A Hidden Epidemic

self-esteem

There is an epidemic of low self-esteem in America today.

Many are highly successful on the outside but inside there is a gnawing question of “Do I really matter?”

In our society we tend to judge our worth by our appearance,  income, possessions or popularity.

The problem with these judgments is that none of them are stable.

Beauty fades, fashions change, incomes shrink and popularity wanes.

We are good at creating universal standards on temporary cultural fads.

Joseph Stowell, in his book “Fan the Flames”, writes, “It was absolutely amazing. I was in West Africa, and the missionaries were telling me that in that culture the larger the women, the more beautiful they were thought to be. In fact, a young missionary who had a small wife said that the nationals had told him she was a bad reflection on him– he obviously was not providing well enough for her. A proverb in that part of Africa says that if your wife is on a camel and the camel cannot stand up, your wife is truly beautiful.”

Low self-esteem leads to destructive addictions, crushing depression, compromising relationships and self-absorbed narcissism.

High self-esteem comes from building your identity on something that won’t change. And the one thing that does not change is what God thinks about you.

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector who lived in Jericho and one day Jesus came visiting Zacchaeus’ home town.

If there was a man who had deep seeded low-self esteem, it would be this guy.

Zacchaeus had the trifecta of low self-esteem.

1) He was self-conscious about his short stature. He was so short that he climbed up in a tree to try to see Jesus when he was walking through his town.

2) He was unpopular, in fact, he was pretty much hated by everyone in Jericho because he was a chief tax collector meaning he would collect and keep as much taxes as he could get as long as he paid Rome its due. He was more like a mafia extortionist than a legal collector of taxes. His family had disowned him, he was not welcome in the local synagogue and he was viewed in a class of people worse than murderers.

3) He hated himself because when you have a guilty conscience, you can’t feel really good about yourself.

Here is a guy with a lot of money and an empty soul.
A lonely, miserable man, desperate for things to change.
And one day things did.
He had an encounter with Jesus and learned how much he mattered to God.

The story about Zacchaeus shows how God feels towards us:

FIRST, no matter how invisible you feel, JESUS SEES YOU.

Zacchaeus climbed up in a tree to see Jesus, but Jesus walks past thousands of people on the streets and walks right up to the tree, stops and looks directly at Zacchaeus.

Can you imagine what Zacchaeus is feeling when Jesus sees him?

He’s thinking, “Well, here it comes, judgment! I’m going to get what I deserve. The Son of God walked right over to me to tell me all the wrong things I’ve ever done and the punishment that I am going to receive.”

But Jesus didn’t judge him or condemn him.

Jesus walked over to Zacchaeus to let him know that he knew exactly where he was at.

God knows exactly where you are at today. He has not abandoned you. Even though he knows every thought you have had, every word you have uttered, every deed you have done, good or bad, he has constantly kept his eyes of love upon you.

The deepest expression of love is attention and God’s attention span for you is eternal.

Jesus not only NOTICES you…

SECONDLY, no matter what others think of you, JESUS VALIDATES YOU.

Zacchaeus’ life of crime and corruption had nullified any credibility of character and yet Jesus came with a completely different kind of opinion.

Jesus not only walked up to the tree and saw him, but he called Zacchaeus by name.

Zacchaeus must have been shocked that Jesus knew his name.

Jesus not only knows where you are but he knows who you are.

The crowd had to be shocked for two reasons. 1) That Jesus knew his name, and 2) What Zacchaeus’ name meant.

Zacchaeus means, “PURE ONE.”

The crowd must have thought Jesus was joking.

Zacchaeus was everything but pure.

Zacchaeus must have been shocked too. He probably had been called every dirty name in the book over the years but he probably hadn’t heard his real name for a long time. “Pure One” was a name he had given up many compromises ago.

In spite of Zacchaeus’ sin, Jesus validates him.

Jesus says, “Beneath the emotional hurt, shame and insecurities and amidst all the bad choices and the hardening of your soul, I see a pure one. Zacchaeus, I created you for purity. I didn’t create you to be a crook. You are the pure one.”

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

Masterpieces are not mass-produced.
When God made you, he broke the mold.
You are one in 7 ½ billion!

Maybe you have had some horrible things said to you growing up. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister.” “I’m embarrassed to be around you.” “You will always be a slut.” “You’re fat.” “You’re dumb.” “You’re a failure.”

