Who’s your neighbor?

Francis preferred card-playing to church-going. And she liked to smoke. At Francis’ funeral, her minister asked, “What can you say about Francis?” The congregation of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church laughed. Francis never fit anyone’s image of an older, proper black church lady. What was there to say?

Francis rented the small, government-subsidized house next to my father-in-law Lonnie’s refrigeration business. Lonnie never missed church and never smoked. Growing up in in the Nazarene Church in Eastern Kentucky, he’d been taught that cards and cigarettes were the work of the devil.

When Francis lost at cards, which was often, she’d ask Lonnie, “Mr. Slone, can I borrow $20? I’ll pay you back.” Lonnie always gave her the money. Francis always paid it back, but less than a day later she would ask for it again.

Francis was rough, she gambled and smoked, but she could also cook. She often brought over homecooked dishes. It was her way of being a good neighbor.

Francis’ heavy smoking took its toll, and she was frequently hospitalized. During one hospital stay, Lonnie found her house full of roaches. He fumigated the place, cleaned and vacuumed, and took her bedding home to wash.

When Francis could no longer take care of herself, Lonnie made sure she was cared for in a nice nursing home.

One thing you could say about Francis: she was the neighbor of Lonnie Slone.

Roll down justice

Slavery ended with the Civil War, right? Not exactly. There are 40 million people worldwide in slavery today, more than at any other time in history. Human trafficking is the third largest criminal activity in the world.

But slavery must be a third-word problem, right? Not exactly. Whenever someone is hurting, in poverty, or in an abusive relationship, they are vulnerable to exploitation.

“Kate” was interviewed on local TV earlier this year. Kate spent much of her childhood in abusive households, jumping between family, foster parents, and adoption. Eventually, she decided to run away, but was homeless and alone. She was 15 when she met a man who offered her a place to stay.

The 40-year-old told her, “If you help me I’ll help you.”

Kate started selling drugs on 5th Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. It wasn’t enough. Soon, the man made her do other things she didn’t want to do. She wanted to leave, but she was trapped.

Kate was rescued in an FBI sting operation in a local hotel but was charged with prostitution. The good news is that county officials and advocacy groups are working to see that Kate and others like her are treated as victims instead of criminals.

This Sunday, September 23rd, has been declared “Freedom Sunday” by International Justice Mission (IJM.org). This Sunday, we join thousands of churches around the world in learning about slavery and human trafficking.

A long time ago, God told the Prophet Micah that three things were required of God followers: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”

This isn’t passive voice. Justice is something we do.

Could we pray about joining IJM in helping to end this curse, not just in the third world, but right outside our doors?



Matthew 25 is the climax of Jesus’ final speech. Jesus paints an incredible word picture of the throne room of God. Everyone who ever lived is standing before Jesus for final judgment. It’s an awesome, terrifying thing to imagine.

What standard will Jesus use to make the ultimate judgment?

Did you feed, clothe, care for, or visit hurting people?

The criteria are as down-to-earth as the vision is grand

Jesus says that in the end there will be just two categories. You’re either blessed or cursed, depending on whether you took part in simple ministries of food, shelter, and visitation.

That’s it. That’s Jesus’ basis for dividing up people for eternity.

Surprising? Yes, but not in the way you probably think. Jesus goes on to say that everyone will be surprised on judgment day. The ones who are blessed will be surprised because they know they’re not worthy to stand before a Holy God. They know that nothing they could ever do could make them worthy.

But the ones destined for eternal fire are surprised too. “What do you mean we didn’t serve the hurting people?” they demand to know. Instead of throwing themselves on the mercy of a Holy God, begging for forgiveness, they’re indignant.

Self-righteousness is so deadly because the first thing it kills is your self-awareness.  When you’re self-righteous, no one, not even God, can tell you that you’ve been justifying yourself.

On judgment day, the ones who know they should be out, are in. They ones who think they’re in, are out.



7:05 AM. Arrive at church. 18 people sleeping on the front porch, and I talk to some. Eric and Nicole want to know why I object to their sleeping there. I point out the trash, broken flower pots, urine smell, excrement, and suggest they’re killing the church. It wasn’t them, they say, bad people came at night to do this. I notice David, who’d been removed by police three times one day last week for drunkenness. Drunk now, he told me he was going to rehab. 7:15. Unlock the church, make coffee, set up for men’s bible study. 7:30. Prayer, bible study. Great group, always a highlight. 8:35. Custodian says freezer is only holding 10 degrees. It’s over 30 years old. 8:45. Voicemails. Rent-A-Center needs a reference. Return calls. Emails. Former member who lives in Florida and follows my blog will be visiting soon! Concern from member that names in the bulletin were wrong. Why no Apostles Creed? 9:00. Ops director spots someone smashing flower pots on security camera footage, early Sunday AM. 9:30. Ops director spots the vandal, it’s Eric, mentioned above, who’s still out front! 9:45. I call 911. 9:55. Police arrive and check for warrants. Erik is felon wanted for gun charges. Give police my contact info. 10:35. Half hour late for discussion of book Evicted with ministerium walk-in volunteers at 1st Lutheran Church. 11:40. Walk back to church with a church member who’d read Evicted. 11:55. Pastor Dan and I discuss staff concerns. 1:00 PM. Lunch at Ten Penny with Patrice, head of PGH Marathon, Pastor Dan, his wife Leslie, and Pastor Brian of 1st Lutheran. Prayer. Patrice gives us a $5000 check for the Ministerium walk-in ministry. 2:35. Dan and I encounter Earl, walk-in guest, on Penn Ave, 2:45. Dan and I talk to panhandler on church steps. 3:00. More email. Evening custodian will be late; I’m happy to lock up. Share thoughts on pastoral care issue with our student pastor. 3:45. Pastor Dan and I discuss pastoral care issues. Prayer. 4:30. Time to lock up, but someone is lying awkwardly on front porch, so I check. Mike is his name, says he’s OK, but he’s not. Holding his stomach. 4:40 Dan has set up pop-up meeting with Charles Chapman of Living Ministries. Promises to help us with people sleeping out front. 5:15. Meeting over and we check on Mike. He’s pulling out handfuls of poop from his pants and throwing it. Charles calls Operation Safety Net street team who promises to come, but they don’t. 6:00. I call 911. 6:10. Police arrive and try to rouse Mike, but he keeps falling back and hitting his head. They won’t get close since Mike is covered in poop. 6:20. Paramedics arrive, wrap Mike in sheets to keep from soiling everything. Strap him to stretcher. 6:30. Escort visitor to women’s bible study. 6:30. Check in with folks at Outreached Arms meal. Invite the guy who runs the drink station, a venture capitalist, to church. 6:40. Greet guests and volunteers. Custodian late. Round up buckets, etc. to clean poop. 7:15. Guy named Michael is eating chicken on front steps. Drunk, he doesn’t notice the smell. He looks familiar. Yes, he’d slept there last night. Before alcohol, Mike had been head of security at a mall. How many times, I ask, has he been to rehab? Four. I ask about his family, and he starts to cry. Has a daughter, 18. I tell him to go ten more times if he has to; his kid is worth it. I pray for him. 7:30. Young lady sitting on the steps talking on her phone. I warn her about the mess I’ve been cleaning and notice her accent. She’s from Turkey, a student at Chatham, and a Muslim. I invite her to church. 8:10. Head home. 8:45. Shower, wash clothes. 9:30. Email, personnel team report, texts, put my clothes in the washer. 10:30. Start this blog.