Monday, March 13, 2017

Sarge

We knew him as Sarge or Military Frank!

You couldn't miss him. Frank was a big dude with a big personality. He was loud, opinionated, embarrassing, dominating and ever present.

...but, if you were in his good books; man, did he love you and stand up for you with immense energy and an uncontrollable passion!

... and most of us were in his good books, and man, did we love this eccentric fella who'd draw attention in any room!

Frank was a Vietnam veteran who ended up experiencing homelessness in Chicago. When he arrived and stayed at CCO for a while, nobody could hide from his military experience; he spoke of it, lived it out and breathed it. It embodied every aspect of his existence! All day, every day, Frank couldn't escape this period from decades before. He fluctuated between his pride of serving his country, the agony of witnessing and experiencing horrifying things and having been through a war that he would later question! 

Frank wore the same clothes all day, every day. Whether he was sweating in the brutal heat of summer, until the bitter chill of winter, we'd find this man wearing his black combat boots and multiple layers of navy blue shirts, and navy blue pants. Only his coat and his hat would change, depending on the season! If we dared question his choice of clothing, he'd bombard us with survival stories from 'Nam and how wearing such layers made him a survivor. This man, my friend, was a survivor of epic proportions, so we'd leave our overtly sweaty buddy, knowing our pleas weren't going make him change.

Sarge was an incredible volunteer and one of the hardest workers I've ever met. He loved to help us! It gave him purpose! It gave him pride! All his military training would come out as he mopped the floor, wiped down the tables and set up the mats. He took this work seriously, was passionate about it and would show us how to perform these chores the right way! With copious amounts of sweat and boisterous instructions, Frank would outwork and out-hustle all who dared to challenge his work ethic and energy. He would put us young fellas to shame!

Frank sat in our dining room all day, every day, making sure everything was spotless. He considered himself our ears and eyes! He cared for us, he loved us and wanted to protect us. He was a man of unrelenting faith in Jesus, so he constantly pushed us toward his version of righteousness. He felt it was his mission to make everyone and everything he loved better. With his big personality, sexual nuances and often crass language, he'd wouldn't allow us to slip into complacency or drift away from our callings. Though his theology was dodgy, his unrelenting passion and drive to do right in Jesus, drove us toward our Creator and encouraged us to never give up! He was our constant reminder that in life, we need to look outside ourselves, to Jesus and those who are suffering!

Sarge eventually moved on. He stayed in little studio apartments. Unfortunately, in being alone, his mental illness became severe and crippling. He fought to deal with the trauma of fighting in a war he grew to disagree with. He also fought to deal with the many years he was harassed, bullied and targeted simply because he was homeless. His stories of both were horrifying and traumatic, and that made him question, how he, a veteran had been forsaken and criminalized by the very country he had faithfully served. His paranoia became paralyzing, it captured him, overwhelmed him and isolated him.

Even though Sarge suffered, even though he was harassed, even though he was a victim, he never lost that unrelenting drive and passion to do right in the face of evil. His love never died, his compassion stood strong and he wanted to help those in need. I would occasionally bump into him in various coffee joints around the city, and even though I worried tremendously about my old paranoid buddy, I loved seeing him because I always left inspired to not give in, but to keep on fighting for what's good and right in this messed up world. Even though everything tried to push him under, he never surrendered and continued to keep that defiant fist in the air!

Frank left this earth last year, alone...

He is alone no more! He is paranoid no more! He is harassed no more! He is free! He is united with the One he loves so dearly! He can now rest in the loving embrace of His Heavenly Father!

Rest in Peace Frank; your eccentric words, paranoid musings and vulgar illustrations continue to inspire me to look to Jesus, take risks and fight for what is right. Thank you for being you.....

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Bad Moods!

I have 2 children; so most of you know what that means! Even when I get in a slightly bad mood, they let me know! I love them dearly, but they love to remind me how salty I can be and that when I'm grumpy, I'm not fun to be around and that I'd better deal with my attitude. 

We all go through things, we have tragedies, dislike what's going on and sometimes we just wake up in a rotten mood; that's normal! My kids remind me that it's how I respond that's important. My kids remind me that I gotta deal with whatever's going on and that I can't let it linger and hurt others.

The Bible isn't full of people who were always perky and happy. In fact, God used a bunch of men and women who experienced some pretty crazy stuff, got in bad moods, got depressed, got down, got angry and had to respond. They had to ask themselves the same question we have to ask ourselves; how do we not let our bad moods consume us?

I want to look at one guy who simmered in his bad mood; he just couldn't or wouldn't let it go. His name was Jonah. He was a prophet God chose to use. Most of us have heard his story....

God tells him to go to the city of Nineveh and tell them to stop doing evil things. Jonah doesn't want to do it, so he runs away from the Lord. He actually runs in the opposite direction. He was so opposed to the idea, he even hopped on a boat to get as far away as possible. God isn't finished with Jonah yet, so He sends a big storm. In their fear, the people on the boat end up saving themselves by throwing Jonah overboard into the raging waters, and then God sends a huge fish who swallowed him. Jonah lives in the belly of that fish for 3 days and 3 nights, until finally this stubborn man prays and repents and God makes the fish vomit him out onto dry land. 

God comes to Jonah again and says, "Go into Nineveh, tell them that I am going to destroy this great city in 40 days." This time Jonah did what God told him to do, the people heard him, they repented, they changed their ways and sought God's mercy. 

Jonah 3:10 says, "God saw what the people did. He saw that they stopped doing evil. So God changed His mind and did not do what He planned. He did not punish the people."

You would think at this point Jonah would be happy. God had used him, the task was finished, God had shown mercy, he could go home and relax, but instead he got in a real funky mood. Jonah 4:1 says, "Jonah was not happy that God saved the city. Jonah became angry."

He did not like what God had done. He tells God that he ran away, not because he was scared but because of who God is. He was in a bad mood because God is forgiving, kind and full of mercy. Jonah knew the loving character of God, he knew that if the people repented, God would change His mind and not punish them. This makes Jonah so mad that he asks God to kill him, as it's better for him to die than to live. 