And those voices and phrases play over and over in your mind and they define you and paralyze you.

A defining moment in all of our lives is whether we choose to believe what other people say about us or what God says about us.

It will deeply affect our self-esteem and determine our destiny.

Jesus sees Zacchaeus and then validates his masterpiece by saying, “You are the pure one. I see all your potential no matter your failures, hurts and shame.”

Jesus not only NOTICES you and VALIDATES you…
THIRDLY, in spite of our past, JESUS WANTS A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU.

Zacchaeus was lonely, insecure, bitter, resentful, full of guilt and shame and yet Jesus not only sees him and validates him but he goes one step further and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home for dinner.

“Come down from that tree quickly, Zacchaeus, I am going to be a guest in your home today.”

This is an invitation to enter into a deep, intimate relationship.

This was scandalous and incomprehensible!

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, walked all the way through town, past thousands of onlookers, to find the biggest criminal in town to say, “I’m going to your house to be your guest. I see you, I validate you, I choose you!”

The crowd’s reaction was fairly predictable: “All the people saw this and they began to complain, ‘Jesus is staying with a sinner.’”

Zacchaeus may have been thinking the same thing too: “I’m not good enough! Jesus, you don’t know the things I have done.”

We have all felt that way, haven’t we?

The reality is that none of us are good enough, but gratefully, our relationship with God is not based on our goodness but on God’s compassionate love for us in spite of all we have done.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah when he said, “I am the God who forgives your sins, and I do this because of Who I am. I will not hold your sins against you.”

Jesus said in John 3:17, “I was not sent here to condemn you, but to save you.”

That’s called grace.

Grace is when God gives you what you need not what you deserve.

Zacchaeus received undeserving, scandalous, mind-blowing grace.

How should we respond?

The way Zacchaeus did.

The Bible says, “So he came down at once and he received him with joy.”

He couldn’t get down fast enough

Zacchaeus took Jesus up on His offer for a relationship. And he began to change.

Luke 19:8-9 “Zacchaeus stood and he said to the Lord ‘I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor and if I’ve cheated anyone I’ll give them back four times the amount.’ Jesus responded, ‘Salvation has come to this home today.'”

Dr. Charles Cooley, the Dean of American Sociology once said, “Your self esteem and self worth is determined to a large degree by what you think the people or the person that matters most to you thinks about you.”

I encourage you to make Jesus Christ the most important person in your life. He SEES you, VALIDATES you as a masterpiece and wants to offer you grace and be in a RELATIONSHIP with you forever.

The #1 Reason We Don’t See Miracles

jesus-heals-a-blind-man3

Simple answer: WE JUDGE.

Even though Jesus stated very succinctly, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others and the standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”

Yet we still judge.
What kind of lifestyle do they have?
What political party do they belong to?
What kind of responsibility have they taken in their life?
What kind of faith do they cling to?
What theology do they hold?

WE JUDGE and often times, very subtly and smugly, we decide who should receive a miracle.

The prophets never said, “Love, serve and defend if you approve of the way they are living”, or “Love, serve and defend if you think they deserve it”, or “Love, serve and defend if you think they will appreciate it.”

They just declared, “LOVE, SERVE, DEFEND!”

Judging might help justify not getting involved.

In the ninth chapter of John, the disciples ask Jesus whose fault was it that a man was born blind.

They inquired, “Was it his fault or his parents?”

2000 years later we could ask, “Jesus, why was this little boy born HIV positive? Whose fault is it? Why was this young girl born in a dangerous, drug infested no hope neighborhood? Whose fault is it? Why have these kids, on the border of Mexico, been orphaned? Whose fault is it anyway? Why are people addicted? Why are people homeless? Why are people lonely? Whose fault is it?”

Nothing wrong with asking why, but we can get stuck on the why and justify our lack of involvement by judging.
They were promiscuous.
They were lazy.
They were sinful.

We can get so theologically convoluted, we can miss the whole point and more tragically we can miss the miracle.

Jesus answered his disciples, “It was not anyone’s fault. This man was born blind, so that God’s mercy could be demonstrated.”
And a miracle happened. The blind man’s eyes were opened.

I don’t know the answers to all the “whys” of this world but I do know this:

When a baby born HIV positive is offered God’s mercy by being given an antiretroviral drug, a miracle happens.

When a prostitute is offered God’s mercy by being loved by a local church and given support, resources and life skills to change her life, a miracle happens.

