Neighborly Love Podcast, Episode 20 – Hollis Haff

Ordinary People. Extraordinary Conversations.

If “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” collided at an intersection, then the Neighborly Love podcast would be the result. It features casual conversations over coffee in a “virtual coffee shop” that lean into the power of empathy. It’s about feeling heard, valued, and understood. It’s about serving others. It’s about depositing money in our relational banks.

Neighborly Love is an original podcast by MindWolves. Host Marc Casciani, author of Craft Your Calling, interviews ordinary people about their heart for God and serving other people for the greater good.

Hollis Haff

Marc interviews Hollis Haff, Regional Representative to PA, OH & WV for The Bonhoeffer Project. Fifty years into a ministry calling, Hollis is far from finished. He was one of the pioneers of pro sports ministry and served as Chaplain of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates from 1974 to 1988. He has helped to plant two churches in the Pittsburgh area and was the Founding and Senior Pastor of New Community Church in Wexford, PA.

Hollis answers three thought-provoking questions: (1) Tell me about a time when you did something nice for someone?, (2) What would you do for a living if money weren’t an issue?, and (3) Do you have a dream that involves serving others? Hollis tells a story about developing a daily discipline to love and serve others, affirms his life-long passion for disciple-making, and shares his dream of turning leaders into disciple-makers with strategic influence.

Neighborly Love, Episode 20 -Hollis Haff (4-29-22)

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Get in the Neighbor-Zone

There are some problems for which the solution is a win-win for everyone. However, they are rare. The most significant solutions are win-lose. Someone is going to lose in the short run. That’s the problem of life. You’re going to lose more often than you win. How one handles those losses make the difference in living a meaningful life versus one of emptiness and disappointment. Servant leadership (including leading yourself) is not the act of making everyone happy because that’s not possible. Rather, it’s showing up day-in, day-out to help others (who want to) get to a place where they are happy to be. No one can get there alone. We need an advocate. We need a helper.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.

– John 16:7, 13-15

The Holy Spirit was sent to be our Advocate. He is our Helper. He’s available to everyone, however, not everyone will seek His counsel. For some, we will open our minds and hearts to Him. For others, they will need intermediaries, their “neighbors,” to who they will listen. Jesus modeled what it was to be a neighbor because He had the Spirit of truth in Him. We have access to the same Spirit of truth and can exhibit the same behavior. When we do, we’re operating in the Neighbor-Zone. There are five actions to serve others in the Neighbor-Zone:

  1. Show up.
    • Don’t just tell people you love them. Show them. Don’t just talk the talk. Walk it. Humble yourself and meet them where they are, no matter how low that is.
  2. Make time for relationships.
    • Never be too busy to stop and care. Serve your family, colleagues at work, and neighbors in your community with intentionality.
  3. Comfort the brokenhearted.
    • Meet people in their uncertainty and fear. Don’t get frustrated by it. Consol those who are grieving. Ease doubts. Speak words of peace, love, and life.
  4. Redeem mistakes.
    • If anyone is without sin, then let them throw the first stone. The fact is, no one can make that claim. No one is perfect. No one’s value or identity should be bound to their past mistakes. Move on. Forgive. God reconciled us to himself through Jesus and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
  5. Instruct and empower.
    • “Go and do likewise.” That was the command Jesus gave to get in the Neighbor-Zone. It was the response to the question, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” He was referencing how the Good Samaritan treated the beaten man found on the side of the road … with compassion, mercy, and grace.

By taking these action steps, you will enter the Neighbor-Zone, a way of life that reveals the secret thread that forges friendship despite enormous differences in class, temperament, culture, race, sensibility, and personal history. A friendship that is about something. An underlying commonality that builds the most powerful, cohesive team. When you get in the Neighbor-Zone, you genuinely humanize others and are able to serve them as Jesus served when he walked the earth.

Working in the Neighbor-Zone

I believe in one God, Creator of the universe. That He governs it by His providence. That He ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable service we render to Him is doing good to His other children.

That the soul of man is immortal and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its covenant in this.

These I take to be the fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them in whatever sect I meet with them.