God listens and responds with a simple question, "do you think it's right for you to be angry?"

Jonah was so consumed by his anger that he goes out of the city, finds a good location with a good view, makes himself a little shelter, so he can watch to see if God is going to destroy the city. But God isn't finished with Jonah yet; he has a lesson for him. God does some things that only makes his mood worse. It's hot there, so God makes this plant grow overnight to give him shade, but then the next night He sends a worm to destroy that plant, and then to increase the intensity, God makes the sun hotter and the wind stronger. Jonah, sits in the blistering hot sun, getting weaker and weaker, watching the city, hoping God would destroy it! In his exhaustion, Jonah once again begs for God to kill him. 

God asks Jonah again, "do you have the right to be angry just because this plant died?" 

Jonah responds this time by saying, "Yes, it is right for me to be angry! I am angry enough to die!"

Jonah could not get over it. It had consumed him so much that he wanted to die! God tells him "you may stress over this plant, but My concern is the 120000 people living in this city." God tells Jonah that they will receive His compassion and mercy. God wanted to save the people and animals of Nineveh; they were important to Him. He loved them!

For some reason Jonah did not like the Ninevites; he wanted them obliterated from the face of the earth. Maybe it was because of how evil they were? Maybe it was because they'd hurt him and his people? Maybe he was racist? Jonah may have hated them, but he knew God was more powerful and he knew how compassionate God is and that is what set him off; that is what made him angry, that is what put him in a bad mood. This is what often sets us off too. We want God to go one way, but He goes another. God's ways are not our ways, and when He does it His way, there's nothing we can do about it, we can just watch and choose how we respond.

I work in a homeless shelter. I work amongst people who are not where they want to be. They want a home. They want work. They want to be connected with their family. They wish they didn't have their health concerns. They want to be able to pick out their own food. They want privacy. They want things to be different. They have legitimate reasons to be in bad moods, but most of these guys are in far better moods than this salty prophet. They keep their heads held high and don't sink into depression. Every day I am impressed!

There's a saying that goes around Cornerstone I've grown to love; it goes something like this: "There ain't no point in complaining, because even if I do, there's nothing I can do about it!" We all have things in our lives we can't do anything about. We have to learn to adapt. We have to learn to live with it. We have to choose how we'll respond.

These guys at CCO have learned something Jonah struggled to grasp, there's no point simmering in the stress of uncontrollable circumstances. By saying this phrase, they acknowledge not everything's good, but why focus on that and put ourselves into a torture chamber like Jonah did? Life is hard enough without simmering in it. 

The writer of Psalm 46 wrote about how everything was out of control, it's depressing to the naked eye, wars are waged, kingdoms fall and earthquakes happen, and then in verse 10, God says, "Be still, and know that I am God."

This phrase "be still" means stop fighting, stop stressing, stop worrying, stop trying to control what you can't and trust in God, because He is going to do what He sees as best, and there's nothing we can do about it. "Be still" is about finding rest in stressful and painful times by putting our faith in the One who loves us and wants the best for us. "Be still" is believing God's ways aren't our ways, but His ways are always good and right.

Jonah tortured himself because he couldn't "be still". I often torture myself because I can't or refuse to "be still". It's a spiritual battle. I've been through times where I'm in an uncontrollable situation and I'm feeling my life being sucked out of me. Like Jonah, I find myself sulking in misery and justifying my bad mood, and then when I pray, meditate on this verse and hand it over to the Lord, I find the burden being lifted. The circumstances didn't change, but in "being still and knowing God is God", peace is found. 

We all go through times of having bad moods, and there's often good reasons, but God is there and hasn't forgotten about us. He loves us and understands our stress, He doesn't call us to be perky, but He calls us to trust Him, even when we don't understand what's going on, and He will comfort us and give us His peace.

God tells us: "I know what you're going through, but I'm here, trust in Me, be still and know that I am God"
God tells us: "I know you're homeless, I know it's not easy, but I'm here, trust in Me, be still and know that I am God."
God tells us; "I know you heard some news you didn't want to hear, I know that sucks and you don't understand, but I'm here, trust in Me, be still and know that I am God."
God tells us: "I know you're lonely, but I'm here and I love you, trust in Me, be still and know that I am God."
God tells us: "I know exactly what's going on, I know how it makes you feel, I know how painful it is, but I'm here and I love you, trust in Me, be still and know that I am God."


A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
  
This was a sermon preached on 2/28/2017, in response to this question; Bad Moods

What do I do about getting in a bad mood? Sometimes it’s like I just wake up in a bad mood, and I’m salty with everyone. I do have enough reasons to be in a bad mood, but sometimes I just get in a bad mood for no reason. What’s the deal with that? Is this spiritual warfare? How do I deal with it? Should I expect people to be cool with me being this way? Everyone gets in a bad mood sometimes, right?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Insignificant Mustard Seeds and Tainted Yeast!

Before I came to Chicago, I drove a taxi in my home city of Auckland, New Zealand. And man, did it affect my outlook on life! Forever.

If you ever want your naivety and innocence challenged, if you ever want to see and experience new things, if you ever want to be shocked and crushed, if you ever want to go on a long emotional roller-coaster, drive a taxi and choose the graveyard shift! You go into the job one way and come out another, your view of humanity will change forever. People love to reveal their deepest darkest secrets to the lonely taxi driver, and on top of that, what's done in secret, in the dark, in the shadows, is so different than what's done in the open and in the light! 

One of the major lessons I learnt during that time was, it didn't matter who sat in my cab, and I drove people from all spheres of life, from very rich to very poor, from celebrities to street kids, from gangsters to church folk, life seemed to be about getting more power, money and control. Everybody wanted more! People wanted to control their worlds. They wanted to be king or queen of their little kingdoms or empires! 

Every night I watched all this; but the truth is, it was my story too, I had the same goals.

This is nothing new; it's happened throughout history. Same story, same game, just different faces, clothing, ethics and methods. The same thing was happening in first century Palestine; Caesar and his army dominated with power and might, Herod and his police ruled with his iron fist, and then you had a bunch of wealthy religious leaders, called Scribes and Pharisees, strutting around controlling who they could; seeking to make the masses convert to their ways and punishing those who didn't. 

On top of all that, Jewish people were seeking the Messiah! They were seeking someone who would rise up and overthrow the Roman empire through power, wealth and might. They weren't looking for a peaceful servant, they were looking for a military leader, a wise powerful king who would slaughter their enemies and cause them, as a nation, to dominate the world. They were looking for someone who'd come from the top, was anointed by God and would dominate those they thought were not worthy of His grace.

Our worlds aren't that much different, are they? Sadly, many in the Church have embraced this logic too! The desire for power! The desire for money! We see it in elections. The thought is; the only way to influence others is to rule from the top! Gain political power. Use military might. Use whatever power and wealth we have to dominate and force our values and morals on others. 

Jesus came into this power hungry world, but He was the Messiah no one expected, He was a huge letdown. Jesus was born in awful circumstances, had to flee from a ruthless dictator, returned to His country of birth, became a carpenter and was executed as a criminal! When Jesus spoke, He revealed the truth, He challenged the empires or kingdoms of His day by speaking of the Kingdom of heaven through stories, through parables.

Today, I'm looking at 2 of these parables; found in Matthew 13....
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES." 
Matthew 13: 31-32 NASB

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Matthew 13:33 NIV

Jesus, had ample power and wealth at His disposal, He could have joined forces with Caesar or Herod, He could have executed a lethal bloody revolution, He could have ruled the world, but He chose another way. He chose the right way! These 2 parables reveal what the Kingdom of heaven is like, and how people of His Kingdom should live in it. Like most parables, theseem passive and short, but would have shocked those listening and turned their world's upside down. These 2 parables reveal how foolish the world's logic is, and how we need to embrace the kingdom of heaven the way Jesus did and calls us too.

Jesus reveals in these parables that His Kingdom is not a "top-on-down" violent power-hungry money-wasting revolution, but a revolution that takes on a very different character. I want to share with you 3 ways how Jesus chooses to impact the world and bring God's love to us.

Firstly; Jesus uses what is small, hidden and tainted to move. The Kingdom of heaven starts off insignificant, invisible and even corrupted! In complete contrast from the world, Jesus doesn't use something big and strong like an eagle, a lion or a tall strong tree to describe His Kingdom, instead, He speaks of a tiny seed and yeast or leaven. He picks 2 things that are small, hidden and insignificant. Not only that, leaven wasn't viewed positively in Jewish culture, in fact it symbolized something evil, or something that taints or corrupts things. With what would have shocked His listeners, Jesus reveals that His Kingdom begins with what is weak, small, hidden and even tainted.

Doesn't this give us hope? It doesn't matter how small we feel, how weak we think we are, how invisible we feel, how worthless we feel or even how evil we know we are, Jesus wants and chooses to use us! In fact, He chooses to use us over those who proud and tough. His movement starts, not with self-righteous giants, but with those who know they're not worthy. Those of us who think we have nothing to give, be encouraged and know that God loves you and sees you as valuable and an essential part of His Kingdom.

Secondly; When Jesus moves, what seems impossible becomes possible! The Kingdom of heaven takes what's small and goes beyond all expectations. Jesus reveals that this seed and the yeast do not remain stagnant, they are placed in the ground and in the dough, where they can grow and move. The Kingdom of heaven is active, it is a force and is constantly moving. It's mysterious, we don't know how it does what it does, but it does it! The Spirit of God works His magic, moving at His pace and in His own way. It infiltrates the world, which in these parables are represented by the field and the dough. 

Not only that; God doesn't just move, He goes beyond what's possible, making the impossible, possible through His Kingdom. When Jesus spoke about the mustard seed growing into a tree, He indicates a large powerful tree. Mustard seeds generally only grow to about 6 feet tall, but I believe Jesus purposefully exaggerated it's growth, giving us a vision of something well beyond what's normal. The same goes with the yeast, 60 pounds of dough was an awfully large amount in those days, well beyond what's normal. For a woman to accomplish such a task by hand, by herself, was virtually impossible.

Jesus knew this and so did the crowds. He was telling his listeners, the Kingdom of heaven not only loves to move with the small, hidden and tainted, the Kingdom of heaven loves to move to make what seems impossible, possible. He takes something weak and transforms it into something well beyond all possibility. Jesus takes what's insignificant, moves in it and goes beyond all hopes and dreams. Jesus doesn't want us to remain as a seed in a package or yeast in a jar, He wants his people in the soil and in the bread so He can move in them and powerfully impact the world we live in.  

Jesus is telling us...
It doesn't matter how small you may feel; God can and wants to move in and through you.
It doesn't matter how invisible you think you are; God can and wants to move in and through you.
It doesn't matter how evil and disgusting you are; God can and wants to move in and through you. 
Jesus delights in taking what the world sees as puny, pathetic and nasty, and using it for His glory. It's the way He chooses to move. He loves to take what's humble to shame the proud. 

Thirdly: Jesus uses weak people like us to transform a broken and hostile world! The Kingdom of heaven brings change and impacts the world! When God moves, His secret hidden movement results in worthwhile and eternal change. The Kingdom of heaven transforms and attracts things! The dough and the field in these parables aren't just pointless words, they represent the world we live in. 

The seed becomes this enormous tree, which attracts the birds of the air and they nest in the branches. The tree may be big now, but it's not dominating; it's attracts others and they find rest in it. The Kingdom of heaven is so different from all other kingdoms or empires, because it's not slaying or rejecting outsiders, it's saying come, find rest, find acceptance, find comfort in my branches, because we want you here and you are welcome! It welcomes those who think they don't belong. It welcomes the suffering, strangers, refugees and the oppressed. Jesus calls us to be the light the world needs, the place where people know they're loved and accepted. The Kingdom of heaven isn't a place of judgement, revenge and rejection; it's a movement of acceptance, forgiveness and peace, it's a revolution of love, mercy and grace.

The yeast or leaven serves a different purpose from the seed. Whereas, the tree reminds me of when Jesus called us the "light of the world", the yeast is like being "the salt of the earth." It is kneaded into every millimeter of the dough, impacting it and changing the consistency and texture. The bread is now changed, forever! It becomes new! The yeast, though quiet and invisible, affects all the dough and makes a lasting and eternal impact. Jesus calls us to quietly go around being Jesus in our communities. He calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love our enemies and welcome the stranger. He calls us to visit those in hospitals and prisons and to clothe the naked. He calls us to imitate Him, by bringing His love and compassion to those in need.

This is the work of yeast and mustard seeds, spreading the good news of the gospel and touching all the lives around us with the love and compassion of Jesus. The Kingdom of heaven has been actively moving since Jesus spoke these 2 parables. Weak, fragile and tainted people have come together and God has mysteriously moved through us, bringing change and hope in an unjust world. 

A few years ago, I met a truly wonderful man. He is almost 90 now. He lived just around the corner and served Uptown for around 60 years. Most people don't know him because he is so quiet, humble and never promotes himself. This man has a deep love and compassion for Native Americans, our homeless brothers and sisters and anyone who has been rejected by society. Nearly every morning, for around 60 years, a large number of our poor neighbors would stumble into his humble little place for breakfast, hear the gospel and receive mass. He never cared how someone looked, what they'd done in their past or how rejected they felt, everyone who entered his door was accepted and they left knowing the love, compassion and forgiveness of Jesus.

Despite being small and hidden, God has used this man and his impact has been undeniable. Ask any homeless person who's been in Uptown for a while about Father Powell and they'll tell you. People who felt no love, felt loved. People who were hungry, were fed. People who were distressed, found peace. People who were lonely, found acceptance. People who didn't know Jesus, found Jesus. They found rest and peace in the branches of God's Kingdom. 

Just as the Kingdom of heaven moved powerfully through this humble servant, it's moved through countless other nameless faces throughout the centuries. Because of these little seeds and yeast, hospitals have been built for the sick, hideaways were provided for runaway slaves and victims of oppressors, blankets and tents are given to those experiencing homelessness, people have risked and lost their lives by siding with and embracing the oppressed, families have accepted in orphans and widows, prisoners are written to and visited, the hungry receive food and peacemakers risk their lives and enter war zones, bringing help and hope to those suffering.

We got to stop thinking we have to yell louder, get more money and have more power to impact our world. Jesus showed us something vastly different. He was born in horrible circumstances, was a refugee, lived without a home, was constantly harassed and died as a criminal. He wandered around the countryside preaching the gospel, helping and healing those in need, bringing hope to the poor, lost and prisoners. His humble life changed the world forever and He tells us to "do likewise". He tells us that when God moves through and in His people, the Kingdom of heaven moves to make what's impossible possible.

Jesus People has impacted Uptown and the world; it impacted me and that's why I'm here today. This impact happened not because a group of hippies drove into Chicago in a bus that said Jesus written on the side or because the phone was answered with the words "Jesus loves you". Rather, God chose to use and move in a bunch of small, hidden and tainted people to bring change; people who've been willing to spread the gospel, put others first, fight against inequality and go into the trenches; people who've been willing to love the Lord their God and love their neighbors as themselves. 

Lives have been touched and the Kingdom has grown because of seemingly small insignificant acts of love. The kingdom has grown because we follow in the footsteps of our Lord. It grows because someone is willing to change another person's tire. The Kingdom grows as we comfort someone having a psychotic episode. It grows when we take the time to talk to someone troubled and distressed. It grows when we buy someone a sandwich. It grows when we visit a prisoner or a lonely soul in a Nursing Home. It grows when we mourn with someone grieving. It grows when we tutor a struggling student. It grows whenever we make a choice to humble ourselves, preach the good news in words and deed and do things to help others in need.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of heaven isn't about rising to the top and using our power, it's about being a worthless seed and yeast and letting God move in and through us. It's not about choosing the right political or religious leader, it's about the people of God letting Jesus move in and through us. It's about Jesus using our weaknesses for His glory. This is how Jesus impacted the world 2000 years ago, and that's how He still impacts the world today. 

Many of us feel worthless, we feel we're too small to impact our world or that Jesus won't use us because we're too tainted or invisible. These parables tell us a very different story, they tell us that God loves to move through His weak and corrupted children, and when He does, change happens; change that is greater and more eternal than anything a political leader, dictator or military giant can bring. Those kingdoms, those empires will fade, they will be no more, but the Kingdom of heaven lasts forever. 

My encouragement this morning is that we grasp the fact that God plants a small insignificant seed, and then He moves in it in order to create an enormous tree and have an everlasting impact. However small, insignificant or rotten we may feel this morning, my encouragement is that we don't allow our power hungry and money making society to tell us we'll amount to nothing, God has greater plans and makes the impossible, possible. We are important to Him. We are loved by Him. My encouragement is, God wants to use us, individually and together, so that our world can be impacted for good, that we'll be His salt and His light in this corrupted world. 

Let's be seeds; let's be yeast and go out and spread the good news of the gospel, by feeding the hungry, taking in refugees, visiting prisoners, clothing the naked, standing with the oppressed, counseling the lonely, grieving with those who mourn and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Slave To Sin

Last week, Ricky came running up to me; he was very upset and stressed out! In fact, he looked downright scared. 

He told me how he'd made a promise to God and broken that promise. He was scared of what would happen to him, so he asked me a bunch of questions; Would God forgive him? Does God still care for him? Does this broken promise mean that God would now reject him and cast him aside? Would God listen to him?

His fear was real. His grief was real. He wanted to do right, he wanted to change, but he'd slipped up! It wasn't his first time and he was tired of losing battles, so he was beating himself up and felt God was in the business of beating him down too. 

Ricky has actually come a long way. He's in recovery, he's been sober and clean for some time, but his struggle now is with those dreaded cigarettes. He felt it was his time to overcome this struggle too, so he promised God that he would never smoke again. But, you know how it goes, it was just a matter of time before the urge was too strong, the stress was too much and the temptation was there, so in a moment of weakness, he bought a "square" and took a drag.

The guilt and pain Ricky was feeling was very real. Despite all the positive steps he'd made, all he could see was condemnation! He was on the verge of tears. He was very repentant.

I asked Ricky a simple question; I asked him if he'd prayed for God's mercy and asked for forgiveness; his response was funny, because he looked at me as if I'd asked the stupidest question in the world. Of course he had repented, I knew he had, I just wanted to hear his response so I could reassure him with the promise of 1 John 1:9; "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Don't we all go through this? I know I do! I see it all the time at CCO. We want to change, but we screw up, we make mistakes and then we beat ourselves up. Even though God reassures us that He is faithful and just and will forgive us and make us clean, we put our negative view of ourselves on God. Even with God's promises, we struggle to believe them, because we think God views us as we view ourselves. God says to us "come to Me and find rest!", yet we still condemn ourselves!

Thankfully, God is very different from us; His ways are not our ways! Despite our missteps, God is still compassionate, He still loves us, He still forgives us, He still cleanses us and will never leave us, nor forsake us. Our slip-ups are not too big for God to handle. Our sin is not too nasty that God will reject us. He goes through our deepest and darkest moments with us. His grace and mercy will not disappear, our sin and screw-ups are not too big and ugly for Him. He is a God who loves to forgive and will extend His mercy to sinners like you and me.

Remember this; God has a lot better view of us than we have of ourselves. He knows we're all slaves to sin. He knows we all mess up. When we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up. He forgives us. He cleanses us. He purifies us from all unrighteousness. We are precious in His sight! Do you believe that?

Jesus told this parable, this story:
"Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector.

"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself. 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people,' he said 'I am not like robbers or those who do other evil things. I am not like those who commit adultery. I am not even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. And I give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood not very far away. He would not even look up to heaven. He beat his chest and said, 'God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner.'

"I tell you, the tax collector went home accepted by God. But not the Pharisee. Everyone who lifts himself up will be brought down. And anyone who is brought down will be lifted up."

I told Ricky this parable. I'm telling you guys this parable as well because despite what we do, it's important to remember how much God loves us. We cannot go too low for God. This is the love of Jesus. His grace, mercy, and forgiveness doesn't disappear because we screw up. His grace, mercy, and forgiveness doesn't disappear when we mess up time and time again. 

Jesus contrasts two fellas; one was a self-righteous "do-gooder" churchy type who walked around with his nose in the air; he thought he was too righteous to need forgiveness. The other guy had a reputation of being a notorious ripoff artist who messed up time and time again. People hated tax-collectors! Tax collectors were viewed as despicable human beings who had no hope. This parable would have shocked those listening, because Jesus condemns the "do-gooder", while elevating the despised one. He announced that the one who everyone thought was evil was the one who went home "accepted by God".

The reason is simple to Jesus; the Pharisee couldn't see his mess, in fact, he thought he was too good to fail. He thought he was too big, too powerful and too righteous, so he judged all those around him. Meanwhile, the tax-collector saw his own mess and repented. He knew he was too small, too weak and too unrighteousness to stand before God without His loving mercy and forgiveness. Jesus calls us to acknowledge our mess and to come to Him humbly, knowing we can't free ourselves and only God can truly set us free!

I love coming here (the Bridge), because what I see is people who are more like tax-collectors than Pharisees, and that's a good thing. What I see when I come here is people who are trying hard, hate the sin in their lives, despise the fact they keep making the same mistakes and wonder why they keep doing it. I see a bunch of folks who love Jesus, who are willing to say sorry and know He is the only answer. Like my friend Ricky, I love seeing men and women who, like this tax collector, who put their face in their hands and cry out, "God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner!" This is where God wants us; in humble submission to Him.

Life is hard, isn't it? I hate to say this, but temptations will keep happening, we will keep being pushed toward things we shouldn't do and we will slip up again. We don't have the strength to do it on our own, we will all mess up and fail. We need others who will encourage us to move in the right direction, but more importantly, we need Jesus to give us the strength to keep on pressing forward. He doesn't want us to wallow in grief, He wants us to come to Him humbly like the tax-collector. He wants us to seek His mercy and forgiveness, and you know what, when we do, He showers mercy on us, forgives us and gives us a fresh clean slate.

Remember this parable. Remember who this tax collector was. He didn't have everything together, in fact, he was a mess. Keep trying and don't let your screw-ups cripple you. Be honest about who you are. Remember it wasn't the sparkling clean dude who went home accepted by God, it was the despised and sinful one. It doesn't matter how big or small we are, or how sinful we are, He calls all of us to come to Him, humbly.

As we live our lives, as we continue to slip up, remember God's promises; He will not leave us, nor forsake us, He will not turn His back on us, and His forgiveness and mercy will never fail. 




A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
  

This was a sermon preached on 1/31/2017, in response to this question; "A Slave to Sin"

I hate the sin in my life, so why do I keep doing it? I’ve said so many times that I won’t go back to my old ways, and yet, time and time again, I slip backwards. I’m always being tempted, and my flesh always pushes me towards something sinful, usually anger or lust. I’m tired of losing these battles.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

How to traumatize an already traumatized people.

How do you traumatize an already traumatized people? 

It's simple really, just post a sign telling folks you'll be sweeping the street 2 days before Christmas, make them move all their belongings and tents from the damp concrete to the snowy hillside, and then send an army of workers to execute the plan. Keep them on their toes with how these sweeps will go, making them fear being arrested and their stuff being tossed. Not only that, use your power and privilege by trying to convince everyone you're doing it all for their own good and well being.

It's a known fact that most people experiencing homelessness have been through various forms of trauma throughout their lives and the act of becoming homeless is traumatic! War, rape, prison, and domestic violence are just some of the traumatic events people have been through and then add to that the trauma of becoming and being homeless. Homelessness itself deprives people of their basic needs and puts them in constant unpredictable and risky situations; homelessness dehumanizes people and makes their lives stressful and uncertain. Living on the streets, sleeping rough or in homeless shelters is undoubtedly stress-filled and traumatic!

I, along with many others, have been at quite a few of these cleanings and sweeps. I know they cause unbelievable stress and trauma. I have spoken to a large number of Tent City residents and they believe sanitation and cleanliness aren't the primary motives, but rather, they believe it's intimidation tactics by the "powers-that-be" to get them to move. They know only these Uptown viaducts are being cleaned, they know it's politically motivated by leaders who pretend they're doing it for them while lining their pockets with money from gentrifying developers. They know they are being bullied by the very people who are supposed to be protecting and lifting them up. 

While the leaders play their games, homeless people are being used as collateral damage. I have watched people miss work or appointments because they had to ensure their belongings wouldn't get tossed. I have helped people move their tents and seen them rip in the process, making what little protection they have even more unsafe. I have seen an elderly man shiver and shake uncontrollably in frigid weather because he couldn't crawl into his tent and find a little warmth. I have seen the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite escalate during these sweeps!

2 days before Christmas, it hit me (again) how traumatic these sweeps truly are! The Christmas season is already stress-filled and traumatic for those remembering "what once was" or dreaming of "what could be". No one wants to live in a cold tent under a Highway on a day dedicated to family, togetherness and good food, so a sweep at this time feels like the dagger is getting dug deeper into their backs. On that day, 2 days before Christmas, I saw tempers flare on and off all day, because these sweeps are torturous, painful, stressful and cause immense trauma for an already traumatized people! 

Anyone who works or lives with those experiencing homelessness, knows we need to be incredibly sensitive to what they may have gone through and are going through. Trauma affects someone's whole being, and we need to do our best not to escalate the tension and stress; these sweeps do just that! Traumatized people need others who'll be patient, persevering and forgiving; traumatized people need others who'll love them, be compassionate with them and show mercy; traumatized people need others who'll go the extra mile for them. Every day, I have the privilege of witnessing many kind-hearted folk doing just this in Uptown; not forgetting to love their neighbors. The homeless themselves, activists, outreach workers, clergy and countless others have united together to reduce the trauma. What I love to see is God's Kingdom and His love flowing freely amongst those who are willing to lift up and fight for those who are bullied and have been stomped on, helping our brothers and sisters feel loved and reducing the extent of these traumatic events! 

As I write this, another sweep is scheduled for tomorrow morning in morbidly cold temperatures, with windchills that could hit -20F. Tomorrow morning, this cruelty will again traumatize an already traumatized people. Lives will be put at risk and tensions will be high. Yet, as those in power execute an unjust war on the poor, ordinary people will continually live out God's Kingdom here on earth, loving the weak, lifting up the poor, setting prisoners free, and being compassionate and merciful to one another and those who don't need any more trauma in their lives.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Stings, Sweeps, Spinsters and Successes!

What a year! 

I live in an extremely diverse neighborhood; where rich and poor come together, where different religions, ethnicities and races live in close proximity and have to face one another. This is a beautiful thing, but to some, this diversity sadly causes rage, harassment of the poor and bullying of the weak. Uptown is never a dull place, full of lovers and haters, full of her vast contrasts, striking contradictions and beautiful community!

With this mind; 2016 has been a year plagued with many negative ramifications and cruel tactics, yet despite it all, hope continues to rise out of the ashes of despair. Despite all the complexity of this year, I want to sum 2016 up with 4 words; Stings, Sweeps, Spinsters and Successes!

Stings:
The leadership in our neighborhood oversaw 2 major drug busts this year in Uptown, where combined, over 50 people were arrested. Our alderman and other leaders used their tools of propaganda to highlight how they'd captured drug lords and the community was safer because of their efforts. Yet, through a little research and knowing many of the victims of these stings, none of these captured men and women were gang kingpins like Jeff Fort and Al Capone, but rather they could be considered as the poorest and weakest members of our community.

These 2 stings successfully incarcerated those who are elderly, homeless, from Nursing Homes and have disabilities. Knowing they craved money, undercover cops successfully tricked these weak, mentally ill or addicted citizens into purchasing illegal substances for them, helping them earn stints in jail. Because they couldn't afford bail or were on parole, some are sadly spending Christmas behind bars, while others have been released and have shared their story with me, affecting them beyond their "time served".

Despite our leadership's progressive rhetoric, these stings do not gel with the "harm-reduction" and "housing-first" models they love to verbalize, in fact, these incarcerations increase harm and make housing harder for these individuals. I know of a few of these guys lost housing and ended up homeless again because of these stings, while others lost opportunities to get housed. The original problem has been exaggerated through these meaningless and costly stings!

I'm not speaking hot air, I know, because we've had to help them start again! What they really need is not someone crying "harm-reduction", because it's the latest word, but leaders who will actually live out it's implications and view addiction as a health issue and not criminalize them, and that's how we can help these individuals and make our community safer.

Sweeps:
Anyone who comes to Uptown is struck by the extent of her homelessness. The fact there's people living under Lake Shore Drive is obvious to all, and the sight of many tents on the concrete has caused some of the community to foam at the mouth with rage, while others have displayed remarkable acts of generosity and compassion. Some call for increased criminalization of these poor folk, while others fight for their legal rights. Some call for their disappearance, while others (like myself) have dedicated many hours in trying to help people get into safe suitable housing.

As a result of this pressure, the Mayor and his people initiated a Pilot Project, to help get a certain number of these individuals out of Uptown's Tent Cities and into permanent housing. Though slow, and well behind schedule, the project was successful for these certain folks and them alone, while ignoring those hidden or came later! This success happened mainly because of a group of wonderful dedicated Uptown workers networking together and because temporary "bridge" housing was made available, saving people from the life-threatening elements this winter.