When a homeless person is offered God’s mercy by being given shelter, food and transportation, a miracle happens.

When a foster child is offered God’s mercy by being given a healthy home and support system, a miracle happens.

When a person far from faith is offered God’s mercy in a grace-filled church service, a miracle happens.

There are a lot of dark places of judging in our world today.
There are a lot of hopeless people who have been judged.
There are a lot of people who don’t know where to turn for help and the church has too often judged “who” they are and “why” they are where they are at, to decide if they are worthy of being offered God’s mercies and miracles.

Jesus asks people of faith to not judge. It’s that simple.
The book of James in the New Testament reminds us, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

It is important to remember what the scriptures DO NOT say:

Treat those that work for you fairly and give them what they earn…if the economy is good.

Share your food with the hungry…if they are thankful.

Shelter those who are helpless, poor and destitute…if it wasn’t their fault.

Clothe those who are cold…if they are working on their issues.

Don’t hide from relatives who need your help…if they will pay you back.

Love those who are hurting…as long as you approve of their lifestyle.

Make sure those who are in prison know they are not alone…as long as they say they are sorry.

The scriptures are very clear:
Care for the orphan.
Defend the widow.
Rescue the girl that has been sex-trafficked.
Love the foreigner.
Invite into your home the alien.
Visit the prisoner.
Accept the rejected.
Lift off the burdens of people who have been crushed by religion.

No caveats. Just do it.
Offer mercy so miracles can happen.

We have all been created equal so I have a question for you. What race, socioeconomic, political, religious, lifestyle or age group do you struggle with judging?

A gay person?
A democrat?
A homeless person?
A drunk?
A republican?
A Muslim?
A relative?
A neighbor?
A co-worker?

I challenge you to offer them mercy, let God break your heart and prepare for a miracle.

Sometimes the greatest way we can start to offer mercy is to pray!

One of the most powerful prayers I have read was uncovered from the horrors of Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Ravensbruck was a concentration camp built in 1939 for women.
Over 90,000 women and children perished in Ravensbruck, murdered by the Nazis.
Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote “The Hiding Place”, was imprisoned there too.

The prayer, found in the clothing of a dead child, says: “Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”

Wow! That last line gives me chills and brings with it a deep conviction to my heart.

I really do believe the #1 reason we do not see miracles is because we judge instead of offer mercy.

Luckily, God did not let the “who” or the “why” get in the way of his mercy.

The words of Brennan Manning share with us the gracious mercy of God that led to the ultimate miracle that reverberates throughout the infinity of time.

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. (see Revelation 7:9)

I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son.

I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives.

I shall see the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions.

I shall see the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love.

I shall see the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask. Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There ‘we’ are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

Funny How People Are

judging

Funny how people are
They talk with force yet live in fear
They laugh in public yet cry private tears

They ask for truth yet avoid the light
They teach abundance yet hold on tight

Funny how people are
They walk with confidence yet are deceivingly unsure
They offer weak opinions yet hoping others concur

They care when others are watching yet their love is calculating
They are addicted to admiration yet their self-esteem is fleeting

“He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.” ― George Orwell

Funny how people are
They say let’s change the world yet are frozen in comfort
They lecture struggle and sweat yet their efforts fall short

They read the statistics yet their hearts stay cold
They see the pictures yet their habits remain old

Funny how people are
They make people feel good yet it’s not what they need
They agree to aid yet vanity wins over deed

They convince their peers yet fool themselves
They betray their minds yet deceive no one else

“A mask can hide you from others, but not from yourself.”
― Marty Rubin

Funny how I am
I create caste-systems of wrongdoing, while self-pride rules
I ignore my own deception while pointing out fools

While judging other people, my eyes lose sight
My transgressions are unfathomable and my sin dark as night

Funny how I am
My plank is seemingly invisible, their speck obvious and huge
Hypocricy has become my identity, my ignorance is my refuge

I love mercy for me and judgment for their evil times
I want revenge for my enemies and acquittal for my crimes

“The fierce words of Jesus addressed to the Pharisees of His day stretch across the bands of time. Today they are directed not only to fallen televangelists but to each of us. We miss Jesus’ point entirely when we use His words as weapons against others. They are to be taken personally by each of us. This is the form and shape of Christian Pharisee-ism in our time. Hypocrisy is not the prerogative of people in high places. The most impoverished among us is capable of it. Hypocrisy is the natural expression of what is meanest in us all.” ― Brennan Manning

Just a few thoughts bouncing around my head and my heart

worldmap

An epidemic of loneliness is creating inhuman actions.
We will never be able to fully do life over the internet.
I can listen to a sermon online, but I can only become fully human by rejoicing and mourning with real people.
The world needs you. And we need each other.
As Desmond Tutu once said, “No one can be human by themselves.”

