#209. Becoming the Man God Created Me To Be

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I am 23 years old, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. For years I was going down a bad road, struggling with a drinking problem and a problem with narcotics. I dropped out of high school and then moved to Indiana to go to Job Corps, where I got my GED. I was doing okay at first, but then ended up getting kicked out. I had nowhere else to go and was homeless. My drug counselor recommended that I go to a ministry in Indianapolis with a homeless shelter. I eventually moved to another homeless shelter that was a better place for me. Pastors came in and they had Bible studies a couple of times a week. It was there that I began my walk with God.

One day after I had been to a Bible study, I stayed in the room and prayed. I prayed so hard, I could feel my heart beating in my hand. Then I experienced something I had never experienced before. It was amazing — kind of like being intoxicated but better. I felt lighter than I had ever felt, like a huge burden had been lifted from me. It was the most peaceful I have ever felt. I believe it was God’s Holy Spirit. For most of my life I have struggled with anxiety and depression. But I have become calmer since that day. I knew before this experience that God was real, but this really confirmed it for me.

God blessed me by sending me to another homeless shelter, where they helped me prepare for a job. I messed up and took a pill and got kicked out, but by the grace of God I got back in. No matter how much I messed up, God kept helping me. I didn’t deserve all the help He gave me. I didn’t feel condemned by God. Instead God’s love motivated me to live up to His expectations of me. He is shaping me to become the man He created me to be. 

A guy came to the homeless shelter and told us about Purposeful Design, a for-profit job creation program in Indianapolis with a focus on relationships and discipleship. I didn’t really want to go to the classes, but someone encouraged me, and something inside me told me I should go. I went and have never regretted it. I began with classes to teach me the skills to become a craftsman: how to use tools, the planning process in building and the lingo in carpentry. I participate in Bible studies, where they explained how we could apply those lessons to our daily life, to walk with God better. After I finished the course with Purposeful Design and got my certification, I asked God if it was His will that I should get a job with their company. I applied and was interviewed, not really thinking I would get the job. I had planned what I wanted to say at the interview, but the Holy Spirit spoke to me. I felt I needed to be completely honest and vulnerable about my story. God was like, “Let it all out.” And I did. I laid all my cards on the table. I ended up getting emotional and crying. After the interview, I thought, “This guy is going to think I’m an emotional wreck.” Usually there is a second interview, but the man told me they didn’t need a second interview. He offered me the job. There were people who were more qualified than me, but I got the job. 

God has always looked out for me. As soon as I started working there, I started going to a Bible study every day. Visitors come in and share their testimonies of how God has worked in their lives. It’s like a family. We help each other through our struggles. There is a lot of love there. I am so grateful God has me there. I love it so much. I don’t want to go anywhere else. 

God’s love is so abundant. You cannot define it. God’s love is full of grace and mercy. No matter how much we condemn ourselves — God knows we are not perfect. He knows we will fall down and struggle, but He helps us figure out what He wants for our lives. Life in Jesus is way better than anything the world can give. This world is temporary and the love the world gives is conditional. God’s love is unconditional and unfailing. Living with Jesus is the way to true joy, contentment and peace. 

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” —Matthew 11:2830 (NLT)

#208. Purposeful Design

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Years ago, God gave me the opportunity to be on the board at Wheeler Mission in Indianapolis. I was also involved in discipling men. For about 15 years, I led Bible studies at Wheeler. Often when I was there, I would ask the men how they were doing. Over and over the answer was “I’m looking for a job.” I must have heard that a hundred times. I had sorrow about this and wished I could do something to give them a job. I decided to ask God about this. I prayed, “What do you say about this God?” Some other men friends of mine began to join in that prayer also. 

One day I was doing something on the internet and I ran into the idea of taking shipping pallets and turning them into furniture. I wondered if we could sell the furniture and create a revenue stream to cover the cost of wages. So we did an experiment and started small. We used shipping pallets and started making beverage carts. Pretty quickly we figured out shipping pallets weren’t the way to go. A local business donated lumber and we began making furniture and selling it to friends and family. That’s how it started.

