Setting the Captive Free

The church’s sign sits in a prominent location near the road where all those who drive by can easily read the message. The message this month reads, “We love hurting people.” What a wonderful message to send. If you are hurting, you will find love here. However, a different thought comes to mind. Some may read it as, “We hurt people, and we love that we do.” As I pondered this thought I began to realize the sign speaks truth.

Most of us do love those who are hurting. We genuinely want to help. We want to help those in poverty, in addiction, in the cycle – we love people who are hurting. On the other hand, our ideas and methods of helping is often not as helpful as we may have previously believed. Do we stop to consider the deeper questions? Will my $5 help this panhandler eat and be healthy, or will he be hungry again in a few hours? What if others are giving him money also? What will he do with the money? Will he use it for food or something else?

Will my paying for a hotel for the night benefit this person or will it create an unhealthy dependence? The hard truth is if I look at how I have “helped” people in the past, I realize I often did more harm than good. I didn’t ask good open-ended questions, I merely listened to the rehearsed story. I didn’t ask the tough but important questions about family, about previous employment, about friends, I merely listened to a rehearsed story and gave some money to “help” the individual and sometimes to appease my own ego.

Every time I give the money or pay for the hotel or simply buy the food without asking questions, I have fed into the problem. I have told this person they aren’t really worth my time, my effort, my relationship. Instead, I give money and I feel better because in the moment they feel better. Then I leave and do not think of the person or the consequences of my own actions and how it affected them. What if our handouts and providing hotel stay was causing a son or daughter to not reconnect with a mother or father who loved them? What if I’m enabling and not helping? What if my money was used to buy the “bad” drug from which they do not recover? Do I stop and think of that? Do you think of that? What if my refusal to hold a person (yes even a stranger) to some sort of accountability fed into a sense of worthlessness? When you and I just give a handout and do not ask for some sort of exchange, we tell an individual they have nothing to offer. They are worth only a handout. They are not worth believing in. Just writing those words sting! I love people. I want to help them, but I must be honest with myself. At times, I have not helped at all. Sure, I fed a meal; I gave a coat on a cold, winter’s day – but I didn’t really help the person. I didn’t ask questions? I didn’t build a bond. I didn’t provide an opportunity for them to earn their coat and they are left feeling as though they have nothing to offer.

Yes, the sign is correct, “We love hurting people.”

To Know Him

Knowing God Post 2

      Genesis 1:31 God created and it was good.


For six days God unleashed the power of His creativity.  He set the earth and the heavens in place.  Look at the multitude of colors and shapes of his creation.  Systems were launched that have been running flawlessly ever since.  Look at the diversity of His creation.  Mountains, valleys and deserts were all made by the same awesome God.  When all was in place, at some point on day six after creating the last of the land animals, He unleashed His greatest masterpiece.

My friends, you are that masterpiece.  All of the rest of creation He simply spoke it into existence.  When He made man and woman He did so with His own hands.  He breathed the breath of life into them.  He made us in His own image and set us in the Garden of Eden where life was perfect.

On this side of the fall, it can be easy to dismiss the Garden.  There is so much in our world that seems far from perfection.  But that is not how it was supposed to be.  God created and it was good.  Your deepest inner being knows this but we have forgotten.  I encourage you to dig it up.  Take time to memorize the three verses below to force your heart and mind to meditate on the goodness of God’s creation.  Rediscover who He is.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  Psalm 19:1


“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:3

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

To Know Him

Knowing God Post 1

 Psalm 104:1-20 (104:5)  He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved

Many in our world, even in the church, attempt to build a sense of stability in their lives in things of this world.  Among the problems with this is that there is not even one created thing that is permanent.  These things that we depend on for a moment of peace and pleasure are all passing away.

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:17

In other words, if I trust in this home to make life stable and then there is a disaster that takes out my home my whole life is suddenly destabilized.  My emotions, my work, my family and pretty much everything that I hold dear becomes part of this challenge.  Trying to take on the rest of my life will be difficult because my stabilizer is gone.  However, what if my center is found in the Creator who set the Earth’s Foundation?  The same disaster comes after me.  With my feet on solid ground, I can take on the difficulties the storm of disaster has taken away from me.