Make decisions this week based on what is right, not on what is convenient or popular.
Convenience and popularity has led to a weak, shallow culture.
No more blaming, whining and making excuses.
Blaming is the “kryptonite” of taking responsibility.
Take responsibility and make the most of every opportunity.

We play it safe, because it is easy, usually successful, thus preventing failure.
The fear of failure is really the fear of rejection.
Hindsight is 20-20, and it’s what your critics are full of.
Check your ego at the door, and take a chance at doing something great.
As Bono once said, “It’s status that kills you off in the end, not ambition.”

When we live in impatience, we miss out on the beauty and details of everyday life.
Patience is being fully alive in the moment; not waiting for things to get better so you can live. It is experiencing the fullness of time.
In order to be patient we must live a life of curiosity.
Life is beautiful if we slow down long enough to look people in the eye.

Judging makes us small.
Learning from those with different backgrounds makes us humble and smart.
Every creed, every color, every background, every culture, every nation, it is God’s great kaleidoscope.
We are much more the same than we are different.
All colors and creeds are born with a God-shaped hole.

Most people experience happiness, which is based on shallow, fun events or circumstances, sometimes numbing to ignore pain, fear or the hard things of life.
Happiness is ok, but we are never fully alive until we experience joy.
In order to experience joy, you first have to be willing to go to some dark places.
It’s in those dark places that you experience a strength greater than your own.

Poverty looks different in different places.
In Africa it looks like physical hunger, broken bodies and abuse towards women and children.
In American it looks like relational hunger, broken families and abuse towards women and children.
We must fight local poverty accordingly.
We must fight global poverty accordingly.
We are responsible for both.

We are far more powerful than we want to admit.
With power comes responsibility.
If I want to be powerful then I must take full responsibility of the time I have, the abilities I have been given and the resources that have been loaned to me from God.
It is easy to choose not to be powerful.
Choosing not to be powerful is the most selfish decision you will ever make.
One life. One original person. One opportunity. Don’t play it small.

Don’t try to be well-rounded. Lean into your strengths and passions and ignore people who want to put you into their small world.
The problem is that in this world, everybody wants to be somebody else.
It is an insult to God to want to be someone else.
Being unhappy with our looks, shape, abilities and status is telling your Creator that He does not know what He is doing.
Look in the mirror and be overwhelmed by the artistic ability of God.

Praying for our enemy drives us closer to God.
Hating our worst enemy pushes us away from God.
Forgiving doesn’t let those we are forgiving off the hook.
Forgiving prevents our hearts from becoming hard and brittle.
Forgiving allows us to hand that person over to the justice of God and He is much more capable than I am at determining what is fair.

Why can nothing in this temporary life bring us true joy and contentment?

Answer: “God has planted eternity in the hearts of men” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Pay attention! Pay attention! Pay attention!

The gift of life is all around you.
Listen to the wisdom of a child.
Don’t miss yet another spectacular sunset.
Compliment a total stranger.
Smile, it might hurt, but it won’t cost you a thing.
Laugh, they say it’s the best medicine.
Cry, for God is collecting them in a bottle labeled with your name.
Sing, turn up your radio and sing as loud as you can, as Henry Van Dyke observed, “The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”
Dance, even if your kids run screaming in embarrassment to their rooms.
Worship, for it’s a great reminder that someone much stronger and loving is in control.

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Just some thoughts bouncing around in my head and heart these days. Let me know what you think and what is bouncing around in your head and heart.

These People

beautiful

An abandoned daughter discovers her Heavenly Father.
An angry ex-con encounters authentic friendships.
A controlling mother learns to let go and let God.
A one year clean woman mentors a struggling drug addict.
A relationship destroying alcoholic gains new tools and makes amends.
A recovering sex addict finds new purpose and is set free.
A guilt-ridden religious woman experiences grace.

Who are these people?

