You Have To Go Out, But You Don’t Have To Come Back

On Nantucket Island, there is a little museum devoted to a volunteer organization formed centuries ago.

In those days, travel by sea was extremely dangerous. Because of the storms in the Atlantic along the rocky coast of Massachusetts, many lives would be lost within a mile or so of land.

So a group of volunteers went into the life-saving business. They banded together to form what was called the Humane Society.

These people built little huts all along the shore. They had people watching the sea all the time. Whenever a ship went down, the word would go out, and these people would devote everything to save every life they could.

They did not put themselves at risk for money or fame, but only because they prized human life.

In fact they adopted a motto that said: “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.” Not a great recruiting slogan is it?

These were people who would risk everything—even their lives—to save people they had never met.

But over time, things changed.

After a while, the U.S. Coast Guard began to take over the task of rescue. Eventually, the idea that carried the day was, “Let the professionals do it. They’re better trained. They get paid for it.”

Volunteers stopped searching the coastlines for ships in danger. They stopped sending teams out to rescue drowning people.

Yet, a strange thing happened: They couldn’t bring themselves to disband. The life-saving society still exists today. The members meet every once in a while to have dinners. They are just not in the life-saving business anymore.

Two thousand years ago, a band of rag-tag followers of Jesus began to meet regularly to pray and strategize how they could rescue a ship-wrecked world.

It was a calling they took seriously.
Their motto was, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”

The writer of Acts wrote as they embraced this slogan that “…they(the church) added to their number daily.”

Followers of Jesus were known as people who would adopt abandoned children, serve the poor, fight and die for justice, and stay in plague-filled cities to care for the sick, while others fled to safe places.

Rulers and governments were intrigued, confused and threatened by the willingness to give their life for others.

The early church left a permanent mark in the secular history books of the day.

What will history write about today’s church?
It was willing to go out, but it did not having to come back?
Or, it was judgmental, exclusive, irrelevant, fearful, turned it over to professionals, no longer in the life saving business but kept having meetings?

Peter Drucker says “It’s the human propensity to start with a clear vision and to get it muddied up along the way. It’s just kind of what happens to human beings in organizations.”

How badly the church is missed in our culture.
Yet there seems to be a church on every corner.
How can the church be missed when it is all around us?

The prophet Isaiah said that when the church is busy with meetings it becomes powerless.

The churches power comes from caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, fighting injustice, and protecting widows and orphans.

The impact of the church is not predicated on frequency of meetings and the eloquent nature of its rhetoric.
Its impact is not determined by a nice, accessible location.

The impact of the church has to do with its willingness to lay its life down for a ship-wrecked world.

When the church begins to re-live the motto, “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back”, it will become relevant once again.

Let me share with you the Green Valley Life-Saving “Dream”.

The Green Valley dream is a dream where those who are hurting, hopeless, discouraged, frustrated or confused can find love, acceptance, guidance, hope, encouragement and forgiveness.

It is a dream of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in our community and beyond to the world.

It is a dream of thousands of people growing together in spiritual maturity through learning together, serving together, loving together, laughing together and giving together.

It is a dream where our love for one another would attract people to Christ.

It is a dream where people will look at Green Valley and say “Wow, church is a good thing!”

It is a dream where every person uses their time, talents, passions and resources for God’s purposes so that we honor God, by giving him our all, by giving him our best.

It is a dream where we continually reach back to invest in a new generation of children and youth who are our future leaders. It is where we look beneath the surface of their lives and see God’s gifts and potential in them.

It is a dream where we will serve the poor, take care of the sick, and love those who have walked down the wrong paths of life because that is where you actually meet Christ.

It is a dream that we will keep simple. LOVE GOD, LOVE PEOPLE. And we will allow no other issues to get in our way.

It is a dream where we will constantly put ourselves in situations where we can’t do it ourselves, so that we will have to trust God and see him do amazing things.

It is a dream to never play it safe, but actually believe that God came to seek and save the lost. And actually believe that God told us that we must lose our lives in order to save them.


It is a dream where He says, “Make yourself fully available to me. Fully available in your worship, talents, passions and resources. Fully available to love one another, forgive one another and serve one another. Make yourself fully, wholly, unconditionally, unreservedly, unashamedly available to me and I will blow your socks off with the miracles that I want to do.”

God says today, “Dreams do come true!”

The Definition of Courageous

The definition of courageous is “not deterred by danger or pain; brave”.

I met a truly “courageous” person when I traveled to New Delhi, India during the summer of 2011.

Her name was Surinder Kaur

I was there to help raise awareness and money towards fighting human trafficking.
Specifically, underage sex trafficking.

She was there to stop underage sex trafficking even if it meant giving up her life.

Human trafficking has become the third largest illegal trade in the world, behind illegal arms and drugs.

In New Delhi sex trafficking is a growing industry where young girls are being held as slaves to make huge amounts of money for brothel owners.

