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.”

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.