We hire men and train them to make beautiful handcrafted furniture. Now over 90% of our operating expenses are covered by things the men make themselves. Everything is custom made. We sell to a lot of commercial enterprises. We make a lot of conference tables and shelves. We make tables for restaurants, school cafeterias and some residential furniture. The first year we had $37,000 in sales, which was a great blessing and beyond our expectations. Last year we sold $1.4 million in furniture. While the finances are important and we are very grateful for the business, our primary mission is to hire and train craftsman and see lives changed. Our organization, Purposeful Design, has two components. 

One part is a training program called the School of Woodworking and Discipleship and the other part is the business where we hire people to work making furniture. Even if we don’t hire people to work for Purposeful Design coming out of the school, we have a network of other employers who offer job opportunities. All the those we serve come from places where they struggle with addiction, incarceration or homelessness and otherwise would have difficulty finding a job. 

We have partnerships with ministries and relief organization that send people to our school. The trainees are exposed to woodworking, job readiness and discipleship training. We start each day with prayer and have weekly Bible studies. We have about 40 volunteers from the community who do the instructing. They come in to teach and add their own stories. They are loving and build relationships. One of our partnerships is with Purdue University. They helped us launch the training program and sent us two professors to teach the trainees how to work with wood. This whole ministry is really a walk of faith. A lot of people who serve have a background in business. My own background is in business.  But I had no experience with woodworking or running a nonprofit. Our business is a registered 501c3. God has provided so much for us. We depend on Him to show us our next steps and to provide the resources, people to help us, and customers. It has been amazing how the Lord has helped us and provided. 

The second part of our organization is the Purposeful Design furniture business. We have 16 full-time craftsmen. It is a delight to see them grow. They are not all believers. But we expose everyone to the Word of God and flood our place with love and encouragement. We strive to strengthen everyone and help them succeed. We are like a family. We want to keep it a walk of faith. It has been a joy to see where God has brought us. We didn’t plan any of this, and now we find ourselves in a niche that sells to many large institutions like big hospitals, universities and banks. All of these organizations have their own mandate to do good for the community. They desire to do good for society, and they also need furniture, which makes our products a perfect fit for them. 

As long as the Lord keeps opening doors, we will keep running as hard and fast as we can to help more people. We provide on-the-job discipleship, beginning each morning by circling up and praying together and sharing a bit from the Word. We have a lunch Bible study every Monday. 

We are getting ready to launch a campaign, “Turning the Tables on Poverty.” To prepare, we have run some statistics and have found that in our six years, we have saved the taxpayers $2.3 million in what it would have cost to take care of those who were homeless who are now employed. In addition, our employees have paid about $350,000 in taxes. These folks have changed from being totally supported by taxpayers to now contributing their own taxes to our city. We also see our neighborhood changing for the good before our very eyes. Healthy people make healthy neighborhoods. Most of us live about a quarter of a mile from Purposeful Design. We are available to help each other and encourage each other. We see marriages restored and kids reunited with their fathers. God is truly amazing. 

As we have seen God at work, there are three things we have learned: 1. It is good to pray. Purposeful Design is the result of prayer. 2. We have all tried life our own way, and it didn’t work out. God’s way is better. 3. Jesus really, really does set people free. We have absolutely seen the transformative power of God at work. We have seen a 17-year heroin addict set free. Another guy told me he hadn’t been sober a day in his life since he was 14. Now he is sober and can be spotted walking his children to the park. He is loving his wife, and he is one of our most loyal and trustworthy employees. 

My own heart tends toward prideful thinking. In our early days I would think, “Haven’t we done well!” The Lord has now shown me my need for humility. Now, I go down on my knees and thank the Lord right then and there when something good happens. Our success is not from me. God’s hand is at work here and our success is from Him.  