My friends, for too many people we put our attention so much on the temporary that we fail to focus in on what really matters.  When I focus on the temporary and make them my god, I do not have the energy or desire to deal with the problems of my world.  However, when I make God my sure foundation and my one hope there is a sense of peace and stability that is unparalleled.  Seek to know God.

Of course this does not mean that there are not storms.  Some Jesus will calm, others He will allow us to endure.   Start with this foundational truth.  God is always with us.  When I don’t know what to say or do, He is there to lead me and guide me.  He is my hope when it feels like my heart I broken.  He is the shelter in the storm.  He is also applauding as I come through the storm stronger and more like Jesus than before.

Try this exercise this week.  Imagine that you have lost everything in your world.  Home, family, job, clothing, and all of those precious treasures.  Create the picture clearly, feel the emotions of the loss.  Then look around.  What did you leave out of the exercise?  There is likely some relationship or favorite item that you failed to put into the fire.  Then turn to God.  Look at Him and thank Him that He is all that you need.  When you really know Him, that will be enough.

Setting the Captive Free

Setting the Captive Free (So you call yourself a Christian)

    “So you call yourself a Christian?”  The voice of the very high and very angry young man hits my heart like an arrow.  Perfectly aimed at my own insecurities.  “Well, I love Jesus.”  That was my best answer.  I had been accused multiple times of not being a Christians because I do not give them the answer that others want to hear.  If I don’t do what they want, I must not be a Christian.  Being a Christian is actually doing what Jesus wants me to do.  He is my master and not the guilt or shame of who I help or don’t help.  I get the accusation from other social workers, churches, and even pagan government officials.  I hear the question from those that are stealing, lying, or living out some sort of heinous sin.  Why do all of these people go for the jugular like that with such ease.  Many making the accusations don’t go to church, have never read the Bible, and could not pray their way out of a wet paper sack.  Yet the accusation still stings.  “Well, I do love Jesus.”

    Many years ago, Jesus rescued me from a life that was badly spinning out of control.  He first stabilized my life and then he helped me build a solid foundation.  Today He continues to build me up into the image of Christ Jesus.  I am a follower of Jesus.  Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  I work to love the lost, the hurt and desperate.  I love them enough to tell them to speak the truth in love.  Sin imprisons, sin kills, sin destroys hope.  Love sets free.  Love brings life, love creates hope.

    Today God might use me to speak truth into your life.  When I do it, it might sting a bit.  It might downright hurt.  But if I do not do so, if I disobey the Master our of fear of your judgement, I am not a Christian.  If I tell you the truth in love than the answer to your question is, “Yes I am a Christian.  Do you want to be one too?”

Setting the Captive Free

Setting the Captive Free (Creating Heroes)

And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.  1 Samuel 22:2

     Today we would look at many of those that are poor and experiencing homelessness in much of the same way that we would look at these men.  These hurting and outcast men were drawn to David.  They were not good wholesome men.  Yet they were drawn to this man who was reported to have a heart like God’s.  These men were not drawn to a church service or a program.  They were drawn to a man who loved God first.

    This is a man who worshiped with his whole being.  When was the last time that you totally and completely gave yourself over to worship.  On at least one occasion his wife was embarrassed by his energy and enthusiasm.  Most of us check the box.  We sing a few songs. More accurately we lip synch a song or two.  If we are lucky we might clap or join in on the chorus.  But do we worship freely and with all of our heart.

    This was a man that was not held back by fear.  Most men that I know are owned by fear.  The more successful often the more fear.  Of course they are afraid they have much comfort to lose.  But David risked it all for the Kingdom of God.  Raising the sheep while not pleasant and often had its own downsides as all jobs do, was predictable.  There was nobody coming and giving him grief over estates or burning his cousin’s field.  No tempting women bathing on rooftops to lead a man astray.  But David took the risk.  He battled the lion, the bear, Goliath and countless armies.  David fought.  He was not a wimp.  He was a man of courage and boldness.

    This was a man who was flawed but knew how to repent.  His mistakes are historical facts that tarnished his overall record.  His sins cost him peace, cost him family and even cost him his own ability to confront sin in his own family.  But he strove to make things right.

    This man drew the outcasts to himself.  He does not look at them that way.  Instead he worked to help them transform into the men that God called them to be.  That would be the Mighty Men that we hear more about later in the scriptures.

