, every word, and every thought be centered on honoring Him with our whole person. Romans 12:1 states, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God for this is your spiritual act of worship.” 

When the Apostle Paul addressed the Corinthian church he is sure to inform them “that the time is short” (29). The time we live on this earth is temporary and Paul’s words encourage us not to get settled in for this is not our home. Paul writes it this way to the church at Philippi, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly away a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

One of my foibles is the fact that I like sleeping only on “my” bed. I am NEVER satisfied sleeping without “my” pillow and “my” blankets. Even when I go to my parent’s home in Kansas, their bed, blankets, and pillows make me feel like I’m sleeping on a bed of nails. I absolutely loathe having to sleep at hotels and the worst part of my night on those occasions is having to sleep with someone else’s bed, blanket, and pillows. I will not be settled in any other bed but my own. My spirit cannot be at ease anywhere else. When I am somewhere else, my heart longs to be in my own bed. 

In the mind of God, this world is another bed, with another pillow, and unfamiliar blankets. We are called through scripture not to ever be settled in the ways of this temporary life we live. We cannot be comfortable or at ease in any other place than our heavenly home beside the object of our worship, Jesus Christ. 

The Apostle Paul’s words continue encouraging us not to be engrossed by the world when he says, “From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not.” All earthly relationships are secondary to our relationship with God. Paul believed, and rightly so, that the time spent in earthly relationships can distract our focus away from our devotion and worship of God. We must be attentive to what relationships we spend time cultivating. Our relationships should be lived out “along the way” of God’s greater plan for our lives and for His Kingdom. 

Paul addresses our temporary emotions by saying, “those who mourn, should do so as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not” (emphasis added). Our happiness or sadness, or any other emotional response, are based in temporary feelings. Feelings are powerful things but we must not make decisions based upon them. We are instead to make our decisions based on God’s character and God’s desires for our future. 

If we think our goal is to make ourselves, happy we will surround ourselves with relationships that we use to this end. We will build temporary kingdoms that satisfy our desires, and we will make decisions on how things “feel” to us. Paul concludes by addressing the material items we gain in this life, “those who buy something, should do so as if it were not theirs to keep” (emphasis added). We are called to lives as simply as we can in this world. The primary use of our resources are for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.   

Finally, Paul greets the church at Galatia with these words, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.” In the Greek, Paul is applying a metaphor here. He pictures the “present evil age” as a fisherman’s net that is set to entangle us, engross us, entice us, entrap us, and enamor us. Jesus rescues and redeems our lives for His glory. Let’s live our lives fully for our Savior!

Upon the Death of George Floyd 

Race relations in America stands at a dire crossroads. The unnecessary and tragic death of George Floyd once again highlighted our country’s racial divide. The scene I witnessed in the George Floyd video I view as a first-hand witness of murder. Since his death, our world has been turned upside down. There have been many names added alongside Mr. Floyd’s and my heart hurts for each broken life. The difficulty with seeing every case at the same level as that which we witnessed in the George Floyd case is the lower number of details we can access. 

I have seen a discouraging public spectacle played out in news media, on social media, and in conversation in the public sphere concerning people’s differing opinions about the way African Americans have been treated by the justice system in America.  My response to these disparaging conversations has been to spend time researching policing, police stops, police searches, police searches that end in finding contraband, pre-trial sentencing, sentencing, and prison time. 

One study I found is called the Stanford Open Policing Project. Since 2015, the Open Policing Project has collected over 200 million records of traffic stops from across the country. Out of the 200 million records approximately 100 million were sufficiently detailed to facilitate statistical analysis.  According the to the statistical analysis of search rates and hit rates (a hit is when an officer finds illegal activity) the Open Policing Project found that the police require less suspicion to search black and Hispanic drivers than white drivers. “This double standard is evidence of discrimination” (www.openpolicing.stanford.edu/findings/). 

A second study I found was from the Sentencing Project, a report given to the United Nations in March of 2018. This study concluded that black drivers were only “somewhat” more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. Once pulled over, black and Hispanic drivers were three times more likely to be searched and blacks were twice as likely to be arrested than whites. These patterns hold even though polices officers have a lower “contraband hit rate” when they search black versus white drivers. As of 2001, one out of every three black boys born in that year could expect to go to prison in his lifetimes, as could one in every six Latinos, compared to one out of every seventeen white boys. One conclusion of this study is “the United States is operating two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and people of color” (https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/un-report-on-racial-disparities/). 

My conclusion as a result of studying this research is that there is evidence of discrimination in traffic stops, searches, and sentencing of people of color, especially those that are poor. This does not mean that every police officer displays discriminatory behavior and it doesn’t mean that every police agency is rife with racists. It does, however, mean that we have more work to do in educating our community. The Sentencing Project recommends that we end the prosecution of low-level drug offenses, eliminate mandatory sentencing, to reduce the use of cash bail on people who do not pose a flight risk, to fully fund indigent defense agencies, to require racial impact statements, and to develop training to reduce racial bias. 

