Retribution Versus Restoration and a God of Second Chances

For those of us who walk closely with people living through poverty and homelessness, or are a part of a socio-culturally diverse faith community, we know that when it comes to getting a job many of our friends face different barriers. For many of my friends living through homelessness, some barriers stem from their present situation–unmanaged hygiene, poor interpersonal communication skills, PTSD. Some barriers stem from their past–large gaps in work history, undereducated, poor choices resulting in some sort of criminal record.

I had a friend who was educated and had a fair work history (not stellar, but not terrible). She could not get a job due to an arrest from 6 years ago. The crime was theft. What did she steal? Food. From a grocery store.

Before Virginia’s Governor passed the so-called “Ban the Box” order (passed on “Good Friday”), some of our friends in need as well as some in my church family couldn’t even get an interview as their application revealed a poor choice in their past.

RichmondApp-BigGray-620x379Now this question will not appear on the application. Now a friend in need has a chance to get an interview. No doubt employers will run criminal background checks. Personally, I think that is wise. But if the employer chooses not to employ a friend in need at least they will be saying no to a person, rather than an checked box on an application. At least our friend in need had an interview and a fair shot at the job. Who knows, an employer might just like what they see and choose to give our friend in need a second chance. And that second chance may just make the difference.

I am grateful for this law. It is more restorative and less retributive, and restoration is what God’s people are supposed to be all about.

Above all I am thankful for God’s mercy and grace. He is a God of many second chances and He always seeks to forgive and restore. May we carry on in joining Him in His work of restoring lives.

Oh by the way that friend I mentioned earlier finally got a job. For some reason this particular application didn’t ask about the criminal record. It was the first in almost 85 applications that didn’t ask. She got a call back for an interview. I encouraged her to be forthright about the arrest and at the end of the interview to be sure to tell hiring manager. The hiring director appreciated her honesty and called me for a reference.

She got the job.

Virginia is the 15th state to pass the order. You can read about it here:

And here:

Posted in Philosophy, Social Justice | 3 Comments

The Social Reality of Poverty

Caroline's pic 5o'clockA few weeks ago I was meeting with a man living through homelessness. Acute sickness led to medical treatment that led to missed work. Missed work led to an eviction notice. When we first met in December I could tell he hadn’t been homeless for long. You can always tell when someone is recently socially displaced. Sure enough, he had only been homeless a few months.  I knew I had to “catch” him before his mind slipped into the hellish place of survivability. See, when someone is homeless they move from responsibility and sustainability to survivability. Survivability is where fight, flight or freeze kicks in. It is when the traumatic experience of losing everything and ending up “homeless” takes root in the mind, body and soul. Adverse coping behaviors are developed and behaviors like addictions or manipulation are embraced in the name of survival. In my experience it doesn’t take long for trauma to set in, so I knew I had to catch him.

When we talked I mentioned how difficult it was going to be for him to go back to a “housed” way of life and how likely it would be for him to relapse. Relapse often happens because the cognitive, emotional and social realties of poverty are rarely addressed when someone comes “off the street.” His response was a resounding, “Hell no I won’t!”

Of course. I am glad he was that convicted.

So I asked him what he was planning to do tomorrow. He didn’t know. I asked him about the next day. He didn’t know. I asked him about five days from now. He didn’t know. He began to weep as he started to see that his mind was slipping into survivability–just trying to make it through each day, one hour at a time. I needed him to realize this if I were going to be able to offer him a vision of a different way of living, one that could reorient his mind and heart, even while living unhoused.

He then told me that the worst part of being homeless isn’t that he has no money or place to live, it’s the despair. I asked him if he would let me to walk with him through this season, after all no one deserves to be alone. He hesitantly agreed.

So I gave him a journal and together we came up with one week’s worth of to-do lists to begin addressing the cognitive reality of poverty. Go here. Go there. Visit here. Do this. It was simple but I knew it would give him something to “live” for, to plan, work toward and do.

A week later he was a different man with a little bit of hope. We bought a gift card for a coffee shop and came up with an additional weekly rhythm where he would go inside, grab a cup of coffee, sit down and read a good book. This was better than hanging out at the train station. Another week later he had a little more hope. He did this and other simple things for two months while applying for jobs (of course it is hard to get a job when you’re carrying your suitcase of belongings in an interview room while smelling like a homeless person). Each time we talked he would always end with, “I have hope and things are looking better.”