These are the people Brennan Manning celebrated when he wrote, “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

These are the people Jesus had in mind when He said, “I have come to heal the broken-hearted.”

These are the people Jesus said are the greatest because of their humility and commitment to one another.

These are the people Jesus would call the Church.

Yet…

These are the people most churches reject, ignore and outsource to other agencies.

These are the people most churches marginalize, judge, undervalue and under serve.

These are the people most churches hope go somewhere else.

Yet…

These are the people who are bringing huge blessings to my church.

These are the people who are showing us that God is still in the miracle business.

These are the people who are showing us how to be transparent and brave.

These are the people who are showing us the importance of accountability and genuine friendship.

These are the people who are showing us that we are all in recovery from something.

These are the people who are showing us that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.

These are the people who are showing us that everything is Grace.

These are the people that God is with, and if we are with them, then we are with God.

Yet…

Why are so many fleeing the church?

Because the church has rejected “these people.”

These are the very people Jesus said he would judge us by how we treated them.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we will be blessed.

These are the very people Jesus said that when we serve and love them, we serve and love him.

We too often want the world to change when in reality, the church must change.

Until the church becomes transparent, inclusive, safe, brave, courageous, messy, grace-filled, humble and willing to sacrifice, serve, strategize, prioritize and make a high commitment to serve and be led by “these people”, then it will continue to shrink and be benign.

We too often want the world to repent, when in reality, the church must repent.

If the church is not serving and welcoming and allowing “these people” to lead, then it is really not the church, but more a building, more an exclusive club.

At my church, “these people” call themselves Celebrate Recovery, and they are leading the way towards blessings, miracles, redemption and an intimacy with God that is rarely seen.

Thank you for your example in humility.
Thank you for your leadership in transparency.
Thank you for your commitment to grace.
Thank you for re-introducing us to the presence of God.

May there be a revolution of “these people.”

“It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.” Bono

From Every Tribe and Every Nation…a few thoughts from Africa

Africa 2012 164

From every tribe, and every nation
My faith transcends denomination
Culture, colors none the same
Redemption comes in Yeshua’s name

Stuck in my view, its far too narrow
My earthly eyes see too much sorrow
Babies die and mothers weep
Big men lie while others sleep

Told tough times lead to deeper faith
I still avoid them like the plague
Addicted to teaching, binder full of notes
The harvest is plentiful, but my actions remote

White, yellow, brown, red and black
There is no shade that God lacks
Transformation, it’s a lifetime journey
Humility is key to eternal learning

I’m looking for joy so I can be grateful
But joy doesn’t come until I am thankful
With crippled feet I run the race
Mud knee deep, carried by Grace

Prejudice rampant, wars rage
Holy genocide litters history’s page
Religion rules, picking the chosen ones
Ignoring the words “whosever will may come.”

Overwhelmed by conditions
Missed opportunities, lost positions
Challenges daily, endurance a must
Searching for strength, faith and trust

Heroes all around, they’re just hard to see
Quietly walking with God humbly
Africa, Asia and unknown lands
Extending love as God’s own hands

Leading is vision, I must give it away
Strategies come and go, but deep values must stay
A new generation, called to invest
The Body too small, we need the rest

I want all the answers, a path that is clear
A path that is easy with nothing to fear
But my sights too short, and patience, I’m far from it
Faith means building the bridge while I’m walking upon it.

We bless the poor but the poor are already blessed
When I’m serving the least I am truly at my best
New beginnings start with a broken heart
Stupid poverty ends when I do my part

The church is asking “what’s the next fashion?”
Fighting injustice is God’s great passion
Theology debates, they lead to deep fraction
Loving one another is our call to action

I desperately need an eternal view
It gives me the courage to do the things I must do
Opportunities all around me, there is power in His name
He gives sight to the blind and strength for the lame

I desperately need an eternal view
Embracing the temporary is our cultures cue
My life is on loan, it is not my own
It’s not about great feats, but the seeds that are sown

Male, female, Jew, Samaritan and gentile
Grace is pervasive, it starts with a child
The greatest among us was born in a stable
The Good New is for all, the weak and the able

Will we be exclusive, just another sect
Or will we serve our neighbor, gaining their respect
Will we love the orphan, the widow and those who fall
Will we be known as restorer of cities and re-builder of walls

Throwing Stones

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Anne Lamott

Many of us have felt the emotional sting of being judged.