As a Christian man, I have a responsibility to bear witness to the truth. It is quite possible that people are ignorant of the facts and just have failed to educate themselves. But there’s another possible truth-that some are more influenced by their whiteness than by their witness for Jesus Christ.  “Because it doesn’t happen to me it doesn’t happen to anyone,” is not a logical conclusion based upon factual evidence. 

Jesus makes a point throughout scripture to break down the walls of discriminatory behavior. The problem is that we are not part of the same culture, and so often we miss the audacity of his actions. As a pastor and teacher of the scripture, I can emphatically say that we do know how Jesus would respond in situations of injustice. We do know how Jesus would respond in situations of discrimination.  

In John chapter four Jesus comes to the town of Sychar in Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans had an intense racial divide. The Samaritans were part of the Northern Kingdom when Judah and Israel separated in the 9th century BC. Eventually this area would fall to the Assyrians. Some inhabitants fled but some stayed and farmed the land. These Samaritans intermarried with Mesopotamians and Syrians. These new Samaritans were looked at as traitors and their race was despised amongst all Jews. When Jesus comes to Jacob’s Well at Sychar, he knows exactly what he is doing. 

As he sat on the well waiting for his disciples to bring food, a Samaritan woman approaches in the heat of the day to draw water. Jesus asks the woman to give him a drink. The woman’s response is, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans) Jesus’ response is, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” We learn through Jesus’ further conversation with the woman that she is a woman of ill-repute in the city. So here we have Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman in the middle of the day. Most men who spoke to a woman in this way would have been soliciting her for sexual acts. Only women who were suspect would come to the well at the hottest part of the day. Jesus breaks down racial barriers and sexual discrimination barriers, and treats an outcast as a person of sacred worth. Jesus exposes racial tensions for what they are, “sinful garbage.” Any racially motivated act that seeks to discriminate against a person whom God loves, Jesus exposes as sin. 

In Luke chapter 10 an expert in the law stands up and asks Jesus a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response not only highlights the most important truths of God’s law but his parable illuminates the preconceived notions, discriminatory ideas, and ungodly behavior of his questioners. 

Jesus tells a story of a man who is traveling from Jericho to Jerusalem when he falls into the hands of robbers, who attack the man and leave him half dead along the side of the road. A priest sees the man on the side of the road half dead, and instead of rendering aid to the man he crosses over to the other side of the road, passing right by the man. A priest is thought to be as close to God as one can get, and yet this priest doesn’t act in a godly way toward the injured man. The priest is worried about defiling himself so that he will be unable to worship in the Temple. Then a Levite, a judge in that time period, sees the man half dead on the side. The Levite also passes by on the other side of the road, leaving the man half dead. The Levite was someone tasked with upholding and knowing the law. The priest and the Levite are images of law-abiding Jews who, even though they follow the letter of the law, are missing God’s full intention in providing it. 

Finally, a Samaritan comes by. When the Samaritan sees the man lying on the road he is moved to compassion. This half-breed who has been discriminated against most of his life renders critical aid to the dying Jews life. This Samaritan bandages the wounds pouring on oil and wine. He places himself in danger of attack by the thugs that wounded the injured man, placing the man on his donkey. He takes the man to an inn and pays for his stay. Then he tells the innkeeper to look after him and when he returns, he will reimburse him for any extra expense he may incur. Jesus then asks the expert of the law, “Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 

The expert in the law replies, ‘The one who had mercy on him” and Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Jesus tells this story to emphasize to all that “have ears to hear” that it is not the color of one’s skin, or the racial divides created by one’s ancestors, nor is it a matter of what someone else taught you about another ethnic group that matters. They only thing that matters is a person’s heart. In I Samuel 16:7 God tells Samuel how he is to pick the King of Israel by saying, “Do not consider his appearance or his height... The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” As Christian men and women, we are called to educate ourselves, not with popular opinion, but with factual information. As Christian men and women, we are called to speak out against injustice. As Christian men and women, we are called to look at people’s hearts, and not at the color of their skin.

How Big Is Your Church? 

It seems that one of the first questions people ask me when they find out I’m a pastor is, “How big is your church?” I’m not sure why this has become the measure of effectiveness and mission, but I know what they mean. They want to know how many rear ends are in our pews every week. To answer this has become increasingly difficult since people can participate in the worship life of the church in more ways than ever before in the history of the church. Park Memorial UMC has 450ish members, 220ish active participants, and between in-person worship and “live” worship attendance we average 226.  Cook Memorial UMC has 84 members, 40ish active participants, and average 35 in in-person worship. I’m afraid that we have relegated how God sees the Church to a few numbers rattled off between parting company. We’ve limited the scope of what can be considered church to include only what happens during a worship service, and this has greatly undermined the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

So I would like to re-ask the question, “How BIG is your church?” 

Does your church include people who are members but who just don’t know it yet? Does your church include neighbors who have been loved with the selfless love of Christ? These neighbors have participated in the worship life of the church, even though they don’t know it, through the actions and witness of the faithful. 