– Benjamin Franklin’s Creed

Benjamin Franklin was far from perfect. No mere human is. However, I find the creed by which he lived very inviting. Some might call it neighborly. In Philadelphia, PA, Ben Franklin’s adopted hometown, they call it brotherly. Whenever I’m tempted to discredit someone’s accomplishments because of their mistakes, failures, or sin, I’m reminded of a story in the Bible about a woman caught in adultery.

At dawn he (Jesus) appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

– John 8:2-11 (NIV)

When I’m tempted to judge someone because of their sin, I recall this story. In the back of my mind, I replay the statement Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Whenever I do this, I am unable to throw a stone.

Imagine living and working every day with this humble perspective. Let’s label it as working in the neighbor-zone. It makes me want to “go and do likewise.” In this context, “work” is not just your occupation, but entails every aspect of your life as a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, colleague, volunteer, and community member.

Jesus was a model worker. He tirelessly worked in the neighbor-zone. He was diligent, but not a workaholic. He knew how to pause, rest, and recharge to live up to the life which God called Him to live. He formed good daily work habits as He went about His Father’s business.

A sure approach to finding out what God wishes us to do is to emulate Jesus by working faithfully and conscientiously at the tasks that fall into our hands, always watching for the guidance that God will surely send our way. We shall never miss God’s call as long as we are on the path of duty in the neighbor-zone.

We may not clearly see where we are being led, but we can be certain that doing our present work as well and as thoroughly as possible is the best training for anything the future may hold for us. We are not above any work that falls in the neighbor-zone, even though it may seem to be useless and unimportant. Over and over, it is remarkable how things which at the time seemed to be of no importance turn out to be useful in shaping our character and purpose. In hindsight, when we reflect on the experience received, unconscious of its value at the moment, proved valuable fertilizer for the Fruit of the Spirit that God wanted to grow in our hearts.

Don’t allow pride, selfishness, or judgementalism to rob you of the joy of working in the neighbor-zone. We are all flawed and sinners, but we are all wired to derive pleasure from our work. When we work in the neighbor-zone, the joy from every job well done will take us into deeper fellowship with our Creator and our neighbors.

Finding Happiness in the Neighbor-Zone

The pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right with which we are endowed by our Creator. That is a self-evident truth as stated in the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. It’s as true today as it was in 1776.

As with any pursuit, it’s always helpful to know where you’re going. Without an aiming point, we tend to wander and fall prey to temptations we believe will make us happy. Those distractions only lead to disappointment and greater distance from that in which true happiness is found.

Since we are created in the image of Nature’s God, it’s worth exploring where and how He experienced happiness. As He was creating the world, God experienced happiness after He created something good. In the book of Genesis, scripture describes God as pausing six times. In each pause, He found satisfaction with His work. This is the first evidence of job satisfaction, and therefore, we can see that job satisfaction is a holy and godly emotion. We are wired to derive pleasure from our work just as God derived pleasure from His work.

Where was God’s happiness found? In creating something for the benefit of humankind. Just as God’s satisfaction was found in serving others, we too are happiest when we create something for the benefit of others. In other words, we are happiest when we are serving our “neighbors” with our work efforts. In this context, happiness is not something we chase after, but rather something that is caught when we pause to recognize God’s goodness in it. When we view our work this way, we operate in the Neighbor-Zone.

The opposite of the Neighbor-Zone is the Selfish-Zone. When someone is working in the Selfish-Zone, they are faithless, self-seeking, ungrateful, deny God’s goodness, and rob God of His glory by stealing it for their own self-interest. They become greedy, envyous, jealous, restless, and deeply unhappy. They are never satisfied in their pursuit of happiness.

When someone is working in the Neighbor-Zone, they are faithful, selfless, humble, grateful, and give God the credit. They become more and more generous, giving, peaceful, and satisfied as they serve others. When we’re operating in the Neighbor-Zone, our work and the pleasure from every job well done will take us deeper into fellowship with our Creator.

In the Neighbor-Zone, happiness is not something pursued but found.

The American Nightmare

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity, success, and upward social mobility achieved through hard work. It is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success. The American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The old American Dream was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard,” of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The current American Dream seems to be of men and women not content to accumulate slowly, but rather craving instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck, at the expense of others. It seems like Americans perceive the Dream as a Lottery, which is actually a Nightmare from which we need to wake up.