A high school girl feels the rejection of not fitting in the “in crowd.”

A divorced person feels the shame of married friends looking at her like she is a failure.

A person of Arab descent, feels the looks of people all around him as he sits in an airport waiting to visit family.

A single mom struggling to make ends meet, her car 15 years old, clothes not the latest fashion, she notices that when she is in a crowd, she seems to be invisible.

A man struggling with addiction, has lost his family and messed up his career, is afraid to talk to anyone about his issues, for fear of being judged.

We have all felt the sting of being judged.

It is a sting that stays with us far after the judgment has been rendered.

You may feel that sting right now.

Jesus said, “I have come to save the world and not to judge it.”

Jesus knew the sting of being judged.

Jesus once spoke, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgments you give are the judgments you will get, and the standard you use will be the standard used for you.”

Have you ever judged someone because they were different than you?

Please be honest with this question.

I do not want lightning to strike while you are reading this.

A couple of years ago I was working on a weekend message at a coffee shop.

As I was working on a message that I am sure had to do with the love of God, I saw from the corner of my eye a young man walk through the doors that was tatted up, wearing skinny jeans(ouch!) and a very tight tank top.

He came strutting in like he owned the place.

I do not have an issue with tattoos, but I did not like his body language. Plus his jeans made me hurt.

I instantly identified what this kid was all about.

He was a pompous, insecure, “life is all about me” kind of guy. You could just tell.

That all came to me during the 30 seconds I looked at him standing in line to get a cup of coffee or for him probably a frappuccino.

I quickly got back to my message about God’s love.

About 5 minutes later I noticed someone standing real close to me.

I tried to ignore this someone because I was putting together a message about the love of God.

But it got a little awkward, so I looked up, and standing there was this skinny-jeaned, frappuccino loving, arrogant punk.

Great. Now what?

Before I could say anything he gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You are the pastor at Green Valley aren’t you?”

I didn’t think it was a trick question, so I said, “Yes I am.”

In my mind I was telling him to please hurry, I have to get this sermon on God’s love done.

He smiled and said, “I want to thank you so much for all your church does. I have lived a pretty rough life, and I found Jesus and acceptance and recovery at your church.”

He then started getting emotional, and I started feeling like a complete idiot, and he finished with, “And now I am starting to volunteer with high school students at the church helping them get on a good path, so they don’t have to experience what I have experienced.”

He thanked me again and walked off with a smile on his face.

I tell you that story to show you what a spiritual giant I truly am.

You and I were made to be in the life-saving business, not in the judging business.

The Apostle Paul once said, “Accept one another.”

Those 3 words create a very powerful sentence.

To accept someone means to be FOR THEM.

It does not mean to approve of everything they do.
It means to want what is best for them, no matter what they do.

Judging is the opposite of accepting.

A great example of Jesus accepting someone was when a woman who was caught in adultery by the religious “peeping tom” leaders wanted to kill her with stones.

They said it was Moses’ law and they needed to obey the law.

Jesus said, “That is the law, so why doesn’t the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”

No one could throw the stone(judge), because everyone had sinned.

Let me ask you a question:
HAVE YOU EVER HELD A STONE IN YOUR HAND?

I think of myself as a pretty compassionate person, but I know I have.

Maybe that stone is:
A judgmental thought or comment about another race or culture.
A self-righteous attitude towards those who are involved in a destructive sin.
Gossiping or belittling someone who has a different political or theological view.

FACT: The energy you use holding on to the stone begins to drain the ability to love out of you heart.

It’s hard to be in the life-saving business when your heart is empty of love.

Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

The scriptures say Jesus was a friend of sinners.

They liked being around him and longed for his company.

Meanwhile, legalists found him threatening and morally soft.

The legalist separated “loving God” from “loving people.”

THEY THOUGHT IT WAS POSSIBLE TO LOVE GOD and THROW STONES.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the judgmental, the self-righteous, are in that danger.”

Jesus said “Let him who is without sin among you throw the first stone.”

What might a family, community or our world look like if nobody were to pick up a stone?

You have any stones you need to let go of?

SHARE WITH ME SOME OF THE STONES YOU HAVE HAD TO DROP IN ORDER TO JOIN JESUS IN THE LIFE SAVING BUSINESS.

SHARE WITH ME WHAT YOU THINK OUR WORLD WOULD LOOK LIKE IF NOBODY PICKED UP A STONE.

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.