Does your church include ways people who have fallen far from the faith can reconnect with the love of Christ? Does your church participate in the restorative actions that help put together the broken pieces of people’s lives? Does your church help those who are in the midst of sin lay down their burdens and be brought into the light of Christ’s example? These broken and sinful people participate in the worship life of the church when they are healed by the power of God’s Spirit. 

Is your church the bearer of good news to the poor? Do the poor even know your church exists? Does your church include ways that addicts can find relief from their pain? Does your church bring prostitutes to an awareness of a love that they’ve sought and haven’t found? Is your church a haven of safety for widows, orphans, and strangers? These addicts, prostitutes, widows, orphans, and people without homes participate in the worship life of the church when Christian men and women are compelled by the love of Christ to bring the help and hope to their lives. 

Our churches can easily become more concerned with eloquent speeches and flashy services than the love that compels us to be compassionate. When more time is spent in sermon development, worship planning, band practice, audio/video preparation, and staging than in compelling Christians to let their lives BE the devotional their neighbor reads; the Church has a problem. 

I had a conversation with a female colleague who is a prominent pastor in a large church. She was asking me how things were going down in the southern end of the state. I briefly told her of Park Memorial’s commitment to purchase and rehabilitate the homeless shelter in our community. To which she quickly asked, “What does a church know about bringing help to the homeless? They are not social workers.” This question has reverberated in my thoughts since that day. 

Why have Christians lost the hope that the simple love of Christ can change the world? Why have Christians pacified themselves with the answer that the hope of the world can only be offered through professionalized services? Why do the days have to be gone when Christians started hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and schools? Why are we leaving the solving of poor people’s problems to governments and municipalities? We are the love of Christ to the world! We are the church in action wherever we go! 

In a recent visit to Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis I was told the story of William V. Wheeler. In 1893, his wife and a couple of her fellow church members compelled him to open Door of Hope. They did so because their hearts were constrained by the love of Christ as they walked by the prostitutes on the streets of Indianapolis. They had compassion on them because they found them to be malnourished and without proper medical care. These women began opening their homes to feed these women and secured them the basic access to the medical care they needed. Literally, their homes became a door of hope!  

It is time for God’s church to rise up and disrobe itself from the post-modern understanding of what it should be. One of my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The last verse says “Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be. Let that goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee.” May our hearts be bound to the heart of Christ and may we let his love leads us in all our ways. I’ve decided that from now on when someone asks me, “How big is your church?” I’m going to answer, “As big as the love of Christ!”

Not in My Backyard 

The phrase “Not in My Backyard,” also called Nimby, signifies one’s opposition to the location of something that is considered undesirable in one’s own neighborhood. The phrase seems to have first appeared in the mid-1970’s in the context of a major effort of utility companies to construct nuclear-powered generating stations in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods located in Seabrook, NH and Midland, MI. The first instance of the “Not in My Backyard” phenomenon were to decry the environmental impacts of major construction projects in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. I surmise that behind its use was a fear for the public health of the population in these neighborhoods. Today, this phrase is being used by those who oppose locating group homes for people with developmental disabilities, drug-treatment facilities, and homeless shelters in their neighborhoods.   

It is the implications of this second use of the “Not in My Backyard” phenomenon that I want to speak to today. I believe that fear for public safety and fear about devaluing property value is behind those that oppose locating group homes, drug-treatment facilities, and homeless shelters in their neighborhoods. Fear, whether perceived or actual, is a powerful emotion. Fear of unknown circumstances that could be dangerous, painful, or threatening is a primary motivating factor in neighborhoods opposing social services facilities being located in their communities. 

In fearful situations it is paramount to move past rhetoric and into conversations that focus on statistics. Fact based conversations between neighborhood leaders, city officials, and social service providers can build the type of collegiality necessary to solve systemic problems. Many places find themselves in the same situation Southern Indiana does, with not enough drug-treatment facilities or group homes to satisfy the number of people that need them. This leads to elongated stays in homeless shelters and to an elevated number of people living on the streets. This is occurring because every neighborhood is brandishing the “Not in My Backyard” banner. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to surmise that we are on a cataclysmic trajectory that only exacerbates the problems. 