It is an atrocity that is hard to describe.
It is an injustice that many are still ignoring.

Underage girls being sold into prostitution because of poverty, greed and pure evilness.
The younger the girl, the more money they make for the brothel.

I took a photographer with me and walked through New Delhi’s largest red light district—G.B. Road–home to over 2000 prostitutes, many who are underage.

While walking the road you can look up and see young teenage girls beckoning you up to their rooms, hoping for business, hoping to suffice the anger of their madams when business is slow.

Many of the young girls were holding babies.

It was the most emotionally nauseating walk I have ever made. The spiritual darkness was so heavy it was hard to breath.

Seeing western business men and local men in their forties, fifties and sixties walking into those buildings made me want to throw up.

There was an impulse to grab them, shake them and ask them if they were proud of what they were doing.

My guide could tell how much I was disturbed and told me to pray. Pray for the girls. Pray for the police. Pray for India.

After the devastating walk, my photographer and I met this woman of courage, Surinder Kaur.

She was the local police chief, known as a Station House Officer, and she was new to the area. She had just received the International CNN Hero of the Year Award for fighting sex trafficking.

Her first impression was that of beauty and grace, not of tenacity and courage. But we soon learned that those things are very powerful together.

As we sat down in her office, she told us that the police station she was now in charge of had existed since 1954 and the police chiefs over the years had been men who were bought off by the brothel owners.

Surinder was the second woman police chief and while the first one was intimated to fight, she said this was why God had created her, to fight injustice, to stand up for children.

She had set up a make shift bedroom attached to her office so she could be on call for these girls.

“I do not want any underage girls working here. They are children. My goal is to shut this district down.” Kaur told us.

Since becoming officer in charge of G.B. Road two years ago, Kaur has rescued over 100 minor girls. Before she was there, only 4 or 5 girls had ever been rescued over the previous 5 decades.

She told us that, “In the past, everyone knew the police were involved with the brothel owners…so no one passed information to the police. When I got here, I took the challenge. I developed trust with the public. Now we are working together.”

She went on to say, “It is an everyday challenge filled with physical danger, death threats and wondering who has taken a bribe and who can you trust. The hard part is that it is not illegal for women 18 and older to be prostitutes, but many are underage and most are illegally trafficked from other parts of India and Bangladesh and Nepal. My focus is minor girls. My mission is to rescue them all.”

A few weeks before we arrived, Kaur and her team had raided a brothel on G.B. Road after being tipped off that minors were working there. They rescued 9 girls. 5 were under age, one was 10 years old.

Since the 2 years Kaur has been working the G.B. Road, they have arrested 27 brothel owners, a number unheard of before she arrived.

Some good news on this very dark subject is that rescue efforts are becoming more common in India as awareness goes up and police make them a priority.

Books like “Half the Sky” are raising awareness about human trafficking. @half @NickKristof
An organization like International Justice Mission is rescuing children all around the world. @IJMHQ @garyhaugen

The police have also become more sensitized toward prostitutes and are now seeing girls as victims rather than criminals.

Kaur told us, “Why would a girl want to be rescued and then prosecuted as a criminal. That is why girls won’t reveal their real age. Once they know that they will be treated as a victim, they are much more willing to be honest about their age.”

Just before our time was done, Surinder told me something that made me smile, while putting a chill down my spine,

“When I started here at the G.B. Road station, I went to all the brothels and told the madams that I wanted to talk to the girls. I told the madams that they could stay in the room while I talked.”

Then Surinder Kaur, this beautiful, 50-something Indian woman looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Ken, I put my phone number up on all the walls and told the girls that if they wanted to get out to call me and I would get them out immediately. And then I looked at the madams and told them, ‘And if you take my number off the wall, I will kill you.’”

Looking into her eyes, I believed her.

“Rescuing children has become my life’s calling,” Kaur told us, “It is this century’s demand that we have to change.”

Sadly, since my visit, Surinder Kaur has been transferred to another area of town, far away from the G.B. Road.

Hmm? I wonder why?

Courageous: “not deterred by danger or pain; brave”

Standing on Tip Toes, Hoping I Can See the Ground

Feels like a desert rain, more like a hurricane
Looks like a thorny rose, dressed in God’s own clothes
Sounds like a distant sound, hope a melody is found

Kaleidoscope of views, while no ones in the pews
Born to posture, ever changing roster
Striving to succeed, punishment follows good deeds

I pour out my heart, pour out my love
I pour out my heart, pour out my love
Need a shot of novacaine, to ease the pain
Need a cold heart to heat, finding meaning between the beats

Fighting a resilient rage, trying to turn the page
Searching for sunny days, clouds stay in my way
Overwhelmed, a stunning view, pleasures all too few

I pour out my heart, pour out my love
I pour out my heart, pour out my love
Need a shot of novacaine, to ease the pain
Need a cold heart to heat, finding meaning between the beats

Addicted to life that’s bitter, sober thoughts of life that’s better
Eyes set on morning after, darkness shrouds future laughter
Standing on tip toes, hoping I can see the ground

I pour out my heart, pour out my love
I pour out my heart, pour out my love
Need a shot of novacaine, to ease the pain
Need a cold heart to heat, finding meaning between the beats

Sense a new day is coming, need a new way of thinking
Sense a new hunger for learning, need a new way of teaching
Sense a new redemption, a new way of salvation

I pour out my heart, pour out my love
I pour out my heart, pour out my love
No need for novacaine, there’s a new meaning to pain
My cold heart heats, my new heart beats
I am done with the chase, unwrapped by the gift of GRACE

The Most Important Thing in the World

I wrote this poem about the most important thing in the world:

“It is hard to explain, but you know it when you see it.
It is meek, but you can’t contain it

Hard to grasp, but you know when it’s around.
It is hard to teach, but it can be found.

Exceedingly quiet, while deafening loud.
It is extraordinarily humble, yet aptly proud.

Thieves want to own it, but it cannot be stolen.
Many are for the strong, It is for the broken.

No one’s ever dreamed it.
No one’s ever owned it.
No one’s ever bought it.
You just get it when you receive it.

No politics can claim it.
No business can sell it.
No celebrity can wear it.
The poor and outcast possess it.

It is private, yet transforms communities.
Largely diverse, yet brings unity.

It is unfair, yet purely just.
More powerful than our strongest lusts.

Often emulated, yet falling short.
Eye for an eye, it is karmas retort

Always talked about, yet seldom shown.
It is something you must experience to be known.

It is not so much a destination, than an eternal trip
You can’t get by trying, you just open the gift.

It is multi-faceted, never looking the same.
It is the one thing that will never change.”

This poem is about Grace.
Grace is a scandalous thing.
It will get you kicked out of your religion
It has gotten quite a few people killed.
Yet, Grace is the only hope for you, me and our world.

I am hesitant to try to explain Grace in a simple sentence or catch phrase.

Grace is better caught than taught.

When Bill Hybels said, “You have never looked in the eyes of a person Jesus didn’t die for”, that is a picture of Grace.

When the Apostle Paul said, “We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standards, but the free gift of salvation is given to us through Jesus, His Son, through the work on the cross”, that is a picture of Grace.

When we forgive our enemy, serve the poor, fight injustice, love someone who is different than us ethically, politically, or spiritually, that is a picture of Grace.

Mercy is God NOT giving us what we deserve.
Grace is God GIVING us what we don’t deserve.

Grace offers forgiveness, eternity, power to forgive, endurance, joy, peace, and a lot of other things we could never have or do on our own.

Grace is a gift and is the only thing that can heal this tired, old world.

I think the most important thing the church should focus on is showing God’s Grace in practical, life-giving ways.

The one thing the church has to offer that no other organization can offer is Grace.

Yet, if you were to ask the average person on the street what word would they use to describe the church, do you think “Grace” would be on the first page of the list.

Programs, religion, judging, theology, hypocrisy, political, rules and rituals might top the list.
In my “unscientific” poll, Grace has rarely appeared.

Look around and see how we’re doing outside of Grace?

Why can’t Israel and Palestine find peace?

Why do we even have words and terms in our vocabulary like ethnic cleansing?

Why didn’t Bob Jones University, which is a Christian university, allow African-American students to enroll until 1975?

Why in 2010 did a white pastor from Mississippi get fired from his church by adopting two children who were African American? Because his white elder board said so!

When Ghandi was a young man practicing law in South Africa, he had become attracted to the teachings of Jesus and so decided to attend a church service.
As he came up the steps of the large church, a white South African elder barred his way at the door and said with a belligerent voice, “Where do you think you are going, kaffir(a racist term)?”
Ghandi replied, “I’d like to attend worship here.”
The elder snarled at him, “There’s no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.”
From that moment, Ghandi said he decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity, but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church.

Once, when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Ghandi he asked, “Mr. Ghandi, though you often quote the words of Christ, you seem adamant against becoming his follower?”
Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

The church should not have the same reputation, if not worse than the world!

Take a look across your life right now. Where is Grace missing?

When was the last time you prayed for a militant Muslim to find Christ?

When was the last time you prayed for someone on the other side of the political isle to be blessed?

When was the last time you prayed for your enemy?

That is a picture of Grace.

Let me finish with another picture of Grace.

I was in San Antonio, Texas. I was at a restaurant near the hotel I was staying at, and I began talking to my server, whose name was Niesha, who was a very nice, outgoing young lady who was genuinely interested about why I was in San Antonio.

She reinforced the theme that since I had arrived in town
people from San Antonio seemed extremely friendly.

Being from California, I was not used to this kind of genuine hospitality.
In California, when someone is nice to you, there is usually an alternative motive.
But in San Antonio, it seemed like everyone was genuinely kind and gracious.