Over time he began to trust me. Over time I began to care about him. This leads me to the point of my story.

A few weeks ago we were sitting in my office. By God’s grace and the help of our Executive Director at 3e Restoration Inc, Tammy Harden, (she’s a ninja!) we were able to secure him a place to live with a great room mate (another guy I’m walking with in a similar situation). While we there I invited him to take this journey to the next level, one where I was asking for permission to walk even closer with him.

This is when my heart broke.

He asked why I would want to do take time to walk with him. I said, “Because I’ve grown to care for you, man. You’re my friend.”

He began to weep.

After a few minutes of silence I asked why he was so emotional. “You just don’t know, man. I haven’t heard those words in a long time. When you’re homeless and alone it’s easy to believe no one cares, not even God.”

I didn’t know what to say. All I could think about was how the Person of Jesus, as God-made-flesh, reminds us that no one deserves to be abandoned or stand alone.

Only when we are not alone can the loneliness be manageable. Maybe this is why Jesus promised never to leave us and time and again reminds us that no one is ever lost on God. This is what I have called in the 3e Restoration Curriculum the “Social Reality” of poverty. It’s rarely addressed but is something the local church is perfectly designed for as a community of reconciliation, healing and hope. I find that when a Church embraces gracious hospitality as a posture and way of being in society, surprising friendships are formed and healing begins. 

Well, I am grateful to God to share that now my friend has a great job. All it took was a new shirt, new pants, a place to store his belongings, a couple of new friends and a little bit of hope. Seriously, he landed a job with one try once he was able to look and smell the part and have a place to store his gear. I’m also happy to tell you that he will be moving into his new apartment this week. Oh, and one more thing: he knows now beyond the shadow of every doubt that the gospel is good news–healing news. In his words, “I didn’t know how sick I was until I went to the doctor.”


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Raising A Racist Who Loves His Wife Well

2399_58459345806_5824344_nA thought came to me a few years back not soon after my son was born. You could say it was a moment when all my hopes and dreams crashed head-on with the reality of my faith as Jesus’ disciple and a pastor. At first all I could ask was, what kind of man would my son become? What kind of man will I raise him to be? At first the answers were obvious. I want him to be a good man, a hard worker who loves his wife and family well. Above all, I want him to love the Lord. But then it hit me. Maybe I can raise him to become a man who loves his wife well. Maybe he will see how much I adore his mama, how I respect and love her and how our marriage is rooted in mutual submission under the Lordship of King Jesus. So, maybe I can raise him to love his wife in a way that honors God, but he could still grow up to be a racist. 

I was raised in south Georgia. Many people I knew had their prejudices and some were outright racist. As I’ve lived in different places I’ve met several professed Christians who according to many’s christian standards, are great husbands and wives, but are blatant racists. Or at the very least they openly look down upon, dehumanize, or degrade another person on the basis of socio-economic status or ethnicity.

I’ve come to learn that as Christians we often aim for what I call the lower ethics of the kingdom. We focus on singular issues and build doctrines, preach sermons, and teach bible studies around them, treating them as though they are the primal ethic. We talk about raising “godly husbands” or “godly wives,” yet our children grow up loving their spouses while harboring disdain for their neighbor with a different accent or skin color. We talk about giving in terms of tithes and offerings, yet our children grow up accumulating so much stuff they have no financial capacity to give to people in need. We talk about being kind to others or doing unto others as we have them do unto us, yet our children grow up not giving a second thought to the death of another human being, especially in the context of crime and punishment or war.

There’s a story in Scripture when Jesus is confronted by religious leaders. For whatever reason they ask Jesus to boil their religion down to one major takeaway, you might even say, the highest truth and ethic of all. Jesus answers:

“He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.'”

I’ve come to believe that even though these lower ethics are (obviously) important, to focus on them sets the trajectory of faithfulness too low. When we aim for these lower ethics we’re left with the difficult job of working our way up to the higher ethics of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The godly husband has to be convinced of his racism. The faithful “tither” has to be convinced of her disdain for the poor. Now we have to position Christianity as a system of sin-management where we’re forced to deal with moralisms while having to squeeze in the gospel of King Jesus, versus the other way around.