When neighborhood leaders and city officials do not champion the solutions to systemic problems it leaves the people in the trenches to fight the battle for their clients alone.  When leaders don’t lead, it sets up an us-against-them mentality that hurts the most vulnerable members of our society. In order to serve the common good, every elected official must strive to keep the greatest good in play. Good cannot be only that which is good for those who have resources, for those who have power, and for those who have a voice. True leaders lead in pursuit of that which is good for everyone and not just for those who voted them into their position. On November 1, 1977; former vice president Humphrey spoke about the treatment of the weakest members of society as a reflection of their government: “The moral test of a government is how the government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” 

In addition to following appropriate leadership by our leaders, we must think clearly about the claims of the “Not in My Backyard” agenda. Is having a secured locked down drug treatment facility worse than having drug addicts that can’t receive the proper treatment on the streets? Is having a group home worse than allowing disabled mentally ill folks to languish in homeless shelter or on city streets? Does having a drug-treatment facility lead to more threats to public safety than having people who need treatment walking the streets? Does having group homes lead to more public safety threats than having the disabled mentally ill folks languishing on the streets or in homeless shelters? The simplest answer to these questions is that to leave people untreated in their addiction and without hope of secure housing in the midst of their disabilities places more of a threat on public safety than to provide them the social services that stabilize their lives. More conversations are necessary to answer these questions, but this blog cannot hope to replace conversations that must be held face to face between groups who share concern for the problems of our community. 

I would also like to address the spiritual implications of this conversation. First, I’d like to say that I have no right, nor am I attempting to force my religious convictions on people who do not follow Jesus Christ. I am speaking strictly to those who would call themselves a follower of Christ and who have a church that they call home. Jesus’s existence as the Messiah was intended to “bring good news to the poor” (Is. 61:1). Jesus would never utter the mantra “Not in My Backyard” out of his mouth. The idea that any group of Christians would say, “We don’t want them here,” in reference to any group of vulnerable people indicates the group might not know what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Matthew 25:31-46 should be one of the most informative parables to our Christian conscience. This passage speaks to the way the King will recognize his followers when he returns to take them to be with him where he is. The King will recognize his followers by the way they feed the hungry, the way they give water to the thirsty, the way they invite strangers into their homes, the way they clothe the naked, the way they look after the sick, and the way they visit those who are in prison. The bottom line is that the way the King will recognize his followers is by the way they treat the “least of these.” 

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Ever since God gave us the context of the whole world in which to work, Christians have been trying to limit its scope. They think to themselves, “God cannot mean that he wants me to reach the person I don’t like. God cannot mean that he wants me to broker forgiveness for the murderer, for the drug addicts, or even for people that don’t look like me, smell like me, and act like me.” Exclusion of people is not a Christian concept. If you have made it your mission to exclude others, then the question that Jesus asked Peter applies to you, “Do you love me?” If you know of Jesus’ love for you, then you know Jesus’ love has no bounds (John 21:15-17). Jesus is always invitational. Jesus would be inviting people into his neighborhood because he values people more than property. Jesus would minister to the needs of the vulnerable and do everything in his power to protect public safety at the same time. Jesus always invites the stranger into his presence. If our faith isn’t in alignment with Christ’s teachings in this matter, then we need to question whether we are really the disciples we think we are. 

Solutions to systemic problems can be found through fostering conversation between theological, sociological, psychological, and political minds that are based in fact and not in rhetoric. My prayer for us is to consider the values of Christ over our own self-preservation. May we become the good news to the poor that Jesus intends us to be.  

Coronavirus Pandemonium 

I’m going to go out on a limb and be one of the first persons I know to say that NOTHING we have done in the past few days in response to corvoid-19 makes any logical sense. Every model that I am seeing suggests that we are more likely than not to have the exact same number of deaths from this virus and that the massive quarantine we are enforcing will only drag the timeline out further. This is being done to keep the hospitals and emergencies from being overrun with sick folks. My observation is that every person that has a cough right now is running to the emergency room or hospitals any way. My conversations with friends in the medical field leads me to believe the panic experienced in empty grocery store shelves is corresponding with overcrowded emergency room waiting areas. 

We no longer live on farms. This means that we do not have the means to raise our own food. As a result, every person in our community has to go to the grocery store. In fact, the citizens of Jeffersonville and Clarksville have five main stores that they frequent. With the recent panic purchasing that has been done, people have ventured into several stores to locate much needed items. Every item we purchase at these stores has been touched 3-4 times by persons who may not even know that they are “carriers” of the virus. Recent data is suggesting that people may carry the virus without experiencing any symptoms, which means we are at risk even from those who do not display a fever.  This means our mail may be carrying the virus, the money we exchange may be infected, the gas pump, the chip reader for our credit cards, the produce/can goods and even the coveted toilet paper may contain traces of the virus. 

What good is it to not worship together when we all have to go to the same grocery stores? What good is it to close down restaurants as a gathering place when the parking lot of Walmart is so full that you cannot get a cart between the cars? Any thoughtful person can realize that if daycares are closed, people will not be able to go to work and food will not get stocked on grocery store shelves. 

More recent reports about this virus in our area suggest that it has been around since late February or early March. This means that we’ve had weeks of infecting each other before ANY precautionary measures were put in place. My suggestion is that we avoid contact with any person over the age of 65 who is in poor health and children under the age of 6. In my opinion, compromising the economic livelihood of our neighbors and dumping our economy in the toilet is not the answer. 

One option that I heard England considered was quarantining the elderly only, while encouraging others to go about their daily lives as usual. Go to work, go to your kids’ games, and cause the virus to quickly move through the healthy population to get it over with as smoothly as possible so that anti-bodies are built up quickly. 

Instead of taking a conservative stance, our government seems to be overly anxious to do something in the fight against the coronavirus. In the meantime, we are experiencing the greatest single downturn our economy has ever seen. The approach may have the effect of bankrupting small businesses and pushing a hardworking middle class into poverty. We may be destroying our service industry in such a way that we will need a government bailout in order to right the ship. Family owned restaurants, daycares, and small businesses may be destroyed.  Closing restaurants, daycares, and other institutions that help working folks propel our economy forward seems irresponsible. 

I applaud measures that protect the elderly and the vulnerable. Limiting visits to nursing homes and hospitals makes sense. Social distancing makes sense. Maintaining basic hygiene makes sense. Pushing our economy down a rabbit hole is a move we will all regret. 

As a person of faith, I follow in Mother Teresa’s footsteps when she says, “No, I wouldn’t touch a leper for a thousand pounds. Yet I willingly care for him for the love of God.” God has called me to pray and each time I pray I’ve felt a restlessness that has left me unsettled. I called my 86-year-old grandma to check on her and she said Jimmie, “I’m living on borrowed time anyway.” I said, “Grandma, you saying that makes me sad.” She replied, “It shouldn’t. I have Jesus in my heart. I refuse to live in fear. I also love you with all of my heart.” I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to live in fear. I refuse to live in fear. 

I’m going to always treasure her saying, “I love you with all of my heart.” You see, she just got out of the hospital with a severe respiratory virus and pneumonia but even after this brush with death she refuses to live in fear. She went out dancing this past Thursday and she said, “I would have Friday, too, if they hadn’t cancelled it.” Refusing to live in fear is important for those who live in faith, especially when the fear can cripple our country and hurt others, much the same way this virus may. 

Faces of Homelessness 

Homelessness has many faces. There are as many faces to homelessness as there are people and personalities in the world. Most of us categorize homeless folks into specific stereotypes. We assign them off to various deviant groups and therefore write them off as casualties of their own choices. Not everybody fits these nice neat categories. We need to establish a realistic view of the people who are on the street and in need of services. After spending a month scanning all of our 2019 files into Google Drive (2,371 files), we scheduled our first case management meetings. We gave first priority to the elderly and infirm and women who have children under the age of six. Our first case management sessions interviewed two people who simply blew me away and caused me to need to pick up my chin off the ground.  God really broke my heart and the hearts of our staff members after hearing their stories. They have both agreed to allow me to share their stories. 

The first person we interviewed was Ms. Virginia. Ms. Virginia was born in Kumagaya City, Japan in 1957. Her original birth certificate was written on rice paper.  When she was three months old, her father took her by the ankles and slammed her back and forth against the walls of an abandoned apartment building. Then he left her for dead. Sometime later, a passerby heard faint cries coming from the building, and she ran in and rescued Ms. Virginia. She took her to the hospital, and they kept her there until she was fully rehabilitated. 

A young couple in their mid-twenties adopted Ms. Virginia while they were living in Tokyo. Her mother was from Tokyo, Japan and her father was from Allen Town, PA. Her adoption occurred while her father was stationed in Tokyo in the military. When Ms. Virginia was one-year-old, her adoptive parents moved back to San Francisco, CA. When Virginia was thirteen, her father got stationed at Ft. Knox, KY. She eventually graduated from Jesse Stewart High School in 1977. 

Right out of high school, Ms. Virginia began working in the food service industry. She worked at Pizza Hut and eventually rose to the position of Assistant Manager of a Pizza Hut in Louisville, KY. She worked various jobs as a waitress and eventually met her husband. She has three children and eight grandchildren. 

At the age of 43, Ms. Virginia had a stroke, and during her time in the hospital she was evicted from her apartment and lost everything. At that time, two of her children lived with her and the other child had already turned 18. She and her two children were homeless at Wayside Christian Mission in Louisville, KY. The stroke caused the left side of her body to be partially paralyzed. Because of her disability she immediately got SSI disability and Medicaid. However, she could not ever save up enough money for the first months rent and deposit while caring for her two children. So she sent her two younger kids to Columbus, IN, to live with their father. She left Wayside in 2003, and was taken into the Haven House Shelter because it was easier for her to not be put out during the day due to her disability. 

In 2013, Ms. Virginia was accepted into Haven House Services, Inc transitional housing program. In 2018, Ms. Virginia’s second bout with homelessness began when the transitional housing she was living in caught fire and burned to the ground.  For a second time, Ms. Virginia lost everything. Ms. Virginia is soft spoken, articulate, and full of wisdom. She has a high aptitude for upper level mathematics. She is one of our “adopted” children that have had health complications at an early age and doesn’t meet the minimum age requirement for long-term nursing home care. Because of the shortage of transitional housing and group home beds, she has had very few options. We are currently working with her on getting accepted into an assisted living facility on a Medicaid waiver. She turns 63 years next week and I hope to celebrate with her.  

The second case management meeting we held concerned Ms. Linda who was born in New Albany, IN to a young unwed mother in 1954. Her birth mom and her adoptive parents shared the same doctor. The doctor knew that Ms. Linda’s adoptive parents couldn’t conceive, and he knew that her birth mom wanted to give her up for adoption.  The doctor called the welfare office and arranged the adoption. 

She was raised in New Albany, IN, on a farm off Grant Line Rd. that her family owned. She graduated from New Albany High School in 1972. She never married and was living with her parents until their death. When her parents passed, she sold their small family farm and moved into an apartment with her friend. She worked full-time at the Census Bureau in a temporary position on and off for 13 years. She also worked as a security guard for Moore Security, who was then bought out by Securitas for 8 years. 

In 2012, she started having trouble with her feet that developed into neuropathy that caused her to be unable to stand and walk on her feet for extended periods of time. After about three months of struggling with the pain, she was unable to keep up with her bills and so she was evicted from her apartment. After being evicted she came to Haven House Services, Inc. and after a year was accepted on disability. She has retinal detachment in both eyes and cataracts in both eyes. She is scheduled to have surgery on her eyes in April. She is scheduled to meet with Lifespan to get a Medicaid waiver for assisted living.  Ms. Linda is polite, helpful, and has a kind-hearted disposition. 

It is our hope to get both of these ladies into permanent housing in the coming months. It has been said that, “The greatness of a nation is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” My hope is that Southern Indiana still shows its compassion toward the most vulnerable members of society by hearing their stories and treating them with dignity. After these case management meetings, I felt in my heart “these are the people that God has sent us as His church to reach and minister to.”  Deuteronomy 26:12 says, “When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.” If we call ourselves Christian, then the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the homeless have been given to us to care for. My prayer is that our love for the “least of these” grows when we hear their stories and see their faces.

Desegregating Our Minds 

It’s not a secret; I’m white. When people see me, they identify me as Caucasian; which has afforded me opportunities that others with different skin pigmentation do not receive, and I should be aware of that fact.  Not only is this something I should be aware of, but I should also be fighting to ensure that those around me receive the same opportunities I receive. It is difficult to get outside of our own perceptions of reality and see that the world isn’t equal. There are not equal opportunities for all people, not even for those who try to struggle against the grain to obtain them. 

A year and a half ago our church youth group went on a mission trip to Atlanta. We spent our time in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up. We visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, the APEX Museum, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Visitor Center, and several other sites that are closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement. It was there in Martin Luther King Jr.’s boyhood neighborhood that the awareness overwhelmed me that years of sustained prejudice, abuse, and subjugation are not able to be overcome in the 56 years since segregation ended. It is not possible to recover the amount of time, education, money, representation, and resources members of the black community were deprived from in a single generation. 

In my opinion, one of the most jarring and painful numbers ever penned on a paper is the number three-fifths. This, according to the US Constitution written in 1789, was the way African-American slaves were counted—as three-fifths of a person—in determining population for the purpose of calculating states’ representation in Congress. How does a group recover from being treated in this manner for their first 74 years of existence in this country (The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in 1863)? 

What most people want to do is gloss over the fact that it took another 101 years for the Civil Rights Act to be signed into law in 1964. This act finally outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The fact of the matter is that African-American people may have been freed from the chains of slavery; but for 101 more years, they were subjugated by the mental slavery of discrimination based upon the color of their skin. Although African-American men were given the right to vote in 1870, they were subjected to a rigorous attempt to keep them from doing so, in the hope that they never would be able to elect officials who would share their same values. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of August 6, 1965 that African-American women were given the right to vote. For the first 189 years our country existed, African-American men and women were not allowed to elect representation in government that reflected their values. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He died still trying to get equal access to basic necessities for African-American people. Before his death, the Fair Housing Act; which outlawed housing discrimination in the form of the sale, rental, and financing based upon race, color, religion, and national origin had failed to gain traction in both the House and the Senate. This means that on April 4, 1968, people still believed it was valid to discriminate against African-American people in order to keep them renting, buying, and selling only homes that Caucasian people “thought” they should have. Seven days after Dr. King’s death (April 11, 1968), the Fair Housing Act was finally signed into law. 

The Urban League has created something called an Equality Index. This index helps measure African Americans against their Caucasian counterparts. The metric measures opportunities that African American people are given in the areas of economics, health, education, civic engagement, and social justice.  The recent Equality Index study from the Urban League stated that African-Americans are at 72.5% when it comes to achieving equal opportunities with Caucasian Americans. The State of Black America finds that the Equality Index for African Americans has barely moved since 2005 when the study began. Entrenched financial disparities have made it hard for African Americans to achieve equality. 

In the fifty-two years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, we’ve come a long way; but we still have a long way to go. We must realize that during the first one-hundred-ninety-two years of our nation’s existence, before the laws against African-American people were defeated, scripture has always remained the same. In Galatians 3:28 we see the Apostle Paul saying, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” These words have always been in scripture; but people have decided to look the other way, or act as if the words’ meaning didn’t apply to their discriminatory behavior. 