#207. How Pastors See God Working In COVID 19

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I have been a pastor and church planter for 30 years in Central Kentucky. During this time, I have seen God move, not only in the lives of longtime committed Christians, but also through  ministries to people experiencing homelessness and addiction recovery. 

How do I see God working in the midst of this pandemic?

The last time I remember feeling the things I have been feeling recently was the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But this coronavirus outbreak has been very different. When there is a collective tragedy, it’s almost like the Holy Spirit kicks something into gear. It seems like people are understanding the Holy Spirit in a new way, in spite of all of the anxiety and uncertainty.

During this pandemic, I have noticed a similarity in conversations with church members and non-church members in that their prayer life is deeper and more consistent. Many times, in the past, people have said to me, “I pray but I don’t hear from God.” Now people tell me, when they pray, they are hearing from God — and being comforted like never before.

There has been concern over the financial issues that have come with COVID-19, but many folks are feeling a peace about this. It’s been amazing to see how people want to give during this time. We have actually seen an increase in our giving, which we are using to help people who are struggling. There is a group who just raised $1,500 to make personal protective equipment for health care workers and first responders. They are praying over this equipment before they send it to be used.

I’m also hearing a lot of things about kids. God is bringing them closer to their parents, and they are also spending more time with their siblings. We have become so independent in our culture and within our own families as well, even our young children. Everyone has their own community on their phone. Parents and siblings don’t know the friends of other family members the way we used to. It’s almost like we are being taken back to the olden days when families spent more time together.

I am seeing that families are growing closer to God as a family. Things are being pulled back to the things of God and the Spirit. Even in our own family, for the first time a few nights ago, we just knelt around the coffee table and prayed. It’s like COVID-19 is a loose thread that has been pulled, bringing us all together and closer to God. My prayer is that this closeness continues. 

#206. How Pastors See God Working In COVID 19

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Ellie and I were ecstatic when we got the text in February.

Do you and Ellie want to go with us to Naples for a long weekend in March?

Uh … yes! After a long and busy season of ministry and parenting, we were thankful that God had provided a space for us to refresh and enjoy some warm weather. We were counting down the days that we would be alone — without kids, obligations or calendar commitments. Just some good friends, delicious food, and Florida sunshine.

By March 13, the day before we left, the world had changed drastically. What feel like staples of American society — NCAA basketball, the Masters, and the NBA — were being cancelled and uprooted day by day. Churches would not be gathering. After a lot of prayer and trusting that God had gone before us to secure this trip, we boarded our plane at Blue Grass Airport and landed in hot and humid Florida.

To be honest, it was hard to settle down. It was hard to fully rest, knowing that our world was in such turmoil. Restful moments were interrupted by task force news conferences and reports on toilet paper shortages. It was clear to us that this brief pause would be followed by a return to a world that was anything but normal. In fact, a world that was even a little scary.
As it always does, God’s Word interrupted the turmoil in my heart, whispering as a father gently whispers to a crying infant, “Hush.”

But the Lord is in His holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him (Habakkuk 2:20).
I wish that I could say I understand all that is going on in our world in this coronavirus pandemic. I have questions like, “Why?” and “Why now?” “What are we supposed to do?” “Is it okay to be afraid?”

I don’t have all the answers, but I’m learning to embrace the beautiful reality of following Jesus — the One who does. This Scripture in Habakkuk gives me all I need to know. The Lord is still in His holy Temple. He is still on the throne! Just because society and human activity have been radically altered does not mean that our God has lost control. He is still there, still all-powerful, all-loving, working all things together for our good and His glory.

Because God’s still in control, we can be silent before Him. We can trust Him. Each day can be full of heartfelt worship, devoted prayer, and sacrificial service to our neighbors and loved ones. The thing that drives me most crazy about coronavirus is how little everyone knows. At times, I feel as if I am developing whiplash, listening to all the different voices competing for attention in my head. But because we follow Jesus, the One who is still in control, we can be silent, even in the face of a vicious enemy like COVID-19. We can simply listen to His voice and follow where He leads.