     My friends the men and women who are currently our outcasts (the homeless, the addicted the returning citizens) they all have potential to be mighty men or women in our communities.  They can thrive but only if we help them to see themselves as something more than losers, addicts, felons or the like.  When you give them handouts you are treating them like people to be pitied.  Raise them up and offer them hope and let them know that your help is dependent on them coming out and becoming a part of the community where the give and take, strengthens us and empowers us to become better.

Setting the Captive Free

Setting the Captive Free (Garbage)

Garbage is strewn all over the place.  Discarded, feces-stained clothing is scattered in assorted places.  What must be a case or more of water bottles some half-drunk are crushed and also part of the clutter.  Discarded dirty blankets are wind-blown around trees and cigarette butts both tobacco and marijuana are piled high.  Beer cans and hard liquor bottles decorate the landscape.

     Archaeologists that might stumble on this many years in the future would find the remains of canned goods, junk food wrappers and more.  Those experts would conclude that this location was an ancient trash dump from 2023.  In their attempts to learn about the inhabitants they would conclude that the people of this era were unhealthy and careless with their belongings.

    A week prior this was a thriving homeless camp.  It was filled with men and women that want to live lives on their own terms.  Though the community has a shelter that can provide for their needs they are trapped by their own addictions and rebellions.  They don’t like rules.  Ironically the camp also has rules though few are expressed.  Don’t steal from me.  Don’t lie to me.  Don’t tell anyone where I am, among others.  For the members of this camp the uber eats and free clothing supply has dried up.  Rumor has been received from the local do gooders that the members of this camp have been shoplifting at the local stores and driving away customers by pan handling in front of local retail shops.  Without unquestioning support, they had to move to another community and begin all over again.

    Meanwhile in a local church a small group is sharing the statistics.  “This week we were the hands and feet of Christ.  We gave out six cases of water, twenty meals, 10 blankets and the list of benevolence goes on.  When asked about outcomes they continue to list the outputs of meals, blankets and more.  No one asks if the “help” was in the eternal best interest of these campers?  No one asks if the “help” prevented these men and women from addressing their addictions or mental illnesses.  Nobody asks if the “help” was an actual long-term benefit to them.  Most telling is that nobody on the distribution team can tell you anything about these men and women.  They do not know their name, nor their story, nor their dreams.  After the report the church claps wildly for how loving and generous this church is and they go out to eat and give a sparing tip to the servers.  Nobody has changed.

Setting the Captive Free

Setting the Captive Free (Abandoned House)

    The house had been vacant for as long as anyone can remember.  A couple of the locals who had grown up in the neighborhood could vaguely remember the sweet couple that had once lived there.  In their time the lawn was immaculate.  Flowers bloomed every spring, and the house was in good condition.  In fact, even in a part of town where people really cared about the condition of their homes, this house stood out as exceptionally well kept.  The couple that had lived there had been born, raised, and worked in the community.  With the exception of a few years away at college and of course World War II, neither had ever lived anywhere else but in that community.  They had saved and using the GI bill bought the house.  Even though the home was small they had raised three children and never complained about the size of the house.  They always found a way to make the house feel more than adequate.

     Today though the house was in terrible condition.  The couple had passed away several years ago.  While the oldest child had inherited the house, he had no intention of ever moving back to the community of his youth.  He lived in the big city now and enjoyed the convenience and special attractions that big city life offered.  So, the house stood vacant.

    One day some folks who were experiencing homelessness and did not want to live by the rules of the local shelter decided that they would take up residence in the house.  There was no water or electricity in the house, so they set up rules about collecting water for toilet flushing.  One pioneering young man figured out how to use some jumper cables to get electricity to the house.  In the house the rules often changed based on who the strongest personality was but at least they were “free” After just a couple of weeks the smell in the house was becoming awful.  With no showers and sporadic toilet flushing and living in fear that they would be discovered, which kept all windows closed and blinds keeping our all light, odors had nowhere to go.  But at least they were “free”.  Each person donated their food stamps, and they took turns calling churches for support.  They worked day and night to scrounge up the necessities for life.  If the calls did not produce the food or clothing, they needed they were able to do some dumpster diving to provide those needs.  Some would watch mailboxes and steal social security checks and they enjoyed their “freedom.”