Martin Luther King Jr., in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963) eloquently stated:

We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. (page 848 in attached PDF)

One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. (page 849 in attached PDF)

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Just as with African-Americans’ quest for the American Dream at the heart of the civil rights movement, our quest today is still to fight for all disinherited children of God. That is the only way to wake up from this nightmare and bring our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers.

Do we really understand how far the American Dream is from God’s dream for us? We need to view our work as an avenue to live out God’s purpose for our lives, not hit the American Lottery. Our work is one of the primary ways in which we love our neighbors and serve the world. Understanding that every day our workplace and neighborhood present us with opportunities to either work for God or ourselves is essential to resolving the tension and discord that exists in America today.

The “Pursuit of Happiness” in our work is a holy emotion and an inherently good thing designed by God to reveal His character as we love and serve others. It is rooted in the Selfless-Zone, not the Selfish-Zone. We inherited it from God when we were created in His image. Because of this, ambition for our work which drives our hustle is a good thing when it’s accompanied by trusting and glorifying God, not ourselves.

Neighborly Love Podcast, Episode 19 – Rev. Paul T. Abernathy, MPIA, MDiv

Ordinary People. Extraordinary Conversations.

If “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” collided at an intersection, then the Neighborly Love podcast would be the result. It features casual conversations over coffee in a “virtual coffee shop” that lean into the power of empathy. It’s about feeling heard, valued, and understood. It’s about serving others. It’s about depositing money in our relational banks.

Neighborly Love is an original podcast by MindWolves. Host Marc Casciani, author of Craft Your Calling, interviews ordinary people about their heart for God and serving other people for the greater good.

Rev. Paul T. Abernathy, MPIA, MDiv

Marc interviews Rev. Paul T. Abernathy, CEO at Neighborhood Resilience Project and author of The Prayer of a Broken Heart: An Orthodox Christian Reflection on African American Spirituality. Rev. Paul answers three thought-provoking questions: (1) Tell me about a time when you did something nice for someone?, (2) What would you do for a living if money weren’t an issue?, and (3) Do you have a dream that involves serving others? Father Paul tells a story about feeding hungry children in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, affirms how and why he found his calling and shares his dream for trauma-informed community development. Father Paul has a passion for creating resilient healing and healthy communities, one block at a time, which is rooted in the Gospel and teaching of the Orthodox Church and inspired by the Civil Rights Movement in America during the 1950s & 1960s.

Neighborly Love, Episode 19 – Rev. Paul T. Abernathy, MPIA, MDiv (3-29-22)

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The Problem with Grace

Mister Fred Rogers

When you think about the day-to-day mechanics of life, certainly in America and most of the modern world, how would you answer the question, “Who is the greatest?

Did you think about something along the lines …

  • The team who won.
  • The athlete who had the most points.
  • The student who was valedictorian.
  • The man who was salesperson of the year.
  • The black woman who climbed the corporate ladder, smashed the glass ceiling and became CEO.

In other words, the one who came out on top.

Or, did you think about something like this …

The one who, by their willing service, helped others come out on top.

Sadly, most of us would have thought the former, not the latter. Why? It’s because we have an honor deficit.

The normal way of life, generally speaking, is one based on merit. Our socioeconomic system is based on performance and earning our keep. The “what have you done for me lately?” mindset is ubiquitous in corporate America. If one achieves, one is rewarded. If you do not achieve or work for your earnings, then you fall short of the honor and rewards that come with that. That’s the honor deficit. Moreover, the honor deficit becomes intrinsically linked to a person’s identity and value. That’s actually more than sad. It’s a sin.

What’s the appropriate response to the honor deficit? Ignore it. Enable it. Widen it and create a deeper chasm between the “honorable” and the “dishonorable?” Alternatively, should we acknowledge it and teach grace as a solution? I say let’s teach grace, and there’s a Hebrew word that captures the spirit of grace in action, chesed.

The word chesed (pronounced hess-ed) means kindness or love between people. It is traditionally translated as “loving-kindness.” It is taking action on behalf of someone who needs mercy, compassion, love, and grace, and taking action means “walking the walk.”

  • Loving someone who needs love.
  • Giving mercy to someone who needs mercy.
  • Giving forgiveness to someone who needs forgiveness.
  • Being kind to those who need kindness.

The problem with grace is that it’s unfair. Why should a homeless person or welfare recipient receive my hard-earned money if they chose not to work? Have you ever thought this? The alarm on my fairness meter sounds. How unfair, unjust. What about the investment of time, effort, energy, money, and hard work it took me to get to this quality of life? What about all the real and perceived odds I had to overcome? Whenever I find myself thinking like this, the Holy Spirit reminds me that I would be nothing if it were not for God. The Spirit helps me turn off my fairness alarm pretty quickly. The reality is we’re all bums who have not earned one thing we enjoy. I was a panhandler at an intersection when Christ gave me the bread of life to eat. Who am I to deny grace a fellow human created in God’s image, when I myself was redeemed by God’s grace.

God does not assign honor to those with certain gifts, economic status, or even ethnicity. Those that lack honor are the ones who qualify for special honor. Those with an honor deficit are at the front of the line from God’s perspective, and we are called to give them even greater honor.

Don’t just take my word for it. Jesus himself tells a parable about it in the Bible.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 NIV

The next time you find yourself patting yourself on the back, or arguing about who is considered the greatest, remember true greatness is not being above others, lording over them, or exercising authority over them. We are not to be like that. Rather, the greatest among us should be like the least, and the one who leads like the one who serves.

The GOAT Identity Thief

There’s much talk today about identity theft. It happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud. The identity thief may use your information to apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name.

2007 Advertisement for LifeLock’s Identity Protection Service

The ubiquitous nature of the Internet has made identity theft easy and prevalent over the past 15+ years. One of the first companies on the scene to combat it was LifeLock, which was founded in 2005. In 2007 then CEO, Todd Davis, ran advertisements with his social security number. I remember driving on the PA Turnpike seeing billboards with the ad. It’s my earliest memory of the topic of identity theft. Since then, I’ve been prudent about protecting my and my family’s identity. LifeLock was acquired by computer security software company Symantec in 2017 and later rebranded to Norton LifeLock. I still subscribe to their identity protection services.

Since humans appeared on Earth, we’ve been vulnerable to identity theft. Our identity is in our Creator, however, Satan wants to confuse us about it. He wants to rob us of all the wonderful uniqueness and talents we have instilled in us by God. He’s successful in getting us to pick up other means of identity such as race. This confusion is one of the reasons that racism still exists and reconciliation between races has not occurred. Its what makes Satan the GOAT (greatest of all time) identity thief.

The Holy Spirit is our greatest gift and protection against Satan’s identity theft. When we receive the Spirit, we have a Helper to clarify the confusion of our identity. Only the Spirit can bring unity between broken, competitive, and needy people. Only through the Spirit do we have the ability to love and accept others regardless of their color, class, or culture. We can not be selfless in our own strength. We need the Helper to pursue unity through humility.

We must view our identity as an avenue to live out God’s purpose for our lives. Our identities are intrinsically linked to our purpose … not our race, not our color, not our job, not our house, not our car, not our status. Our identity is not separate from our purpose, but rather a conduit for it.

Joy is a holy emotion that we inherited from God when we were created in His image. Our identity is rooted in that joy. Don’t be confused by Satan’s schemes. Don’t let him make you question who you are and whose you are.

Identity is so important because who you perceive yourself to be will determine your actions. God does not ask we deny our race or culture, but He asks that those things do not get in the way of our commitment to Him and to each other.

Your Time is Not Yours

Elitism is an attitude of superiority that lifts some people up while demeaning others. Racism is speaking, acting, or thinking negatively about someone else solely based on their color, class, or culture. Elitism and Racism are siblings. Their parents are Evil and Sin. Anybody, no matter their color, class, or culture, can be an elitist or racist. No one has a monopoly on either.

Both involve mindsets that use illegitimate criteria by which to judge people. Mister Fred Rogers once said, “I think those that who would try to make you feel less than who you are … I think that’s the greatest evil.” Both involve mindsets that try to make someone feel better about themselves at the expense of someone else. They are the greatest evil.

They discriminate against people based on false conclusions and distorted worldviews, making some superior and others inferior. They make irrational distinctions among people based on color, class, or culture. Both serve to kill unity, rather than to unite.

The best way to eradicate Elitism and Racism is by fostering Love, Humility, and Forgiveness in the minds and hearts of humans. We have to reframe our daily interactions with each other to eliminate snap judgments. Snap reactions seem to dictate our pace of life these days. The antidote to snap judgment is self-control.

It’s Not About You. Your time is not yours.

Growing in self-control is crucial if we are to frame the world correctly. Our reactions are linked to our framing, and they often reveal subtle subconscious assumptions in our minds. If you’re easily irritated or angered, then usually what produces it is a snap judgment, a misfortune to you conceive as an injury to yourself. You feel angry because a legitimate claim against you has been denied. What’s your framing? Hardship as a violation of a claim. Nothing throws you into a passion so easily as a tract of time unexpectedly taken from you. You become irritated because you regard your time as your own and feel it’s being stolen. That is the subconscious assumption, “My time is my own.” Therefore, reframing our view of time is essential in growing in self-control and shaping ourselves to be less self-centered. This reframing will allow us to grow in humility and value others above ourselves. Understanding “your time is not yours” and “it’s not about you” is the key to unlocking the antidote.

Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind.

To reframe your view of time, awareness of the daily patterns shaping your framing is important. A useful tool to help you do that is scripture. In the Bible, Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In other words, don’t frame reality the way the world frames reality. Its pattern is not to be your pattern. Instead, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Reading scripture fills your mind with God’s Word, which empowers your mind to be renewed and your reality to be framed correctly, i.e. the way God wants it to be framed.

Hurt (adjective) People Hurt (verb) People

Whenever I see someone lash out at another person, I’ve grown to ask myself, “What are they hurting from?” You see, pain is perpetuating. Hurt (adjective) people hurt (verb) people. This is why I make love a priority every day I’m blessed with another one to live.

Won’t you join me to make love a priority this day? Is it more important to be right when you argue, or are you motivated primarily by love for lost people? Chose the latter.

Do you seek to treat a person with love, no matter what is going on? If love is not a priority for you, repent this day and strive to make expressing love part of your nature. I’m far from where I want to be in this area, however, kindly let me share what I’m doing with the end goal to master the art of loving lost people.

Some of us, including me, have endured traumatic events in our lives, and because of God’s grace, we have survived, been redeemed, and been given a new mind and heart. This isn’t the case for everyone. The very pain and turmoil some have experienced is what led them to turn from God. Because of that, their viewpoint will look quite different from ours.

When someone hurts us or someone else, there is usually an underlying reason for it. It’s ok to allow yourself or the other victim to feel the pain, but ask God for the strength to endure and forgive the offender. Relinquish the right to get even, and let God settle the score according to His timeline and wisdom. When you do that, you’re free to express love. You are free to see the offender as a person who is hurting. You’re able to see them as someone of value because God created them in the same image as you. You can demonstrate humility and empathy and understand you are representing God’s Spirit. In fact, you might be the catalyst that God uses to change their life.

Often, when we’re hurt or when someone simply disagrees with us, our anger rises and we want to defend ourselves. It’s in these moments where we can, and should, speak the truth, but simultaneously allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to control our response. When we talk and walk with the Spirit as our Helper, we exhibit His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. The best thing for us to do is represent God’s character by showing love, respect, and empathy, all covered with equal parts truth and grace.

When you have a new mind and heart, you’re equipped to share His light. You’re empowered to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility treat others more valuable than yourself. Yes, even those who hurt or disagree with you.

Sure, you may think I’m weird. Sure, it may be a little awkward. But, He’s called me to help.

Please join me in setting aside pride, seeking humility, and loving others whatever the cost. Remember that hurt people hurt people and they need someone like us in their lives to model God’s loving heart. Let’s rally around that shared purpose and vision.

Unity is not uniformity. It’s not about being right, or the same, or agreeing all the time. Unity is when a group of people is characterized by a shared purpose, vision, and direction. May that direction be loving lost people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We change the world one heart, one person at a time. The world can be a better place because you were born into it. And I’m grateful that you were.

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