It took our country one-hundred-ninety-two years to offer African-American people equal opportunities. Shame on us! But let us not continue to live a lie claiming that because laws have been changed, everything is alright. Fifty-two years is not enough time for the harm that has been caused to be undone. A wrong that took six generations commit will not be turned around in less than two. 

How can we believe that the wealth, the education, the housing, the business, and the representation in government is going to completely turn itself around just because we say so? We must continue to fight for equal opportunities for all people but especially for those who have faced the uphill battle of discrimination. My belief is that a crime which took six and a half generations to commit will take at least that long to be undone. 

In my office there hangs a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and underneath the picture is a caption stating, “I have a dream!” Let us not give up fighting to keep the dream alive so that all people have the same opportunities to succeed and become all that God desires for them to be. 

Resources: https://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2018-05-04/african-americans-lag-behind-whites-in-equality-index

A Gift Received and a Gift to Give 

At Christmastime every man, woman, and child is thinking about gifts. My kids are pretty good children. They earn good grades, and they generally do what we ask of them. For the most part, they have servant hearts. I know there are some things that they want; and if I can give them a couple of things they enjoy, it makes me happy. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you, then, though you are sinful, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” You see, God wants to give us good things. The problem is that our idea of what is good doesn’t necessarily match God’s understanding of what is good. 

Growing up in a family of four children, I really didn’t have grandiose expectations of Christmas; because I knew my mother and father couldn’t afford expensive things. I knew that if I was going to get expensive things, I would need to pay for them myself. I received my favorite gift as a child when I was ten years old. My parents had me open the two or three gifts that were under the tree for me, which amounted to socks and underwear. I took my gifts to my room thinking, “Why did my brothers and my sister get so many things and I got only the necessities?” After placing my gifts in my room, my dad asked me to take out the garbage. When I opened up the back door, there sat a brand new 10-speed bicycle.  It was freezing cold outside and quite icy, but I bundled up and took it for a spin anyway. 

Like many kids this Christmas, I’ve been thinking about gifts. I’ve been thinking about what gifts God wants to give to us. Many people refer to Jesus as the greatest gift that has ever been given. We really need to unpack this idea for it to make perfect sense. For me, it is God’s capacity to forgive that is the greatest gift expressed in Jesus. Forgiveness is the ability to look past an offense. Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or a group who has harmed you. Forgiveness is a decision that is made regardless of whether the person or group actually deserves to be forgiven. 

Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s forgiveness is not based on our worthiness but on God’s choice. God chose to offer us the gift of forgiveness so we would know of His love for us. By this act we learn how we are to deal with the wrong choices of others. We don’t need to wait until someone cleans up their act in order to forgive them of the wrong they’ve done to us. Forgiveness is not offered based upon merit, but upon the gracious choice of the individual to no longer hold onto to feelings of hurt, frustration, and anxiety that are the result of someone’s actions. 

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Our forgiveness of others and ourselves is to be our witness of how we see God’s forgiveness expressed to us. I’m afraid that many of us either don’t fully understand the lengths God went to in order to forgive us, or we are resistant to extend this graciousness onto those around us. God has asked us to forgive because literally it is what is best for our body, mind, and spirit. 

Forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. Forgiveness involves letting go of negative feelings. Forgiveness empowers you to recognize pain that you have suffered without letting that pain define you. Forgiveness enables you to heal and move on, while also allowing the offending party to heal and move on as well. Research suggests that forgiveness makes us happier. It’s obvious that when we let go of feelings of anger, frustration, and irritation that we will be happier. 

Some of the greatest threats to our mental health are unresolved relational difficulties with those to whom we should feel close. Therefore, those that forgive others will see great improvements in depression and anxiety. Holding grudges and dwelling on them causes our blood pressure and heart rate to spike, which in turn causes damage to our body. When we forgive, our stress levels drop and our blood pressure and heart rate return to normal levels. 

Human relationships will always leave us hungering for more. Every human relationship is destined for conflict, because all human beings have sin in their lives. People who hold on to past hurts are less likely to cooperate with others and are likely to have trust and commitment issues, which leads to other relationship breakdowns. Forgiveness repairs our relationships and sets a standard for future conflicts. One long-term study involving newlyweds found that participants forgiving their spouses formed more satisfying relationships across the board. 

An understanding of how God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ can literally change the way we live and relate to those around us. People who forgive are seen as more kind and connected in the relationships they maintain. When we do this out of an understanding of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we become the witnesses God wants us to become. 

Forgiveness begins with an understanding that God has released all of the debts our sinfulness has incurred. God has done so not because we did anything to satisfy them, but because of God’s sovereign choice. God chooses to be a gracious forgiving God, because that’s who God is. In turn, God wants us to let go of the inward anxiety caused by our past sins and to learn to let go and forgive ourselves. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us.” If God removes our sin so far that it literally cannot be found, then who are we to keep digging it up in the recesses of our minds? 