I told Niesha that I was pleasantly surprised how everyone was so kind to one another in San Antonio, herself included.

I asked her how long she had lived there.
She said she had only lived in San Antonio for 6 months.

She had lived in Mobile, Alabama her whole life but her home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and she had escaped, safely, with her only son while pregnant with the second.

As a single mom, she had no where to go, but she had some family in San Antonio, and so here she was. She could not take credit for being a kind resident of San Antonio.

I asked her, “Are you going to go back to Mobile eventually?”
She said, “Probably not.. It was time for a new start.”

Niesha then told me her story.
She had grown up in Mobile, Alabama.
As an African American woman in the south, she didn’t grow up with a lot of dreams. There was no one telling her to do great things, to better herself.

But she did have a dream.
Her whole childhood, she was drawn toward deaf people and wanting to help them communicate.

She did what no one encouraged her to do.
She went to college.
When she was a few credits away from getting her degree in sign language she got pregnant.
The stereotyping and judging began.

People close to her told her to get practical and quit going after these silly dreams. She lowered herself to the view of the people around her.

She quit school and worked as a waitress thinking, “It was silly to dream. It is my own fault. I deserve this. This is my life.”

After giving birth to a precious healthy son, she got pregnant again.
Still single, it just reinforced the image people around her had.

Here’s the picture:
A single, African American mom, in the south, pregnant again, with her dream of teaching the deaf over.
Her life was in survival mode.
Then came Hurricane Katrina.
She lost it all. Her material possessions. Her home. Her shelter.
The only thing she had was her son, the clothes on her back and the baby in her belly.
She arrived in San Antonio, Texas to continue her plight.
She gave birth to her second son, got a job at a restaurant, and a few months later, I’m sitting talking to her, listening to her story.

As I was sitting there, I had a thought.

For most of her whole life, no one had ever told her to dream. No one had ever told her how smart she was.
No one ever applauded her desire to serve the deaf.
No one ever celebrated her hard work.
No one had ever bestowed Grace on her.
She had been judged, used, ignored and forgotten.

I thought, this is no accidental meeting.
I thought of the words of Proverbs 31:8 “We must be a voice for the people who have no voice.”
That is another picture of what Grace looks like.

Niesha had no voice. And the voices around her were all negative.

I told her, “I don’t think your dream is over, in fact, I think your dream has new life. Sometimes it takes a hurricane in our life to get us back on track. This time the hurricane was literal. You were stuck in Mobile with all the stereotyping and negative voices telling you to aim low, but you have been relocated to a new place of hope. A place of renewal. A place where you can get back on track for your dream. A place of Grace. It is no coincidence that we have met, and I want to tell you, not in a mystical way, or prideful way, but in a very humble way, God has put us together so you can hear a voice of hope. YOUR DREAM IS NOT OVER.”

As I was sharing, tears began to run down her face, and then she quickly turned and ran to the back.
I wasn’t sure what to think.

When she came back, there were still remnants of her tears, but she had a huge smile on her face, she sat down at my table and said, “I told my manager I was on break, and he said OK, so let’s talk some more.”

We talked about Grace, second chances, being created in God’s image, Jesus’ love, the plans He has for us, and how she has to finish her degree and that I was going to hold her accountable.

By the end of that conversation she was so fired up. She had gone from hopelessness to a renewed dream.

Niesha graduated with her degree.
Surprisingly, she is working with the deaf back in her hometown of Mobile, Alabama, where she is a setting a new example for young people to aim high and dream big.

Niesha is also offering Grace to deaf students who too often are judged, marginalized and ignored in our world.

Niesha is another picture of Grace.

It is a scandalous thing.
It will get you kicked out of your religion
It has gotten quite a few people killed.
Yet, Grace is the only hope for you, me and our world.

Who is My Neighbor?

Let me tell you one of the most powerful and clear stories Jesus told about how we are to love.
Jesus’ story will be in quotes.
My comments will be in parenthesis.

“One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”
The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

(Give the man a gold star on his forehead!)

“The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

(Paraphrased: Life is busy. There is a lot to do. It is very important to know who our neighbor is so we do not, by accident, love someone who is not our neighbor. That would be a waste of time.) Sarcasm noted.

“Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along…”

(Well thank God! This Jewish man is very fortunate, actually blessed to have a priest from his religion come along. This is going to be exciting to see how he helps.)

“But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by…”


“A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there…”

(Well, thank God again! Maybe the priest knew that the assistant was coming along and had better gifts to help this half-dead beaten up fellow Jew)

“…but he also passed by on the other side.”

(Double what!?)

“Then a despised Samaritan came along…”

(Oh, this is not going to be good. The Samaritans and Jews did not get along. There was a lot of prejudice between them. You could even call them enemies. Jews would take longer trips just so they didn’t have to through a Samaritan village. Jews and Samaritans didn’t touch each other. If this half dead guy didn’t get help from his Jewish brothers, well, I don’t know if he is going to live.)

“…and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.”

(What in the world is going on!!?)

“The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

(Wow! The man who asked Jesus “who is my neighbor” is probably regretting ever asking the question.)

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.
The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

The Good Samaritan, as this story has come to be known, loved his enemy, loved a stranger, and loved a broken person.

These are our neighbors.

At Ashley Wyrick’s high school graduation, she received the normal kind of gifts that graduates get: an iPhone, a digital camera and some clothes.

But Ashley received something else that day that didn’t seem much to those watching, but to her, it was a gift that brought her to tears of thankfulness and joy.

It was a big white box from her godfather, Steve Gibbons, where she received from him his old patrolman’s uniform jacket, size 42.

When she opened it up, she couldn’t hold back her emotions, for that jacket, 18 years earlier had been her first baby blanket.

In 1987, in Redwood City, California, in the cold month of December, 30 year old Highway Patrol officer Steve Gibbons pulled to the side of the road to stretch his legs when he noticed a brown paper bag that was whimpering.

He walked over to the bag and opened it and there was little newborn Ashley, all 6lb., 4oz. of her. Officer Gibbons wrapped this precious, abandoned girl in his patrolman’s jacket and rushed her to the hospital.

18 years later, Ashley, holding that jacket, was reminded of her miracle rescue.

The scriptures teach us that Jesus is watching how we treat and rescue those beaten, broken and abandoned by the side of the road.

For many of us, God has come and rescued us while we were beaten and robbed on the road of life.

He has helped us overcome addictions, grow in character, understand faith, heal our emotional wounds, forgive those who have hurt us and remove the shame of bad decisions.

If God has done those things for you, THAT’S CALLED A MIRACLE.

It’s a miracle that we should never take for granted and it’s a miracle that we are now responsible to pay forward.

With the same comfort God has given you, comfort others.

The writer of Proverbs reminds us “To be a voice for the voiceless.”

There is a sign in the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. that says, “Thou shall not be a victim. Thou shall not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shall not be a bystander.”

If God has rescued you from the side of the road, then Jesus says to you, “Go now and do the same.”

I’m Caught in a Contradiction, and I Can’t Get Out of It

Don’t be afraid to find yourself right in the middle of a contradiction.
It is usually where God grows your faith.

Everyone deals with doubt and insecurity.
Everyone deals with lust and selfish desires.
Everyone deals with fears and worry.
Everyone lives in the paradox…
…I am strong, I am weak,
I am handsome, I am ugly,
I am thin, I am fat,
I am caring, I am selfish,
I am in control, I am falling apart,
I am at peace, I am afraid,
I am Godly, I am a heathen,
I am forgiven, I am ashamed,
I am smart, I am dumb,
I am special, I am nobody,
I am patient, I can’t wait,
I am a faith giant, I am full of doubt,
I am excited, I am depressed,
I am in awe, I am unimpressed,
I am strong, I am weak,
I am going to make it, I am not sure I can…

Our faith grows the strongest when we are not depending on our strength, intellect and resources.
Our roots grow deep when we stop trying to control, stop trying to overcome, and we surrender our fragile egos at the footsteps of the door of Grace.

The Apostle Paul reminds me of something I quickly forget, “We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

If I wait for my contradictions to go away, I will never live.

Paul, this hero of faith, brags about his superhero strength when he says, “I do what I know I shouldn’t do, and I don’t do what I know I should.”

He then says to the church in Philippi, “Follow me, and you will experience peace”.
He was living in the reality of the contradiction that he was called to lead others by his example yet he did not have the strength, on his own, to lead well.

He had to depend fully on the power of God and His Grace.

Paul challenged the Galatians that “God gives you His Spirit and works through you to offer people His hope not because you are strong enough to follow the law, but because you received the Good News of His Grace and are allowing His power to work through you.”

It is easy to discount my faith and the purpose God has for me when I allow my contradictions to control me..

I must fully embrace the contradiction that in my weakness, He is strong.

I must remind myself that even though I can’t solve everyone’s problems and change the world in a day, that I do have the most powerful force living in me, God’s love, hope and Grace.

When I do that, I become more powerful than I can ever imagine.

In his book The Easy Yoke, Doug Webster tells a story about an idealistic college student who ended up on a mission trip to one of the more dangerous housing projects in Philadelphia.

Frightened and anxious to share his faith, the young man approached a very large tenement home. Cautiously making his way through the dark, cluttered hallways, he climbed up one flight of stairs to an apartment.

He knocked on the door, and a woman with a cigarette in her mouth, holding a naked, crying baby opened it. Not in any mood to hear some white, idealistic college boy to tell her about Jesus, she started cursing and slammed the door in his face. He was devastated. He walked out on the street, sat on the curb and wept, feeling worthless and inept.

