Friday, November 29, 2013

Lessons Learned After 40+ Years of Helping Others
I have been helping others for over 40 years now, hard to believe for some but true. It all started as a child. I had an uncle who lived with my Grandmother and Grandfather.  They were also helping raise me. Aaron was injured while in the Army in Germany.  He was thrown off a train for flirting with a girl, he became blind and obtained a Traumatic Brain Injury. He later developed what I am confident was schizophrenic tendencies. Now I believe my grandmother did too much for Aaron, there were little things I felt he could do for himself and ultimately he did. One can read about some of that in my book The Keystone Kid. Ultimately there were things he learned from me, like how to tell how much money he had, despite being blind, and what the date was. There were things we could do to improve his memory issues. This is where it started for me, as a child with the desire to help others help themselves which has continued until this day.

Over all of those years there were many mistakes I made, I have been far from perfect, some will even say I have become callused and at times, they may even say, I don't care.  Nothing could be further from the truth but until one has had people they are helping die because not everyone listened to the advice you gave or until you have been robbed or had to file a restraining order against someone who has threatened your life, you just may not know. Yet despite the difficulties, the threats on our lives, and having precious family items stolen, we continue.

There are things to learn about helping others, one thing to take into consideration is are you really helping, or are you helping them stay in their condition. What is easily debatable is not helping anyone except possibly yourself with good feelings of doing good, however, if not doing good, and you are helping someone stay in their situation, not improving their lives, are you really helping? While I am confident that God has called some to the first line of ministry, I have to wonder, where are those ministries that help people get on their feet and stay there? The bible talks about hope, there is the contribution to hopes and dreams, gifts, and talents that is addressed. While there are those that are called to the 1st step of helping, what is being done to help those you are helping get beyond their situation? Believe me, I am aware of the need of these ministries but I have to ask, what is more important to continually give fish, or to teach one to fish?  I am honored to say, I can point to many individuals, likely hundreds who were dependent on the system, the government, the survive by any means necessary crowd. I can also say there are hundreds who now live in their own homes, have jobs, have found careers, and for many others, maybe they didn't get to the place of total independence but they got to the place where they will tell you they are contributing to the lives of others and improving our world. I like to reference the Bible because that is my measuring stick, so here goes, can you point to fruit in your work?  The Bible is clear, you will tell them by their fruit! That said, fruit is a viable item, it comes about through the pruning process of a tree, the upkeep of a tree, the tree is an incredible creation, but fruit just doesn't happen. There is also the curse of the fig tree, anyone remember that story? Might be worth reading in Matthew 21.

Here are a few things I have learned from my mistakes. First the lesson of Josh. Josh was a friend I invested a lot of time with over the course of 3 years. I invited him to come hear me speak once and he did. While there I pointed him out as an example of how to do something in regards to reaching others. While it wasn't intended, I had turned him from an individual to a project where it appeared it was more important to make myself look good than to treat him like a human being. It was a SERIOUS MISTAKE! I really did love him, but I put my desires above his feelings. That incident cost me years of investment as a friend and no matter how much I tried to mend fences with Josh, it still hasn't happened. 

www.thevirtualpew.comNow I am not saying this to be negative towards any group or person, I am saying it to illustrate a lesson I learned from my mistake. The example of Josh is one of the reasons I seldom take photos of me and the homeless. I don't want them to think I am taking advantage of them. A few years ago I used a photo that I pulled off of Google via searching "public domain homeless" for The Virtual Pew, what ensued was a nightmare.  I used the photo in an article, even though I did that google, it was apparently owned by someone who had not made it public domain. He was taking photos of the homeless and profiting off them, while at the same time not giving the homeless anything for those photos. I ended up having to make a donation to a library, a homeless program, and some other costs involved.

There is that example but also how for years while working in the music business, I seldom if ever took any photos with any of the music stars I worked with and there were many of them. I hardly ever did it because I thought it demeaned my relationship with them. Now, I don't quite feel that way, it possible and appropriate at times to take the photos, but I am careful, seek permission, I try to always ask them I try to make sure it is okay. I won't use any person as a project, I want to make sure they know I am a friend and with past experiences, I have learned that sometimes, even 2 or 3 years isn't enough time to garnish that trust.  

Another lesson I have learned is the Show Me Principal. For those that don't know, Missouri is known as "The Show Me State." Why is this important? I have learned to trust the call from God, to believe in him, and to also be thankful that sometimes he uses people to follow through with the things they have promised. Today is the day after Thanksgiving, we just finished serving a home style Thanksgiving meal with various homeless people, friends, and family. Once again, a local organization who promised us things, at least 3 if not 4 times now, has once again, not followed through on what they promised. After the first let down a couple of years ago I learned, it is important to have a back-up and from here on out that so called ministries and organizations will have to show me and I just won't believe on blind faith that they will follow through with what they have promised. The promise of something is a heck of a lot different than delivering that something. I follow a faith practice where our yes is to be yes, and our no is supposed to be no. I firmly believe that broken promises aren't to me, they are to those being ministered to. I have learned not to believe those who don't keep their promises, I don't count on them. It burdens me to see other individuals, other ministries get sucked into their lies and or self promotion desires of giving to these groups, why? Simple see the Josh above, where we make people projects instead of seeing them real people is dangerous. It also discredits the value system that Jesus of Nazareth would have us follow, to keep our word, to be people of truth, beyond that, it takes away needed resources from ministries that really care.

www.thevirtualpew.comThe next thing I will conclude with. While there is more I will say, this is what I call The Andre Crouch principle where; "Jesus is the answer for the world today, above him there's no other, for Jesus is the way." Now this will offend some but it is what I believe. I believe the Bible means exactly what it says when it says the following, "What does it profit anyone to gain the whole world and lose their soul?" "There is no other name under Heaven where anyone can be saved (not just a spiritual salvation) other than the name of Jesus." It can be summated in many places through the Bible.

A huge critical part of sharing that belief is in the installation and importance of hope that we are commanded to practice including these verses:

Romans 5:2-5 ~ 2 Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. 3 But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. 4 And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope 5 that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love.

1 Corinthians 15:19 If our hope in Christ is good only for this life, we are worse off than anyone else.

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

There are also quotes that help illustrate some of the lessons I have learned on hope:

“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair...” ― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Fall of Atlantis

“Life is filled with unanswered questions, but it is the courage to seek those answers that continues to give meaning to life. You can spend your life wallowing in despair, wondering why you were the one who was led towards the road strewn with pain, or you can be grateful that you are strong enough to survive it.” ― J.D. Stroube, Caged by Damnation

www.thevirtualpew.comHere is a concern I have, it is as if many of those in ministry don't see the potential in the people they are helping in the same way God does. We think it is okay to help keep them in their poverty, whether spiritual or literal, to do little or nothing to help them beyond their situation. The work of the Gospel is hard, we like to make it easy, yet, Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily, when he knew very well what the cross implied. There is old adage, God doesn't make junk. This doesn't imply that wealth is a measure of success, but neither does it allow for the dismissal of ones dreams, not matter how good, or how bad their situation. We should be about helping people, helping them stay in their problem is not helping them. I have seen so much effort to keep people where they are at, while giving every excuse why they are not helping them get back on their feet and accomplish their dreams. While there are those called to serve people where they are at, whether they be homeless, employed, or whatever. I believe any ministry should be at least working with others who are helping people obtain their dreams, helping them rediscover a sustainable life as much as possible, moving towards independence. The Bible is clear on this expectation.  

There is another question we have to ask, is the ministry work we do for ourselves or for those we are called to serve? If for ourselves it is easy to not do more, it is easy to allow those we are trying to help stay in their situation. I have said for years; if donating food to a food drive, don't donate things you won't eat, if you don't eat out of dented cans, don't give dented cans. On the flip side, when we help others, if we aren't willing to live in their situation, don't do things that help them stay in their situation. I was homeless for almost 2 1/2 years, living and staying wherever I could find, including a YMCA transient center and I'll be honest, I didn't like it! I like my situation far better now than then. Why would I help someone stay in a situation I didn't like? There is an old saying, we need to walk a mile in someone else's shoes before we can understand them.

I recently wrote about the starfish parable where you take a starfish, throw it back in the ocean and while the beach is cluttered with tons of starfish, someone questions what you are doing and saying it doesn't make a difference, you throw a starfish back and say, it makes a difference for that one. Here is my concern, are we doing ministry where we throw the starfish back and it never makes it to the ocean? If so, then we are doing more harm than good because of the damage of the impact to the starfish and the potential to offer false hope as opposed to real hope. Think about it.

Now some may think this is only an effort to raise awareness or money for what we do through The Virtual Pew and Mosaic, let me make clear, NOPE! NOT! If someone supports our work, fine, it's GOOD, we will accept it, but my hope and my prayer is that people will contemplate this not for the purpose of giving money but instead for the way WE do ministry, now that would be, GREAT!

The Virtual Pew and our other work is supported solely by the kind contributions of others. You can click on the donate button below to give any amount to this work that does so much more than just post articles on the net; I draw no ongoing salary from the church I pastor, Mosaic Wichita which is predominantly a homeless church; I am grateful for any small amount you can contribute to help with this ministry.  Believe me there is much more going on than most realize.  I will also provide information to verify the ministry and income that comes into this ministry and work.  Thanks and feel free to share any material from The Virtual Pew, I only ask that appropriate credit is given and a link to the original site with the material is provided.

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