IMG_2042I can raise my son to be a great husband (I hope!) and he can still grow up a racist. Or I can raise him to love his neighbor as himself, and teach him that by neighbor Jesus includes his wife. I can redefine and broaden who our neighbors are, and show him what this looks like on a daily basis, including how I love his mama. I can teach him that loving God looks like loving others. 

If my son sees what it looks like when I love God and neighbor I am giving him a fair shot of learning the lower ethics too. When he grows up, maybe he won’t have to be convinced of becoming a “godly husband.” Maybe he won’t have to be convinced that giving his time and money to God necessarily includes the people in need. Maybe he won’t have to be convinced that the death of another human being created in God’s image–a neighbor–no matter how evil they may be, breaks God’s heart and should be mourned, not celebrated.

Jesus says that ‘all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.’ The apostle Paul seemed to believe this too. Faithfully set out to get this right and the other things have a better chance of aligning with God’s preferred future, and the ethics of His kingdom. Start by focusing somewhere else and, well, you’ll have more work to do and may end up proclaiming a love for God while harboring contempt in your heart others.



Posted in Marriage and Family, Theology | 1 Comment

“Send Them Away”

This week has been refreshing for me. I am in a DMin. class at Biblical Theological Seminary. Dr. John Leonard is leading our discussion on The Mission of God, The Mission of Christ’s Church. A class like this stirs many reflections, some deep and new, some familiar-but-forgotten. One such familiar-but-forgotten reflection is what I wanted to share with you. And it is a basic one.

In Matthew 14:30 when Peter is sinking (which the Greek language infers he may have been neck deep in the water) he cries out, “Lord save me!” Jesus hears his cry and saves him.

In Matthew 15:25 a gentile woman comes to Jesus. Her daughter is suffering in life-crushing ways. She cries out “Lord help me!” (almost identical language as Peter’s). The disciples hear her cry and urges Jesus to send her away. But he helps her any way.

Peter was shown mercy but would not show her mercy. The disciples witnessed this and somehow walked on to the shore unaffected.

When reading the gospels this week we noticed the disciples want to send more people away from Jesus than welcome to Him—the 5,000, children, the gentile woman—because they appear to consider the impoverished, the least, and the outsiders as unworthy of His time. Their lack of self-awareness and humility seems to have allowed their presuppositions of who these people were to overturn all they had seen in and heard from Jesus. 

For many christians today, this hasn’t changed.

As we continued our reading through the gospels and in to the book of Acts we see the disciples maturing. As the Church learns to obey the missionary Holy Spirit, surrender to the Lordship of Jesus, and find their purpose in joining God in His work of redeeming all people for the sake of the world, they become a hospitable community. The same can happen today.

Jesus is still saving us from our selves. He is still saving us from our merciless pride and lack of compassion toward others. As long as He is invited to reign in our lives and Churches, there is hope for the Church and the world God loves—there is hope for us all.

Why do you think the disciples wanted to send these away?

What can we learn from them?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Holy Adventure: A Brief Reflection for 2015

As I consider the new year, asking what kind of person I want to become seems boring, mundane and a bit self-centered. But asking what kind of future God wants me to join Him in creating stirs my heart. This kind of question leads me to consider how a kingdom-shaped way of being in the world changes what I do in the world. It invites me into a life that takes Jesus seriously as I follow Him with a beloved community committed to dealing out love, peace, restorative justice and hope, in a world desperate for the same.

IMG_2042Undoubtedly this will lead to a holy adventure. 2015 is sure to be an exciting new year filled with an unpredictability and risk so confounding, that me and my family will be forced to rely solely upon God’s provision and grace. This will become our joy.


The best part of all this is that I cannot go at it alone. The life of a triune God reminds me that I’m a part of a larger story He is telling and it is intertwined with the lives of those I encounter day-to-day. Even more, I am uniquely and eternally joined with others that have professed Jesus as Lord. Together we are invited to participate in God’s life-giving presence and work to make His love and reign tangible to all, right here and now. We’ll have to wrestle with this particular way of life together as it pushes against society’s normal way of doing things (and all its self-seeking, self-asserting ways dressed in the clothes of consumerism and civil religion) and learn to submit to the Cross-informed way of self-giving love and gracious hospitality.