As we descended through the clouds into Lexington on Sunday, March 15, we landed in darkness. I’ve never experienced such darkness before in my life. As we left the sun above the clouds and entered the cool, gray night in Lexington, it seemed as if everything had changed. Yet, we knew that the One we love and serve hadn’t changed at all. Because our God is unchanging, we can face tomorrow with faith, not fear.

#205. How Pastors See God Working in COVID 19

I think the biggest lesson I’m learning, and maybe a lesson we are all learning in America right now, is the reality of ‘suffering for the Christian faith.

For Christ-followers, the cross is not just applied to us for our salvation, but is the path we walk for our sanctification and growth in the faith. In the words of author C.S. Lewis, “The cross, comes before the crown,” meaning that suffering in the Christian life is not just followed by glory, but suffering produces glory in the Christian life. For a prosperous nation and a generally prosperous church, God is showing us that living a faithful Christian life is much more like a J, than a ladder. Like our Savior, glory and redemption come through suffering, not through comfort. Our call as Christians is to persevere in our suffering by focusing on Christ who overcame on our behalf through perseverance.

As a college minister, I have seen many ways students are suffering, particularly during this worldwide health crisis. Just in the last six weeks, I’ve seen students going through real suffering. I’ve seen how this suffering is producing in them a greater joy and dependence upon Jesus. God is not ‘on pause’ until this suffering passes, but is actually working in and through the suffering to produce something in these students, and in each of us at this time. I’ve noticed this suffering in our seniors who are missing out on their last semester of college and long-awaited graduation festivities. I have also seen this heartache in one of our students, whose mom has been fighting for her life on a ventilator, due to COVID-19.

As day-to-day suffering has increased, so has the glory of Jesus Christ in the heart of these students. This is something that we desperately need to learn and lean into. I’m thankful to minister among college students who have shown me over and over again that, in Jesus, glory and suffering always go together. 

#204. How Pastors See God Working In COVID 19

 Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I am a chaplain in a state prison. I cannot give names or places per policy. However, I can speak anonymously about what God is doing at my institution through the COVID-19 pandemic. As I told a pastor friend, the Lord has multiplied my ministry through this crisis. Now staff and inmates are gathering in the chapel every morning at 10 a.m. for prayer. This is something that has never happened! Normally staff would never come to the chapel for prayer. Nevertheless, they have been faithful to pray alongside the inmates. Numerous staff have contacted me about anxiety and depression issues. I have been able to openly and compassionately proclaim Christ as King over this entire situation. Also, once a week I send out a short devotional encouragement email to over 500 staff members in two different institutions. Scripture is included and Jesus is exalted in these emails. Again, this is generally not allowed. However, the staff want and desperately need hope, joy and peace that God’s Word brings, so these emails are accepted with thanksgiving.

Our inmate population also seems to be looking to me as chaplain more during these challenging times. The inmates also have received global JPay messages from me. JPay is an electronic machine in the inmate dorms. The inmates send and receive messages from friends, family and others through JPay. As a section supervisor, I also have a JPay account, which allows me to send messages to a single inmate or the entire population. One inmate stopped me recently to ask why I have not sent more messages. Those inmates who come to the chapel seem to be more dedicated and sincere after this crisis.

#203. How Pastors See God Working In COVID 19

I am the pastor of an urban church. Our congregation is made up of young members. The nearly 30-year-old members are the old people at our church!

I have noticed in people that there’s a real sense that life’s not right and that maybe, for the first time, they can’t make it right. People can’t plan their futures. Some have lost their jobs. Some have a deep sense of loneliness that they previously drowned out with constant busyness. We live at a crazy pace and people are coming to the realization that they are exhausted and very lonely. People are ripe for the gospel. The views for our online services are 10 times the attendance we normally have in church. The church members in our small groups are still meeting once a week (virtually), and some are meeting twice a week, with the second meeting being set aside for prayer. We have added people to the small groups who weren’t previously in a group. There is a profound sense of need in people — and that is what Jesus is after — people who are in need.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (CSB)