Yet, despite all this, the viaducts are still jam-packed full and the remaining residents feel harassed by Rahm, Cappleman and those under their commands. Frequent street sweeps and cleanings were ordered by those in power, making those living in tents feel discriminated against by the very people that should be fighting for them. Because these sweeps are even happening through the bitter cold of the winter months, City Tent residents feel these sweeps are torturous and a passive-aggressive way of getting them to move. 

Imagine having to move all your belongings every week. Imagine ripping your tent while moving it, knowing that gaping hole can cause hypothermia. Imagine having to miss work to ensure that your tent and important documents don't get tossed. Imagine being a sickly 72 year old man and having to stand in freezing temperatures and wait until a large number of highly paid police and city workers come and do their job. Imagine being homeless and watching thousands upon thousands of dollars being spent weekly on these sweeps which could go toward housing and achievable goals. Now imagine feeling stomped on already for being homeless and having to go through this indignity as well.

Spinsters:
These stings, sweeps and the closing of a local shelter a couple days before Christmas have highlighted how much spinsters love to justify their twisted schemes. I've watched as the machines of propaganda tell different stories to different audiences, letting them hear what they want to hear. Their words and actions are traveling on vastly different paths and we're all witnessing the lies and deception!

How can it be out of love and compassion, how can you build trust, when you torture people with these sweeps?
How do these stings benefit those struggling with mental illnesses and homelessness? 
How can you justify using the words "harm-reduction" and "housing-first" while locking up the "poorest of the poor", while wasting thousands on sweeps, while spending millions of tax dollars on luxury high rises, while not providing a little extra cash to stop a men's shelter from closing just days before Christmas? 

Successes:
Despite all the negativity, 2016 was not lost! Success happened. Movement happened. Good things happened! Many people, with love and compassion in their hearts, rallied together and refused to let the powers-that-be bully and terrorize those at the bottom! Just as Jesus brought His Love and Grace into a world with a corrupt empire, just as Jesus brought His ground-on-up Kingdom into an environment where religious and political thugs controlled their surroundings, I witnessed people at the bottom rise up together with love and compassion for the "least of these" and challenge the bullies that seek to control Uptown and Chicago.

Despite the ugliness of this year's stings, there have been people who haven't ignored them, letting them know they're still human, are worthy and part of society. Incarcerations squelch hope, arrests are dehumanizing and things are sabotaged through the process, but I've witnessed those who help people start again, assisting them not stay in a rut, by getting important documents and press toward housing and self sufficiency. 

Despite the cruelty of this year's sweeps, compassion and advocacy for those at the bottom has risen enormously. It's been such a beautiful sight, as someone who's done outreach for well over a decade, I remember years when it seemed no one cared for folks sleeping rough, but now tons of compassionate people bring tents, blankets, mats, socks, hand warmers, food and so forth every day. I remember times when we'd find someone frozen under a viaduct without a tent and barely a blanket, and we'd pick them up and take them somewhere warm. Those days are now over; people are rallying together, networking together, protesting together and giving together so those being stomped on can rise up together and move upward and onward.

Despite the spinning of all the spinsters, people are bringing the truth, not allowing these bullies to speak unchallenged and relentless lies! Fearless protests and actions have happened all year, advocating for those without a voice, giving the voiceless a voice. By watching what the "powers-that-be" do, they can no longer just arrest people without cause or toss someone's personal belongings away. The beautiful thing is, the spinsters are being held accountable and their hypocrisy is being brought to light, as the poor are being lifted up and loved by a wonderful network of people who truthfully care! 

Despite mourning, I am comforted and have hope! Despair will never leave us, but we are called to follow the example of Jesus and live out the Kingdom of God in a world of evil empires and oppressive regimes. We are called to bring hope, peace and love into our communities. We are called to bring light into the darkness, and I've had the privilege of seeing that this year. 

Successful movement happened. Miracles happened. People who had no keys, now have keys. People who slept on the cold hard concrete, now have a warm comfy bed. People who slept on the crowded floor of our shelter, now have a place to call their own. Homeless families who had to cram in a tiny room, now have a three bedroom apartment to spread out in. People who had to sign up for showers and line up for food, can now move freely at their own schedule. People who were once trapped in homelessness, now live with new freedom and hopeful expectations. 

With all odds against them, I was able to witness tons of people go from the struggles of homelessness into permanent housing. This has been a record year of successful movement for us at CCO and for those sleeping rough in Uptown. I have never witnessed so much movement! This happened because dedicated caring people rallied and networked together for the sake of those who've been marginalized and ostracized. This happened because people experiencing homelessness lifted each other up and encouraged one another! This happened, because as Dr Seuss said, "a person's a person, no matter how small."

Be encouraged; rally together, fight together, network together, be compassionate together, be truthful together and do right together, for in doing so, God is glorified and successful movement does happen despite all odds!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

People Pleasers

I don't like to disappoint people.
I don't like to make people upset. 
I want to give people what they want when they want it and how they want it! 

To be honest with you, I want to please those around me, so when I can't do that, it troubles me! It worries me! I've gone to bed too many times with a heavy heart, knowing I've disappointed someone. I've lost sleep too many times, with someone "living rent-free in my head!"

To those who have this struggle, I'm with you! I understand. As long as I can remember, I've battled with being a "people pleaser". It's not easy. I hate to say "no", even when the answer is blatantly obvious.

Because I feel so weak in this area, it's something I've often had to pray about and seek God's grace about. As my life has become busier and I've been given more responsibilities, I've had to face this. I can't just push it under the rug anymore. As much as I've wanted too, I find myself unable to dodge it. Working at a shelter, with all the decisions I have to make, I often feel uneasy, because I cause some people to celebrate, others to despise me, others to get angry and others just give me that stare of disappointment.

The truth is, for me, it's not an easy burden to carry. I've discovered being a "people pleaser" can be very unhealthy. I've discovered, even when we try and please everyone, we still hurt people and put ourselves through unneeded stress. 