    Drugs and alcohol always seemed to be available.  They were free to engage in as much sin as they wanted.   Freedom though did not always provide safety.  Freedom did not always provide heat or air conditioning.  Freedom did not keep some from getting sick and even being hospitalized.  They had a rule that they had to go down the street to call an ambulance because nobody wanted to be caught.  That is freedom!

     During drug induced and drunken moments damage was done to the walls and plumbing.  What did it matter?  It was all free and they could do as they wanted.  Over time the home became less and less habitable.     When they completed doing their worst and the infighting got to a level of discomfort, they used their freedom to move into a home in your neighborhood.

    After the city takes possession of the house due to failure to pay taxes there is nothing left to do but tear down the house and clear out the boxes of food, discarded clothing and other items donated by local churches.   Those that had lived there have moved on to continue their life of freedom on your tab, ready to tear up someone else’s abandoned home.  That is ok because eventually it will be yours.



Setting the Captive Free

Setting the Captive Free Absurd Help

Imagine that I am at a local park.  The sun is shining, the air is just the right temperature.  A slight cool breeze blows by and make me feel the very presence of God.

The heavens are declaring the glory of God, and their expanse shows the work of his hands.

 –Psalm 19:1

On the playground I can hear the giggles of my granddaughters as they go down the slide or climb the assorted obstacles.  They are having a great time.  I feel peace and joy.  God is present.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. -Romans 15:13 13

Through the corner of my eye, I notice a young man sitting on another bench.  He is also watching kids play.  I try to figure out which ones might belong to him.  However, he does not really seem to be watching any specific kids.  In fact, as I look more carefully it looks sad.  His expensive suit is messy, and his eyes look swollen.

I will seek the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the broken, and strengthen the weak; but the sleek and strong I will destroy. I will shepherd them with justice.’  – Ezekiel 34:16

My heart goes to him, and I go over to chat with him.  Initially I just sit there on the bench praying for him.  Looking for a way to break the ice I ask pointing in the direction where my youngest granddaughter is moving down the slide, “Those three are my granddaughters.” He looks in the direction I am pointing and gives a slight smile but says nothing.  In fact, it looks like he is about to cry.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.  – Romans 12:15

Suddenly he opens up and tells me that he had always been too busy to come to this park with his two kids, a boy and a girl.  This morning his wife and they were in a horrific wreck, and they all died.  He goes onto talk about the intense pain that he is feeling.  I struggle because I recognize the opportunity that God has given me to share love for this man, but I also need to keep an eye on my granddaughters.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

– Matthew 6:33

I decide to trust God with my granddaughters but not totally take my eyes off of them while listening to this deeply hurting child of God.  He goes on to talk of a whole host of regrets and sins in his life.  He is really going now.  Mostly I just nod.  At the end he mentions that he is thinking about taking his life.  Then silence.  What am I to say?  What does a man of God do?  He then asks if I have a pistol that he can borrow?  He promises me that he won’t actually commit suicide but he would feel safer with some protection.  I shrug my shoulders and say, “Sure, here you go.”

That is absurd.  Yet many choose to do the same thing with panhandlers or people camping out at local parks.  They will say, “Its not my responsibility what they do with the cash or food I give them.”  If you visit with them and discover that it is likely they are to buy drugs or prostitutes or eat the food and save their money for the above than it is like giving a gun to the suicidal man.  You are responsible.

Real love would require the man or woman of God to take the man at the park to professionals.  In the same way when you come across the random person experiencing homelessness take them to professionals so that they can get well.