Then he said, “It felt like God whispered some wisdom in my ear.”
He got up and ran down the street to the local market and bought a box of diapers and a pack of cigarettes.

When he knocked on the door again, he showed the woman his purchases. She hesitated and then invited him in.

For the rest of the day, he played with the baby and changed its diapers (even though he had never changed diapers before).
When the woman offered him a cigarette, he took one (even though he had never smoked before).

For the day, he said very little.

Late in the afternoon, the woman asked him why he was doing all this, and he told her about his relationship with Jesus and how much Jesus loved her. It took about 5 minutes.

When he stopped talking, the woman looked at him and softly said, “Pray for me and my baby that we can make it out of here alive.”

When we allow ourselves to be put in vulnerable, seemingly over-our-head situations, and simply offer the dignity and the love of God in tangible ways, His spirit works through us, our faith grows, and most importantly…OUR CONTRADICTIONS BECOME IRRELEVANT.

Forgiveness is Tough!

I met Jennifer (name has been changed), several years ago.

Her beauty could not hide her sadness.

I was speaking at a conference and she came up to me after I was finished speaking about God’s unfailing love, and asked if she could have a few moments of my time.

We sat down and she shared about how she doubted what I had just said. From her experiences, God was not there in her biggest time of need.

She shared with me that when she was 12, her brother sexually abused her, and when she went to her dad for help, he rebuked her for being a liar and told her he never wanted to talk about it again.

Now at 25, having experienced many bad relationships and sabotaging the good ones, her bitterness towards her brother and father was just growing stronger.

The deep pit of anger and hurt was affecting all of her other relationships.

What do you do with the hurts, whether words or actions, by those you have trusted, loved or maybe even didn’t know?

What you do with the hurt will determine your success in future relationships with people and God.

Continuing to carry wounds, hurts, and bitterness from the past will only bring painful dysfunction into future relationships.

This was where Jennifer was.

I think many of us can relate.

Jennifer was deeply wounded.

For Jennifer it was like carrying around a bottle of poison and pouring it into new relationships.

And it was not just affecting her human relationships, but it was affecting her view of God.

She was angry at God for not protecting her from those who had hurt her. Can you blame her?

There were two things about Jennifer.
One, she was angry at her Heavenly Father because of her earthly father.
Two, She felt worthless and ugly.

This combination was lethal. She hated herself and didn’t trust anyone enough to have a healthy relationship.

I asked Jennifer three questions:
“Would you like to begin to have healing in your heart from the hurt?
“Would you like to have better relationships?
“Would you like to really believe God loves you?”
Her answer to all three was “Yes!”

This is where it got tough.

I looked her in the eyes and said as gently as I knew how, “Then you need to forgive your dad & brother.”

Her response: “Why in the *%@#$ would I ever do that?”

My response: “Because your bitterness, anger and lack of forgiveness is only hurting you.”

Her response: “How in the *%@#$ could I ever forgive my dad & brother?”

My response: “First let me tell you about God’s forgiveness.”

I told her that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, falsely arrested, mercilessly beaten, barely breathing, he looked at those who were killing him and said some of the most powerful words ever spoken in the history of this world, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

An innocent man forgiving the guilty.

I told her about how He has forgiven our sins and canceled our debts which were nailed to the cross, and because of His death, sin, guilt and death are gone!

I told her that God was a different kind of father than our earthly fathers.

His love is unconditional (no grading on a curve).
He fearfully and wonderfully created us.
He chose us.
He will never abandon us.
He will never hurt us.
He understands our pain.
He experienced our injustice.

And then I said, “And oh, by the way, He thinks you are beautiful and is madly in love with you!”

I could see the tears in Jennifer’s eyes crying out that she wanted these statements to be true, but could she really believe it?

The healing Grace of God and the example of His forgiveness is the only thing that can set us free from the hurts and tragedies that we as humans experience in this world.

Famed psychiatrist Karl Menninger once said that 75% of people in psychiatric wards could walk out the next day if he could convince them that they were forgiven.

On her death bed, well known novelist and atheist Marghanita Laski said, “What I envy most about Jesus followers is His forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”

While Jennifer was wrestling with my statement about forgiving her brother and dad, I stated that “Forgiveness brings freedom and you don’t have time to allow people from your past to continue to hurt you.”

I told her, “Accepting God’s grace is the beginning of life and healthy relationships.”

I asked her, “Would you like to do that? Give your life to Jesus?”

Her response was, “YES!” So we prayed.

I told her, “Jennifer, you will never regret following Jesus. He’s your lover, protector, provider, peace, joy, and your ultimate purpose.”

I asked her, “So you love Jesus, not religion, not rules, not an organization?”

Her response was, “YES!”

I said, “If you trust him with forgiveness and eternal life, then can you trust him with some other words he said?”

Her answer was, “Sure.”

I reminded her, “Jesus always wants what is best for you.”

She said in a doubtful voice, “Ok.”

I shared with her the words of the apostle Paul
“…never hold grudges. Remember, Jesus forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

I quickly said, “So you don’t feel like I set you up, let me tell you what forgiveness is not:”
It is not saying what someone did to you was o.k.
It is not letting them off the hook
It is not necessarily about reconciliation
Forgiveness is releasing that person so that they can’t keep hurting you!

Two monks find a woman at a rivers edge, unable to cross.
They lift her up and carry her across the river.
Leaving the lady, the monks continue to walk.
One of them begins to complain about how he hurt his back carrying the lady.
He complains how his clothes are all muddy and wet.
He finally falls to the ground and says, “My back hurts so bad, all because of helping that silly lady across the river! I CANNOT GO ANY FURTHER!”
The first monk looks down at his partner, lying on the ground and asks, “Have you wondered why I am not complaining? Your back hurts because you are still carrying the woman. But I set her down 5 miles ago.”

The rest of the story is that Jennifer, now understanding what forgiveness is and what it is not, goes to her brother and dad and tells them that she forgives them for what they did to her.

Her brother still denied it and her father said it wasn’t his fault.

When it comes to forgiving those who have hurt us, we have no control how they will respond.

As much as it hurt that her brother and dad are still in denial, Jennifer is moving forward, drawing boundaries and turning her hurts over daily to the one who understands, Jesus.

She is moving on, with the power of forgiveness, so that her future relationships will be healthy and she won’t carry bitterness and hurt to the next generation.

In one way or another, we all can relate to Jennifer’s story. I will tell you what I told her.

Give your hurts to God everyday
Work on your stuff (Whatever that is)
Remind yourself of God’s grace and live in His forgiveness.
Remember, you are beautiful!

The great theologian Buddy Hackett once said, “I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing!”

What Kind of Church Do You Go To?

I had the privilege of hearing this story first hand. It is a story that inspires me to get out of my comfort zone and to love more boldly.

It’s a story Tony Campolo tells about a trip he and his wife took to Hawaii several years ago. Because of the time change, he couldn’t get to sleep, so he decided to take a walk down the streets of Honolulu during the middle of the night.

At about 3am, he walked into a little coffee shop to get a coffee and doughnut, and as he was sitting in this empty shop, four prostitutes came walking in, talking loudly, and ordering something to eat after a night of prostituting.

They seemed to know the guy working behind the counter, and they talked to him and to each other, and as they talked, they were teasing one of the prostitutes named Agnes.

Apparently her birthday was the next day and they were making jokes about her age, and wondering how long she could keep prostituting.

Tony was sitting close and listening and even though Agnes was laughing on the outside, he could tell by her voice and her tired face that the teasing hurt and that there was an emptiness in her soul.

They eventually got up and left, and Tony got an idea.

He went to the gentlemen working behind the counter and asked if these ladies came in here every night about this time. The man said that they usually came in around 3am after turning tricks.

So Tony asks the man, “Would you help me throw a birthday party for Agnes the next morning? My wife and I will bring the decorations and the cake, if you can supply the dishes and silverware.”

The man looked stunned but said he would go along with it, since there wasn’t anything else to do at 3am in the morning. So Tony said, “It’s a plan. See you here tomorrow, same time.”

Early the next morning, Tony and his wife set up the decorations and brought a cake that said, “Happy Birthday Agnes!” and they waited impatiently.

At 3am sharp the door opens and in comes the ladies and Tony and his wife yell out, “Surprise!” and sing happy birthday to Agnes.

Agnes was stunned. She didn’t know what to say. She began to cry. Then she laugh.

Before they could cut the cake, Agnes asked if she could take the cake home and show her children. She had never been given a birthday cake before. Tony said, “Of course you can take it home.”

Agnes grabbed the cake and left the diner.

So here was Tony and his wife, sitting around with three prostitutes they did not know and the guy behind counter who seemed irritated by it all, and Tony didn’t know what to do.

And then it hit him. He announced to everyone in the room, “Let’s pray for Agnes.”

So Tony, his wife, three prostitutes and the guy behind the counter formed a little circle and Tony prayed that Agnes would have a great birthday and that she would experience God’s Grace and that she would understand how much God loved her.

When Tony said “Amen”, the guy behind the counter belted out, “I didn’t know this was some kind of religious gesture! If I would have known, I don’t think I would have gotten involved. What kind of church do you go to anyway?”

And Tony said the famous words that challenge my heart to this day.

He said, “I go to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3am in the morning.”

The guy behind the counter then said, “No you don’t. Because if you did, I think I would go to that kind of church.”

I think more people would go to church if there was more love, practical action and greater compassion.

I pray that there will be a new epidemic of “Churches throwing birthday parties for prostitutes at 3am in the morning.”

The Opposite of Fear is Love

My son goes to school in Southern California and works for a grocery store chain.

He was working late one night when a man came running into the store, past my son, turned around, about twenty feet from him, and started shooting in his direction.

The man was actually shooting at a policeman who had run into the store, but the policeman was right behind my son, so the bullets were flying towards both of them.

My son lunged to the left to avoid the bullets, but the policeman lunged left also.

There was a Doritos display between the shooter and my son so as he was diving out of the way, shards of nacho cheese Doritos were flying everywhere. The sliding glass doors at the front of the store where shattering from the bullets also.

My son said everything moved in slow motion, but the noise was deafening.

Long story short, my son(who we call superman now) was actually faster than the speeding bullets and as he avoided the bullets, the cop began to shoot back and eventually shot the man.

My son was shaken up a little, and had to spend some time getting nacho cheese chips out of his hair, but overall was fine, but he had to sit in the police station all night giving reports about what he saw.

While he was at the station, he met an interesting couple.

This couple was from the state of Washington and the man was a professor of accounting at Washington State. They were in Southern California because the university my son goes to was interested in hiring him.

The man had always wanted to teach at a Christian college, but his wife was nervous about moving to California because it seemed like a dangerous, wild kind of place.

The University said, “Why don’t you come down and just check out the place.” So they did.
They landed at the airport and while driving to check into their hotel, they decided to stop by a local grocery store to pick up some snacks.

When they drove in front of the store, bullets started hitting the side of their rental car. Yes, the same bullets my son was avoiding inside.

This couple had been in California for 2 hours and their worst fears were coming true. They had become a part of a Hollywood movie.

The couple was uninjured, but they had to go to the police station, and this is where they met my son. When they told him the story, my son was thinking, “Well, this is the last time they will ever come to California.”

After giving reports to what they saw, everyone left the police station going their separate ways.

About three months later, my son was working a late shift at the grocery store and he turned around and there was this lady from the state of Washington.

Bonded by flying bullets my son ran and gave her a big hug and asked her what she was doing there and she said that they had decided to take the job and move to California.

She told my son, “We were not going to let some random act of violence keep us from doing what God was wanting us to do. We were not going to let fear have the last word!”

I love that couple!

Fear takes away the gift of today, and robs us of God’s dreams for us for tomorrow.
Fear stops us from doing great things.
Fear stops us from seeing miracles.

The Apostle Paul faced all kinds of life threatening situations yet said, “The Lord has not given us a spirit of fear, but he has given us a spirit of power, love and a sound mind.”

The fact is you can’t remove all the risks out of life.

Life is composed of a series of risks, being born, leaving the house, driving, making friends, getting married, having kids(that is a real scary one), careers, health, eating sushi, being a Sacramento Kings fan, going to the broken places of this world.

Why has God put us in this kind of world?
Because He wants His love to triumph over our fears.
He wants us to experience His miracles.
He wants His miracles to bring Him glory.

The children of Israel were getting ready to pass through the Red Sea and experience a miracle, but they responded in fear when Pharoah and his army had them trapped.

Fear makes us sarcastic, “Moses, did you bring us out in the desert to die?”
Fear keeps us in unhealthy situations, “Moses, let us go back and keep serving the Egyptians.”
Fear makes us very short-sighted, “Moses, it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than die in the desert.”

At Disneyland there is a ride called Space Mountain.

When you are standing in line there are warning signs that tell you why you shouldn’t ride this ride. “If you are pregnant or you get dizzy or you get bloody noses or if you have a bad heart or back, if you have bad breath, bad fashion, hemorrhoids, back hair, a bad comb-over, a mullet, or a fanny pack you should not ride this ride.”

The list disqualifies most Americans.

While you’re waiting, there are about five or six turnouts, where you can chicken out and get out of line. But there is a point, when they strap you into that little bobsled, where there’s only one way out. You’re going to have to take the ride.

That is what I call the moment of truth.

That is where the children of Israel were at the Red Sea.

And they had an opportunity to believe, to have faith, but instead, they respond in fear.
They have just spent four hundred years in slavery.
They have been beaten, mistreated, abused, killed, starved, and overworked for four hundred years and now they’re saying, “Let’s go back.”

God will constantly put us in scary situations where it will be tempting to play it safe rather than go forward into uncertain territory so that He can do a miracle.

How do we overcome our fears?

Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I will put my confidence in God… Yes, I will trust the promises of God.”

We often think that the opposite of fear is courage. But the opposite of fear is love.

When we experience and receive and begin to live in God’s love, we become less fearful people. The apostle John said it like this, “There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives fear away. Fear has to do with being punished. The one who fears does not have perfect love.” 1 John 4:18

How do we overcome our fears?

We must trust the promises of God (Psalm 56:3) and we must allow His love to drive out all of our fears.

My son returned to work the next day. His manager was shocked. “Why are you here? I thought you would be afraid to come back. I thought you would need some time off”.

Well, let me speak for my son. I believe that he trusts that his life is in God’s hands and that love, not fear will have the last word.