Forgiveness is a behavior that we learn improve over time. We choose to be more forgiving and to go against the accepted “norm” behaviors of the world around us. As we begin to forgive ourselves and those closest to us, it becomes easier to forgive others because it becomes part of our character. Forgiveness literally becomes a part of who we are, and this is our witness to nonbelievers about the power of Christ that can change the world. Forgiveness is the gift we can receive that we can also give!

Why Is Ministry to the Homeless Critical for Our Christian Witness? 

Why would a pastor who has a full-time job and a family of five feel compelled to extend himself to the point of taking on the rebranding and reprogramming of a homeless shelter? The simple answer is because I feel that God has led me to do so. Why would we rename it Catalyst Rescue Mission? A catalyst is an agent that provokes a significant change or action. We intend to be a place where significant change takes place!!   

My understanding of Jesus through scripture is that he was homeless during much of his ministry. In Luke 9:57-58 it says, {57} As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” {58} Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” No doubt Jesus can identify with many of the circumstances that surround our homeless population. Jesus is very familiar with feeling alone, being forsaken by family, being preyed upon by evil, wicked people whose intent is to do harm, not knowing where the next meal will come from, and wondering where the next warm place will be to lay his head. 

I believe that the way Jesus will recognize his people when he returns will be by the way they minister to the “least of these.” In Matthew 25:37-40 it says, {37} Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? {38} When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? {39} When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ {40} “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” The great thing about this passage of scripture is the clarity of Lord’s instructed behavior: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, giving clothes to the naked, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned. It is my belief that many of these characteristics are present in the lives of those who are homeless. When we do these things, we participate in the ministry Jesus would be doing if he were here. 

A frustrated community member emailed me and said, “I am very disappointed in the shelter being called a rescue mission.” She continued, “It is in my opinion a very dehumanizing term. We as Christians are not ‘rescuers’, but brothers and sisters to those in need.” I understand and respect her opinion; however, in Psalm 82:3-4 we find what I consider one of the greatest calls to action in the scripture which says, “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” God has called each of us to stand in the gap for vulnerable people. This means that we are to keep the wicked and evil people in our world from preying upon them. Many people who are homeless have never had parents who stood in the gap for them. Many people who are homeless have never had a friend or pastor stand in the gap for them. I think we each need to become those rare people who take God at his word and do what he says, especially in this regard. 


Because of my convictions and beliefs, I have led those that call Park Memorial UMC their church home to work with the homeless and transient population for the past 13 years. We have served a monthly meal in the shelter. We also have a strong working relationship with Exit 0 homeless outreach. An example of this relationship is the fact that two years ago, when Exit 0 had to vacate the warehouse space they were using, Park Memorial UMC extended the hand of fellowship and gave them ministry office space and storage space in our building. For the past five years we have allowed the Southern Indiana homeless population to use our address on their state issued IDs so that they have been able to attain them. Working with the shelter and with Exit 0 has unveiled my eyes to the plight of our most vulnerable neighbors. I can no longer plead innocence or say that I am unaware of the systemic problems facing the very people that Jesus calls us to minister to. 

I know the stories of injustice. I’ve seen people preyed upon by people who have offered their assistance. I have relationships with both Barbara Anderson and Paul Stensrud, and this experience has led me to the same conclusion I find in scripture, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). I’ve witnessed first-hand a few people giving it all they have, while the rest of our community acts like there is no problem. Unfortunately, I have been forced to come to the conclusion that many of our “social service agencies” are more concerned with their own program and program dollars than they are about addressing the larger issues that are plaguing Southern Indiana. 

I believe that we are responsible for the revelation that we receive. This means that God gives us the knowledge of things and expects us to use this knowledge to accomplish His Will for our lives. I began to feel my heart being stirred to do something about what I’ve come to understand; but I didn’t know how to begin, so I waited. I believed that God would reveal the timing; and shortly after I witnessed the amazing things that Homeless Prevention Task Force was able to accomplish at America’s Best, He did. 

Barbara called me and through the course of our conversation it became readily apparent that God was leading my heart toward the purchase of the shelter. The only problem with that was that I didn’t have any money. I had to communicate my heart to the Leadership Team at Park Memorial UMC. The amazing thing is that they were unanimous in their support and they have been nothing but Christ-like throughout this process. 

I am fully aware that we have a lot of work to do in the days ahead. I believe that if God calls you, then God will equip you for the work he has asked you to accomplish. This includes God bringing the right people to join you in completing his will for your life. I’m excited for what God has in store and can’t wait to see the lives he is going to change. Please pray for our efforts and for the people whose lives we will touch. Also pray and ask God how he might use you in our efforts. If one of the ways God would want you to contribute is for you to send a donation to Catalyst Rescue Mission; please make checks payable to Catalyst Rescue Mission, and send them to 1820 E. Park Place Jeffersonville, IN 47130.    

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