Blog Pics.001

Blog Pics.002








I know that 2015 will have its share of disappointments and unmet expectations. There will be failures and frustration, suffering and lament. But there will also be grace and forgiveness, a hope that is relentless, a love unconditional and the company of God’s beloved community–His Church. I know this to be true because Jesus is Lord, and where Jesus is Lord grace and love reigns.

Jesus is Lord. This will be my greatest confession in 2015. All expectations will hinge upon these three words. And when I begin to lose my voice or lose the strength to utter these words in bold humility, His people will be there to remind me, beginning with my wife and son.

In 2015, may my family live fully into the future God wants us to join Him in creating as we experience life in His beloved community, both for the good of others and to the praise of His glory.



Posted in Christian living | Leave a comment

A Teaching That Doesn’t Sit Well Among American Christians

Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” ~ Jesus (Luke 6:35-36)

It’s pretty clear. It’s not convenient or easy, but it is clear. It’s especially clear when you measure these words in light of the One preaching them, in light of the disciples that taught them and in light of the martyrs of old who obeyed them. The reality is we either set out to obey Jesus or argue with Him (usually in an effort to justify or rationalize our position rooted in ideologies different from God’s kingdom). Perhaps what is most striking about this section of Jesus’ sermon is that the word “love” in the original language of the text means, love, and “do good” in the original language means, do good.

What has gripped my heart over these past couple of years is that Jesus the Christ would rather die for His enemies than kill them. If Christians are called “christians” because we pledge to follow the Christ, then it does not take us long to see where following Christ may call us when we look to His blood-stained cross and empty tomb. At this point you and I must decide, will we follow the Christ of Christianity or will we follow some other “Christ” of a risk-free Christianity that in the end proves to be nothing more than moral therapeutic deism?

May those of us who choose the Lord remain faithful, even as we stumble, struggle and strain to trust and obey. May we walk in the power of our faithful God as He has promised to give us strength along the way.


Oh, and Dr. Martin Luther King once offered an insightful statement on why loving enemies is the better way:

“There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates…For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does.”

I bet Jesus knew that too.


Posted in Christian living, Theology | Leave a comment

An Ordinary Day that Changed My Life: My Story with Homelessness Begins Here

When I was 23 years old it was in the mundane routine of my ordinary day that I was driving to work when I spotted Mr. Clifford sitting on the curb of 2nd Avenue.

la-me-ln-garcetti-homeless-pledge20140715-001Mr. Clifford was a stout elderly African American man and he was homeless. His buggy was filled with stuff. Every day on my way to work I would see Mr. Clifford sitting in that same spot on that same street at almost the same time each morning. I could only see him so long before I knew I had to do something.

When I was a business executive I had a client who owned every McDonalds in the city. I visited his corporate office and asked if he could give me some free lunch coupons. He gave me a huge stack.

Later that day I saw Mr. Clifford sitting on the curb of that same street, just a few miles down from where I see him each morning. I pulled over got out of my car and gently, and quite nervously approached Mr. Clifford. I had never done this before.

I asked Mr. Clifford if I could give him some McDonald’s coupons. Never looking up he nodded his head yes. I held them out but he did not reach back. So I asked if I could lay them on the curb beside him. Again, he nodded his head. Not leaving well enough alone, I asked Mr. Clifford if I could sit with him for a few minutes. He nodded his head.

I introduced myself. For the first time, he spoke, “Clifford is my name.” 

“Glad to meet you, Clifford.”

Silently I sat. I did not know what else to say. So there we were, me and Clifford, sitting quietly on the curb off 2nd Avenue. I don’t know how long we were there. After a while I stood up, held out my hand and said, “It was nice to meet you, Clifford.” 

Reaching out to shake my hand he nodded his head.

“I hope you enjoy the coupons Clifford, and I hope to see you again,” I said.

He nodded his head.

I left. But that day, I was never the same. That day marked the beginning of many days where I would never again not turn a blind eye to homelessness and poverty. From that very day I began driving around the city every Sunday night armed with fast food coupons looking for people who were homeless.