Glass Bead Game

The Adventure of Fellow Sojourner Episode 3

Sojourner began the walk back to his home as the morning breeze began to give way to the summer sun. He thought about the man he met that morning and how difficult it must be for him in this heat. As the walked with a slight limp, he began to thank God for the freedom and ability to move and walk. As he entered his front door, Sojourner headed straight for the kitchen to get a glass of water. He sat down to get some relief from the pain he felt in his right leg and sighed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Lord, for this refreshing water and a comfortable place to sit.” Sojourner removed his newsie cap and placed it on the armrest of his chair. The morning conversation was still fresh in his mind. He played back pieces of the conversation in the quietness of his small living room. The final words spoke by the man he met really stuck. “I don’t get to have many conversations with people. They usually turn the other way to avoid eye contact.” Sojourner felt the sting of these words. He had experienced them. People do not like to feel uncomfortable. Often, we do not know how to respond to certain situations and so we pretend we do not see them. Whether it be seeing a panhandler and turning our head or quickly changing the subject when a difficult topic comes up, we ignore it as a defense mechanism. But ignoring a situation has never brought about change. As the afternoon gave way to evening, Sojourner allowed his mind to wander. He recalled how his grandfather would have so many stories of life on the railroad. It was a different time then and the life of a railroad was not easy. He was gone more than he was home and worked long hours. He left his young son (Sojourner’s father) to take care of the family farm. When grandfather was able to come home, he always had a great story to tell. Sojourner loved to hear the stories. Grandfather loved to share the stories, but Sojourner’s father would quickly say, “I’m going to turn in, somebody has to be responsible and work this farm.” Those words were intended to hurt grandfather because he knew he put a lot on his son at an early age.  

Sojourner, took out the pocket watch which once belonged to grandfather and looked at the time. It was getting late, and he was getting tired. He pulled the watch close to his heart before placing it on the nightstand. Sojourner thought about the man he met earlier in the day. Where did he go during the day? Did he have a safe place to sleep tonight? What was his name? They had spent time together over that cup of coffee at breakfast time and never even told each other their names. He said a quiet prayer asking God to keep them both safe and allow them to continue their conversation in the future. All was quiet in Sojourner’s home. Only the sound of the fan could be heard as he drifted off into a peaceful sleep. 

Glass Bead Game

The Adventure of Fellow Sojourner Episode 2

Sojourner and the man sat outside the diner enjoying the slight breeze and the hot coffee.

How long have you been in the area? Where did you grow up?” Sojourner asks the man as the server brings the coffee. The man took a sip and after a brief pause, he responds, “I’ve been here for about 6 months.”

“Where were you before?”

Kansas. Topeka area.”

Sojourner’s mind wanders a bit as he recalled stories of his grandfather. Sojourner’s grandfather often talked about Topeka. The railroad that grandfather worked on would often pass through Topeka. Sojourner took the pocket watch from his pocket and gently tapped the nickel plated back of the watch. He remembered grandfather looking at this same watch each time a train passed. He would always say, “right on time” with a proud smile on his face. The Santa Fe’ route was one grandfather often worked and he always made sure to get out and talk to the townspeople of Topeka.

“I came here for a fresh start.” The words spoken by the man cause Sojourner to come back into the present moment. “My life just fell apart.”

“Do you have family?” Sojourner inquires. He knew the importance of affiliation, of close, natural relationships. He wanted to get to know the man better and see how he could help.

My wife left with our son and daughter a couple of years ago.” His voice cracked as he spoke those words. The lump in his throat from trying to hold back the pain gave him reason to take another sip of his coffee. “My life spiraled out of control after that [LINK TO RESOURCE PAGE]. Everything I thought I was working so hard for came crumbling. When she left, I found it harder to wake up in the mornings. I struggled to make it into work on time. Eventually I lost my job. I was in debt. I lost the house. I lost it all 

Sojourner knew the pain all too well. Not only had he heard similar stories, but he had also experienced his own trials and hardships. He took off his newsie hat and held it near his chest.  The hat belonged to his father. His father would often wear it to keep the sun out of his eyes as he worked the family farm. It was a tough time for farming as it was just near the end of what is commonly referred to as the Great Depression. The details were different, but Sojourner recalled how lost his father felt when his mother left. Life seemed to crumble and everything fell apart.

Sojourner sighed deeply as he put the newsie hat back on his head. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll be praying for your children and their mom.”

Pray? I haven’t done that in such a long time.” The man said matter-of-factly as he took another sip of his coffee. “I’m not sure how much good it would do. The big guy doesn’t seem to care what I have to say lately.”

Sojourner smiled an understanding smile as he replied, “I’m sure those feelings are real. I’m also sure that you should give it a try. He does care.” Sojourner took the watch from his pocket and looked once more at the time.  “I’ve seen you here a few times before. Would it be okay if we had coffee again sometime? I would like to hear more of your story.”

The man smiled, “I’d like that. I don’t get to have many conversations with people. They usually turn the other way to avoid eye contact.”

“Well, I see you… and God sees you and I hope to see you again.”