About a year ago, this one guy did something that justifiably got him put out of the shelter. He came to me and begged for mercy. I faced a dilemma, I couldn't please everyone, half of my staff and some clients thought he should stay away, while the other half of my staff and some clients wanted me to let him back. Both sides thought they were right and both had good reasons.

I had to make a choice! Ignoring it was still a choice. I ended up choosing mercy and let him come back, and as a result, some people were angry, others were disappointed, some didn't care and others were overjoyed.

Even when we think and pray over our decisions, we affect others! Even when we choose mercy, we can cause anger! Even when the outcome produces success and healing, some folks will be disappointed and will hold a grudge. It's important to remember, we cannot please everyone and we never will.

So, time and time again, I've had to ask myself, "What does the scripture say about being a people pleaser and how do we live in a way not to live in constant condemnation?"

Tonight, I want to look at 2 verses that have helped me. These verses may seem contradictory, but they have both encouraged me not to give up when I know I'm making people angry and disappointing others. They help me know I can't please everyone and that God doesn't expect me too either. 

The first verse comes from the Apostle Paul, he says in his letter to the Romans, "Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (12:17-18)

His words, "if it is possible, as far as it depends on you", shows us that our burden isn't to make everyone happy. Our responsibility is to do what we can, the best way we can, with what we have. Our burden is to do right. Our responsibility is to make every effort to seek peace with everyone, but the results won't always go the way we want them too.

Some people won't be on the same page with us. Others will tamper with our efforts. This verse also indicates that when we are at peace with some, those actions may disappoint others at the same time. The truth is, even when we do our best, we cannot make some people happy, so instead of fretting over this, Jesus calls us to lay this burden at His feet.

When we seek to do right and do our best to live at peace with everyone, God does not condemn us if we're holding up our side of the bargain. We can find peace in God knowing that we cannot change others, we don't have that power, we can only do what we can. 

Now I'm going to the second verse. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10)

When Jesus used the word "righteousness", He was telling us to do right in His eyes, not the eyes of other people! Righteousness means making things that aren't right, right! Righteousness also means making things that aren't just, just! In Matthew 5:6 Jesus called His followers to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Jesus was calling His followers to have an intense craving and desire to make everything right and just in all our relationships and surroundings. His ways are not naturally our ways, so Jesus calls us to follow His example, by bringing Heaven to earth, by doing what God wants us to, by seeking first His Kingdom, wherever we may roam.

There's a catch to this, some people like this, but many won't. When we operate under the authority of Jesus, we cannot be "people pleasers". When we pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God, our first and foremost goal should be to please God, not others. Doing right brings persecution. It brings opposition. It brings hatred. I know this isn't easy, Jesus knew more than all of us that this isn't easy, He suffered and died as a result of bringing His Kingdom to earth. He wants us to follow His example, and when we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we become Jesus pleasers, not "people pleasers"! 

Look at the Gospels, when Jesus went around the countryside preaching the good news and healing the poor, mobs of people loved Him and flocked to Him. The people were pleased, they wanted what He had. Yet, even though He was bringing hope and compassion, opposite rose because He hungered and thirsted after righteousness. He brought a Kingdom that challenged their kingdoms of money and power. These haters wanted Jesus to conform to their ways, but Jesus made it clear He submitted only to God. Even though He was bringing Good News to all, certain people started hating Him and despising Him. This opposition and persecution took Jesus to the Cross. 

When we follow the example of Jesus, when we live the way He wants us to live, when we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, there should be no doubt in our minds that we won't and can't make everyone happy. It may be hard to deal with like it continues to be for me, but God calls us to have this intense craving after His righteousness, and therefore, we'll struggle, suffer and even be persecuted for it.

I live and work on the Northside of Chicago, in a homeless shelter. I do a lot of outreach. My neighborhood is a gentrifying neighborhood, which means a lot of rich folks are coming in and want to develop it, trying to push out those who don't look the way they want them to look. They don't want to see homelessness, or low-income housing, or people struggling with addiction or mental illness out their front doors. These folks aren't trying to help solve the issues, they just don't want them in their backyards. 

I tell you this because a few of us often go out and pass out mats, blankets, clothing and food to those living under viaducts. We also try and help them move from homelessness to housed. These small acts of compassion obviously help prevent people from getting frostbite and other life-threatening dangers, yet these "nimby" (not-in-my-backyard) folk complain and make life hard on us and, more sadly, those living outside. Mean and horrible things are said and done.

By pleasing some people, by seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness, we are causing others to rage! People pleasing traps us, not allowing us to freely move in the direction God's calls us too. If I sought to please these neighbors, I would be disobeying the call of Jesus to "love our neighbors as ourselves" and to show compassion to those He called "the least of these!" (Matthew 25)

This hostility and lack of compassion for those suffering is something that doesn't make sense, but it's a sad reality in Uptown. People foam at the mouth and lose sleep because others show compassion, buy tents, purchase food and give socks to folks living on the streets, and they feel completely justified in their anger. 

I tell you all this not to make you mad, (though it does that to me), but to encourage you. We will always have people around us who we can never please, but we all have to make a choice; to please God, or please those around us! To seek first His Kingdom or to seek the praise of people. We can't be swayed by the opinions and emotions of others because they will take us all over the map and they'll take us away from the heart of God. We need to follow the way of righteousness, of Jesus, and let Him be our guide, because when we do, He'll take us on an unbelievable journey.

I encourage you all, make every effort to please Jesus before everything else, because He is our Hope and Salvation!



A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".
 
  
This was a sermon preached on 11/29/16, in response to this question; People Pleasers
I have a lot to make up for in my past, so I’m always trying to please everybody. The problem is, I try and make one person happy, and then everyone else complains that I’m not doing enough for them. So I end up shining people on, telling them what they want to hear. Does God have a way out of all this? If I can’t please everyone, who should I try to please? I feel like I’m trapped, and I don’t know how to keep people from being disappointed in me.