It was in my mundane routine of ordinary days that I discovered that homelessness had a name, a nodding head and hand shake. It was in my mundane routine of ordinary days that God nudged my heart and on that day something happened inside of me that stirs me to this very day. 8,395 days went by in my young life before God moved that way. When He did my life changed. And 4,015 days later my life shifted once again.

At first it was a day like any other, except instead of going straight to the coffee shop I stopped by my office at the church building. As I was getting ready to leave a tired man came through the doors. He was homeless, along with his wife, daughter and grandchild. They were sleeping in a van. He only asked for a one night’s stay in a motel. But I believe Jesus can do better than one night, and if He can so can His people. And that is what I told this man. And that is what we did, and with no catch or conditions. Jesus did good because He is good and as His followers we needed to do the same.

Over the course of over a year our church walked in deep meaningful relationship with this family of four from homelessness to housed, unemployed to employed, hopeless to hope filled. After the man and his wife decided to follow Jesus they wanted to renew their wedding vows as they did their lives, so we had the pleasure of sharing in that too. It was through a relationship with them our church learned how to extend gracious hospitality. At first we used to think we helped them see Jesus, but looking back it was they who helped us see Jesus.

After 11 years of walking with people from homelessness to self-sufficiency I knew there had to be a healthier and more relational way to do this than what I had done in the past. It was in a relationship with that family, radically embraced by the faithful people of Williamsburg Christian Church, that I began implementing a highly relational yet organized way of being the kind of community of friends this family needed and wanted. It was also when I began working out what would later become the 3e Restoration Floor Plan curriculum. This was the beginning of what we now call “The 3e Restoration Process.”

jesus-homeless2Soon after I met David Benedict (now a dear friend). He and a couple of others had started an inter-faith collaborative called Greater Williamsburg Outreach Mission, a.k.a. G.W.O.M. They were a collaborative of almost 18 faith communities coming together to fight homelessness in Greater Williamsburg. Up to this point I was considering launching a separate non-profit as a ministry of WCC, but apparently God still had work to do. After several talks with David and others with G.W.O.M., I was invited to share what WCC had been doing to help move some of our friends from homelessness to self-sufficiency within the context of relational community and God’s sufficiency. God was stirring a movement through G.W.O.M. and He had invited us to join Him.

After many meetings with the beautiful people of G.W.O.M. they decided to pilot the 3e Restoration Process in order to teach other churches and faith communities how to live into it. So we did, and it was a holy adventure where new friendships were made, clarity of vision and process was formed, and eventually, where 3e Restoration Incorporated was born.

And now this 501c3 non-profit organization exists to partner with faith communities to encourage, equip, and empower them to walk in relationship with a “Friends/Families in Need” to help them transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency through community and God’s sufficiency. We are led by a passionate, godly and extremely smart Executive Director in Tammy Harden. Our curriculum and training is anchored by a talented and passionate Director of Training in Blake Miller. We have trained 9 church leaders from 7 different churches to help lead their churches into breaking the cycle of homelessness through gracious hospitality and systemic change one friend or family at a time. And another round of training labs are set for January.  We are partnered with Colonial Community Corrections reentry program for homeless ex-offenders. We are in discussions to begin a pilot with Williamsburg James City County schools to walk with a family living through homelessness toward self-sufficiently within the context of relational community. We want to see the development of supportive housing and a residential respite home to assist homeless men and women leaving the hospital in need of temporary or terminal care. We want to encourage, equip and empower those living through homelessness with mental illness and intellectual disabilities so they can live a meaningful and productive life of dignity and worth. And we hope to see all of this supported and surrounded by local faith communities equipped, empowered and encouraged to walk with these friends living through homelessness and hopelessness to housed and hopefulness. 

Tonight I have the honor of seeing what God began when I was 23 come to a place I never dreamed. 3e Restoration Inc will host it’s first ever fundraising banquet. We will tell stories of hope and beauty, of friendship and hospitality, of love and grace.

I praise God for it all and thank Him for allowing us to participate in His work of restoring the lives of the lonely and left-out. Little did I know at the age of 23 that He was doing the same to me.

Please pray for us tonight and from time to time each day after. If you feel compelled and want to join us in what we are doing in another way, please give to this movement God is stirring here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment